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Pronunciation: glah-sê-lay-li-ê Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. "Speaking in tongues", "gift of tongues", uttering sounds thought to be in some unknown language in a (religious) trance. 2. Non-meaningful speech associated with certain schizophrenic syndromes.

Notes: Someone with the "gift of tongues" is known as a glossolalist who is glossolalic (the adjective). Speaking in an actual language, presumably unknown to the speaker, can be called either xenolalia or xenoglossia. If the people they are speaking to also don't know the language, how can they tell?

In Play: Glossolalia is closely associated with services in the Pentecostal and other charismatic churches: "Charismatics are more likely than Pentecostals to think glossolalia is unnecessary evidence of spiritual conversion." However, it is not immune to metaphorical usage: "In his freshman year, Horace attended a talk on advances in physics that sounded more like glossolalia than science to him."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a combination of Greek glossa "tongue, language" + lalia "chat, babble", the action noun from lalein "to chat, babble". English gloss "explanatory word(s)" was copied from a Latin rendition of Greek glossa. Greek obtained its word in the sense of "tongue" from PIE glogh- "spike", source also of Greek gloxis "projecting point" and Serbian glog "hawthorn, blackthorn". Lalia seems to be echoic, onomatopoetic, assuming Greek had a sound like la-la-la that represented prattle. We find -lalia in a few other international words: echolalia "the involuntary repetition of words spoken by another", coprolalia "the uncontrolled use of abusive language", and dyslalia "difficulty in speaking". (Now yet another "thank-you" to wordmaster William Hupy for suggesting today's offbeat Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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