Printable Version
Pronunciation: gah-sê-mê(r) Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. The material of the small threads spun by baby spiders, as they hatch in late summer, that carry them through the air to their new lives. 2. Anything extremely sheer, filmy or flimsy; possessed of lightness and softness approaching nothingness.

Notes: Today's Good Word originally referred to the faintest filament spun by baby spiders, a flimsiness barely visible, so use today's word sparingly. This word is a mass noun with no plural form, but it may be used alone as an adjective meaning "made of gossamer". The actual adjective, gossamery, carries the meaning "like gossamer", as a gossamery veil. If today's word strikes you as one of the most beautiful in English, you are right: it is one of The 100 Most Beautiful Words in English.

In Play: Keep in mind that today's word retains its association with threads: "She brushed a bit of gossamer from her face with a gesture so gentle and graceful as to not damage it." It refers to lightness and sheerness at the very edge of visibility. As Cole Porter put it in his 1935 song, Just One of those Things: "[It was] Just one of those fabulous flights; A trip to the moon on gossamer wings; Just one of those things." We can assume that sprites and fairies are equipped with gossamer wings.

Word History: Today's Good Word is a smoothed version of Middle English gos(e)somer "goose-summer," a shortening of goose-summer thread. The semantic parallel is apparently with German sommerfäden>, Dutch zomerdraden, and Swedish sommartrd "summer thread", since these threads tend to drift about from late summer to early autumn. The "goose month" (German Gnsemonat "geese month") was November, the month when geese are at their best for eating. Goose goes back to a Proto-Indo-European root ghan- "goose" that shows up in Greek khen "goose," German Gans, and Russian gus', from Old Slavic gansi. The root of summer also underlies Armenian amarn "summer," Sanskrit sama "half-year," and Old Irish sam. (Today we thank Katy Brezger for suggesting today's wispy word in alphaDictionary's Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

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