Printable Version
Pronunciation: hæl-si-ên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, Adjective

Meaning: 1. (Noun) A mythical bird of ancient Greece that nested on the seas, calming them with magical powers until its eggs hatched 2. (Noun) The kingfisher, which was confused with the mythical bird. 3. (Adjective) Idyllically calm and peaceful, tranquil, placid.

Notes: The spelling of this Greek word (see Word History) is unusual for English so that prefixing or suffixing it would be difficult. There is a sponge called alcyonium because it resembles the halcyon's nest with an adjective alcyonic. However, halcyon may be used as an adjective without suffixation, so an additional suffix would be redundant. Remember the [cy] in the middle of it; it pronounced [si].

In Play: When you think of total relaxation, this Good Word should rush to mind: "After a halcyon respite on a Caribbean lagoon, adjusting to the pernicious traffic of Los Angeles proved difficult for Sandy Beach." Calm and tranquility, of course, are found in many places other than the sea: "The halcyon expression on Gertrude's face let Wesley know that everything was under control".

Word History: Today's word is Greek halkyon "kingfisher, halcyon" with the [k] softened to the [s] sound by Latin and French. This word started out as a compound noun containing Greek hals "salt, sea" + kuon "conceiving, pregnant", the present participle of kuo "to conceive", related to the halcyon's mythical nesting habits. The ancients believed that the bird nested on the sea, which it calmed in order to lay its eggs in a floating nest. This led to the association of halcyon with peace and tranquility. Kuo apparently goes back to a Proto-Indo-European root meaning "swelling" and, by implication, "hollow place", for it is phonologically related to the Latin adjective cavus "hollow, dug out", which came to English via French as cave.

Dr. Goodword,

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