Printable Version
Pronunciation: hed-ayk Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Pain in the upper skull, head pain. 2. A major problem causing distress, anxiety, or vexation.

Notes: Today's commonplace word refers to a complaint that a pill may resolve and another that no pill can resolve. If you have a light headache, you may be headachy, which lays the ground for headachiness, a word my spellchecker doesn't like. Migraine headaches are, of course, another matter.

In Play: Drinking usually results in a delayed headache: "Harvey Wallbanger woke up this morning with a splitting headache after a night of hard drinking." The other type of headache requires more than a pill: "Mandy Gunze left her husband because he had become too much of a headache for her."

Word History: Today's Good Word is obviously a compound noun made up of head + ache. This word, believe it or not, comes from the same PIE word as Latin caput "head", kaput "head". The PIE [k] became [(k)h] in Germanic languages and the [p] became [f], so the word in Old English was heafod. In Dutch today it's hoofd. For some reason the [p] remained in German Haupt. Latin caput today is chef in French, but in Old French it was chief. Recognize them? Ache goes back to PIE ages-/agos- "sin, guilt", which also produced awe and ail. In Ancient Greek it emerged as agos "guilt" and, in Sanskrit, anagas- "guiltless". (Thanks now to Peter Barrow, who saw the interest in this his second Good Word and shared it with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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