Printable Version
Pronunciation: er-lum Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A valued object that has been in a family for several generations. 2. A cultivated variety of plant or animal breed developed on a small scale, usually distinct from common varieties or breeds, as 'heirloom tomatoes'.

Notes: Today's word is a compound that has drifted semantically far from the original sense of its head (loom). Like most compounds it is a lexical orphan with no lexical family. Notice heir. like seize, vein, weird, and several others, violates the mnemonic rule 'I before E except after C'.

In Play: The value of an heirloom may be financial or sentimental: "Dr. Goodword has restored and preserves two heirloom dining room chairs that came from the table that he played under as a child 80 years ago." Heirloom is often used among plant cultivators and animal breeders: "The 'Amish snap' is the only true heirloom snap pea."

Word History: Today's Good Word is obviously a compound consisting of heir + loom. Heir was clipped from Anglo-French heir, a modified version of Old French oir "heir; heritage, inheritance". The Old French word came from Latin heres "heir", which inherited it from a suffixed form of PIE ghe-/gho- "to release, let go", source also of English go, from Old English gan "to go", of the same source as German gehen "to go". It also underlies Greek khoros "dance; chorus", seen in the English borrowings chorus and choreography. Loom is an aphetic shortening of Old English geloma "utensil, tool", though loma is found only in a few old dictionaries. It does occur in other derivations like andloman "furniture". The semantics narrowed to one specific type of tool along the way to Modern English. How geloma came to be in Old English remains a mystery. (Now a good word of thanks to Mike Nichols for thinking enough of today's Good Word and sharing it with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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