Printable Version
Pronunciation: help-meet Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Helper, assistant, a helpful companion, especially a spouse.

Notes: In English today, we have our choice of three words, helper, helpmate, or helpmeet, all meaning the same, but covering a range of intimacy. Helper is the most general and helpmeet, the most intimate, usually referring to a (female) spouse. Like kingpin, helpmeet is pronounced pretty much like it's spelled.

In Play: The most common helpmeet is a wife: "Central to the Victorian vision was the eternal woman, who was the helpmeet of her husband and the guardian of moral probity." However, it is not restricted to women so long as the relationship is very close: "Santa and his elvish helpmeets always meet the deadline for delivering toys on Christmas Eve."

Word History: Today's Good Word first appeared in the late 17th century from an erroneous reading of Genesis 2:18 and 20 in the King James translation of the Bible. There Adam's future wife is described as "an help meet for him", i.e. a suitable helper for him. The variant helpmate came into use in the early 18th century. Help has plenty of cousins among the Germanic languages: German Hilfe, Norwegian hjelp, Swedish hjälp, and Dutch hulp. We also find šelpti "support, dole" in Lithuanian, but the etymological trail ends there. The adjective meet "suitable, fit, proper", still alive in English, has nothing to do with the verb to meet. It comes from the same source as German gemäß "suitable". It goes back to PIE med-/mod- "to measure, advise, heal", source also of Latin medicus "physician", meditatatus "thought about", and moderatus "moderated", which English polished up to become medic, meditate, and moderate.

Dr. Goodword,

P.S. - Register for the Daily Good Word E-Mail! - You can get our daily Good Word sent directly to you via e-mail in either HTML or Text format. Go to our Registration Page to sign up today!