Printable Version
Pronunciation: he-mi-de-mi-se-mi-kway-vêr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. (Classical British terminology) A four-flagged musical note played for 1/64 of the duration of a whole note. It lasts half as long as a thirty-second note (or demisemiquaver) and a quarter as long as a sixteenth note (semiquaver). 2. An almost infinitesimally small amount.

Notes: This word is the kind of word musicians think up as they sit around discussing music and drinking late at night. I chose this word because it oddly reflects all the variants of the borrowed English prefixes for "half": hemi-, demi-, and semi-. I thought you might like to know why we have three of these little critters.

In Play: This long word might seem to belong to the music world: "Moseley, I think you are pausing a hemidemisemiquaver at the beginning of each bar, which puts you noticeably behind the other members of the orchestra by the end of the piece." However, the idea behind the word has caught on enough in England that hemidemisemi- is now a prefix referring to things exceptionally small: "I don't think that Germaine has so much as a hemidemisemi-idea of what this project is all about."

Word History: The bizarre load of prefixes meaning "half" at the beginning of this word reflects our borrowing variants of the same original word from several languages. Hemi- is a Greek form meaning "half." Semi- is the Latin correlate derived from the same Proto-Indo-European root. Demi- is an Old French reduction of Latin dimidius "split in two," made up of dis- "apart" + medius "half." English, of course, could not resist the temptation to help itself to them all.

Dr. Goodword,

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