Printable Version
Pronunciation: hai-ay-tês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A pause or gap in a sequence, process, or anything else. 2. An interruption in an activity during which nothing appears or happens, such as a blank space on a printed page. 3. A pause between two consecutive vowels that are pronounced independently, as in naive or coopt.

Notes: I was surprised the first time I heard the adjective to this word, hiatal (pronounced [hai-ê-têl]), in the phrase 'hiatal hernia'. I thought all hernias were hiatal. But a hiatal hernia is one that allows the stomach to protrude into the chest cavity. The plural of this word is either hiatuses or simply hiatus.

In Play: This word most commonly is used to specify a temporal break in a sequence of events: "During the hiatus between semesters, Buffy flew to Florida to escape the winter and reconnoiter for spring break." However, other things can have hiatuses: "The explosion left a hiatus in the sidewalk that was too large to jump over."

Word History: Today's word was copied whole from Latin hiatus "opening, gap", the past participle stem of hiare "to gape, stand open". The Latin word comes from Proto-Indo-European ghia- "to yawn, gape", which also shows up in Russian zijat' "to gape, yawn", Czech zivat "to yawn", Greek khainein "to gape, yawn", and Sanskrit vijihite "to gape, be ajar". English yawn comes from the same root. The old Germanic languages added an N, so it reached Old English as ginian "yawn, gape". By the time it entered Middle English it was yane, and Modern English modified it to yawn. The Old English word has cognates in Norse gina "to gape", Dutch geeuwen "to yawn", and German ghnen "to yawn, gape". (We are happy to thank Albert Skiles for his recommendation of today's Good Word after a considerable hiatus between his suggestion and publication.)

Dr. Goodword,

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