Printable Version
Pronunciation: his-têr-ree Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Antiquity, the past, yesteryear, days of yore, bygone times. 2. The record, account, or story of the past. 3. The study of such records, accounts, and stories.

Notes: Today's Good Word is a common word that we think little of when uttering. Yet, it has a variety of offspring that bear considering. The adjective for this word, historical, has the additional meaning of "so important as to make history", as the historical march from Selma, Alabama. Historicism is either the theory that our history is the result of conditions that are beyond human control, or a(n) historicism is an idea that is stuck in the past. Historicity, on the other hand, means "historical accuracy, authenticity", as in "The Bible's historicity has been challenged for ages."

In Play: The past of anything is its history: "Andy Belham lives in a house with a history dating back to the Revolutionary War." Edmund Burke (1729-1797) once wrote, "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it." This calls to my attention a true story from the annals of the Bucknell University history department: "After a stirring lecture on World War I, a student proudly approached the lecturer and volunteered, 'Thank you, Professor Kirkland. Now I know why they call the other one World War Two!'"

Word History: Today's Good Word has a fascinating, well, history. Greek historia meant simply "learning". Latin borrowed this word and changed its meaning to "account of past events, story". French inherited this word, making it histoire, which English borrowed both as history and story—a reminder that history is simply someone's story of the past. Taking the history of this word beyond Greek, historia was built upon histor "wise man, judge", whom the Greeks thought to be a seer, or one who saw things more clearly than most. We know this because the his in histor came from the same PIE root meaning "see" as vision. This root made it to English as wit, wise and twit. "Twit?" you ask, rightly astounded. This word was shortened from nitwit, made up of nit "egg of a louse" + wit. In other words, someone with the mental capacities the size of a louse's egg. (Thank you, Suzanne Russell, for the historical suggestion of today's really Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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