Printable Version
Pronunciation: im-prahmt-tu Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective, adverb, noun

Meaning: 1. (Adjective, adverb) Extempore, spontaneous, improvised, unrehearsed, on the spur of the moment without preparation. 2. (Noun) Improvisation, an unpremeditated performance.

Notes: A noun, impromptitude, was tried by C. S. Wynn in Story of a Kiss in 1887, but it never caught on. Otherwise, it is a lexical orphan like all other words ending on U.

In Play: This word is far more often used as an adjective: "When news of her graduation reached home, impromptu dancing broke out among Lucinda Head's family." It is much less often used as an adverb: "Lloyd's only excuse was that he had written the regrettable e-mail impromptu." Its use as a noun today is mostly limited to musical pieces suggestive of improvisation.

Word History: Today's Good Word was taken from French impromptu when the French weren't looking. French created the word from the Latin phrase in promptu "in readiness", by assimilating the final N of in "in, on" to the initial P of promptu, the ablative of promptus "set forth, disclosed", the past participle of promere "to bring out". Promere is made up of pro "before, forward" + emere "to buy; acquire". Latin created pro by metathesizing PIE per/por "forward, before", source also of Greek peri "around, near", Latin per "through, for, by", Russian pere- "over, again" (as in perestroika "rebuilding"), English for, forth, fore, and fro(m). Latin created emere from PIE em- "to take", source also of Lithuanian imti "to take", Serbian imati "to have", Russian imet' "to have". (Brian Thrasher, a newcomer to our happy band of contributors, found the intrigue in today's unusual Good Word and shared it with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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