Printable Version
Pronunciation: in-flekt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. Bend (inward) or deflect, alter noticeably, influence, persuade, incline. 2. Change the form of a word, decline nouns and adjectives, conjugate verbs. 3. Modulate the intonation, tone, or pitch of the voice or music.

Notes: This word has wandered afar from its original meaning, "bend (inward)". The figurative sense of the word bifurcated and one branch was quickly adopted by the field of linguistics. It comes with an action noun, inflection, and a personal noun, inflector. The adjectives are inflective or inflectional.

In Play: The original meaning of this word was "to bend" in all senses of the word, but particularly in the abstract ones like this: "The pastor's words inflected his congregation to pay their tithes." Another abstract sense refers to the intonation of speech or varying musical notes a half note sharp or flat: "When we speak, our voices inflect like musical cadences." It is most often used in linguistics and grammars, though: "All Russian nouns, verbs, and adjectives are heavily inflected."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes to us from Latin inflectere "to bend in, bow", and, figuratively, "to change, alter, influence", based on in- "in" + flectere "to bend" . No one knows how flectere got into Latin; however, it was very productive there. It produced the underlying forms of the Latinate English borrowings deflect, reflect and genuflect "to bow". We also see it in flexion "bending, the part bent" and flexible. We find it in French flexion, Italian flessione and Spanish flexión, all meaning "flexion". Derivations of all the other Latinate English words are found throughout the Romance languages. (Today our gratitude is due Jeremy Busch, not only for recommending today's Good Word, but for working with me for years to keep the Agora free of spammers, and recently, for stirring up discussions there which have produced many interesting stories.)

Dr. Goodword,

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