Printable Version
Pronunciation: kemt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Groomed, combed, neat, tidy, manicured (lawn). 2. Elegant, well-mannered, sophisticated.

Notes: English speakers sometimes confuse kept and kempt, especially after well-. Only well-kept makes sense. Kept is the past participle of keep. Kempt is related to comb, though its negative, unkempt, is used more often than today's word. Well-kempt is, actually, tautological, since kempt means "groomed, tidy" already.

In Play: Here is a sentence that distinguishes kept and kempt: "Lon Moore had a 34-acre lawn that he always kept kempt." Notice, well- (well-kempt) is redundant, hence unnecessary. "Donald has a very kempt balderdash comprising the last strands of hair remaining on his head."

Word History: Today's Good Word is the past participle of a verb which is still used in some dialects of British English: kemb "to comb", from Old English cemban. Other dialects prefer comb with an O. English inherited PIE gembh-/gombh- "tooth, nail" via its Germanic ancestors as both kemb and comb. It developed in the English cam and Dutch kam "cog, comb", too. The word emerged in several Germanic languages in the sense of "to comb": Dutch kammen, German kämmen, Norwegian kjemme, Swedish kamma. (Thanks now to the very kempt David Myer of Melbourne, Australia, a senior Lexiterian in the Agora, for his recommendation of this, our 2998th Good Word since AD 2004.)

Dr. Goodword,

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