Printable Version
Pronunciation: kee-ston Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. The wedge-shaped stone at the summit of a stone arch or vault that holds the other stones in place. 2. The critical part of something on which all the other parts depend.

Notes: My state, Pennsylvania, calls itself "the keystone state". It came by this nickname because its largest city, Philadelphia, is where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written and enacted.

In Play: This word may be used figuratively for the central piece of anything with pieces: "Tryon Makepeace gave the keystone speech at the conference on war strategies sponsored by the army." Keystone is also the name of a madcap, shambolic police force in silent movies of the 1920s: "Our boys looked more like the Keystone Kops than a baseball team today."

Word History: Today's Good Word is obviously a compound noun consisting of key + stone. In Middle English key was keie, from Old English cæg. The latter probably derives from PIE keu-k- "bent", since we find Sanskrit kuñcika "key" from the same root. If so, it is related to Irish cuar "curve", and Bulgarian and Serbian kuka "hook". Stone in Old English was stan, so it is cousin to Dutch steen, Swedish and Norwegian sten, and German Stein. All these words are descendants of PIE stai- "harden, press together", evidence of which we see in Sanskrit styayate "hardens", Greek stear "suet", Latin stiria "icicle", Russian stena "wall", Lithuanian stingti "to solidify, curdle", and Latvian stingt "to stiffen". (Now for a triple "thank-you" to Jeremy Busch, for his service as an editor of this series, his long-time activism in the Agora, and contributor of fascinating Good Words like today's.)

Dr. Goodword,

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