Printable Version
Pronunciation: læm-bênt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Playing slowly and softly over a surface, breaking up or flickering, as lambent moonlight on the rippling lake. 2. Glowing faintly, as a lambent light in the fog. 3. Gracefully sportive and flashing occasionally, as a lambent wit.

Notes: Despite the fact that the word lamb lurks inside today's Good Word, the two words are not related except by the softness implied by both. The noun accompanying today's Good Word is lambency and the adverb is, quite predictably, lambently.

In Play: Today we are enjoying one of the loveliest words in English, both in sound and meaning: "The lambent light of the moon filtering through the trees made her hair dance slowly and alluringly." This word can also simply refer to a faint light, such as one glimmering through fog: "The lambent green light at the end of the dock held an inexplicable fascination for Gatsby."

Word History: This Good Word was once lambens, lambent- "licking", the present participle of lambere "to lick", preserved figuratively in today's word in the sense of licking flames. The root of the Latin verb suggests that the original word was lab- "lick, slurp" with that 'Fickle N', that comes and goes mysteriously in Indo-European languages. Before P or B, that N usually became M, as it does here in Latin. It does not appear in Germanic words of the same origin, such as English lip and lap, not to mention German Löffel "spoon", a useful slurping tool. In fact, the Fickle M doesn't appear in Latin labium "lip", either. (Today we owe our gratitude to James Stemwedel for suggesting that we explore the beauty of this very Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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