Printable Version
Pronunciation: lek-si-kahn Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Dictionary, an alphabetical list of words with definitions. 2. Lexis, the total mental vocabulary of a language ('English lexicon') or sphere of activity, ('the lexicon of music').

Notes: This word is very much apropos the Good Word series. The adjective, as we all know, is lexical. A lexicographer (or, rarely lexiconist) is someone who compiles dictionaries. A lexicologist is someone, like Dr. Goodword, who researches words and vocabularies. Lexigraphy today refers to writing systems like Chinese, in which a word may be represented by a single character.

In Play: Today's word is a formal surrogate for dictionary, used mostly in reference to ancient languages: "H. G. Liddell and R. Scott's A Greek-English Lexicon is one of the best." However, it may also be used for specialized vocabularies: "Calico, gingham, organdy—Maude Lynn Dresser knows the entire lexicon of ladies' wear."

Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from Greek lexicon (biblion) "word (book)", the neuter of lexicos "of words", the adjective for lexis "word, speech". Lexis was passed down from PIE leg-/log- "to gather". The decision to assign this word the meaning "to gather" was an attempt to reconcile the various meanings of its descendants: Latin legere "to read" and lex "law", Greek lexis and legein "to speak", and Serbian lek "medicine" and lekar "doctor". I can see how all these might have developed from the idea of speech back when the king's word was the law and folk "doctors" used magic words in attempts to cure diseases. Anyway, we find it in English borrowings from Latin and Greek like today's Good Word, legislate, logic, lecture, and a word that worked its way down through our Germanic ancestors as leech, a form of ancient medication. (Now, let's give a round of e-applause to Maureen Koplow, a subscriber since 2006, who occasionally contributes Good Words like today's from her considerable lexicon.)

Dr. Goodword,

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