lis-êm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Supple, slender, gracefully limber and agile.
Notes: As today's Word History will show, lissome, lithesome, and lithe all share the identical meaning and are variations of one and the same word. Those slender enough can walk about lissomely as a result of their lissomeness.
In Play: Lissome implies movement facilitated by slenderness and flexibility: "Grace had grown into a charming, lissome teen-ager who leapt across the stage in her tutu effortlessly." This word refers to slender things but it implies motion: "Ages ago, when I was winsome and lissome, I could dance the limbo under a rod less than 2 feet from the floor."
Word History: Today's Good Word reflects remarkable indecision in the minds of English speakers over a particularly long period of time. The original word was lithe [laidh] which was first extended for no apparent reason to lithesome [laidh-sêm] and then reduced to lissome without the slightest shift in meaning. Lithe is another of those words with a Fickle N, an [n] that comes and goes for reasons of its own. The original PIE root was something like len-t- "soft". Old English líðe "mild, flexible" eschewed the [n] while German kept it in lind "gentle, soothing, dulcet". Latin also retained the [n] in its adjective lentus "pliant, flexible", which went on to become Italian lento, the musical term for "(played) slowly". Russian kept the [n] while dropping the [t], producing in len' "slowness, laziness". (We owe a debt of gratitude to the lissome mind of Dr. Lyn Laboriel for suggesting today's delightful lexical tidbit.)
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