• mattress •
mæ-tris • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A fabric case filled with resilient material, usually but not necessarily fitted to a bedstead, for sleeping on. 2. A flat structure of concrete, brush and poles woven together, or other materials, protecting embankments, dams, or other structures from erosion.
Notes: Here is a common word from an uncommon source. It has only a plural, mattresses, but may be used as a verb meaning "to provide with something to sleep on" or "provide with a covering to protect from erosion".
In Play: The first sense of this word is narrowly defined: "Bedbugs breed at a phenomenal rate in the seams and under the buttons on mattresses." Only the contents of a mattress may vary widely, and include air and water: "The post mortem showed that Clyde had drowned when Sheila's knife cut through the mattress on his waterbed, so no charges were filed against her."
Word History: Today's Good Word was copied from Anglo-Norman French by Middle English as materas "a sleeping bag filled with soft material, tacked at short intervals to prevent the contents from slipping". Old French borrowed its word from Italian materasso, to which Italian had already reduced Medieval Latin matracium "mattress". Medieval Latin had borrowed its word in Sicily from medieval (Moorish) Arabic al-matrah "the-large cushion", literally "the thing thrown down", which was taraha "to throw" with noun prefix ma-. Provenšal and Catalan turned this word into al-matrac, which became matrac after the prefix al "the" was dropped. This word came to be spelled materasso in Italian, matelas (sic) in French, Matratze in German, madrass in Swedish, and matras in Dutch. (Today's surprising if common Good Word came as a suggestion from a brand new contributor, Susan Maynard, to whom much gratitude is due.)
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