Printable Version
Pronunciation: mai-grayn (US), mee-grayn (UK) Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A severe, potentially debilitating headache.

Notes: Today's Good Word, a noun that may be used as an adjective, belongs to a somewhat unusual family. A person suffering from migraines is a migraineur. The adjective meaning "like a migraine" is magrainous, though in medicine migrainoid is used in this sense. Because it comes from French, it contains some extra letters: don't forget the AI in the middle and the silent E on the end.

In Play: A migraine, of course, is an almost debilitating headache: "Will you kids please calm down! You've given your mom a migraine". Opportunities for the figurative use of migraine abound. Wherever we can use headache in a figurative sense, migraine will work, too: "I expected raising kids would be a headache, but it has turned out to be a chronic migraine."

Word History: Today's Good Word is another borrowed from Old French, where it was part of the phrase fièvre migraine "pique, vexation". The word migraine itself is a French reduction of Latin hemicrania "pain on one side of the head", made up of hemi "half" and kranion "skull". The reason the Latin word semi is not used for "half" is that Latin borrowed the word from Greek, where "half" was hemi (as in hemisphere) not semi (as in semiannual). The word for "head" in Greek was kara but the upper part of the head was the kranion. The root of this word was derived from Proto-Indo-European kor- "skull, horn", which came directly (unborrowed) to English as horn. It entered Latin directly as cornu "horn", as in cornucopia "horn of plenty". (Forgetting to thank Jackie Strauss for suggesting today's Good Word might well bring on a migraine so, thank you, Jackie.)

Dr. Goodword,

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