Printable Version
Pronunciation: mis-sej-ê-nay-shên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (No plural)

Meaning: 1. Interracial marriage involving people with different skin colors. 2. The process by which children are born to parents of different races. 3. The mixture of two different styles, cultures, etc.

Notes: Today's Good Word is an activity noun created from the verb miscegenate, which also gave us miscegenator and miscegenationist. This word has a synonym, miscegeny (not to be confused with misogyny "hatred of women"), which accounts for miscegenist and miscegenic. The size of the family of today's Good Word reflects its importance historically, which continues in some parts of the world even today.

In Play: Today's Good Word is seldom used any more. I was mildly shocked to hear it when watching the 1951 movie of Jerome Kern's and Oscar Hammerstein's musical Show Boat, based on a book of the same name by Edna Ferber. The star of the show, Julie, was forced under threat of arrest to leave the show boat because she was a half-African living with a white man. However, this word is used much more broadly today: "Bob Dylan's music is a miscegenation of folk music and jazz." It has even lost its pejorative tinge.

Word History: Today's Good Word would seem to be built using the prefix mis- "wrong". The original meaning tends to support a misanalysis of the word as "wrong cegenation". This interpretation doesn't work because neither English nor Latin has a word cegenation. Miscegenation actually originated as a hoax perpetrated by US journalist David Goodman Croly and George Wakeman, who published a pamphlet in 1863 which implied that Republicans favored mixed-race relationships. The word they invented comprised legitimate Latin words: miscere "to mix" + genus, generis "race". These two words brought with them a long, illustrious history. The root of miscere comes from the same PIE source as English mix. Genus, generis goes back to a word meaning "give birth to", for it turns up in Greek gyne "woman", as in gynecology, misogyny, and generation. It descended to English via its Germanic roots as kin and kind.

Dr. Goodword,

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