• modicum •
mah-dê-kêm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A small amount.
Notes: Since today's Good Word is related to moderate and moderation, it should mean "a moderate amount". But the friction of time has reduced the size of its meaning considerably. It is a lexical orphan.
In Play: Modicum is most often used with abstract ideas: "A modicum of computer knowledge can be dangerous." The closest it comes to concreteness might be exemplified like this: "With a modicum of imagination and a dash of daring, we might save the planet from global warming by the end of this millennium."
Word History: This word IS Latin modicum, the neuter singular of modicus "moderate, measured", based on modus "a measure". Modus was inherited from Proto-Indo-European med-/mod- "to measure, take measures", source also of English mete (out) "to distribute". English contains several borrowings based on Latin sources, like modest and mode. The latter also led to modern, from Old French moderne, obtained from Late Latin modernus, a derivative of Latin modo "in a certain manner", the ablative case of modus. The sense of "take measures" is retained in medicine, borrowed from Latin medicina "(the practice of) medicine" via French. (Today's gratitude is owed to yet another newcomer, Valerie Nyiri-Loerch, for suggesting we explain today's exciting Good Word.)
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