• muscle •
mês-sêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A fibrous tissue in the body that contracts and relaxes to effect movement. 2. Muscular strength, as in 'enough muscle to lift a car'. 3. (Slang) Power, influence, authority, as in 'put some muscle behind your words'.
Notes: Today's Good Word may also be used as a verb meaning "to force", as 'to muscle your way past the guards'. It comes with two adjectives, muscular and, though it is rarely used, muscly. A person with overdeveloped muscles may be called muscle-bound and, if they build their muscles at the expense of their intellect, muscle-headed. Remember the C in the spelling of this word; mussel refers to the black clam-like bivalve.
In Play: Muscles are involved in all animal and human motion: "Every muscle in my body hurts from just walking around the block." Muscle emerged in many compound nouns: "Hank is a gorgeous muscle-bound hunk who thinks Paris is the capital of Germany." It may be used metaphorically to refer to power or influence: "I don't have enough muscle in the company to get my ideas on policy across."
Word History: How do you like the image of little animals crawling around under your skin? Well, brace yourself, for today's Good Word originated in Latin musculus "little mouse", the diminutive of mus "mouse". Before you ask: yes, it does come from the same Proto-Indo-European word as English mouse and German Maus. So does musk, and the word for the highly fragrant Muscat grapes, and hence the wine made from them, muscatel. However, musk comes to us via a more sinuous trail from Latin muscus "musk". Muscus was borrowed from Greek moskhos, which the Greeks borrowed from Persian mušk. It is likely that Persian got the word from Sanskrit muskah "scrotum", an interesting metaphor for "mouse". (Barbara Kelly had enough intellectual muscle here at alphaDictionary to get today's Good Word through to us. Thank you, Barbara.)
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