• myriad •
mi-ri-êd • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, Adjective
Meaning: 1. [Noun] An enormous host, a great throng (a myriad of stars above). 2. [Adjective] Countless, innumerable, existing in great numbers (the myriad stars in the sky).
Notes: The use of today's Good Word as a noun has been subjected to considerable criticism and pops up these days almost exclusively in adjective service. However, it was originally a noun in English and remains acceptable in that function despite the criticism. Myriad combines with at least one word, myriadfold, which has the same meaning. Two other relatives, myriameter (UK myriametre) "10,000 meters" and myriapod "millipede, centipede, or the like", are based on the root of myriad, Greek myrios (see Word History).
In Play: In his "Hymn to Earth", written around 1800, Samuel Coleridge proved that today's Good Word is both noun and adjective by writing, "Myriad myriads of lives teem'd forth from the mighty embracement." But then opportunities for using this Good Word in our daily lives are themselves myriad: "A myriad of excuses for avoiding the workout center that day swarmed around Russell, an ex-omphaloskeptic who could no longer see his navel, let alone contemplate it."
Word History: The story of today's word is its migration from noun to adjective. Its etymology is rather shallow. We know that it comes from Greek myrios "countless", which doubled as the word for 10,000 in the plural: myrioi. We don't know where the ancient Greeks got this word, but we do know that it picked up a suffix to become myriades before Latin borrowed it with the same two meanings. French, Italian, and other Romance languages inherited this form, and the French variant, myriade, was acquired by English in the usual way. (Of course, we offer myriad thanks to Diane Muffitt for finding today's Good Word and suggesting we examine it in our series.)
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