Printable Version
Pronunciation: nee-ê-fait Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A recent convert to a belief, a proselyte. 2. A beginner at an activity, a novice, a greenhorn, a fledgling. 3. A plant found in an area where it had not been previously seen.

Notes: Only one derivation from today's word has established itself in a few dictionaries, a noun neophytism, though I see no reason why we couldn't use neophytic as an adjective. There are, of course, many words beginning on neo-, the Greek word for "new": neophobia "fear of anything new", neophilia "obsessessive love of anything new", and a word we hear a lot lately, neocon "new conservative, reactionary".

In Play: The first meaning today's Good Word took on was "proselyte": "The neophyte shaman put too much sassafras bark and newt's tongue in the mixture, which made the patient's skin take on a greenish tone." Keeping track of your children is so much easier these days: "My daughter's a neophyte at dating, so I sewed a GPS tracker in the hem of her jeans before she went out tonight. Very inconspicuous."

Word History: Church Latin neophytus came from Greek neophytos "a new convert", a noun use of an adjective meaning "newly initiated, newly converted", literally "newly planted", from neos "new" (see new) + phytos "planted", the past participle of phyein "to make grow, to plant". It comes from a Proto-Indo-European word bheuê- "be, exist, grow", the same word that came to English as be and build. Phyein, through its various nouns and adjectives, provided us with such borrowed words as physics, and phylum. PIE newo- "new" has an amazing history: it is present in almost every IE language with the same meaning: English new, German neu, French nouveau, Russian novyi, Marathi nave, Oriya nua. The amazing thing is that it had traveled through 6000 years with no change in meaning and only minor changes in pronunciation. Compare that with with the history of bheuê-. (It's now time to thank Albert Skiles of the Land o' Goshen, Arkansas, no neophyte at recommending very Good Words like today's.)

Dr. Goodword,

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