Printable Version
Pronunciation: nahn-di-skript, nahn-di-skript Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Without any distinguishing characteristics or qualities, having no individual form or class. 2. Dull, drab, uninteresting.

Notes: This word is a lexical orphan, except it may be used as a noun referring to an undistinguished or insignificant person. It might seem an Orphan Negative, like unwieldy, impeccable, and inept, but the word descript exists, though it was backformed from nondescript.

In Play: People may be nondescript but also the things they wear: "Maude Lynn Dresser moved to a retirement village where the residents wore such nondescript clothes as to drive her insane." In fact, anything may be nondescript: "I had never looked at my bathroom ceiling before and found it quite nondescript and boring."

Word History: Today's Good Word emerged in the late 16th century, composed of Latin non "not (at all)" + descript(us) "written, copied, sketched", the past participle of describere "to write down, copy, sketch". Non was a reduction of Old Latin noenum "not one" from PIE ne/no "not" + oino- "one". Both variants ne/no are floating all over the Indo-European world. Most Slavic languages, like Russian and Serbian, have ne "not", German nein "no". The Romance languages seem to prefer the O-form: Italian and Spnish no "no(t)", and French non "no(t)", as do Sanskritic languages like Hindi naheen "not" and Sinhala næta "no" and nove "not". Scribere was made out of PIE skribh- "to cut, scratch", which also went into the making of English scratch, and Latvian skrāpēt "to scratch". The [skr] in the PIE root was a variant of (s)ker- "to cut", which went on to become Russian kroit' "to cut out" and Latin cernere "to separate, distinguish".

Dr. Goodword,

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