• nutation •
nyu-tay-shên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. (Archaic) Nodding of the head, as if falling asleep. 2. A wobble in rotation, as the occasional wobble of the earth's axis. 3. (Botany) The swaying of the untwisting motion of the tip of a growing plant.
Notes: Today's Good Word is the action noun of nutate, which has nothing to do with nut, except maybe in its slang sense of "head". It is the verbalization of all three senses of nutation. It brings with it an adjective, nutational, and an adverb, nutationally. Another adjective, nutant, means "drooping, nodding", as to lay under nutant willows.
In Play: The original meaning of this word, far less often heard than the others, is "nod": "The heavy drinking he had undertaken the night before was betrayed by Boscov's periodic nutation. It far more often refers to a wobble in a rotation or spiraling motion: "The defect in the top's balance is revealed in a slight nutation when it is spun."
Word History: Nutation was borrowed from Latin nutatio(n) "nodding", the action noun from nutare "to nod frequently", the frequentative of nuere "to nod" with a -t suffix. Latin received its word from PIE neu- to push, to nod", source also of Sanskrit navate, nauti "moves, turns" and Greek neuo "I nod, wave". Russian ponuryi "downcast" and, possibly, nyukhat' "to smell" come from the same PIE word with different suffixes. English nod is another with the same suffix as Latin. The difference between [t] and [d] is only that we vibrate our vocal cords for [d] but not for [t].
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