Printable Version
Pronunciation: pawl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, Verb

Meaning: 1. [Noun] The cloth covering a casket. 2. [Noun] Any covering that obscures vision, as a pall of fog over the valley. 3. [Noun] A glum mood, as a pall of sadness that fell over the festivities. 4. [Verb] To make or become flat, stale, insipid, or boring.

Notes: Today's seemingly simple fellow is far more complex than it seems. This word has two sets of meanings and grammatical functions (noun and verb) that are totally unrelated. It is, in fact, two lexical orphans, neither having suffixed nor prefixed forms other than the regular forms of tense and number (see Word History for details).

In Play: The nominal senses of this Good Word are probably familiar: "Mortimer dismayed the mourners by exclaiming, 'The whole casket? I thought pall-bearers only carried the pall!'" The verb, however, is often confused with to pale. They are not synonymous, though: "The Pepsi-Cola in his glass had palled from standing out too long." Other things pall, too: "Phoebe felt the conversation beginning to pall after an hour trying to escape the topic of men."

Word History: In fact, we have two discrete words today only coincidentally spelled the same. The noun comes from Old English pæll "cloak, covering" from Latin pallium "cloak, altar cloth". The verb, however, split off from appall, which comes from Old French apalir "to grow faint" (today apâlir), ultimately from Latin pallere "to grow pale". The root here is akin to pale and pallid, both from Latin. The same root (pel- "pale, gray") surfaced with a suffix in Old Germanic in a word which Latin may well have borrowed as falco "falcon". Greek polios "gray" shares the same source. We see that word in English poliomyelitis, from Greek polios + myelos "marrow" + -itis "inflammation". (Today we thank John M. Dunlap for helping us lift the pall of mystery from this remarkably Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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