Printable Version
Pronunciation: pæl-pê-bêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Tangible, touchable, that can be literally felt or handled, perceptible through the sense of touch. 2. Emotionally perceptible, sensed, that can be figuratively felt. 3. Obvious, manifest, clear.

Notes: Doctors will always palpate their patients, meaning to feel parts of their bodies where lumps and bumps usually occur. They do this with their fingers. However unusual this word may sound, palpate is the basis for today's word. It comes with an adverb, palpably, and two nouns: palpability and palpableness.

In Play: The basic sense of this word is "tangible, susceptible to the sense of touch", as: "I like the snow when it turns into rain and becomes palpable." However, that meaning can be metaphorically transported to that of the capacity of being sensed in any way possible: "A palpable tension arose when she was asked her age." Her displeasure became palpable (obvious).

Word History: Today's Good Word, like half the English vocabulary, comes from French, in this case from palpable "that may be touched or felt". French inherited the word from post-classical Latin palpabilis with the same meaning. The Latin adjective was derived from the verb palpare "to touch, feel". The same Proto-Indo-European word that produced palpare, pal- "touch, feel, shake", came to English as feel and German as fühlen "to feel". The frequentative aspect of palpare was palpitare "palpitate, flutter, quiver", that is to say "touch or shake many times". One of the nouns from this verb was papilio(n) "butterfly", which went on to become papillion in Modern French. (I would now like to palpably thank Diane Lyons for recommending today's touchingly Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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