Printable Version
Pronunciation: pê-kyu-lyêr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Distinctive, characteristic of only one, unique, as 'habit peculiar to her'. 2. Odd, eccentric, strange, unusual, weird, as 'a peculiar bird of a man'. 3. Special, particular, specific, as 'a matter of peculiar interest'.

Notes: Today's peculiar word has been around for a long time. In the course of its life it procreated two nouns, the clunky peculiarness and the more sophisticated peculiarity. The latter can refer to an instance of a peculiar thing. Both can refer to the quality of the peculiar.

In Play: The first sense of peculiar refers to a uniqueness: "The dialects peculiar to Southern cities are radically different from those of rural regions." Often, the first two meanings of today's word are blended: "Lucinda Head has a peculiar way of thinking that often leads her astray." The third sense is the least often used: "A simple smile is a peculiar way of insinuating yourself into the affections of others."

Word History: Today's Good Word, again, was borrowed from Old French peculiare, where it meant "pertaining to one's private property", inherited directly from Latin peculiaris. The Latin adjective was based on the noun peculium "private property (in cattle)". The base of today's adjective is peculiar itself, peku "cattle", passed down from PIE pek'u- "cattle, moveable wealth", which also underlies Sanskrit pasvah "of cattle", German Vieh "cattle" (from Old High German fihu), Greek pekos "wool, fleece", Icelandic fax "mane", Dutch vacht "fleece, coat", and Lithuanian pešti "to pluck (feathers)". It arrived at Old English's doorstep as feoh "cattle, livestock, moveable wealth", which English converted over the years into fee. (Now thank Eileen Opiolka, whose peculiar taste for fascinating Good Words has led to many just as fascinating as today's.)

Dr. Goodword,

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