• polygene •
pah-li-jeen • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A gene that must join with one or more other genes to determine an inherited characteristic.
Notes: Some genes, called monogenes, can single-handedly effect inherited traits, like the genes that determine freckles or a cleft chin. In order for polygenes to determine such traits as the hair, eye, and skin color, they must collaborate with one or more other genes as a team. The adjective is polygenic or, less often, polygenetic.
In Play: Genes produce proteins that trigger physical development. Defective genes that produce too much or too little of their protein may cause illnesses. Sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, and hemophilia are monogenic disorders. Cancer, type 2 diabetes, and arthritis are caused by teams of polygenes.
Word History: Today's Good Word is obviously a compound of the Greek combination forms of polys "much, many" + genes "born of, produced by". The plural of polys is polloi, as in the English Hellenic borrowing hoi polloi "ordinary folk", literally "the many". Greek inherited its word from PIE pel-/pol- "to fill, full", source also of English full and fill, German Volk "people", as in Volkswagen "(the) people's car", and English folk. In Russian we find polnyi "full". Latin applied metathesis, to get plenitas "fullness", which worked its way to Old French as plentee, which English converted into plenty. Latin also borrowed the Proto-Germanic word (fulka "folk") and converted it to vulgus "common people", whose adjective is vulgaris, source of English vulgar. Greek obtained genes from PIE gen-/gon- "to beget, birth", which turned out to be kin and the noun kind in English, and Kind "child" in German. Of course, English borrowed a host of words ultimately from Latin words of the same source: generate, genus, generation.
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