• ponderous •
pond-êr-ês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Very heavy, very bulky, clumsy, unwieldy, slow moving from bulk and weight, such as a ponderous elephant. 2. Important, worth pondering, such as ponderous words. 3. Belabored, slow-moving, dull, as a ponderous speech (see Word History).
Notes: No, today's Good Word has nothing to do with ponds or pondering, though historically the latter comes from the same Latin root. It is accompanied by an adverb, ponderously, and two nouns: ponderousness and ponderosity, both rather appropriately ponderous themselves.
In Play: The initial meaning of today's word is not merely "very heavy", but "very heavy and clumsy": "Rhinoceroses are creatures as dangerous as they are ponderous." The second meaning is heard less frequently, but it is still around, longing to be used: "Reginald thinks that everything he says is so ponderous, he records every word that passes through his lips." Everyone around him thinks Reginald's words are ponderous in the third sense.
Word History: In the discussion of pensive, I introduced today's Good Word as a relative of pensive. We traced both words back to a Proto-Indo-European word with a Fickle S, (s)pen- "to draw, stretch, spin", claiming that ancients needed a weight to stretch hides or spin wool into threads. To understand the connection between thought and weight, we have to remember how people once weighed things. They had pans of equal weight hanging equidistant from the center of an arm. They placed the object(s) to be weighed in one pan, and weights of a known weight in the other. When the arm balanced, the object's weight was known. That is why even today we say things like, "Maisy weighs all her options carefully before reaching decisions."
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