Printable Version
Pronunciation: pri-hen-sêl, -sail Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Capable of grasping, especially by wrapping around something, as 'a prehensile monkey's tail'. 2. Avaricious, greedy, grasping, as 'a prehensile mind'.

Notes: Today's word is a surrogate for grasping in certain of its senses. It is a synonym of prehensive. The noun for today's word is prehensility, but this word is derived from prehend "to seize, grasp", so prehension is available with approximately the same meaning. Comprehend is akin via the sense of "grasp", as 'to grasp the meaning of something.'

In Play: While elephant trunks and monkey tails are the usual objects this word brings to mind, other things might be prehensile as well: "When Harold kissed Greta he found her lips were almost prehensile." The second sense of prehensile is rare, though still around: "Fairgrounds are often perilous with wandering prehensile pickpockets."

Word History: Today's Good Word was taken wholesale from French (prehénsile), which added the suffix -ile to Latin prehensus, the past participle of prehendere "to grasp, take". Latin created its word out of pre- "before" + -hendere. based on the PIE word ghend- "to grasp, take". Pre- we've seen before. It came from PIE per-/por- "forward, before" which went on to become English fore and for, Russian pro- "through" and pere- "across, over", Lithuanian per "through", and German für "for" and vor "before". Ghend- went into the making of Greek khandanein "to hold, contain", Lithuanian godus "greedy", and Welsh cynnwys "contain, include". Without nasalization (the N) it turned up as English get. (We thought running today's fascinating Good Word would help Debby Moggio remember it. She mentioned her difficulty in the discussion of ambient.)

Dr. Goodword,

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