Printable Version
Pronunciation: pree-læp-ser-ri-ên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Characteristic of the state of innocence before the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. 2. Innocent, unspoiled, carefree.

Notes: The suffix on today's word invites its use as a noun, too, as in 'a simple-minded prelapsarian who lives in his own world'. It also gives way to an adverb, prelapsarianly. No one seems to have used these words before, though, so it remains a monosemous (= "with only one meaning") lexical orphan.

In Play: I associate this word with the pure and simple milkmaid of yore: "Life on the farm was prelapsarian: naïveté could survive there unencumbered." It can also apply to the rough-and-tumble world of politics: "In his town hall meeting, the candidate revealed a prelapsarian naïveté about Washington politics."

Word History: Today's Good Word comprises a prefix pre- "before" + lapsus "a fall" + a Latin suffix -ian, in other words, "prefall" or "pre(back)slide". The Latin noun lapsus "a slip, fall" is the past participle of the verb labi "to slide, fall". We don't know much about this verb. It seems to be related to labor "slip, slide, flow" (not labor "work, toil"), but no one knows where this labor comes from. It may be related to labium "lip", since lips can become slippery. If this is the case, then the PIE root of this word came to English as the verb to lap, to Albanian as lap with the same meaning as the English word, and Old High German as laffan "to lick", a word which ended up in German as Löffel "spoon". (We now thank David Beck for relaying today's Good Word from the pages of the New York Times.)

Dr. Goodword,

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