• abyssal •
ê-bi-sêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Related to the depths of seas or oceans. 2. Unfathomable, ostensibly bottomless; very, very, deep.
Notes: Today's Good Word is the adjective for abyss, which has a rarely used synonym, abysm. While the adjective for abyss is seldom used, abysm itself is rare, but its adjective, abysmal, is quite common with a meaning unrelated to its noun, "very, very bad".
In Play: This word is most often used in referring to the depths of the ocean: "The abyssal zone has revealed many new organisms and unexplored ecosystems." The second meaning of abyssal is metaphorical: "Take Kay Largo to a restaurant with an all-you-can-eat buffet; she has an abyssal stomach."
Word History: In Middle English today's word was abissus, borrowed from Latin abyssus, itself borrowed from Greek abyssos "bottomless", comprising a- "without" + byssos "sea depths, bottom". Middle English also had a word abime from Old French abisme with a silent S. Its origin may also be traced back to Latin abyssus. The M is from Vulgar (street) Latin abissimus, that is, abissus with the suffix -ismus "ism", readjusted slightly. Byssos seems related to bathos "depth" and bathys "deep", as in bathysphere "deep diving apparatus", bathyphobia "fear of depths", and bathometer "gauge for measuring depths". Bathroom, bathrobe, and bathtub are unrelated words based on bath, which goes back to a root referring to warmth. (Thank you, Mary Jane Stoneburg, long-time editor of the Good Word series, for your enlightened tenure as editor and for today's fascinating Good Word.)
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