• bifurcate •
bai-fêr-kayt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: To fork, divide into two parts, to branch, to form a Y.
Notes: I have heard this word misused as a synonym of separate. It has exactly the sense above in the Meaning, to fork into two parts from one part. The noun is bifurcation, and the adjective is spelled the same way, but pronounced differently: bai-fêr-kêt.
In Play: When Yogi Berra came to a fork in the road, he took it; so, whenever your roads bifurcate, do the same thing. Remember, this word does not mean simply "to separate", but "to fork": "Blanche Dwight panicked when the road she was on bifurcated: she didn't know which branch to take."
Word History: English picked up this word from the past participle, bifurcatus, of the Medieval Latin verb bifurcare "to bifurcate", based on Latin bifurcus "two-pronged", made up of bi- "two" + furca "fork". Where Latin furca came from is a mystery, but it is found in nearly all the Romance and Germanic languages: Spanish horca, Portuguese and Italian forca, German Forke, and Dutch vork. There is an Anglo-Norman word forcer, derived from forces, the feminine plural of forfex "clipping-shears". Since shears consist of two parts, furca may have strayed from this word. There remain too many phonological and semantic issues to say for sure. (We must bifurcate our narrative at this point to thank Eric Berntson for suggesting today's doubly Good Word.)
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