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Pronunciation: kæd-(ê)n-ery Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. The curve formed by a wire, rope, or chain hanging loosely between two points and forming a U-shape. 2. The wire, rope, or chain contained in a catenary.

Notes: Today's word may be used as an adjective; in fact, it started out its life as the adjective for Latin catena "chain; string, series of things". Today it has its own adjective, catenarian. The verb may be simply catenate, or we may say concatenate "link, string together in a series", using the Latinate prefix con- "(together) with".

In Play: Usually catenaries hang down: "A morning spiderweb filled with catenaries of dewdrops is a lovely sight, indeed." However, inverted catenaries are also possible: "While other architects busied themselves with straight lines and square corners, Antoni Gaudi played with arches based with inverted catenaries."

Word History: catenariesThis word is an English modification of Latin catenarius "relating to a chain", from catena "chain, fetter, shackle", source also of Spanish cadena, Italian catena, and French chaine. Latin made its word out of PIE kat- "link or weave together; chain, net". We find Russian kota "fish trap, weir", perhaps Serbian kotar "district" from earlier "fence", Slovenian kotár "district, surroundings", and Old English heaor "prison, confinement", all of which just might come from kat-. (Now we all should thank George Kovac, major contributor of unusual but useful Good Words like today's.)

Dr. Goodword,

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