Printable Version
Pronunciation: kahn-stê-lay-shên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A recognized grouping of stars in the celestial sphere. 2. An assemblage of prominent people or things. 3. A large configuration of related items or ideas.

Notes: Today's Good Word has a verbal back-formation, constellate "to form a group or cluster", as 'hills constellated with lights'. It is accompanied by two adjectives, both rarely used: constellatory and constellational.

In Play: A very minor poet once wrote:

A minor galaxy of lightning bugs
Maneuvers my backyard's evening,
Pinpoint memories of day in their bellies.
They arise in free-floating constellations:
Without gravities and making up their
Own relativity as they revolve.

Since fireflies (or lightning bugs), resemble stars, they provide the perfect metaphor for today's Good Word.

Word History: Middle English borrowed the Old French word constellation that French inherited from Latin constellatio(n). This word comprises con- "(together) with" + stella "star". Latin inherited the root of this word from PIE ster- "star", also the origin of English star. In Latin the R changed to L because Latin used a suffix, -la which didn't get along with the R, so ster-la became stella. Greek added an A to the beginning to produced aster "star", a word we now use to name a flower. Asterisk came from the diminutive of aster, asteriskos "little star". Finally, English strew apparently comes from the same PIE root because the night skies seem strewn with tiny lights.

Dr. Goodword,

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