• esculent •
es-kyê-lênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: The basic sense of esculent is simply "edible", but the sheer beauty of this word—its similarities with excellent, its rhyming with succulent—suggests something beyond the merely edible. Feasts are made of esculents; snacks, of edibles.
Notes: While it is difficult to imagine a situation in which the adverbial form of this word would work, there is a noun esculence "edibility". Like many adjectives ending on -ent, this one may also be used alone as a noun referring to something that is edible, as a table of sumptuous esculents.
In Play: As mentioned above, I find it difficult to use today's Good Word as a simple synonym of edible: "Clara served a tray of the most esculent hors d'oeuvres I have ever tasted." Used as a noun, this is a very good cover word for all varieties of uncooked food: "The outdoor market in Beaune was such a fairyland of esculents that Annette couldn't decide where to begin buying."
Word History: I'm sure you've guessed already that today's Good Word comes from a Latin word esculentus, a mysterious extension of esca "food". Esca comes from the same root (ed- "eat, food") as English eat, German essen "eat", and similar words throughout the Indo-European languages. In Russian eda "food, meal" is also a cousin. This reminds me that the family name of the former president of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, contains the word medved "bear". Medved goes back to a time when bears were hunted but it was taboo to mention the word for "bear" for fear of jinxing the hunt. Bear hunters of those days referred to a bear as a "honey-eater", or medved, from Old Russian med "honey" (akin to English mead) + (v)ed "eat", from the same original root as that in esculent. (We hope that this word of thanks to Eric Berntson for suggesting today's Good Word will be to his taste.)