• frangible •
fræn-jê-bêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Breakable, capable of being broken.
Notes: Frangible objects are breakable though not necessarily fragile, which implies delicacy and fineness. The difference between breakable and frangible is one of context: ordinary things tend to be breakable (breakable toys) while museum pieces tend to be frangible. The noun for this word is frangibility. Anything that is unbreakable is infrangible.
In Play: It always helps in avoiding chores to impress your parents with your vocabulary. Try this sometime: "Dad, I said I'd clean the garage if I had time Saturday; I didn't sign an infrangible contract." I would have happily cleaned the garage in exchange for knowing that my teenage son had mastered infrangible. However, today's Good Word is not just for joking; it can be used sternly, too: "Lionel, be careful; that vase is sturdy but still quite frangible."
Word History: Today's Good Word first appeared in 1391, a borrowing from Latin frangibilis "breakable" from frangere "to break". The root of this word is a piece of PIE: bhre(n)g- "break" with our old friend, the Fickle N, which comes and goes as it pleases. It doesn't show up in English break or Lithuanian brasketi "crash, crack". Fickle N came and went in Latin, for the past participle of frangere is fractus, the origin of English fraction. (Initial PIE [bh] became [f] in Latin; compare English burn with Latin borrowing furnace.) Sassafras, a plant whose root provides the flavor of root beer, comes from the same root (word root, that is). Sassafras is a reduction of Latin saxifragus "rock-breaking", a name it earned from its ability to grow in the cracks of rocks. (Rather than break our tradition of recognizing those who suggest our Good Words, let's thank Chris Berry for sending in this one.)
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