Printable Version
Pronunciation: in-kahm-pê-rê-bêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Outstanding, unequaled, matchless, standing far out from all other members of its category. 2. Uncomparable, that cannot be compared to anything else in its class.

Notes: Today's Good Word is another that has wandered off from its family and assumed a new meaning: "outstanding". A painting of incomparable beauty does not imply that its beauty cannot be compared with any other kind, but simply that it is of the highest quality. In fact, we are beginning to hear the word uncomparable [ên-kêm--rê-bêl] taking over the original meaning of this adjective. Today's word comes with an adverb, incomparably, and a noun, incomparability.

In Play: We are still allowed to use today's Good Word in its original sense (= uncomparable): "The health system in the US is incomparable with those of the European nations." However, its meaning most frequently goes beyond that to the sense of "without equal": "It is surprising that Anita Job lasted so long in her post given her incomparable bungling over the years."

Word History: Today's word derives from Latin incomparabilis "uncomparable", made up of in- "not" + comparabilis "comparable", an adjective derived from comparare "to bring together equally, to compare". This verb comprises a prefix com- "(together) with" + par "equal" + the verbal suffix -are. If the Latin word for "equal" reminds you of English par "equal" as in "on a par with" or "par for the course (golfing)", you have an astute etymological eye. The original word had to do with sharing, for it turns up in pars, partis "part, share", from which we borrowed English part. In Middle English this word was expanded by the addition of the suffix -y when the sense "one part of a group" gained importance. The result was party, as a party in a dispute. (Let us all thank the incomparable Rochelle Taboh for suggesting today's suggestive Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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