Printable Version
Pronunciation: kin-dêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. (Transitive) To ignite an actual or emotional fire; to light up as though on fire, as the sun might kindle a resplendent dawn across the horizon. 2. (Intransitive) To become ignited or aroused.

Notes: Exactly what motivated the marketers at to name its new e-book reader the Kindle may never be known. Perhaps they hoped reading books in electronic form would kindle something in us that reading the printed page would not. The frumpy personal noun kindler has been used a time or two. The other noun, kindling "small pieces of wood for starting a fire", is more appealing but not often used in modern times. The derivative most frequently used today is by far rekindle, as an attempt to rekindle an old love affair.

In Play: We don't use this word in its literal meaning much these days, though it is much lovelier than all the synonymous alternatives: "The highlight of the Christmas season for Burney Wood was the moment he kindled the fire in his hearth on which he would later lay the Yule log." We are much more likely to use the figurative sense these days: "Epiphany Wright was the spark that kindled Michael Angelo's creativity and launched him from the boredom of his early life into his successful career as an artist."

Word History: Today's Good Word is another gift of the Vikings, the ancestors of the Danes and Norwegians of today. They began raiding the coasts of England toward the end of the 9th century and then began settling there. Old Norse kindill "candle, torch", from kynda "to kindle", was adopted by the English, probably to refer to kindling, since kindling in those days was often used as torches. The same root that gave Old Norse kindill emerged in Latin as candere "to shine" and candela "a light, torch". English, of course, borrowed the latter as candle plus several other Latin words with the same root, like incandescent. (We are very grateful that Diane Cobb-Cichowski kindled our interest in today's loveliest of Good Words for starting a fire.)

Dr. Goodword,

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