• perpetual •
pêr-pe-chu-êl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Continuing for a long period without interruption, constant, never stopping. 2. Eternal, lasting forever.
Notes: The noun for today's Good Word is perpetuity [pêr-pê-tyu-ê-tee] and the adverb, perpetually. Notice that the letter U in this word stands for the spoken diphthong [yu], for the [ty] in the combination [tyu] is pronounced [ch]. This transformation does not occur in the noun perpetuity because the syllable beginning with [ty] is accented. This conversion occurs only in unaccented syllables, as in picture, denture, and infatuate.
In Play: One of science's perpetual dreams is to create a perpetual motion machine, a machine that runs forever without further input of energy once set in motion: "Alec Sander is a perpetual motion machine: he works day and night without stopping even to eat." Unfortunately, the 2nd law of thermodynamics proves such a machine impossible, so Alec must be sneaking a bit of food during the day. "The bump on Ernest's head never went away and remains a perpetual reminder never to sneak up behind his wife when she is washing a frying pan."
Word History: Middle English borrowed today's word from Old French, which inherited it from Latin perpetualis "universal, general", the adjective from perpetuus "continuous". This adjective comprises per "through" + petere "to rush to, attack". The root of this word, pet- is the interesting one I discuss in "How is a Hippo Like a Feather". Its meaning seems to center on flowing or flying. It shows up in Greek potamos "river", as seen in hippopotamus (= river horse), as well as pteron "wing", as in pterodactyl, the wing-fingered flying dinosaur. In Russian we see it in ptitsa "bird" and in English feather. (We are, of course, perpetually grateful to Sara Goldman for continuing to send us wonderful Good Words like today's.)