• superstition •
su-pêr-sti-shên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: An irrational belief in the supernatural, in magic, and in any other ghostly phenomena.
Notes: We share many superstitions: lucky 7, unlucky Friday 13th; we don't walk under ladders and some of us fear that breaking a mirror will bring us 7 years of bad luck. The adjective that accompanies today's word is superstitious, which has a noun superstitiousness, a synonym of superstition.
In Play: Superstitions are fast fading in today's well-educated world. When I was a boy, having a black cat cross your path was a sign of bad luck. Whether it was a sign of bad luck for you or the cat depended upon whether you are driving a car at the time. Superstitions are alive and well in sports. Golfers who wear a favorite color shirt, a baseball player who spits on his bat, football players who must be last out of the dressing room—all are good luck superstitions.
Word History: This word was taken from French superstition, derived from Latin superstitio(n) "prophecy, soothsaying", literally "standing over", the action noun of superstare "to stand on or over, 'overstand', survive". This word is made up of super "above" + stare "to stand". Stare derived from Proto-Indo-European root sta- "to stand". This PIE word went into the making of many words in many Indo-European languages. English stand, stallion, stud, and stead, as in homestead and instead, all derive from this PIE word. Obstinate was borrowed from Latin obstinare "to persist", with the same change from A to I that we see in today's word. (I'm afraid bad luck would befall me were I to forget to thank Norman Neuberger III for recommending today's extraordinary ordinary Good Word.)