• symphony •
sim-fê-nee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A large, classical music ensemble. 2. A large-scale piece of orchestral music in three or more movements for a symphony orchestra. 3. A lush, harmonious complex of elements.
Notes: This word enjoys a large family of derived relatives. The adjective for the orchestra is symphonic, as a 'symphonic ensemble'. However, symphonious means "having a lush harmonious sound". Someone who plays in a symphony orchestra may be called a symphonist, who symphonizes with all the other symphonists.
In Play: The basic sense of today's word refers to an orchestral assembly: "Rusty Horne started out in the New Monia Symphony, but worked his way up to the New York Philharmonic." It is often used to refer to colorful things: "Perry Winkle's garden is a symphony of colors in the spring;" even things without physical color: "Some have said that America is a grand unfinished symphony."
Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from Old French symphonie, the descendant of Latin symphonia, borrowed from Greek symphonia. Symphonia was derived from symphonos "harmonious", composed of syn "(together) with" + phone "sound", with the assimilation of [n] to [m], in harmony with [f] in phone. We find the same assimilation in sympathy before [p] from syn "(together) with" + pathos "suffering". The same PIE word that became syn in Greek, became s(o) "with" in Russian and sa "with" in Serbian. We need no explanation of what happened to Greek phone throughout Europe. Telephone in Greek means "far sound". Phonology is the study of phonetics "linguistic sounds". The PIE word became fari "to speak" in Latin. The present participle of this word was fan(t)s "speaking", so that infan(t)s meant "not speaking". English dropped the S to produce infant. (Today we thank Tomasz Kowaltowski for his recommendation of today's lush and musical Good Word.)