Printable Version
Pronunciation: tæn-tê-mæwnt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective (defective)

Meaning: About the same as, the equivalent of, almost equal to.

Notes: Today's Good Word is what I call a "defective" adjective, one that can only occur in predicate position, like aboard, aloft, and around. We can NOT say "the aloft airplane", only "the airplane is aloft." Similarly, we can only say, "his actions are tantamount to a crime," and never speak of "his tantamount actions". Of course, such adjectives cannot be compared or derived: there are no nouns or adverbs derived from them. As you might have noticed, this adjective takes an object with the preposition to.

In Play: This word is generally used in situations involving a causal relation, so that if A is tantamount to B, A could lead to B: "Felix's spotty attendance record at board meetings was tantamount to submitting his resignation." Such situations arise at all levels of our lives: "But, mother, I consider your giving me the car keys and enough money to get the tattoo tantamount to giving me permission."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from an old Anglo-Norman (French spoken in England) phrase, tant amunter "to amount to as much as", which includes tant "so much" + amunter "to amount to". Tant is a reduction of Latin tantus "so great", which is tam "so" with the suffix -tus. The same root, t- picked up a Slavic suffix which led to Russian tak "so". Now, Old French amonter "to amount" (currently monter in French) came from amont "upward", a derivation of the Latin phrase ad montem "(up) to the hill". The root of the Latin word for "hill" or "mountain", mont-, originally referred to a jutting part of the body, for it also shows up in mentum "chin". (Running Gianni Tamburini's suggestion of today's Good Word is tantamount to thanking him but we would like to say it explicitly: Thanks, Gianni!)

Dr. Goodword,

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