Printable Version
Pronunciation: thee-ê-têr, (UK) thee-ê-tê Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. An auditorium or open air space with a raised platform or screen designed for public performances: movies, plays, concerts, ballets, lectures, and the like. 2. All plays considered collectively as an art form. 3. A room in a hospital equipped for surgical operations (originally one that also accommodated viewers). 4. An area of large military operations, as the European theater during World War II.

Notes: Today's Good Word comes from someone curious about the differences in spelling and pronunciation of this word in the US and the UK. Outside the US this word is spelled theatre, like centre (center) and litre (liter). Watch it if you are in England! The adjective for this noun is theatrical. Theatrics is the staging of plays or a melodramatic display of emotions.

In Play: We all know how to use this word in its basic sense: "Charlie McCarthy spends so much of his life in the theater, he doesn't know the difference between acting and real life." We shouldn't forget the other meanings of today's word, though: "The president has closed the Iraq theater of our war on terrorism, and is in the process of closing the Afghanistan theater."

Word History: The Greek ancestor of theater is theatron "a place for viewing, theater." Theatron was borrowed by Latin as theatrum which, by the time it reached Old French, had become theatre (Modern French théâtre). English borrowed theatre. Theatron is derived from the verb theasthai "to gaze at, view, behold", which also is the source of thea "sight, view" and theates "spectator". We don't know how the verb crept into Greek. The earliest spelling of today's Good Word (14th century) was theatre, but in the 17th century the spelling began to follow pronunciation: theater. In the 18th century, theater was dropped in England, but the migration to America was already underway, so Americans stuck with theater. (Today's Good Word came from Petri Syrjälä in Finland, where he goes to the teatteri, rather than the theater.)

Dr. Goodword,

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