• progenitor •
pro-jen-Í-tÍr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The originator or original ancestor of a line of descent, a direct ancestor. 2. The founder of a family. 3. The originator of anything, a founder, as 'the progenitor of a philosophical school'.
Notes: A progenitor produces progeny, the descendants of a single ancestor or pair thereof. Back when English was allowed to distinguish between males and females, a female progenitor was known as a progenitrix (plural progenitrices). The state or stature of being a progenitor is progenitorship and the adjective for this noun is progenitorial.
In Play: The white families who claimed President Thomas Jefferson as their progenitor several years ago were confronted by black families who claimed (with reason) to be the progeny of the same man. Jefferson was certainly one of the progenitors of our system of government. While only Christians, Jews, and Muslims hold Adam and Eve to be the progenitors of all humankind, it is certainly true that we are all progeny of one couple at some point way back in prehistorical time.
Word History: Today's Good Word is simply Latin progenitor, the noun of progignere "to beget". This word is based on pro- "forward" + gignere "to bear, give birth to, create," containing a variant of the same gen- that we see in generate, generation, gender, and genus. It appears without the vowel all but hidden in pregnant, from the Latin word meaning "before giving birth". In English this root became kin, also seen in kindred from Old English cyn "race, family, kin" and king, from a time when ruling had genetic connotations. Kind originally meant pretty much the same thing as Latin genus, so it should come as no surprise that they both derived from the same Proto-Indo-European word.
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