Printable Version
Pronunciation: pêl-ver-(y)ê-lênt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Dusty, covered with dust, powdery. 2. Crumbly, friable, given to crumbling to powder. 3. Consisting of dust or a fine powder.

Notes: Today's Good Word represents a lexical anomaly: it has an unusual suffix, -ulent, found in only a few other adjectives, such as turbulent and fraudulent. It is accompanied by an adverb, the predictable pulverulently, and a noun, the equally predictable pulverulence.

In Play: One sense of today's word is "covered with dust": "Al Garithem comes home from class each day in clothes pulverulent with chalk dust, collected by standing too close to the blackboard." Another is "crumbling into tiny pieces": "Constance Noring found her contract with the news network to be pulverulent as soon as it hit the court system."

Word History: This word derives directly from Latin pulverulentus "dusty, powdery" a noun based on pulvis, pulveris "dust, powder" + -ulentus "having, abounding in". The PIE root which led to pulvis, pel-/pol- "dust", also produced pollen, poultice, and polenta. In other languages it turns up in Russian as pepel' "ash", in Greek as poltos "porridge", and Lithuanian pelenai "ash". It turns up in English powder via a circuitous route. Old French inherited the word as poldre from Late Latin. Now, the L became U as it does in many English words today on the east coast of the US (help = [heup]). By the time English borrowed this word, it had become what it is today in French: poudre. Modern English adopted this word and adapted it to English spelling: powder. (Our gratitude for Iain Smallwood's suggesting this word in the Alpha Agora most assuredly isn't pulverulent.)

Dr. Goodword,

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