Printable Version
Pronunciation: kwah-lê-ti Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A distinguishing and defining property of something, as honesty is a good human quality. 2. The essential nature or character of something, as the (high or low) quality of someone's writing. 3. Value or worth based on degree of excellence, as the quality of a piece of lumber. The default sense is good quality, so "a gentleman of quality" means a gentleman of specifically good quality.

Notes: Today's Good Word is often compared with quantity. It compares well, because in most cases, good quality is preferred to a larger quantity of poorer quality. Differences may be qualitative or quantitative. Some think that humans and chimpanzees are only quantitatively different, which is to say, chimps do essentially the same things we do, humans just do far more of them. Others think the difference qualitative, that our essential natures are fundamentally different, so that we can do some things (like talking) that chimpanzees cannot do no matter how long and hard they try to learn.

In Play: As mentioned above, we frequently compare quality with quantity: "If the quality of Myna Bird's words matched their quantity, I would pay more attention to what she says." Used alone, quality usually addresses the value or the defining properties of something: "The quality of your excuse for missing work on Monday matches the quality of your work when you do come in."

Word History: Guess what? Today's Good Word was borrowed from French! Isn't that remarkable? It was originally French qualité, the descendant of Latin qualitas. It is thought that Cicero coined the word to translate Greek poiotes, a noun based on the adverb poios "what kind of". Cicero created his word from the Latin correlate of poios, qualis "what kind of", based on the Proto-Indo-European pronoun root kwo- "who, what". In fact, this root descended via Old Germanic to English as who and what, not to mention other pronouns beginning on WH (pronounced [hw]), like where, when, and why. (Today we thank Lea Pfeifer for the very high quality of this Good Word, which we ran at her suggestion.)

Dr. Goodword,

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