Printable Version
Pronunciation: ree-fleks Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Something, such as light or heat, that is reflected; a copy or reproduction. 2. An involuntary nervous response or any unlearned response to a stimulus. 3. In linguistics, a word or property of a word that has developed from an earlier word or property, a derivation or derivative.

Notes: The adjective of today's word is reflexive and the plural is reflexes, with an E inserted before the plural -s. The noun may be seen today as a derivative (or reflex) of the verb reflect, since reflect+s is pronounced the same as reflex.

In Play: We have generally replaced the original meaning of today's word with reflection, as in: "The reflex from the window illuminated her face." But it is still there for the daring to use. The sense of a nervous or involuntary response is quite common: "Jumping out of a window of a Wall Street brokerage house was not the common reflex until the stock market crash of 1929." In the linguistic sense, we may say: "Reflejo is the Spanish reflex of Latin reflexus," or "The reflex of Proto-Indo-European [t] in English is [th], as we see in bhrat-er becoming brother and mat-er becoming mother."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Late Latin reflexus "a bending back", the noun usage of the past participle of reflectere "to turn or bend back", comprising re- "back" + flectere "to bend". No one seems to know where flectere comes from, but reflexus has become reflejo in Spanish, riflesso in Italian, reflexo in Portuguese, and reflet in French. The letter X is interesting in English. Contrary to the digraph TH, two letters representing one sound, X is one letter that represents two sounds: [ks]. So, we would expect today's word to be related to words that contain a [k] sound, represented by the letter C in Latin, such as reflect(ion), deflect(ion), and inflect(ion).

Dr. Goodword,

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