Printable Version
Pronunciation: rêm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. The line on a sphere that cuts all meridians (straight lines drawn between the poles) at the same angle. 2. A line on a single ship's bearing which is usually straight. 3. Any of the points on a mariner's compass.

Notes: Here is a word related to rhumba but with a wildly differing meaning (see Word History). Rhumb is a lexical orphan that can be used as an attributive adjective before the noun, but not in the predicate after the verb.

In Play: rhumbWhen Gerardus Mercator made a practical map of the world in 1538, his map projection conveniently made rhumb lines straight. The straight lines emanating from his compass are not rhumb lines that give a true bearing, but they greatly facilitate sailing courses of a constant bearing.

Word History: Today's Good Word was taken from Latin rhombus, which English also borrowed in the sense of "parallelogram". It ended up as Spanish rumbo "ship's course", which Cubans used to name the dance that English adopted as rumba or rhumba. Latin borrowed its word from Greek rhombos "bullroarer, lozenge, parallelogram". A bullroarer is a musical or communications instrument comprising a wooden slat tied to a string and whirled around the head until it resonates. A rhombus is so called in reference to the lozenge-shaped wooden slat of the bullroarer. Rhombos is the noun from rhembesthai "to roll, spin". Greek created its word from PIE wer-/wor- "to turn, go around, bend". This word also turned up with various suffixes in Russian vertet' "to "turn, wind" and verba "willow", in the English combining form -ward, as in toward and homeward, and, with metathesis, wring and wreath. We also see its results in Latin vertere "to turn", German werfen "to throw, toss", Lithuanian virpėti "to oscillate", and Latvian verpjōt "spinning". (Now an e-bow to Susan Maynard, who has become a prolific contributor, for this arcane marine and scientific Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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