Podcast rhythm

Printable Version
Pronunciation: ri-dhêm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A regular repetition or recurrence, as a musical beat, a heartbeat, or the rhythm of the tides. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists 9 definitions of this word but all express some kind of regular repetition.

Notes: Today's Good Word defies the rules of spelling by having two syllables but only one semi-vowel, Y. The odd spelling is a holdover from the Greek original (see Word History). The adjective can be either rhythmic or rhythmical. The suffix -al often functions as a meaningless extension of the suffix -ic, as we also see in syntactic or syntactical and egotistic or egotistical. Look out for the adverb, though; even though it sounds like it is created by adding -ly to rhythmic, it must be spelled rhythmically.

In Play: Anything with aspects that are regularly repeated have rhythms; rhythms are not limited to music: "The lackadaisical rhythms of the days at the lake were a welcome respite from the military rhythms of Sandra's days at the office." Recurrences occur all around us: "Lionel was hypnotized by the rhythms of the rain that the wind played on the house's metal roof."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes to us from Greek rhythmos "measure, recurring motion, rhythm" from Proto-Indo-European sru-dhmo, a suffixed form of sreu- "to flow". Greek, like many Indo-European languages, did not like the combination [sr] so dropped the initial [s]. English was bothered by the sequence, too, but its solution was to insert a [t] between these sounds, giving us, ultimately, stream. An interesting side note on this word is that in the early 17th century, scholars who used rhythm and rime frequently in describing poetry decided that rime was too common a spelling for a word on a par with rhythm. So, by analogy, they arbitrarily changed its spelling to rhyme. Samuel Coleridge decided to use the original spelling in his late 18th century poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner". (Today we thank Lee Ann Young for a word that expresses a part of music that runs through all things.)

Dr. Goodword,

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