Printable Version
Pronunciation: rid-êl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun; verb

Meaning: 1. (Noun) An ingenious, witty expression requiring rational skills to interpret, a conundrum. 2. (Noun) Anything that is difficult to understand or explain. 3. (Verb1) To pose a riddle. 4. (Verb2) Permeate with a multitude of holes. 5. (Verb2) Permeate multiply, spread throughout with many. 6. (Verb2) Sift out, pass through a sieve in order to separate, i.e. grain from chaff.

Notes: Today we are having a sale: two words for the price of one—and a very reasonable price at that! These two words are only coincidental homophones. Both verbs behave like indigenous words; they use the participles, riddling and riddled, as adjectives, and both use the present participle as a noun. Both have identical personal nouns, riddler.

In Play: According to Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Britain during World War II: "Russia is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." This sense is basically nominal. The second Good Word is fundamentally a verb: "The machine gun riddled the room with bullet holes." Though you will more likely hear it in its figurative sense: "The new law is riddled with loopholes."

Word History: Today's first Good Word is an authentic English noun that comes from Proto-Germanic redaz-, passed down from PIE redh- "to count, reckon, reason". The ending is Old English noun suffix -els, found also in Dutch raadsel and German Rätsel "riddle".

The verb riddle is a verbalization of Old English hriddel "sieve, sifter". The initial H simply faded away. It was based on Proto-Germanic hridra- "sieve, sifter", inherited from PIE krei- "to sieve, sift out, discriminate", source also of Latin cribrum "sieve, riddle" and Greek krinein "to separate, distinguish, decide". We also see it in Latin discrimen "distinction", which underlies the English borrowing discriminate. (Today's Good Word was the idea of our old friend and wordmaster, George Kovac of Miami, Florida.)

Dr. Goodword,

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