Printable Version
Pronunciation: sê-bæt-i-kêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Seventh (year), as in 'sabbatical leave of absence', which occurs approximately every seventh year in academia. 2. Today, any break for work of any sort to pursue some other goal, such as traveling, lecturing, or writing a book. 3. Related to the Sabbath.

Notes: Sabbatical is an adjective that is used more frequently as a noun. Professors at US universities receive a sabbatical every seventh year so that they can undertake research. Tenure is also awarded about the seventh year. The word is used today as a sophisticated way to indicate any leave of absence or other break from work.

In Play: Academic sabbaticals are supposed to be spent conducting research; however, they are not always so spent: "Professor Emma Chiset spent her sabbatical shopping in Europe." Today the term applies to any job: "Rhoda Book took a sabbatical leave of absence from IBM to write a book about the threat of computers to our way of life."

Word History: Today's word was made from Late Latin sabbaticus by removing the final -us and adding the meaningless suffix -al. Latin copied the word from the Greek sabbatikos, the adjective for the noun sabbaton "Sabbath". Greek picked up its word from Hebrew šabbat from the verb šabat "to cease, rest". So our word Sabbath goes back to the Hebrew word for "day of rest". The ancient Babylonians thought the seventh day unlucky, so they didn't work on that day. It may have been this tradition that the story of Genesis reflected. The confusion of Christians and Jews over exactly which day is the day of rest came from which day you count as the first day: Monday or Sunday. (We are grateful to Mark Bailey for returning from his sabbatical to recommend excellent Good Words like today's.)

Dr. Goodword,

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