Printable Version
Pronunciation: sæk-bêt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A medieval brass instrument resembling a trombone (see illustration).

Notes: This word has such a narrow meaning that it has only one possible derivational relative. I suppose someone who plays the sackbut in one of the Cornet and Sackbut Ensembles is a sackbutist, if trombonist is any indication.

In Play: There is little to be done with today's Good Word figuratively, so we'll have to make do with its literal sense: "The medieval ensemble comprised 3 sackbuts, 2 crumhorns, 1 rebec, a harpsichord, and twenty bagpipes." The word has been so little used since the 16th century that it had no time to spawn relatives: "I can play a sackbut better than Tommy Dorsey played a trombone!"

Word History: This word was borrowed from French saqueboute "a hooked staff for pulling someone off a horse" (in battle, a pub, or a large home). Honk!It comprises the roots of saquier "to jerk, pull" + bouter "to push". It was then reshaped in English by folk etymology. The first word seems based on sac "sack", probably from the fact that sacks were frequently used for shaking things. The word in Greek was sakkos and Latin saccus, whence French sac. The Greeks picked up the word from the Phoenicians, their trade partners who spoke a Semitic language. We find evidence of it in other Semitic languages, like Hebrew saq and Akkadian saqqu. Bouter was borrowed from some Germanic language. It goes back to PIE bhau- "strike, beat". Evidence of this word is found in many Germanic languages, like English butt, rebut, and halibut. (Thank you Jan Arps of Greensboro, North Carolina, for recommending today's melodic Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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