• saltate •
sæl-tayt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive
Meaning: 1. To leap, to spurt out. 2. To dance or dance about. (This word is not used in reference to people but to animals and inanimate objects.)
Notes: It is odd that we seldom hear this word, for it has a rather large family and is quite current in some quarters. Saltation, the noun, refers to spurting fluid (such as blood) in medicine and a sudden mutation in genetics. In fact, saltationism is the hypothesis that major changes in species result from sudden mutations (leaps) rather than small, slow changes over time. Adjectives meaning "leaping" or "dancing" include saltant, saltatory, saltative, and saltatorial. It is a rich collection to choose from.
In Play: Have you ever noticed stones and debris swirling around at the bottom of a stream? They are saltating: "After centuries of saltating in the currents of the river, the stones were all smooth and highly polished." The stones in motion are saltant. Saltation, in fact, occurs in many places: "Morris was captivated by the saltations of Gertrude's hair, stirred by curls of wind playing in the twilight air."
Word History: Today's Good Word was snipped from the past participle of the Latin verb saltare "to dance", the intensive variant of salire "to jump, leap". The same Latin verb is the origin of our verb sally, as to sally forth against Sally's defenses, and salient "jutting out". With various prefixes and suffixes it produced many French and Latin words that English helped itself to, including exult, insult, assail, assault, not to mention somersault. Salmon may have been borrowed by Latin from Gaulish, but it might just as well be the result of the same root applied in the sense of leaping fish.