Printable Version
Pronunciation: see-mi Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Sordid, morally degraded, squalid, sleazy, unpleasant. 2. (Obsolete) Showing the rough side of an article of clothing, the side with seams.

Notes: This word is one we use every day without questioning its origin or relation to seam. The adverb is the expectable seamily and the noun, seaminess. Notice the replacement of Y with I in both instances.

In Play: When this word is encountered, politics jumps into mind: "Even the best of politics involves seamy maneuvers and ads." However, it applies to anything shady: "Phil Anders takes June McBride to a seamy little cabaret on the other side of the tracks in order not to be seen by decent members of his society."

Word History: Today's Good Word began its life with its innocent but obsolete meaning above. It comes from Proto-Germanic saumaz "seam", which turned into Dutch zoom "hem" and German Saum "hem". Proto-Germanic seems to have created its word out of PIE syu- "to sew", which also produced Sanskrit sivyati "sews", Greek hymen "thin skin, membrane", Russian šit' "to sew", and Latin sutura "seam", from suere "to sew", whence English suture. We find its remains in Latvian šūt "to sew", Lithuanian siūti "to sew", Hindi seena "to sew", Marathi śivane "sew", Gujarati sivava "to sew", Irish fuaigh "to sew" and Scottish Gaelic fuaigheal "to sew". (Now for a double "thank-you" for Jeremy Busch, who not only serves on our editorial board but wondered in print about how today's Good Word came by its current meaning.)

Dr. Goodword,

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