smæd-ê-ring • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A small amount or number, a trace, a touch.
Notes: Today's Good Word is the noun from the verb smatter "to chatter idly not knowing what you are talking about" and "to do something superficially, to dabble." A person who dabbles is a smatterer who has a smattering of knowledge about whatever he or she smatters in.
In Play: A smattering of knowledge can be a dangerous thing: "Henry knows a smattering about fly fishing: he has a very graceful cast, but the fly catches his pants two times out of five." It is a useful word to emphasize total absence: "After 20 years in Denver, Ella Minnow Pea didn't have a smattering of her former south Georgia accent."
Word History: The verb smatter has been around since the early 15th century with the sense of "to talk idly, chatter". Where it was before that, no one really knows; it may have been an imitation of actual chattering. Old English did inherit it from Ancient Germanic since we find smetern "to chatter" in Middle High German and smattra "to patter, rattle" in Swedish. It might have been borrowed from Old Norse, the ancestor of Swedish, during the Viking "visits" to the north English coast from 793-1042, but there is no reliable evidence that this is the case.
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