Printable Version
Pronunciation: suth-say-êr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Truth-sayer, seer, prophet, diviner, clairvoyant, fortune teller, someone who predicts the future by mystical powers or knowledge.

Notes: The first constituent in today's compound noun is an obsolete word for "truth" and should not be confused with soothe, pronounced [sudh]. It ends on [th] and not [dh]. It is the same word that we find in forsooth!, the interjection we hear over and over in the plays of Shakespeare, but woefully absent in current spoken English.

In Play: Today's is a lighthearted word good for making fun of anyone who tries to predict the future: "The Wall Street soothsayers are pulling their hair out in this volatile market" (which explains why so many are bald). It also has many applications in day-to-day life: "When in doubt about her future, Hermione always turns to her favorite soothsayer, the fortune-teller next door who calls herself 'Miss Tiriosa'."

Word History: The archaic adjective and noun sooth "true, truth", comes from the Old English adjective and noun soth with the same meanings. The Old English form derives from Germanic santhaz "true", source also of Swedish sann, Icelandic sannur, and Danish sand "true, real, pure". Santhaz was created from PIE sont- "being, existing", the present participle of PIE es- "to exist, be", in other words, soothsayer set out meaning "existence-sayer". Sont- is a word composed of es- "to be, exist" + -ont- the present participle ending. Es- is pretty much preserved in most Indo-European languages: Sanskrit asti, Marathi ahe, Sinhala ve, Latin est, English is, German ist, French est, Spanish está, and Serbian je(st)—all meaning "is". Russian omits the present tense of the verb "to be", but still has preserved the form yest' in the sense of "there is/are".

Dr. Goodword,

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