Printable Version
Pronunciation: sor-ti-shên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Selection by casting lots.

Notes: I always thought English had only two ways of expressing "casting lots" and "drawing straws"—with two words. Here is one word that covers both expressions. This word is a lexical orphan, although an adjective, sortitional, is not unimaginable.

In Play: The implication of today's word is randomness: "Over the past half century, you would have thought the presidents of the company had been selected by sortition." It is used primarily as an option in politics: "Some think that selecting political leaders by sortition would prove as good if not better than election."

Word History: Today's Good Word is an English adaptation of Latin sortitio(n) "casting lots", the action noun from sortiri "to cast or draw lots", from sor(t)s "lot, fate", source of the English Latinate borrowing sort, too. Latin sor(t)s was handed down from PIE ser-/sor- "to line up, arrange, order", which also went into the making of sermon, borrowed from Latin sermo(n) "speech, discourse" and series, copied from the Latin noun with the same meaning from the verb serere "to join, link, put in a row" without change. Greek eirein "align in a row" is another derivation of the PIE word. Over the years the sense of orderliness of selection was lost. (Thanks to Frank Myers for finding today's Good Word teetering on the brink of extinction and bringing it to prominence.)

Dr. Goodword,

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