• staccato •
stê-kah-to • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective, adverb
Meaning: 1. (Adjective; Music) Having crisply separated notes, sharply disconnected notes, marked by short, clear-cut notes. 2. Disjointed, with disconnected parts, in a staccato manner, as 'staccato speech'.
Notes: Like most musical terms in European languages, staccato was taken from Italian. We only need to remember that it's spelled with a doubled C and a single T, not the reverse. It also comes with an Italian superlative, staccatissimo "very staccato" and a rarely used adjective suffix, staccatoed. Staccato also may be used as a verb meaning 'to produce staccato sounds'.
In Play: Today's Good Word is most at home in speech about music: "The piano, forte, and legato sections of the concerto went well, but the staccato parts were a bit murky." However, that doesn't mean it isn't useful elsewhere: "Everyone at the birthday party was surprised by the staccato popping of firecrackers."
Word History: Like sport from French desport "diversion, entertainment", today's Good Word is the past participle of staccare "to detach", an Italian borrowing from an aphetic form of French destachier "to detach". ('Aphesis' is the omission of the initial sound or syllable of a word, like 'possum and 'gator, and escape in scapegoat.) Destachier comprises des- "dis-, un-, apart" + attachier "to attach". Attachier is made up of ad "(up)to" + (e)stachier "to attach, connect". The latter was borrowed from West German stekan "to stick, pierce", which originated in PIE steg-/stog- "stick, pole", source of the various senses of English stick and stack, German stechen "to stick", Icelandic stakka "stack", Russian stog "stack" and stozhar "pole, post", and Lithuanian stagaras "stalk, stick". (Today's gratitude is owed Tony Bowden of London, longtime contributor of intriguing Good Words like today's.)
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