• stupendous •
styu-pen-dês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Enormous, huge, humongous. 2. Outstanding, marvelous, stunningly wonderful.
Notes: The 20th century linguist Noam Chomsky often emphasized the importance of allowing oneself to be surprised. Curiosity is critical to everything, and today's word is a surprising curiosity, coming from a root that produced both stupid and today's word, meaning "wonderful" (see Word History for details). Allow it to surprise you how this came about. The adverb, of course, is stupendously and the noun, stupendousness, though it is passing rare in use.
In Play: The basic meaning of this word is "huge", though "stunning" lurks beneath the surface of both senses, "The Sears building in Chicago remains a stupendous architectural achievement." This doesn't imply anything wonderful, just surprisingly large. And, of course, size is relative: "Esther's southern cousin, Maybelle, has a stupendous beehive hairdo that threatens every ceiling fan she walks under."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Late Latin stupendus "stunning", the gerundive of Latin stupere "to be stunned". Stun is a semantically ambivalent creature in English, so it should come as no surprise that the Latin correlate was, too. Both words refer to a state of senselessness, as 'to stun fish', but both also allow the cause of the stunning to be something marvelous rather than insidious. Latin stupidus comes from the literal meaning, the mental condition resulting from a blow to the head. Today's Good Word evolved from the figurative meaning.
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