• supernal •
su-pêr-nêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Celestial, heavenly, divine, coming from or being in the heavens.
Notes: Today's Good Word comes with an adverb, supernally, and a noun, supernality. It is almost an antonym of infernal, which originally meant "belonging to the world below", that is, the world of the dead. These meanings quite naturally led supernal to attract the sense of "heavenly, godly" and infernal to slump into the sense of "hellish".
In Play: Today's word is lovely enough to be included in our most romantic chat: "She seemed not of this Earth but was possessed of a supernal beauty unlike anything Walter had ever encountered." Its similarity in sound and meaning to supernatural only enhances it. Of course, that does not preclude it from facetious usage: "Our 'supernal' boss has just declared answering personal e-mail on company time a firing offense."
Word History: Middle English borrowed supernal from Old French in the 12th century. The French word came from Latin supernus "located above, celestial", an adjective derived from the adverb and preposition super "above, over, beyond". The Proto-Indo-European root from which Latin super was derived was (s)uper "over". This word seems to have been the comparative degree of (s)upo "under", however improbable that may seem. We find (s)uper in Sanskrit upari "over, above", in Greek hyper "over, above", and in Old English ofer "over", which today is, well, over. (Now let us all wish supernal blessings on Anthony Bowden for suggesting today's heavenly Good Word.)
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