Printable Version
Pronunciation: su-pêr-n(y)u-mên-er-ri Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Exceeding the usual number, extra, backup. 2. More than necessary, redundant. 3. A very minor actor in a theatrical presentation, especially in crowd scenes, an extra.

Notes: Supernumerary may also be used as a noun, as "The Census Bureau hires 10,000 supernumeraries every ten years." It also has a synonym in supernumerous. The state of being supernumerary is known as supernumerariness.

In Play: The skeletal sense of this word is "above the number", so the first meaning is the basic sense of today's Good Word: "Most businesses hire supernumerary staff in the summer." The third sense of this word is rather recent: "I once saw Robert Redford, now a movie star, playing a supernumerary role in an episode of the TV show 'Perry Mason'"

Word History: Today's Good Word was—yet again—borrowed from Latin supernumarius, where it was a compound adjective comprising super "over, above" + numerus "number" + -arius, an adjective suffix. Super comes from PIE (s)uper "over, up from under, under" with a Fickle S. This word may be a combination of sub "under" + -er, a common enough suffix in Indo-European languages. Anyway, this word went on to become Greek hyper "over" and English over. Numerus seems to have come from PIE nem-/nom- "to assign, allot" also underlying Latin nom-en-"name" and Greek onoma "name". It found its way into Germanic languages, too: English name and German Name. In the Slavic languages appears today in Russian imya "name" and Serbian ime "name". (No supernumerary here, but a long-time contributor to the Alpha Agora, Perry Lassiter recommended today's super Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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