• tangible •
tæn-jê-bêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Palpable, discernable by touch, as 'tangible smoothness'. 2. Real, material, perceptible, as 'tangible benefits'. 3. Possible to be touched, as 'tangible by the grief of others'.
Notes: The meanings of today's Good Word parallel that of the verb touch. We may be physically touched by something ("The table is touching the wall") or emotionally touched. We may also refer to physical tangibility, such as 'tangible properties', or abstract tangibility, such as 'tangible results'. The adverb is tangibly, and we have our choice of two nouns: the more lilting tangibility or the clunkier tangibleness.
In Play: Assets is a word closely associated with today's Good Word: "June McBride returned the engagement ring to Phil Anders when she discovered he has few tangible assets." Result is another word we often hear tangible used with: "The current US Congress has produced no tangible legislative results."
Word History: This word comes from Latin tangibilis "touchable" based on the verb tangere "to touch". The root of this word is a perfect example of the "Fickle N" in Proto-Indo-European. The PIE root of this word is ta(n)g- "to touch, to handle". The N appears in tangible and tangent. However, the past participle of this verb was tactus "touched", which was borrowed by English as tact and tactile. In Greek it arose as tassein "to arrange" and tetagon "having seized". One other version of the PIE word in Latin without N was taxare "to touch harshly, to tax (to overload)". That word came to English as the "touch" of taxes. (Let's all make a tangible indication of our gratitude to Mark Bailey for his suggestion of today's very Good Word.)