• tenure •
ten-yur • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The length of time someone holds an office or position in an organization. 2. A guarantee of permanent employment offered teachers and researchers after completion of a trial period, usually seven years.
Notes: The (rarely used) adjective derived from today's noun is tenurial, with its adverbial accomplice, tenurially. The noun is often used as a verb in academia, where (assistant) professors are tenured after seven years of productive work. Tenure protects teachers and researchers from losing their jobs for political reasons and also encourages long-term research, rather than short projects that can be completed each year or two in time for contract renewal.
In Play: Today's Good Word first and foremost refers to the period of time someone holds an office: "Over the tenure of this president we have seen the company's position in the market plummet." The new meaning of the word is a guarantee of employment offered to educators and researchers in institutions of higher learning: "Gladys Friday published six articles and two books in her first seven years at P. U. (Pitts University), but hasn't published anything since receiving tenure."
Word History: Today's lovely word comes from French, where it was derived from tenir "to hold", referring to the holding of an office. French inherited this verb from Latin tenere "to hold", whose root we see in many English borrowings from the same source, such as tendon, maintenance, and tennis. Ancient Greek tenein "to stretch" suggests that the original root meant "to stretch, extend", giving tenere its sense of an extended time period. The o-form turns up in Greek tonos "string, pitch", from which we derived tone. In the Germanic languages, as expected, the [t] sound became [th], producing English thin, the state things reach when stretched. (We hope that Ilana Lehmann will have a long tenure as a subscriber to our Good Words and continue to suggest excellent choices like today's.)