Printable Version
Pronunciation: ter-rê-kah-dê Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, adjective

Meaning: 1. (Noun, mass) A brownish red clay used in making tiles, flower pots, bowls and plates, and statuary. 2. (Noun, countable) Artistic ceramics made of this clay. 3. (Adjective) Brownish red color.

Notes: Here is a word more familiar, no doubt, to our European readers than Americans. Terracotta is a favorite material for roof tiles in Europe and floor tiles as well in Spain and Mexico. It is a lexical orphan.

In Play: As a mass noun, the sense of today's word is captured in such claims as: "Jerrod loved terracotta so much his house had a terracotta roof and floors." But this word also may be pluralized when referring to statuary: "The terracotta army of Qin Shi Huang from 210-209 BC outside Xi'an Shaanxi, China, comprises life-size terracottas of 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, and 670 horses."

Word History: Today's Good Word was lent to English by Italian, who inherited it from Latin terracocta "baked earth". Terra "earth, land" was passed down to Latin from PIE ters- "(to) dry", which ended up in English as thirst. Welcome flowersSomewhere between PIE and Latin people thought of dry land opposing wet seas. We see it underlying a host of English borrowings from Latin or its Romance offspring like territory, terrestrial, terrace. Cocta is the feminine of coctus, the past participle of coquere "to cook, bake, roast; to ripen, mature". Latin got coquere from PIE pekw-/pokw- "to cook; to ripen", after converting the [p] to [k] by assimilation of the second consonant. Precocious was borrowed from Latin praecox, praecocis "maturing early", from prae- "before" + coquere. Assimilation did not occur elsewhere in Indo-European languages, so we find Greek peptein "to cook; ripen; digest", source of the English borrowing dyspeptic. In Russian it turns up as peku "I bake". (Now William Hupy, a most prolific contributor, deserves a round of e-applause for suggesting yet another surprisingly Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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