Printable Version
Pronunciation: thorn Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A stiff, sharp-pointed woody projection on the stems of plants. 2. The Old English letter (), representing a voiceless interdental fricative, superseded later in the history of English by the digraph TH.

Notes: Today's Good Word is known as a cause of human pain as reflected in the adages "no rose without a thorn" and "a thorn in someone's side". It comes with a rich assortment of adjectives: thorny, thornless, and thornproof.

In Play: Rose Gardiner always told me, "Don't give up on the roses because of the thorns." Was she speaking figuratively? Let's not forget the most common idiom with today's word in it: "Phil Anders has been a thorn is the side of the single female community for some time, now." Nor the adjectives: "June McBride found herself in a thorny relationship with Phil, from which she couldn't politely extract herself."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from the same Proto-Indo-European word as stern and stark, thanks to an initial Fickle S. The word was something like ster- "stiff, unbending". The Germanic languages removed the Fickle S, but kept the words they removed it from. Without Fickle S, Dutch got doorn, German Dorn, Czech trn, and English thorn. With it, the PIE word came to English as stern. With the Fickle S and a different suffix, the Germanic languages came up with German stark "strong", Dutch sterk "strong", Danish stærk "strong", and English stark. Another word that wandered away from this pack became stork, a bird with a (very large) thorn-like beak. (Now let's all thank Chris Stewart, our star-gazing South African friend; may he never place his telescope in a thorny spot.)

Dr. Goodword,

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