Printable Version
Pronunciation: to-dêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Related to the whole amount, entire, whole, as 'the total population'. 2. Complete, utter, absolute, as 'total concentration'.

Notes: The word order in the phrase sum total came from the Latin phrase summa totalis, which was carried over in French (Latin as spoken today in what we now call "France"). The adjective may be used as a noun, as 'the grand total of all her expenses'. However, there are two other nouns, totality and totalness, both meaning "the quality of being total". The adverb is the expectable totally, as in 'a totally true statement'.

In Play: Today's Good Word is, at heart, an adjective: "A total news blackout was imposed by the company as soon as the president was indicted for sexual harassment." It is, however, one of those adjectives that may be used as a noun: "A total of 12 women filed complaints against the CEO." The CEO of that company must be a total fool.

Word History: That word was taken from Old French total, a reduction of Latin totalis "entire, total". This adjective comes from the noun totus "all, the whole, entirety, altogether", inherited from PIE teuta- "tribe". This same PIE root came through Proto-Germanic and ended up in English as Dutch and German as deutsch "German". A suffixed form of the PIE word, teut-onos "they of the tribe", became Latin Teutoni "the Teutons", borrowed by various Indo-European languages as something like English Teuton and Teutonic. By the way, Latin totus "entire, whole" went on to became tout in French, tutto in Italian (plural tutti, as in the flavor tutti frutti "all fruit"), and todo in Portuguese and Spanish. (We are totally grateful that Brian Johnson of Tokyo shared this complex if common Good Word with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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