Printable Version
Pronunciation: tur-bil-yên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A vortex, as a whirlwind or whirlpool. 2. A skyrocket with a spiral or spinning flight path.

Notes: Sounds like a ticket for a 2021 excursion into space, doesn't it? That's because our first reaction to this word is to (mis)analyze it as a compound comprising tour + billion. This is a beautiful example of a 'garden path' word. It has an alternative spelling and pronunciation tourbillon, pronounced [tur-bee-yoN].

In Play: The rapid spinning motion implied by today's Good Word may move on an upward trajectory: "Derry Yare rose to fame on a tourbillion of hype, talent, and skimpy outfits that was faster and more brilliant than anyone expected." It may also move downwards: "Canby Allgood was sucked into a tourbillion of ever-increasing corruption from which he could not escape." A fireworks tourbillion usually has at least three rockets: one on the bottom to drive it upwards and the one on either side to spin it around.

Word History: Today's Good Word came from Old French torbeillon made up from Vulgar (Street) Latin turbella "bustle, stir" + -on "big", an augmentative suffix. Turbella was a diminutive of turba "crowd". Apparently, it was confused with Latin turbo "uproar; whirlwind, tornado", borrowed from Greek turbe "tumult, confusion, uproar". Latin also created turbidus "muddy, mixed up, confused" from the Greek word. English trimmed it down to turbid. The same Latin stem went into the making of disturbare "to scramble, throw into disorder", which English also nicked for its disturb. How turbe got into Greek remains a point of conjecture. It is generally assumed it came from a neighboring non-Indo-European language.

Dr. Goodword,

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