Printable Version
Pronunciation: ven-tril-ê-kwi Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (No plural)

Meaning: Speaking without moving the lips, the voice in sync with the mouth movements of a dummy, so as to leave the impression that the ventriloquist is throwing his or her voice.

Notes: Today's Good Word has been around at least since the 16th century and has since picked up quite a family of derivations. A person capable of ventriloquy is a ventriloquist. What such a person says is either ventriloquistic or ventriloquous (the adjective). When they speak with their accomplice, the dummy with the wiggly lips, they are said to ventriloquize (the verb).

In Play: The ventriloquist actually does not throw his or her voice but simply speaks without moving the lips while moving those of his dummy, who is always close at hand. This leaves the impression that that the dummy is talking. A heckler at a ventriloquy show said, "I think your performance stinks!" The ventriloquist replied, "I'm sorry you feel that way." The heckler retorted, "I wasn't talking to you; I was talking to the little jerk on your knee!"

Word History: Ventriloquy was borrowed and reshaped from Latin ventriloquus "speaking from the belly". This noun is made up of venter "belly, womb" + loqui "to speak" plus a noun ending. Where venter came from is something of a mystery but we do know that it went on to become ventre in French, Italian, and Portuguese, and vientre in Spanish. We know less about the origins than the destinations of loqui, too. We find loqui in many borrowings from Latin, such as loquacious, eloquent, and our recent Good Word obloquy. Russian has an old verb tolkovat' "talk, interpret" related to English talk. The L and K in that word might relate it to loqui (pronounced [lokwi]) but the loss of the initial T is inexplicable. (At this point I have to express my gratitude to Ralph Mowrey for suggesting today's Good Word—without moving my lips.)

Dr. Goodword,

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