Printable Version
Pronunciation: vêr-chu-êl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Not actual, theoretical, potential or seeming, existing in effect, as 'the virtual length of an alligator is 20 feet.' 2. (Computer science) Made to seem to be by software, as 'virtual memory', memory created on the disk and not part of the computer's main memory. 3. Very near, not quite real, as 'Fudd is a virtual genius.'

Notes: Virtual has been so long misused as a synonym of near that most dictionaries recognize the new meaning so, go ahead, feel free to use it in this sense. The adverb virtually is used almost always as a synonym of almost. The noun is virtuality. We also have a verb, virtualize, meaning "to create a virtual situation via software", as for training purposes.

In Play: Remember, the original meaning of this word is "not actual, seeming": "The only contact Max has had with playing football is playing virtual football on line." It can also refer to something having the appearance of a real thing: "I once encountered a holographic virtual woman who met all my expectations and desires."

Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed, via Old French, from Medieval Latin virtualis, from Latin virtus "excellence, goodness, courage, manliness". Virtus, the source of English virtue came from vir "man, male" with an adjective virilis, the source of English virile. Vir has an interesting history. The PIE word arrived in Old English as wer(e) "man", which went into the making of werewolf "wolf man". It also showed up in Old Germanic as werald "world", a compound noun comprising wer "man" + ald "old age". English kept the R for world, but German dropped it for Welt "world". (We offer real, not virtual gratitude to Debbie Moggio, a Lexiterian in the Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

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