Printable Version
Pronunciation: wel-kin Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. The apparent dome of heaven overhead which holds the celestial bodies in place, the firmament. 2. The heavens, the area above the clouds.

Notes: Today's Good Word, along with firmament, forms a pair of odd lexical items referring to the sky. We seldom if ever use them any more since they imply a fixed sphere that holds the stars, moons, and other lights celestial. We now know that these objects are held in place by immaterial powers. Today we use sky, a word we borrowed from the Vikings, and heaven(s), which has acquired a religious connotation. Still, only a few dictionaries claim that welkin is obsolete.

In Play: Since we seldom use this word today, it is perfect for poetic sentiments like: "Sunrise this morning cracked open the welkin so we could watch the powers of the universe creating a new day before our very eyes." We can think of other metaphoric uses referring to the many celestial bodies inhabiting the welkin: "Junior always brings a welkin of bright ideas to the table but seldom develops any of them."

Word History: Old English wolcen meant simply "cloud", as do Modern German Wolke and Dutch wolk, both descended from the same Proto-Germanic root. Old English wolcen simply developed over the years into Modern English welkin, picking up a new though related meaning along the way. We know that the original Proto-Indo-European root was something like welgh- "wet", for it went on to become vilgyti "to moisten" in Modern Lithuanian. Rs and Ls tend to undergo metathesis in the Slavic languages, and Ws become Vs, so PIE welgh- became vlaga "moisture" in Russian and vlazhnyi "damp". The semantic trail of today's word led quite logically from "wet" to "cloud" to "sky". (We hope that no clouds obscure the welkin over Kathleen McCune of Norway as we thank her for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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