Printable Version
Pronunciation: wid-êr-shinz Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adverb

Meaning: 1. Moving in a direction opposite the usual. 2. Moving counterclockwise or contrary to the course of the sun, considered bad luck by those who believe in the occult. 3. Unlucky, cursed, ill-fated.

Notes: This word is a variant of withershins. The Oxford English Dictionary, in fact, prefers withershins, but you may use either to indicate hair standing on end: "The presence of the dog sent the cat's hair widdershins." You can make this adverb into an adjective by simply removing the S: "The widdershin hair of the cat sent the dog skedaddling."

In Play: As a predicate adjective, however, the S is sometimes left on. D. H. Lawrence wrote in The Plumed Serpent (1926) "She made up her mind to be alone, and to cut herself off from all the mechanical widdershin contacts . . . . He, too, was widdershins, unwinding the sensations of disintegration and anti-life." Look for niches in your conversations where you can tuck this authentic English word in: "This has been one of those days when I feel that I have been walking widdershins up the down escalator."

Word History: This word is another wonderword from bonnie auld Kiltland that deserves wider respect. Widdershins goes back to Old Germanic weddersinnes, based on wider "back" or wither "reverse" + the genitive case of sin "way, direction". Widder and wither in this sense are akin to German wider "against" and wieder "again". Sin is related to German Sinn "sense, meaning" and Latin sentire "sense, feel", both derived from the original Proto-Indo-European root sen(t)- "go in or choose a direction". We borrowed sense from the noun of the Latin verb. The same root also gave us the verb send "to cause something to go in a specific direction."

Dr. Goodword,

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