Printable Version
Pronunciation: wêrm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Any relatively small, long, slender, soft-bodied invertebrate animal without appendages. 2. (Metaphorically) Wretch, rotter, tosser, contemptible person. 3. (Mechanics) The threaded cylinder in a worm gear. 4. (Computing) Self-replicating program capable of propagating itself across a network.

Notes: wormThe adjective for this word is wormy "infested with worms", which has a noun, worminess. Wormling is the diminutive referring to small worms or an especially pitiable person. A wormery is a place or container where worms are kept. This noun may also be used as a verb meaning "to remove worms" or "to wheedle", as 'worm your dog' or 'to worm your way into someone's affection', respectively.

In Play: Worm plays a prominent role in a common idiom, 'to open a can of worms', meaning to add a lot of unnecessary complications. Among fishermen, this phrase may be taken literally since worms are a favorite bait for freshwater fishing. Otherwise, it is generally encountered in its original sense: "I can't eat this apple; there's a worm in it."

Word History: In Old English today's Good Word was wurm, cousin of German Wurm, Danish orm, Dutch worm, from Proto-Germanic wurmiz. Proto-Germanic inherited its word from PIE wrmi- "worm", source also of Latin vermis "worm" (underlying the English borrowing vermin), ancient Greek rhomos "woodworm", Albanian rrime "rainworm", Romanian vierme "worm". PIE wrmi- probably was a derivation from wer-/wor- "to turn, twist, wind" via an -m suffix. With the suffix -t we see it in Latin vertere "to turn", Russian vertet' "turn, roll, twist", German werden "to become, turn into", Lithuanian versti "to turn, topple, pile up", and Latvian vērst "point, direct, steer". (Let's now encourage with our gratitude newcomer John Kristoff for today's common but fascinating Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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