Printable Version
Pronunciation: zee-nê-glah-si Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: The speaking of a language that the speaker has never learned by natural means.

Notes: Today's oddly Good Word comes from the world of parapsychology, where spoons are bent and doodads sent zooming around tables without anyone touching them. People occasionally think they were someone who spoke a foreign language in a previous life and show signs under hypnosis of speaking that language. All such reported cases have been disproved, however. The New Testament, especially Acts 2:1-13, refers to Galileans "speaking in tongues" in a manner similar to xenoglossy. Today, though, speaking in tongues is glossolalia, mouthing nonsense syllables that appear to be utterances in a foreign language but are not. Glossolalia occurs when Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians become entranced during religious rituals. The adjective would be xenoglossic.

In Play: Despite the fact that no evidence for xenoglossy exists, we can still play with the word: "Norman French learns foreign languages so fast, you would think it xenoglossy!" In fact, it is remarkable how many situations we can imagine where this word that refers to nothing comes in handy: "So your new trainer doesn't speak English, huh! Well, by some xenoglossic miracle I heard him telling his friend at the gym today how much he enjoys working out with you–in perfect English!"

Word History: Today's Good Word is a compound noun made up of Greek xenos "stranger, guest" + glossa "tongue, language". Xenos itself seems to be a stranger to all Indo-European vocabularies except that of Greek. It has been borrowed by English in other words such as xenophobia "fear of strangers" and xenophilia "love of strangers". Very little more is known about the origin of glossa. It is a variant of glokhis "barb (of an arrow)" and apparently originally meant "point", then "tongue", then "language", a logical trail if anything. It is unrelated to the other gloss, the one meaning "shine, luster". That word has relatives all around the Indo-European languages, including English glow, gleam, glitter. (Today we thank yet another mystery, the mysterious Grogie of the Alpha Agora, for today's glossy Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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