Podcast afflatus

Printable Version
Pronunciation: ê-flay-tês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Creative inspiration from a divine or supernatural power, a powerful muse.

Notes: Today's Good Word is encountered more frequently than its synonym from the same root, afflation. The latter comes from the verb afflate "to blow upon; to inspire". This verb provides a rather odd adjective, afflatitious "by divine inspiration". Dictionaries avoid postulating a plural of today's noun, which is used both as a regular and mass noun. You may use afflati if you prefer, though afflatuses will always do in a pinch.

In Play: Afflatuses tend to be divine but the only true test is whether they are supernatural: "Somewhere between Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood, Capote's divine afflatus seems to have been replaced by a satanic one." They are also closely associated with the arts: "Gwendolyn's afflatus certainly was at her service in writing her latest novel, for it is absolutely divine."

Word History: Today's remarkable word is Latin afflatus unmolested, the past participle of afflare "to blow on" from ad "to, on" + flare "to blow". The Proto-Indo-European root underlying flare is *bhlo-. The [bh] became [f] at the beginning of a Latin word, though, so this root became flare, which means "to blow"—from either end, apparently, since it also underlies flatulent. The [b] remained in Germanic languages so this root turns up in English blow and bladder, two words related due to the Celtic people's penchant for blowing into bladders called bagpipes to make music. May your afflatus blow some inspiration your way today.

Dr. Goodword,

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