Printable Version
Pronunciation: l-trish-l Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Helpless at birth, initially requiring the care and feeding by parents. Humans constitute an altricial species. Atricial animals born in nests are nidicolous as opposed to nidifugous.

Notes: Precocious is the antonym of today's word, referring to the young of animals and birds that are active immediately after birth, such as antelopes and alligators. Precocious also refers to children who mentally or physically mature early. Every animal in the typical barnyard is precocious, leading to the interesting observation that no altricial barnyard bird or animal has ever been domesticated. (If you have an idea why this might be the case, share it with us today in the Alpha Agora.)

In Play: Today's word comes from biology, but is employed over a wide range of topics. "Carlita's marketing idea was altricial when she suggested it and, for lack of nurturing by her coworkers, it never made it to the boss's desk." Use it around the house, too: "At the age of 38, you're no longer an altricial hatchling, Ferdy. Do your own laundry!"

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Latin altrix, the feminine of altor "nourisher" from alere "to nourish". The Proto-Indo-European root of today's word is al- "to grow, nourish". This same root came to be old, elderly, and Elder in English. Of course your alma mater is your "nurturing mother". Finally, nurturing implies growth and growth implies height, so we find it as the first component in the Latin borrowings based on altus "high, tall": altimeter and altitude. (Thank you, and a tip of alphaDictionary's lexiscope to Abraham Sukumar of Chennai, India, for nourishing our minds with today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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