Printable Version
Pronunciation: kê--mê-ti Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A disaster, catastrophe.

Notes: When Americans hear this word, many of us think of Martha (Calamity) Jane Cannary, a pistol-packing, hard-drinking, frontier woman who rose to fame in Wild Bill Hickok's Wild West Show. The adjective for this noun is calamitous; the adverb, calamitously. From the adjective we get a noun, calamitousness "the quality of a calamity". Don't forget to change the Y to I in the plural: calamities.

In Play: Storms can be calamities: "Hurricane Sandy in 2012 was a calamity for New York City and surrounds." Many of us are experiencing a variety of calamities today, in 2021: "The COVID pandemic has produced various types of calamities in the lives of people around the world: health calamities, food calamities, employment calamities, not to mention a calamitous economy."

Word History: Today's Good Word was gently lifted from Old French calamite "calamity", a French makeover of Latin calamitas "damage, misfortune, disaster". This word came from PIE kelê)-/kolê- "to hit, chop" with an -m suffix. It is also the source also Lithuanian kalti "to strike, hit" and Russian kolot' "to chop, crack" and kol "stake". In Germanic language we see it in German Holz "wood", something often chopped, and Dutch hout "timber, wood", where [l] became [u] as in many English dialects. (It would be a minor calamity were we to forget to thank master contributor Rob Towart for yet another timely Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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