• cantillate •
kæn-tê-layt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: To chant, intone, recite in a singing voice with little rise and fall of pitch, especially religious texts.
Notes: There is little difference in meaning between today's word and chant or intone. If you are writing poetry and need one syllable, use chant, if two syllables, use intone, if you need three syllables, use cantillate. The noun is cantillation and the adjective, cantillationary.
In Play: Today's word is most often used in connection with a religious rite: "After cantillating a pule ho'onoa to lift the tabu, the Hawaiian spiritual guide (kumu) went on to his own ceremonial cleansing bath in the sea." However, it does not preclude figurative uses: "The saxophone in the jazz piece cantillated the word patterns of Coltrane's poem of praise and thanksgiving."
Word History: Today's Good Word was made from the past participle, cantillatus, of the verb cantillare "to sing softly, to hum". This word is the diminutive of cantare "to sing", which has remained unchanged in Modern Italian. Portuguese and Spanish only removed the final E to make cantar, but French made more material changes to get to chanter, whence English chant. English borrowed the stem of cantare for its cant "sing-song or repetitious speech". Latin came by its verb from PIE kan- "to sing, song", source also of Greek kanacheein "to ring", German Hahn "rooster", and English hen. English borrowed charm, to which Old French had converted Latin carmen "song, incantation". Carmen comes from the same PIE source. (Now let's offer Luciano Eduardo de Oliveira our heartfelt thanks for not only suggesting today's Good Word, but for his long-time service on the Good Word editorial board.)