Podcast chthonic

Printable Version
Pronunciation: thahn-nik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Dwelling in or under the earth. 2. Related to the underworld of ancient gods and spirits who tend to be evil.

Notes: Today's Good Word begins with a silent CH, something unusual for the language. However, these letters are silent only at the beginning of the word. If the word is prefixed, they are pronounced [k], as in autochthonic [aw-tahk-thah-nik] "indigenous", as the Cherokees, Croatans, and Chippewas are among the autochthonic peoples of North America. (Autochthonous is OK, too.)

In Play: You can find many places in conversations for the literal sense of today's Good Word: "Since my workshop is in the basement, I remain in close contact with several little chthonic creatures that co-inhabit my house." Its metaphorical undertones require a bit more subtlety: "Mickey is an affable enough fellow, but I sense a chthonic layer in his humor that makes me uneasy."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Greek khthon "earth, ground", which was derived from the PIE root *dhghem- "earth, ground". This same root gave us chameleon from Greek khamaileon "ground lion" made up of chamai "on the ground" + leon "lion". Chamomile, as in chamomile tea, started out as Greek khamaimelon "ground apple", made up of the same chamai + melon "apple". In Latin this same root became humus "earth", which underlies derived humus, humble, and humid. One last related stem is Latin homo "person, man", which underlies not only homicide but also homage. It went on to become homme in French and hombre in Spanish. (Thanks to a semichthonic spirit of the Alpha Agora, Roger "Sluggo" Pyle, for bringing today's lowly word to the surface.)

Dr. Goodword,

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