Printable Version
Pronunciation: kêm-lee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Pretty, attractive, fair, of moderate beauty. 2. Seemly, polite, becoming.

Notes: The noun from this adjective is comeliness. The adverb is a tad more complicated. Though language tolerates repetition (see my comments in the Language Blog), English doesn't like identical adjacent syllables. That is why probably usually comes out prob'ly. The expected adverb for today's word, comelily, would contain just that, so one of the "-ly's" is dropped. As a result the adverb for comely is comely itself, as 'to behave comely in public'. Look out for this with all adjectives ending on -ly: to act manly, friendly, fatherly.

In Play: If you wish to express the sentiment "pretty", why not use a one of the 100 Most Beautiful Words in English? Today's Good Word fits the bill perfectly: "Maggie is a comely young girl whose behavior fits her appearance, don't you think?" It also has the advantage of referring to actions as well as things: "I didn't think it very comely of Harold to shake hands with the men and kiss the women in the reception line."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a rarity: a word of totally English origin. It can be traced back to Old English cymlic "lovely, delicate" from cyme "beautiful", totally unrelated to the verb come. It is related, however, to the second meaning of become, as in 'a hat that becomes you' or 'behavior unbecoming an officer'. The suffix, -ly, is a shortened version of like, whittled down by time: both come from Old English lic. Russian lico "face" is a distant cousin. It is interesting that lic was a word that became a suffix in words like manly and fatherly. Now, it would seem that the modern version lic, like, is repeating the process in words such as man-like and father-like.

Dr. Goodword,

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