Printable Version
Pronunciation: kê-myut Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. (Intransitive) To go back and forth over a long distance, as to commute to work from a neighboring town. 2. (Transitive) To change, exchange or substitute for something lesser or more agreeable, as to commute a criminal sentence to time already served in jail. 3. (Electrical engineering) To regulate the direction of an electrical current.

Notes: The three definitions (among several more obscure ones) of today's interesting verb are served by two different nouns. A commutator is person who exchanges something or the part of an electrical motor that controls the direction of the current. A commuter is someone who travels back and forth over a long distance. The activity of the judge and commutator is commutation, while that of the commuter is commuting.

In Play: Judges substitute a lighter sentence for a rougher one when they commute: "The judge commuted Kenny Bunkport's sentence of three months of marriage counseling with his wife to 90 days in jail." Yuppies are more likely to travel long distances: "Commuting five miles to work would not have been so difficult had Stoddard owned a car." Here is a sentence that illustrates both basic senses of today's Good Word: "I wish I could find a job that would commute my sentence of commuting 30 miles to work every day to a shorter drive."

Word History: In Middle English today's Good Word was commuten "to transform", borrowed from Latin commutare "to transform", based on con "with, together" + mutare "to change", also the source of English mutate. The underlying Proto-Indo-European root of Latin mutare devolved into Old English gemdde "crazy, insane", which came down to us as mad, referring to a changed mental state. In Greek we find the root in amoebe "change", which we borrowed to refer to the most changeable of organisms, the amoeba. (We hope Margie Sved never changes and continues to send us suggestions for marvelous Good Words like today's.)

Dr. Goodword,

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