Printable Version
Pronunciation: kên-sen-sês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A state of general agreement within a group. 2. A position or opinion that a group as a whole agrees on unanimously or nearly unanimously.

Notes: I should hope that there is a consensus among us all that this term should be treated at some point in our series of Good Words. First, watch the spelling. Although they both have to do with counting heads, consensus and census are unrelated and hence spelled differently. Second, look out for the redundancy in the by now idiomatic phrase, "consensus of opinion". A consensus is a kind of opinion so the repetition is unnecessary unless you wish to emphasize the consensus. Redundancy for the sake of emphasis is very, very, very common in all languages. The plural is consensuses.

In Play: Although generally considered formal, this word is perfectly suitable for household conversation: "I take it that we have reached a consensus on which toppings to order on the pizza." A consensus may be stretched to convergences of things other than opinions, "The consensus of testimony supported the charge that Bea Heine did, in fact, switch the signs on the men's and women's restrooms, leading the jury to a quick consensus of guilty on all charges."

Word History: This Good Word is the past participle of the Latin verb consentire "to agree," made up of con "with, together" + sentire "to feel," implying a shared sense or feeling. The root of sentire is, as it appears, related to English send. The original Proto-Indo-European root meant "direct, move in a specific direction", a meaning which lends itself to slippage to "send" and "sense". The words scent, sense, sentence, and sentiment all come from Latin sentire "to feel," from the sense "to move toward mentally or spiritually". (I sense a consensus that it is time we offer Marie Geesa our sincerest thanks for sending us today's excellent Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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