Printable Version
Pronunciation: kor-nis Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Roof overhang, that piece at the bottom of a roof which jets out to protect windows and doors from rain and snow. 2. Molding at the top of an interior wall. 3. Overhanging snow or ice on a cliff or precipice.

Notes: Cornices, whether interior or exterior, are always at the very top of walls. Most of cornice's lexical family is now dead. Only two remain alive today, cornicing "cornices on a building collectively", and corniced "having a cornice".

In Play: Cornices may appear outside: "The outer cornices of the mansion were decorated all round with caricatures of the family of the owner who refused to pay the architect who designed the house." Cornices of a different nature appear inside a dwelling: "The walls inside were topped with foot-high decorative cornices."

Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from Italian cornice "frame, cornice". How this word came to be in Italian is a matter of some discussion. Some think it comes from Latin coronis "curved line", borrowed from Greek koronis "curved or bent object", from koronos "curved". This source has semantic problems. Others argue that it derives from Latin cornix (cornic-s) "crow" or Greek korone "raven", which, they claim was used metaphorically for anything curved. Again, they are faced with semantic problems. I think it may be related metaphorically to Latin cornu "horn", since horns are decorative attributes atop animals' heads. This trades the semantic problems for a spelling problem, no Latin word cornis in the sense of "horn". (Now let's thank a familiar contributor, Tony Bowden of London, for today's decorative Good Word and again, for his original collection of delightful limericks.)

Dr. Goodword,

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