Printable Version
Pronunciation: ê-prahk-sê-mêt (Adj), ê-prahk-sê-mayt (Verb) Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective, Verb

Meaning: 1. [Adjective] Close or similar but not wholly accurate; rough, not perfect. 2. [Verb] To bring close together. 3. [Verb] To make close or similar.

Notes: Today we get two words for the price of one (a reasonable price at that). The verb approximate is accented on the same syllable (second) as the adjective. However, the final syllable in the adjective is also reduced to [uh]. The adjective allows an adverb approximately. The verb permits several derivations: approximation, the act of approximating, an adjective approximative, with the same meaning as approximate, and approximator "an estimator".

In Play: As an adjective, today's Good Word is a near synonym of rough, as in this sentence: "Could you give me the approximate idea of the cost of removing the kid's head from between the banisters?" As a verb, its meaning approximates that of simulate: "I think I could approximate your wife's diamond with a zircon, but I would have to speak with her first."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Latin approximatus "approached", the past participle of approximare "to approach". This verb consists of ad "(up) to" + proximare "to come near" from proximus "nearest". Latin ad comes from the same original preposition as English at. When used as a prefix, the D in ad- 'assimilates' or becomes like any consonant following it, so that it became a P before the P in approximate. It became an L in allocute, a G in aggravate, and an S in assert. (Our gratitude to Samuel Keays for suggesting today's Good Word is not approximate but precise and substantial.)

Dr. Goodword,

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