Printable Version
Pronunciation: yu-nê-vêr-sê-ti Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. An institution of postsecondary (after high school) education comprising more than one college or schools, such as a college of business and a college of arts and sciences, possibly including a medical school, a law school, and/or a school of nursing. 2. The physical buildings of such an institution or the community of scholars living and working in them.

Notes: Today's Good Word has no adjectival or adverbial forms; just remember to change the Y to I in forming the plural: universities. Although this was not the intent of those who coined the terms over the centuries, universities are today societies of scholars who study everything known about the universe, so the root of this word continues to be semantically appropriate.

In Play: Universities are seats of learning, but the lessons learned in the 1960s led to action in universities in the US and elsewhere: "Antiwar activities in universities around the world encouraged the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam." Although a university education leads to higher lifetime income, many qualified students still look for their education elsewhere: "Milo Wage's only university was, as he puts it, the school of hard knocks."

Word History: Today's word is a Middle English adaptation of French université, derived from Medieval Latin universitas "society, community". Its current use resulted from a shortening of the original phrase, universitas magistrorum et scholarium "community of masters and scholars". Universitas is a noun based on universus "whole", a compound of unus "one" + versus, the past participle of vertere "to turn". English borrowed tons of words with the Latin root vert-, including introvert, pervert, convert, and divert—all referring to turning or twisting. The root behind vert- came to English via its Germanic ancestry in a series of words beginning with wr-, including wring, writhe, and wrong. (I am sure we are universally grateful to the lexically lively Richard Lively for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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