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A.Word.A.Day--paterfamilias

Pronunciation RealAudio

paterfamilias (pay-tuhr-fuh-MIL-ee-uhs) noun

The male head of a family or a household; father figure.

[From Latin paterfamilias (father of the household), from pater (father) + familias, from familia (household), from famulus (servant, slave).]

The feminine equivalent of the word is materfamilias.

Today's word in Visual Thesaurus.

"The Burton children are forever falling out with their gaunt, grim, illiterate and ultimately one-eyed (a spark from the anvil having gone the wrong way) paterfamilias."
DJ Taylor; The Blacksmith's Progress; The Guardian (London, UK); Apr 17, 2004.

"He (Isaac Stern) taught formally, gave master classes worldwide, and was the paterfamilias of a generation of illustrious American musicians, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinists Pinchas Zuckerman, and Itzhak Perlman."
Virtuoso With a Heart; The Australian (Sydney, Australia); Sep 25, 2001.

Here's a quick question: What do the words "perpetrate" and "patriot" have in common, other than the fact that both begin with the letter p? The two words originated from the Latin root pater (father). When we perpetrate something, we cause to bring it about or, in other words, we father it. A patriot is a fellow country-man, one having the same forefathers.

Other words derived from the same Latin root are expatriate (ex- + patria, literally out of the father land), patron (literally, one who is like father, a protector or advocate). Here are a few more: patriarch, paternal, patrician, and patrimony. It's fascinating how the same root gives birth to such a diverse range of words - not unlike children of a father, where each child has much in common yet each has different interests and temperament.

Ah, the joy of words! When we consider their derivations, we are, in fact, tracing their lineage and drawing their genealogical chart, identifying their fathers and forefathers.

This week we'll trace the origin of words about relations.

-Anu Garg

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