Word of the Day : December 27, 2010


noun fyoo-NAM-buh-liz-um


1 : tightrope walking

2 : a show especially of mental agility

Did You Know?

Back in ancient Rome, tightrope walking was a popular spectacle at public gatherings. The Latin word for "tightrope walker" is "funambulus," from the Latin "funis," meaning "rope," plus "ambulare," meaning "to walk." It doesn't take any funambulism on our part to see how the word for an impressive act of physical skill and agility came to mean an impressive act of mental skill or agility. That extended sense of the word has been around since at least 1886, when British academic and writer Augustus Jessopp described the act of diagramming sentences as "horrible lessons of ghastly grammar and dreary funambulism."


As a game-show contestant Brenda amazed us all with her funambulism, answering every question correctly to win the $10,000 first prize.

"I have some personal experience with funambulism, as both a performer and an instructor. When new students step onto the rope or cable (depending upon the particular rigging), they almost always begin with the same flawed game plan. They stare down at the wire to make sure that they have the proper footing. And so they fall." -- From Dan Thurmon's 2010 book Off Balance on Purpose: Embrace Uncertainty and Create a Life You Love

Word Family Quiz

What 5-letter descendant of "ambulare" means "to walk in a slow and relaxed manner"? The answer is ...


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