Word of the Day: Recondite

Truth is the best policy, they say, and in truth: with everything happening in the world, I forgot to think about any more Words-of-the-Day last week. Sorry about that.

Part of the problem is that it’s hard to think of words quite recondite enough to share. Let’s remedy that this week with a word you’ll be proud to show off.

Recondite. (REK-un-dyte).Adjective. little known or understood; abstruse, obscure; profound.

This $2 word comes from the Latin word reconditus, which means the same thing; but if you look a little deeper, the root is actually condere, which can be translated as: “to put or bring together,” “to put up, store,” or “to conceal.” (1)

It’s that last one, that element of concealment, that makes recondite words so popular for words-of-the-day columns and so annoying to everyone who doesn’t know what they mean. Just look at this list of Merriam-Webster’s Words-of-the-Day from last month. Even Microsoft Word is a little chapfallen by this list. Spellcheck does not recognize the word rectitudinous and dutifully places a little red squiggly line underneath. Talk about recondite!

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day entries for part of March 2020

The word first came to English-speakers through an astronomer, John Bainbridge (2), waxing philosophic about the Great Comet of 1618:

“I hope this new Messenger from Heauen,” he wrote, “doth bring happie tidings of some munificent and liberall Patron…by whose gracious bountie the most recondite mysteries of this abstruse and diuine science shall at length be manifested.”

The Great Comet of 1618

That’s nice, but I think I prefer the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote:

“Humanly speaking, it is a more important matter to play the fiddle, even badly, than to write huge works upon recondite subjects.”

Have a great week! Don’t be afraid to share your suggestions for words—recondite or not—and I’ll credit you when I write them up.

(1) One of the standard Latin textbooks, by the way, teaches students that Latin was basically sung. So that’s ♫Con-de-re, like an opera singer.

(2) Bainbridge described himself as “Doctor of Physicke, and louer of the mathematicks.”

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