Wednesday, December 02, 2009


A listener brought up the word paraphernalia as an instance of a word easier to say than to spell. The second “r” is often the victim of elision, so misspelling becomes a distinct possibility.

The word is interesting in its own right. In Roman law, paraphernalia meant the articles of property held by a wife over and above the dowry that she brought with her. The articles might include clothing, furniture, and jewelry. The wife retained control over these. The word derived from the Greek para-, over and above, and pherne-, a dowry – literally, things brought with.

As time went by, the word picked up multiple meanings. Among other things, it came to mean articles of dress or adornment outside of marriage, the items associated with a particular activity, then the items associated with taking drugs.

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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