Word-a-Day… More Harm than Good?

TENSILE

Definition:
capable of withstanding physical stress, capable of being stretched or extended

Example:
Architects construct buildings using only TENSILE materials in areas that are prone to earthquakes.

Synonyms:
ductile, malleable

I look at Excite.com everyday for news, stock quotes, TV schedules, etc., and I always glance at the word of the day. Usually, it’s a word I’m familiar with and the definition of say, “Affable,” is about what I expect, but occasionally, there’s an obscure word or a technical term that I don’t recognize, and I take “the word” at it’s word.

So this one today scared me a little. I read that TENSILE means “capable of being stretched or extended,” and I thought, “My, that’s odd. Admittedly, I’ve only heard this in the context of ‘tensile strength,’ but doesn’t this term refer to how much a material like a wire resists being stretched?” And yes, my stream of consciouness internal dialogue does, in fact, sound like a late-19th-century British dandy, or at least one of the Crane brothers from Frazier &#151 I just can’t help it.)

Then I got to the “synonyms” and thought, DUCTILE does in fact mean something like “able to be stretched, molded, or worked,” but, doggoneit, MALLEABLE comes from the same Latin root as “mallet” and means that you can beat something out into a sheet &#151 think “gold leaf.”

So bottom line, I was right, they were wrong, and I’ll never trust Excite’s Word of the Day feature again. (The bold words are links to Google definitions.)

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