Word of the Day – Modicum

Definition

: a small portion : a limited quantity

Did You Know?

What does modicum have to do with a toilet? It just so happens that modicum shares the same Latin parent as commode, which is a synonym of toilet. Modicum and commode ultimately derive from the Latin noun modus, which means “measure.” (We borrowed the noun commode from the French, who also used the word as an adjective meaning “suitable, convenient.”) Modicum, which, logically enough, refers to a small “measure” of something, has been a part of the English language since the 15th century. It descends from the Latin modicus (“moderate”), which is itself a descendant of modus. Modus really measures up as a Latin root—it also gave us mode (originally a kind of musical “measure”), modal, model, modern, modify, and modulate. More distant relatives include mete, moderate, and modest.

Examples

“While his narrative on the politics of the place is interesting and edifying it’s the passages about his adventures by land, air and sea that really capture the wild beauty and remoteness of a region he grew to love. And he exhibits more than a modicum of derring-do. ‘I have always flown pretty close to the sun,’ [Aaron] Smith says.” — Phil Brown, The Courier Mail (Australia), 5 Dec. 2020

“When the Guardian ran my article on the Visual Perception and Attention Lab at Brunel University London and how it planned to investigate why some gamers invert their controls, I expected a modicum of interest among seasoned readers of the Games section.” — Keith Stuart, The Guardian (London), 8 Dec. 2020