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December 15, 2010 Word of the Day

December 15, 2010

Word of the Day

  • quincunx
  • KWIN-kunks


: an arrangement of five things in a square or rectangle with one at each corner and one in the middle

The tables were arranged in a quincunx, with the hosting family at the center table and guests at the four corners.

"As we walked along the geometric beds -- many of them planted in an ancient Roman quincunx pattern -- I made notes on the beautiful crops I had never grown." -- From an article by Anne Raver in the New York Times, June 30, 2010


As our second example sentence suggests, today's word has its origins in ancient Rome. To the Romans, a "quincunx" was a coin whose name comes from the Latin roots "quinque," meaning "five," and "uncia," meaning "one twelfth." The weight of the coin equaled five twelfths of a libra, a unit of weight similar to our pound. The ancients used a pattern of five dots arranged like the spots on a die as a symbol for the coin, and English speakers applied the word to arrangements similar to that distinctive five-dot mark.