Webster’s Wednesday: Infinitesimal

Wednesday’s theme is words! Where they came from, what they mean, and other interesting facts. Each week, I’ll have a new word for you! So let’s get on with it!

One day, my friend Katharine and I found ourselves participating, quite by accident, in a trivia night at a bar. It was the University District Wing Central, and we arrived just in time to fill out answer sheets for the last 2 rounds out of 8. We did okay. We got 7th out of 12 teams. Okay, I guess that’s really good for only doing 2 rounds. There were 3 answers that we got that no one else did, one of which was about a word.

The question: What 13-letter word means a very small amount, but inside it is a word that means the opposite?

Our answer: Infinitesimal. Katharine suggested it, and I wrote it down and confirmed that it was 13 letters.

Correct!

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, infinitesimal is an adjective that means “extremely small.” Some more detailed definitions are “1:  taking on values arbitrarily close to but greater than zero” and “2:  immeasurably or incalculably small <an infinitesimal difference>.” The word comes from the Latin infinitesimus, meaning “infinite in rank” and from the Latin infinitus. The first known use was in 1706. One would use it to describe the smallest possible amount without knowing the exact measurement, as in “I don’t care if there is an infinitesimal amount of crushed insects in my makeup or my food; any at all is too much!”

Have you ever used “infinitesimal” in a conversation before? Show me how!

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