English language Etymology Usage

Is “lectitude” a word?

Q: I looked up “lectitude” after coming across it online, but I couldn’t find the word in my dictionary. It sounds like a real word, perhaps a relative of “lecture” or “lectern” or even Hannibal Lecter. But is it really a word?

A: If we had to guess, we’d say you were googling and saw “lectitude” in the search results for a scanned book.

The word shows up in hits for a lot of 19th-century books scanned into the Google Books database. But on closer inspection the actual word turns out to be “rectitude” with the first letter scanned incorrectly. Fooled again!

You’re right that “lectitude” sounds like a real word. But you won’t find it in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.), Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.), and other standard dictionaries.

Was it ever a word? Well, you won’t find “lectitude” in the Oxford English Dictionary either, so it’s safe to say it never existed, period. But let’s be creative.

If the word “lectitude” did exist, it would probably have something to do with reading. (Sorry, Hannibal!) Many English words starting with “lect” are related to the Latin verb legere (to read), a word whose descendants in Latin generally begin with lect.

The OED says, for instance, that “lectory” (from the Latin lectorium) is an obsolete word for a reading place. So a really great place to read might be described as rich in lectitude.

The English “lector” (borrowed from the Latin word for a reader) originally meant a church official whose duty was to read the “lessons” at the service, the OED says. What quality does a good lector need? Lectitude, of course!

There are other words that, with a little imagination, could be sources of lectitude.

The noun “lectern” (lectrum in Latin) once meant a desk for reading or singing from in a church. And “lecture” (lectura) originally meant the act of reading. So a very long lecture could give the listener an earful of lectitude.

“Lection” (from lectionem) is a rare and obsolete word for the act of reading, or a lecture, or a lesson to be learned, the OED says.

And back in the 13th century, “lesson” (also from lectionem) had two meanings, Oxford says: “a portion of Scripture or other sacred writing read at divine service,” or something for a pupil to read, study, and learn.

So we might say that students who are diligent about doing their homework should get an A in lectitude.

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