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A Word A Day — aliment

August 28, 2012

Word of the Day

  • aliment
  • audio pronunciation
  • \AL-uh-munt\


: food, nutriment; also : sustenance

“In the Propontis, as far as I can learn, none of that peculiar substance called brit is to be found, the aliment of the right whale.” — From Herman Melville's 1851 novel Moby Dick

“Until well into the nineteenth century, the notion of a well-balanced diet had occurred to no one. All food was believed to contain a single vague but sustaining substance—'the universal aliment.' A pound of beef had the same value for the body as a pound of apples or parsnips or anything else….” — From Bill Bryson's 2010 book At Home: A Short History of Private Life


These days you're most likely to encounter “aliment” as a typo for “ailment,” but the word was less of a rarity in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. And the word's history goes back even further than that. It dates to the 15th century and comes from Latin “alere,” meaning “to nourish,” by way of “alimentum.” Although “aliment” is uncommon in today's English, you may recognize it in the somewhat technical term “alimentary canal”—the name for the long tube in the body through which food passes after it is eaten. “Aliment” also functions as a verb meaning “to give aliment to,” or “to nourish or sustain.”

From Merriam-Webster Online at

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