Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Paul Spalding-Mulcock
Features Writer
1:02 AM 9th September 2023

Word Of The Week : Scintilla

Scintilla noun

As with much of our lexicon, ‘Scintilla’ has been gifted to us directly from the Latin. Meaning spark, the Latin word scintilla denotes a bright flash such as you might see from a burning ember. It is related to the Latin verb scintillare, which means to sparkle and has elliptically given us our verb scintillate, as in to sparkle or gleam, literally or figuratively.

As a consequence of lexicographical legerdemain, scintilla underwent the transposition of the ‘c’ and the ‘t’, a phenomenon known as metathesis, to create the vulgar Latin form stincilla, which is believed to be an ancestor of our word stencil.

Photo by Ben Lambert on Unsplash
Photo by Ben Lambert on Unsplash
In English, scintilla has been denuded of its Latinate specificity and is restricted to the figurative sense of ‘spark’, thereby connoting a hint, or trace of something that barely suggests its presence. Therefore, ‘scintilla’ is best understood as meaning a very small amount of something and is often used in negative statements to emphasise the unequivocal absence of a quality, or characteristic.

An example of this stiletto of a word being employed to finesse criticism, might be as follows …’The embattled Minister’s petulant demand for hubristic praise, was further vulgarised by her possessing not a scintilla of competence, credibility or compassion. Her defence crumbling, only an expletive laden rant was left to carry her tattered standard’.