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Etymology edit

From Late Latin phaenomenon (appearance), from Ancient Greek φαινόμενον (phainómenon, thing appearing to view), neuter present middle participle of φαίνω (phaínō, I show).

Pronunciation edit

Noun edit

phenomenon (plural phenomena or (nonstandard) phenomenons or phenomenon)

  1. A thing or being, event or process, perceptible through senses; or a fact or occurrence thereof.
  2. (by extension) A knowable thing or event (eg by inference, especially in science)
    An electromagnetic phenomenon.
  3. A kind or type of phenomenon (sense 1 or 2)
    A volcanic eruption is an impressive phenomenon.
  4. Appearance; a perceptible aspect of something that is mutable.
    • 1662, Thomas Salusbury, transl., Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World, First Day:
      I verily believe that in the Moon there are no rains, for if Clouds should gather in any part thereof, as they do about the Earth, they would thereupon hide from our sight some of those things, which we with the Telescope behold in the Moon, and in a word, would some way or other change its Phœnomenon.
  5. A fact or event considered very unusual, curious, or astonishing by those who witness it.
  6. A wonderful or very remarkable person or thing.
  7. (philosophy, chiefly Kantian idealism) An experienced object whose constitution reflects the order and conceptual structure imposed upon it by the human mind (especially by the powers of perception and understanding).
    • 1900, S. Tolver Preston, “Comparison of Some Views of Spencer and Kant”, in Mind, volume 9, number 34, page 234:
      Every "phenomenon" must be, at any rate, partly subjective or dependent on the subject.
    • 1912, Roy Wood Sellars, “Is There a Cognitive Relation?”, in The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, volume 9, number 9, page 232:
      The Kantian phenomenon is the real as we are compelled to think it.

Usage notes edit

  • The universal, common, modern spelling of this term is phenomenon. Of the alternative forms listed above, phaenomenon, phænomenon, and phainomenon are etymologically consistent, retaining the αι diphthong from its Ancient Greek etymon φαινόμενον (phainómenon); in the case of the first two, it is in the Romanised form of the Latin ae diphthong, whereas in the latter it is a direct transliteration of the original Ancient Greek. The form spelt with œ has no etymological basis. All those alternative forms are pronounced identically with phenomenon and are archaic, except for phainomenon, which sees some technical use in academia and is pronounced with an initial ([faɪ],).
  • By far the most common and universally accepted plural form is the classical phenomena; the Anglicised phenomenons is also sometimes used. The plural form phenomena is frequently used in the singular, and the singular form is sometimes used in the plural. Arising from this nonstandard use, the double plurals phenomenas and phenomenae, as well as a form employing the greengrocer’s apostrophephenomena’s — are also seen.

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