English edit

Etymology 1 edit

A cross section through a shoot of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) showing the whitish pith (noun sense 1.1) in the centre.
A magnified cross section through the stalk of a flax plant (Linum usitatissimum) showing its pith (noun sense 1.1; number 1).
The inner portion of an orange peel showing its white pith (noun sense 1.2) or albedo.

The noun is derived from Middle English pith, pithe (central tissue of a plant’s stem or a tree’s trunk and branches; other spongy inner tissue in a plant; flesh of a fruit, pulp; inner tissue in a body; inner part of an object; essential part, essence, quintessence; importance, value; energy, force, strength, vigour; severity) [and other forms],[1] from Old English piþa [and other forms], from Proto-Germanic *piþô, from earlier *piþō (oblique *pittan); further etymology unknown.[2] Doublet of pit (seed or stone inside a fruit).

The verb is derived from the noun[3] (Middle English pethen (to give courage or strength), from pith (noun),[4] did not survive into modern English).

Pronunciation edit

Noun edit

pith (usually uncountable, plural piths)

  1. (botany)
    1. The soft, spongy substance inside plant parts; specifically, the parenchyma in the centre of the roots and stems of many plants and trees.
      Synonyms: (archaic) marrow, medulla
      • 1597, John Gerarde [i.e., John Gerard], “Of Aromaticall Reedes”, in The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes. [], London: [] Edm[und] Bollifant, for Bonham and Iohn Norton, →OCLC, book I, page 56:
        This ſvveete ſmelling Reede is of a darke dun colour, full of ioints and knees eaſie to be broken into ſmall ſplinters, hollovv and full of a certaine vvhite pith, cobvveb vviſe, ſomevvhat gummie in eating, and hanging in the teeth, and of a ſharpe bitter taſte.
      • 1601, C[aius] Plinius Secundus [i.e., Pliny the Elder], “[Book XIV.] Foureteene Sorts of Sweet Wines.”, in Philemon Holland, transl., The Historie of the World. Commonly Called, The Naturall Historie of C. Plinius Secundus. [], 1st tome, London: [] Adam Islip, published 1635, →OCLC, page 417:
        Some make inciſion into the very Vine braunch, as farre as to the pith and marrovv vvithin (to divert the moiſture that feedeth the grape:) others lay the cluſters a drying upon tile-houſes: and all this is done vvith the grapes of the Vine Helvenaca.
      • 1634, T[homas] H[erbert], “Mohelia, Its Description”, in A Relation of Some Yeares Travaile, Begunne Anno 1626. into Afrique and the Greater Asia, [], London: [] William Stansby, and Jacob Bloome, →OCLC, page 24:
        Atop the [Palmito] tree is a pith, in taſte better then Cabbage; and eating it takes avvay the future benefit of grovvth or fructifying, theſe and the Date-tree thriue not, except the male and female be vnited, and haue copulation: the ſhe is only fruitfull.
      • 1671 December 17 (Gregorian calendar), Nehemiah Grew, “The Anatomy of Plants, Begun. [] The First Book. [] Chapter III. Of the Trunk.”, in The Anatomy of Plants. [], 2nd edition, [London]: [] W. Rawlins, for the author, published 1682, →OCLC, page 25:
        VVhy are the Annual Grovvths of all both Herbs and Trees, vvith great Piths, the quickeſt and longeſt? But hovv are the Pores and Bladders of the Pith permeable? That they are ſo, both from their being capable of a repletion vvith Sap, and of being again vvholly emptied of it, and again, inſtead thereof fill'd vvith Aer, is as certain as that they are Pores.
      • 1711 May 30 (Gregorian calendar), [Joseph Addison], “SATURDAY, May 19, 1711”, in The Spectator, number 69; republished in Alexander Chalmers, editor, The Spectator; a New Edition, [], volume I, New York, N.Y.: D[aniel] Appleton & Company, 1853, →OCLC, page 278:
        The food often grows in one country, and the sauce in another. The fruits of Portugal are corrected by the products of Barbadoes, and the infusion of a China plant is sweetened by the pith of an Indian cane.
    2. The albedo (whitish inner portion of the rind) of a citrus fruit.
  2. (by extension)
    1. Senses relating to humans and animals.
      1. The soft tissue inside a human or animal body or one of their organs; specifically, the spongy interior substance of a horn or the shaft of a feather.
        (feather): Synonym: medulla
      2. Chiefly of animals: the soft tissue inside a spinal cord; the spinal marrow; also, the spinal cord itself.
        Synonym: medulla
        • 1607, Edward Topsell, “Of the Horsse. [Of the Mourning of the Chine.]”, in The Historie of Fovre-footed Beastes. [], London: [] William Iaggard, →OCLC, page 371:
          Becauſe many do hold this opinion that this diſeaſe doth conſume the marrovv of the backe: [] [s]ome againe, do tvvine out the pith of the backe vvith a long vvire thruſt vp into the horſſes head, and ſo into his necke and backe, vvith vvhat reaſon I knovv not.
      3. (obsolete) Synonym of diploe (the thin layer of soft, spongy, or cancellate tissue between the bone plates which constitute the skull)
      4. (obsolete, rare) The soft tissue of the brain.
        • 1653, Henry More, “Of the Nature of the Soul of Man, whether She be a Meere Modification of the Body, or a Substance Really Distinct, and then whether Corporeall or Incorporeall”, in An Antidote against Atheisme, or An Appeal to the Natural Faculties of the Minde of Man, whether There Be Not a God, London: [] Roger Daniel, [], →OCLC, book I, page 37:
          Verily if vvee take a right vievv of this laxe pith or marrovv in Mans head, neither our ſenſe nor underſtanding can diſcover any thing more in this ſubſtance that can pretend to ſuch noble operations as free Imagination and ſagacious collections of Reaſon, then vve can diſcern in a Cake of Sevvet or a bovvle of Curds.
    2. (Ireland, Southern England, West Country) The soft inner portion of a loaf of bread.
  3. (figurative)
    1. The central or innermost part of something; the core, the heart.
      Synonyms: kernel, marrow
    2. The essential or vital part of something; the essence.
      Synonyms: crux, gist, heart, heart and soul, inwardness, kernel, marrow, meat, (obsolete) medulla, nitty-gritty, nub, quintessence, soul, spirit, substance; see also Thesaurus:gist
      The pith of my idea is that people should choose their own work hours.
    3. Physical power or strength; force, might.
      • 1544 (date written; published 1571), Roger Ascham, Toxophilus, the Schole, or Partitions, of Shooting. [], London: [] Thomas Marshe, →OCLC; republished in The English Works of Roger Ascham, [], London: [] R[obert] and J[ames] Dodsley, [], and J[ohn] Newbery, [], 1761, →OCLC, book 2, page 132:
        Iron bovves, and ſtele bovves, have bene of longe time, and alſo novv are uſed among the Turkes, but yet they muſt nedes be unprofitable. For if braſſe, iron, or ſtele, have their ovvne ſtrengthe and pithe in them, they be farrre[sic] above mans ſtrengthe: if they be made meete for mans ſtrengthe, theyr pithe is nothinge vvorth to ſhoote any ſhoote vvithall.
      • [1786, Robert Burns, “The Auld Farmer’s New-year Morning Salutation to His Auld Mare, Maggie, on Giving Her the Accustomed Ripp of Corn to Hansel in the New-year”, in Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. [], 2nd edition, volume I, Edinburgh: [] T[homas] Cadell, [], and William Creech, [], published 1793, →OCLC, page 199:
        But thy auld tail thou vvad hae vvhiſkit, / An' ſpread abreed thy vveel-fill'd briſket, / VVi' pith an' povv'r, []]
    4. A quality of courage and endurance; backbone, mettle, spine.
    5. The energy, force, or power of speech or writing; specifically, such force or power due to conciseness; punch, punchiness.
      • 1549 February 10 (Gregorian calendar; indicated as 1548), Erasmus, “The Paraphrase of Erasmus vpon the Ghospell of S. Luke. The Preface of Erasmus vnto His Paraphrase vpon the Ghospell of Luke. Unto the Moostle Puissaunt and Most Victorious Prince Henry the Eight, King of England, Fraunce, and Ireland, [].”, in Nicolas Udall [i.e., Nicholas Udall], transl., The First Tome or Volume of the Paraphrase of Erasmus vpon the Newe Testamente, London: [] Edwarde Whitchurche, →OCLC, folio xii, verso:
        I founde in myne owneſelfe, that litle fruite there commeth of the goſpell, if a man reade it but ſluggiſhely, and ſuperficially renne it ouer. But in caſe a mã [man] do with diligent and exquiſite meditacion kepe hymſelf occupied therin, he ſhal fele a certaine vertue and pith ſuche as he ſhall not fele the lyke in any other bookes.
    6. Chiefly in of (great) pith and moment: gravity, importance, substance, weight.
      • a. 1529, John Skelton, “Here after Followeth a Litel Boke Called Colyn Cloute, []”, in Alexander Dyce, editor, The Poetical Works of John Skelton: [], volume I, London: Thomas Rodd, [], published 1843, →OCLC, page 313, lines 53–58:
        For though my ryme be ragged, / Tattered and iagged, / Rudely rayne beaten, / Rusty and moughte eaten, / If ye take well therwith, / It hath in it some pyth.
      • c. 1599–1602 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act III, scene i], page 265, column 2, line 88:
        Thus Conſcience does make Covvards of vs all, / And thus the Natiue hevv of Reſolution / Is ſicklied o're, vvith the pale caſt of Thought, / And enterprizes of great pith and moment, / VVith this regard their Currants turne avvay, / And looſe the name of Action.
Derived terms edit
Translations edit

Verb edit

pith (third-person singular simple present piths, present participle pithing, simple past and past participle pithed) (transitive)

  1. To render insensate or kill (an animal, especially cattle or a laboratory animal) by cutting, piercing, or otherwise destroying the spinal cord. [from early 19th c.]
  2. To extract the pith from (something or (figurative) someone).
Translations edit

Etymology 2 edit

From pi (constant representing the ratio of the circumference of a Euclidean circle to its diameter) +‎ -th (suffix forming ordinal numerals).

Alternative forms edit

Pronunciation edit

Adjective edit

pith (not comparable)

  1. (mathematics) The ordinal form of the number pi (π; approximately 3.14159…).
    The pith root of pi is approximately 1.439…
    • 1998 June 21, Hbr…@my-dejanews.com, “For what x is x^x real?”, in alt.algebra.help[1] (Usenet), message-ID <6mhv6n$13l$1@nnrp1.dejanews.com>:
      (e^pi*i*i/2), or e^(-pi/2), which is the reciprocal of the square root of e to the pith power.
    • 2000 August 9, alice, “IMEI Changer T-10”, in aus.comms.mobile[2] (Usenet), message-ID <B5B6F806.53B5%alice@alice-didit.com>:
      That's nothing. I have an IMEI changer that will do all of the above and beat you off at the same time, while whistling the adaggio from Spartacus in Armenian and calculating pi to the pith power in swahili.
    • 2017 March 5, abu.ku…@gmail.com, “The non existence of p’th root of any prime number, for (p>2) prime”, in sci.math[3] (Usenet), message-ID <cabe6746-8a13-44f0-9e95-30eec727654a@googlegroups.com>:
      already, we know what is minus one from Euler: it is the I*pith power of e, such that ln(-1) = i*pi
Translations edit

Noun edit

pith (plural piths)

  1. (mathematics) One divided by pi, that is,   (approximately 0.31831…).
    • 1997 April 26, Brian Hutchings, “Trigonometric Functions”, in sci.math[4] (Usenet), message-ID <1997Apr26.204554.24471@lafn.org>:
      not only that, but your "radian" axis can be labelled as *being* in units of pis, as opposed to the redundancy of 0pi, pi/2, pi etc.; conversely, your circumferential measure can be rational (or units) and your radius can be transcendental (or piths .-)
    • 2016 April 2, abu.ku…@gmail.com, “pi^2/6 and 6/pi^2”, in sci.math[5] (Usenet), message-ID <d1d13d13-c4c0-43c3-b4cb-7911dcb24cc7@googlegroups.com>:
      thought it was the two-sixths power of pi, and teh[sic] secondpower of six piths
    • 2017 January 13, thugst…@gmail.com, “Electron-positron annihilation”, in sci.physics[6] (Usenet), message-ID <89a35ff8-1df1-4ab5-baf5-fdc605207710@googlegroups.com>:
      of course, although a pith is less than a third, hence pi is more than three, say, thirty-one tenths, but 22/7 is still less than pi, and that's a rather small gore
Translations edit

References edit

  1. ^ pith(e, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ Compare “pith, n.”, in OED Online  , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, September 2023; “pith, n.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  3. ^ pith, v.”, in OED Online  , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, July 2023; “pith, v.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  4. ^ pethen, v.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.

Further reading edit

Anagrams edit

Middle English edit

Alternative forms edit

Etymology edit

From Old English piþa, from Proto-Germanic *piþô.

Pronunciation edit

  • IPA(key): /ˈpiθ(ə)/, /ˈpið(ə)/, /ˈpeːθ(ə)/

Noun edit

pith (uncountable)

  1. The soft interior portion of something, especially:
    1. (botany) pith (soft substance in the center of a plant's stem)
    2. The pulp (soft innards) of a fruit.
  2. (figuratively) The essential or vital part; importance.
  3. (figuratively) Power, strength, might.

Descendants edit

  • English: pith
  • Scots: pith

References edit