What does ‘coeval’ mean?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: coeval…

When I read the novel The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon, I enountered more than my usual number of new-to-me words. One I particularly liked the sound of was coeval.

Here’s how Kwon used it in her text:

The ancients had believed the soul lived in the stomach, coeval with its appetite.

The word coeval dates back to 1620, and comes from the Latin word coaevusmeaning “of the same age.” It was formed by combining the “co-” prefix (“in or to the same degree”) with the Latin aevum (“age” or “lifetime”).

Although coeval can describe any two or more entities that coexist, it is most typically used to refer to things that have existed together for a very long time (such as galaxies  — one shown in the photo above.) Or it might refer to specific times concurrent with each other in the distant past (such as parallel historical periods of ancient civilizations).

In every day language, it means something that is of the same age or existing at the same time as another person or thing.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Dec. 5/18.

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