March 29, 2007


celerity n. Swiftness, speed. Now chiefly (as distinguished from velocity) with reference to the movements or actions of living beings.
--OED Online,

celerity: a. Promptness, alacrity.
b : swiftness, speed

--Webster 3. Merriam-Webster, 2002. (28 Mar. 2007).


Celerity derives ultimately from the Latin root celer, which means swift. The full etymology: [ME. celerite, a. F. célérité, ad. L. celeritt-em, f. celer swift.]
--OED Online,



The OED's definition of celerity (top of the page) usefully delimits the word's work "chiefly to the movements or actions of living beings." The Webster 3 makes no specific reference to actions of living beings; rather, it gives simple attention to the qualities of alacrity and speed.

Celerity and velocity share a history that goes back to 1834 . Velocity was the first of the two words to appear, in 1480. Then in 1843 along came celerity. Both words were understood to mean "speed" and their parity lasted 109 years.

Then, in 1934, Swedish physicist Hannes Alfvén, through his work in a field of physics called magnetohydrodynamics, devised a method of speed measurement called Alfven speed, or velocity. Thus it was that in 1943 velocity took off into a rapidly rising and ultimately perduring career in the world of scientific measurement.

With velocity now decamped to science, celerity took full control of "the movements or actions of living beings." See examples of it in use below.
--OED Citations on celerity, velocity, and
--The Complete Word Book. Mary A. De Vries. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1991.


From the OED (with starting dates):

  • 1591 HORSEY I speed my bussynes with as much seleritie as I can.
  • 1607 TOPSELL The cats followed with the same celerity and agility.
  • 1751 JOHNSON My quickness of apprehension, and celerity of reply.
  • Mod. [Modern Period] The celerity of the squirrel's movements.

From The Columbia World of Quotations. 1996.

" Celerity is never more admired / Than by the negligent." William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, act 3, sc. 7, l. 24-5.
“A good rebuke,” as Antony remarks (l. 25).
--Columbia University Press, 1996.

in Use As a Brand NAME

Celerity, with its denotation of speed and its intimation of efficiency is well qualified to serve as a brand name. Celerity IT Technology and Business Integration Consulting tells prospective clients that "Celerity’s services are designed with one primary objective in mind, to make our customers more productive, and therefore more profitable."
--Celerity IT Technology and Business Integration Consulting

in Use: Electronic Gaming

The source of the three definitions of celerity presented in the next paragraph is
The Urban Dictionary of Slang, an on-line dictionary built upon citations contributed by on-line visitors rather than by professional etymologists. Sites like this are worth visiting if only to see English at play, and it's possible that one might be just be looking at a word in its "incubation" period before moving on to standard dictionaries. So the citations from The Urban Dictionary of Slang are not "authoritative," in any scholarly sense. Rather they are active curiosities with potential for wider use.

Here are definitions of celerity culled by an Urban Dictionary of Slang contributor named Nathan:

  • "[T]he [s]peed, haste, rapidity or quickness" of gamer's movements;
  • "Celerity is the defining trait of reflex oriented activities like tennis or *"halo"; and
  • "Gamers often haveceleritous reflexes and athletes run celeritously." (Nathan) Jul.17, 2004.--The Urban Dictionary of Slang
*"Halo" is a best-selling space-combat game for the X-Box.

Beside defining celerity, Nathan wanted to show the adjectival and adverbial forms of the noun. But modern dictionaries do not list adjectival or adverbial forms for celerity, because those words are no longer active. So Nathan invented celeritous (adj.) and celeritously (adv.), nonce words which get the job done well enough, even though they take forms different from those of the originals, which were celerious (meaning "swift, fleet") and celeriously (in a swift manner).
--OED Online,


As lagniappe, I offer a curious word that the reader might someday have fun using at, say, a football game, a race, or a track meet. It is celeripedean (n. and adj.), which as a noun means "A swift footman." Here's my guess at its pronunciation: [cel-er-i-PEED'-e-an].--OED Online,

"Congratulations, Alexander! You have won the race! We celebrate you: a celeripedean's celeripedean!"--B'N'J.



  1. What an excellent job you did explaining the various faces of celerity. I read the word as a combination of celebrity and celery. In today’s Wikipedia (3-30-07), one sentence in the history section states this about “celery”: “In classical Greece celery leaves were used as garlands for the dead, and the wreaths of the winners at the Isthmian Games were first made of celery before being replaced by crowns made of pine.” So this reference, if true, is in alignment with the OED definition. Annenonymous

  2. Dear Annenonymous,

    Celerity, celery, and celebrity share two characteristics:

    1.) Each can make its own contribution to a description of a competitive athletic event.

    2) By happy coincidence they share a common sound, “se” or “sel.”

    celerity -- ce-ler’-i-ty
    celery -- cel’-ery
    celebration -- cel’-e-brate.

    This commonality of sound invites the hypothesis that they might be somehow otherwise related, perhaps by a common ancestry.

    But they are not. Each word traces back to its own unique Latin progenitor:

    celerity -- L. celer, quick
    celery –- L. selinon, parsley
    celebration -- L. celeber, frequented, populous.

    We might also add to the group accelerate (which shares its origin with celerity: “L. celer, quick”)

    Thanks for the comment. It prompted much thought. I hope the explanation above proves helpful.

    Doing research on your comment proved enlightening for me, especially in learning how better to comprehend those compendious but narrowly compressed strings of etymological abb’s, I mean abbreviations, that show up in dictionary entries.

    I am now less daunted by the likes of this:

    compressed: Compress. See Press [Press (I), to squeeze (F.- L.) M.E. pressen. -F. presseur,-L pressare, frequent. of premere (pp. pressus), to press. Der. press, sb.; press-ure].

    Thanks again!
    Bloggin’ John