Cornucopia: So Much of a Good Thing!

    26 November 2022

    And now, Words and Their Stories, from VOA Learning English.

    On this program, we explore words and expressions in the English language. We give examples and notes on usage.

    Today we talk about a word connected to Thanksgiving.

    The U.S. Soccer float rides in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
    The U.S. Soccer float rides in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

    One of the traditional images of Thanksgiving is something called a cornucopia. This is a container shaped like a goat's horn. And it is overflowing with many kinds of fruits and vegetables, such as gourds, ears of corn, apples, and grapes. So, sometimes we call it a "horn of plenty."

    Plenty means to have a large amount of something. For example, if you live in the land of plenty, you live in an area with lots of resources -- natural as well as social and financial.

    But let's get back to the word cornucopia. This word describes a large amount or supply of something.

    For example, the holiday table held a cornucopia of food and drink. Anything you could possibly want for dinner was available.

    While the image of a cornucopia involves food, we use it for an abundance of good things. If something is abundant, there is plenty of it.

    Here is another example.

    A recent gathering offered a cornucopia of jobs from many industries. Representatives from more than 200 companies were there offering jobs. There was something for everyone!

    Sometimes the word cornucopia means there is an inexhaustible supply of something. If you exhaust something you use it all up. So, if something is inexhaustible it seems limitless –- like a bottomless pit.

    For example, a library is a cornucopia of knowledge. I could go into a library every day for the rest of my life and learn something new!

    These examples have an abundance of good things: food, jobs, and knowledge. We do not use the word cornucopia to describe an abundance of bad things.

    Also note, we often add a prepositional phrase to explain what type of cornucopia it is: a cornucopia of food, a cornucopia of jobs, or a cornucopia of knowledge.

    Now, let's say that – for whatever reason – you are not a fan of the word cornucopia. In the examples with jobs and knowledge, you could easily replace cornucopia with wealth. In the food example, however, I would replace it with abundance or even bounty.

    And that's the end of this Words and Their Stories!

    Don't forget to check out other programs at VOA Learning English. Our website is a cornucopia of English learning materials.

    Until next time ... I'm Anna Matteo.

    Anna Matteo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    plenty – n. a full supply; a large number or amount

    abundance – n. a large quantity

    inexhaustible – adj. incapable of being used up

    wealth – n. abundant supply : a great amount of money or possessions

    bounty – n. something given generously