Date: Friday, 29 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 29, 2013 is: tomfoolery \tahm-FOO-luh-ree\ noun : playful or foolish behavior Examples: "Scott Ferber grew up one of three boys in a house with a strict mother who did not tolerate any tomfoolery." From an article by Sarah Gantz in the Baltimore Business Journal, October 18, 2013 "People's success also signaled a shift in the overall tone of print journalism, away from the stentorian voice of Time, the literariness of The New Yorker, and the New Journalism tomfoolery of New York and Esquire, to something looser, more image-saturated, and obviously market-friendly." From an article by Jim Windolf in Vanity Fair, October 16, 2013 Did you know? In the Middle Ages, "Thome Fole" was a name assigned to those perceived to be of little intelligence. This eventually evolved into the spelling "tomfool," which, when capitalized, also referred to a professional clown or a buffoon in a play or pageant. The name "Tom" seems to have been chosen for its common-man quality, much like "Joe Blow" for an ordinary person or "Johnny Reb" for a soldier in the Confederate army, but "tomfoolery" need not apply strictly to actions by men. In Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables (1908), for example, Marilla Cuthbert complains of Anne: "She's gadding off somewhere with Diana, writing stories or practicing dialogues or some such tomfoolery, and never thinking once about the time or her duties."
Date: Thursday, 28 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 28, 2013 is: foison \FOY-zun\ noun 1 : archaic : rich harvest 2 : chiefly Scottish : physical energy or strength 3 : plural, obsolete : resources Examples: "Earth's increase, foison plenty, / Barns and garners* never empty; / Vines with clust'ring bunches growing, / Plants with goodly burden bowing. " From Shakespeare's 1623 play The Tempest "Thither the extremely large wains bring foison of the fields ." From James Joyce's 1922 novel Ulysses [*"Garner" can refer to a building or a bin in which grain is stored. It is entered in Merriam-Webster's Unabridged.] Did you know? The definition of "foison" is amply supplied with labels; they appear at each of the definition's three senses, and they all suggest that it's unlikely that you'll come across "foison" in your general reading. The word did appear, however, in some reading material that was probably familiar to some of the Mayflower's pilgrims: the late 16th century sermons of Henry Smith. One of those sermons included the following: "Such a foison hath your alms, that by the blessing of God it increases like the widow's meal ." "Foison" comes from Latin "fusion-, fusio," meaning "outpouring," which in turn comes from "fundere," meaning "to pour"the same source as that of the words "profuse" and "refund," among others.
Date: Wednesday, 27 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 27, 2013 is: divers \DYE-verz\ adjective : made up of an indefinite number greater than one : various Examples: "He is descended from the issue of Dudleys who managed to escape Bloody Mary's ax as well as the divers other perils of Tudor England." From an article by Christopher Buckley in the Architectural Digest, April 1989 "The tale that unfolds touches on such divers themes as a world-wide terror conspiracy, bioweapons, automated submarine drones, a Vatican spy, and even the lost kingdom of Atlantis." From a book review by Gloria Feit in the Reviewer's Bookwatch, May 1, 2013 Did you know? Did you think we had misspelled "diverse"? We didn't! "Divers" is a word in its own right, albeit a fairly formal and uncommon one. Both words come from Latin "diversus," meaning "turning in opposite directions," and until around 1700 they were pretty much interchangeableboth meant "various" and could be pronounced as either DYE-verz (like the plural of the noun "diver") or dye-VERSS. Both words still carry the "various" meaning, but these days "divers" (now DYE-verz) is more likely to emphasize multiplicity (as in "on divers occasions"), whereas "diverse" (now dye-VERSS) usually emphasizes uniqueness. "Diverse" typically means either "dissimilar" (as in "a variety of activities to appeal to the children's diverse interests") or "having distinct or unlike elements or qualities" ("a diverse student body").
Date: Tuesday, 26 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 26, 2013 is: insuperable \in-SOO-puh-ruh-bul\ adjective : incapable of being surmounted, overcome, passed over, or solved Examples: Though it had appeared that the visiting team had an insuperable lead, the home team rallied to win in the end. "The project faced a perpetual lack of funding, constant bureaucratic delays, and, by the '30s, the near-insuperable hurdles of reconciling parts of Tolstoy's work (especially his religious writings) with the state's demands." From a post by Sal Robinson on Melville House Press's MobyLives blog, October 21, 2013 Did you know? "Insuperable" first appeared in print in the 14th century, and it still means now approximately what it did then. "Insuperable" is a close synonym of "insurmountable." In Latin, "superare" means "to go over, surmount, overcome, or excel." The Latin word "insuperabilis" was formed by combining the common prefix "in-" (meaning "not" or "un-") with "superare" plus "abilis" ("able"). Hence "insuperabilis" meant "unable to be surmounted, overcome, or passed over," or more simply, "insurmountable." The word "insuperabilis" was later anglicized as "insuperable." Related words such as "superable," "superably," and even "superableness" have also found a place in English.
Date: Monday, 25 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 25, 2013 is: dragon's teeth \DRAG-unz-TEETH\ noun 1 : seeds of strife 2 : wedge-shaped concrete antitank barriers laid in multiple rows Examples: The political analyst insisted that the government's policy was misguided and would only sow dragon's teeth by increasing poverty and discontent. "Assiduously sown by the Kremlin, the dragon's teeth of demagoguery, paranoia, xenophobia, anti-Westernism, intolerance, and obscurantism are bound to yield a toxic harvest when the regime falters or loses control outright." From an article by Leon Aron, posted October 24, 2013 at american.com Did you know? In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne's child, Pearl, "never created a friend, but seemed always to be sowing broadcast the dragon's teeth, whence sprung a harvest of armed enemies, against whom she rushed to battle." In Hawthorne and elsewhere, "dragon's teeth" alludes to a story involving Cadmus, the legendary Phoenician hero reputed to have founded Thebes and invented the alphabet. The tale holds that Cadmus killed a dragon and planted its teeth in the ground. From the teeth sprang fierce armed men who battled one another until all were dead but five. These founded the noblest families of Thebes and helped build its citadel.
Date: Sunday, 24 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 24, 2013 is: exact \ig-ZAKT\ verb 1 : to call for forcibly or urgently and obtain 2 : to call for as necessary or desirable Examples: Although Jenny eventually succeeded, working full-time while taking a full college course load exacted a high toll from her. "Bullied in five straight meetings, by an average of 13.2 points, the Jets on Sunday exacted a measure of revenge that extended beyond the outcome. Aside from outplaying the Patriots, they outsmarted them." From an article by Ben Shpigel in the New York Times, October 21, 2013 Did you know? "Exact" derives from a form of the Latin verb "exigere," meaning "to drive out, to demand, or to measure." (Another descendant of "exigere" is the word "exigent," which can mean "demanding" or "requiring immediate attention.") "Exigere," in turn, was formed by combining the prefix "ex-" with the verb "agere," meaning "to drive." "Agere" has been a very prolific source of words for English speakers; it is the ancestor of "agent," "react," "mitigate," and "navigate," just to name a few. Incidentally, if you are looking for a synonym of the verb "exact," you could try "demand," "call for," "claim," or "require."
Date: Saturday, 23 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 23, 2013 is: Svengali \sven-GAH-lee\ noun : a person who manipulates or exerts excessive control over another Examples: In her tell-all autobiography, the singer portrays her former husband/manager as an abusive and controlling Svengali. "Not long before, he'd met Harvey Dorfman, a gruff, Bronx-born sports psychologist who was destined to become the pitcher's Svengali. The famously confrontational Dorfman drilled his self-help dictums into Moyer's head." From an article by Frank Fitzpatrick on philly.com, October 13, 2013 Did you know? In George du Maurier's 1894 novel Trilby, a young artist's model named Trilby O'Ferrall falls under the spell of Svengali, a villainous musician and hypnotist. Svengali trains Trilby's voice through hypnosis and transforms her into a singing star, subjugating her completely in the process. Svengali's maleficent powers of persuasion made such an impression on the reading public that by 1919 his name was being used generically as a term for any wickedly manipulative individual.
Date: Friday, 22 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 22, 2013 is: forfend \for-FEND\ verb 1 : to ward off : prevent 2 : protect, preserve Examples: The fort functioned as a place of refuge where the settlers could forfend themselves from attack. "'Sir!' Scotty sounded genuinely indignant. 'You're not suggesting that I would let any piece of equipment aboard my ship fall into disrepair, are you?' 'Heaven forfend, Scotty,' Kirk answered, successfully keeping the smile he wore from his voice." From William Leisner's 2013 book Star Trek: The Original Series: The Shocks of Adversity Did you know? English speakers have been using "forfend" with the meanings "to forbid" and "to prevent" since the late 14th century, and the meaning "to protect" since the late 16th century. These days, however, the "forbid" sense is considered archaic; we only use it (as in our second example) in phrases like "heaven forfend" or "God forfend." "Forfend" comes from "for-" (an old prefix meaning "so as to involve prohibition, exclusion, omission, failure, neglect, or refusal") and Middle English "fenden" (a shorter variant of "defenden," meaning "to defend").
Date: Thursday, 21 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 21, 2013 is: trumpery \TRUMP-uh-ree\ noun 1 : worthless nonsense 2 : trivial or useless articles : junk Examples: Moving to a new house has given me an excuse to toss out years of accumulated knickknacks and trumpery. "But there's so much trumpery on parade, including a relentless air of self-importance, that it's even hard to simply enjoy the performances of the two stars, who give more than the film deserves." From a review by Walter Addiego in the San Francisco Chronicle, September 6, 2013 Did you know? "Trumpery" derives from the Middle English "trumpery" and ultimately from the Middle French "tromper," meaning "to deceive." (You can see the meaning of this root reflected in the French phrase "trompe-l'oeil"literally, "deceives the eye"which in English refers to a style of painting with photographically realistic detail.) "Trumpery" first appeared in English in the mid-15th century with the meanings "deceit or fraud" (a sense that is now obsolete) and "worthless nonsense." Less than 100 years later, it was being applied to material objects of little or no value. The verb phrase "trump up" means "to concoct with the intent to deceive," but there is most likely no etymological connection between this phrase and "trumpery."
Date: Wednesday, 20 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 20, 2013 is: cubit \KYOO-bit\ noun : any of various ancient units of length based on the length of the forearm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger and usually equal to about 18 inches (46 centimeters) Examples: The teacher explained that the ancient Egyptians did not measure things in feet and yards as we do but rather calculated measurements using the cubit. "This kind of marketing probably goes back to Biblical times. Some unemployed shoemaker near the Sea of West Hollywood is heading out to the beach in his ratty old shoes and a surfboard (4 cubits long) when his wife, Sandy, stops him." From an article by Tony Bender in Devils Lake Journal (North Dakota), August 1, 2013 Did you know? The cubit is an ancient unit of length that may have originated in Egypt close to 5,000 years ago. "Cubit" can refer to various units used in the ancient world, the actual length of which varied from time to time and place to place, but which was generally equivalent to the length of the human arm from elbow to fingertiproughly about a foot and a half. (Appropriately, the word's source is a Latin word meaning "elbow.") Starting with the Wycliffe Bible in 1382, "cubit" has been used as the English translation for the measurement known in Biblical Hebrew as the "ammah" and in Koine as the "péchus."
Date: Tuesday, 19 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 19, 2013 is: phosphene \FAHSS-feen\ noun : a luminous impression due to excitation of the retina Examples: "One way to see phosphenes is to close your eyes and rub them with your palms or fingers ." From Andrew Neher's 1990 book Paranormal and Transcendental Experience "At the event, visitors will draw blindfolded to allow the phosphenes (patterns) to emerge and will be encouraged to draw what they see using charcoal and ochre." From an article in ENP Newswire, April 4, 2013 Did you know? Phosphenes are the luminous floating stars, zigzags, swirls, spirals, squiggles, and other shapes that you see when closing your eyes tight and pressing them with your fingers. Basically, these phenomena occur when the cells of the retina are stimulated by rubbing or after a forceful sneeze, cough, or blow to the head. The word "phosphene" comes from the Greek words "phōs" (light) and "phainein" (to show). "Phainein" is also a contributing element in such words as "diaphanous," "emphasis," "epiphany," and "phenomenon," among others.
Date: Monday, 18 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 18, 2013 is: homologate \hoh-MAH-luh-gayt\ verb : to sanction or allow; especially : to approve or confirm officially Examples: The plea bargain between the district attorney and the defense must be homologated by a judge. "As Europe and the U.S. get closer in emissions regulations, the cost to homologate (legally certify) cars for both markets will drop." From an automobile review by Dan Neil in the Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2009 Did you know? Who needs "homologate"? We have any number of words that mean "to officially approve something": "accredit," "affirm," "approbate," "authorize," "certify," "confirm," "endorse," "ratify," "sanction," "warrant," and "validate," for example. "Homologate," which has been around more than 400 years, has mostly been kept for special occasions; Scottish Law, for example, held that "a marriage contract, though defective in the legal solemnities, is held . . . to be homologated by the subsequent marriage of the parties." The beauty of "homologate" is that, etymologically speaking, it's an easy word, consisting as it does of the familiar Greek roots "homos," meaning "alike" or "same," and "logos," meaning "word" or "speech"in other words, "saying the same thing," thus, "agreeing." So we need not agree with the Scottish bishop who in 1715 called it a "hard word."
Date: Sunday, 17 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 17, 2013 is: accolade \AK-uh-layd\ noun 1 a : a ceremonial embrace b : a ceremony or salute conferring knighthood 2 a : a mark of acknowledgment : award b : an expression of praise 3 : a brace or a line used in music to join two or more staffs carrying simultaneous parts Examples: In his introductory speech, Jonathon heaped accolades on the keynote speaker. "The feature-length film debuts in New Orleans after a year of critical acclaim and awards on the festival circuit, as well as accolades from The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Oxford American, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Variety and more." From an article by Alison Fensterstock in the Times-Picayune (New Orleans), October 16, 2013 Did you know? "Accolade" was borrowed into English in the 17th century from French. The French noun in turn derives from the verb "accoler," which means "to embrace," and ultimately from the Latin term "collum," meaning "neck." ("Collum" is also an ancestor of the English word "collar.") When it was first borrowed from French, "accolade" referred to a ceremonial embrace that once marked the conferring of knighthood. The term was later extended to any ceremony conferring knighthood (such as the more familiar tapping on the shoulders with the flat blade of a sword), and eventually extended to honors or awards in general.
Date: Saturday, 16 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 16, 2013 is: conurbation \kah-ner-BAY-shun\ noun : an aggregation or continuous network of urban communities Examples: The conurbation is served by a sophisticated system of trains and subways. "He also questioned whether China needs more cities when most migration has been to the 70 biggest conurbations." From an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 18, 2013 Did you know? When Sir Patrick Geddes, a Scottish biologist turned sociologist, sat down in 1915 to write Cities in Evolution, a work on urban planning, he needed a word. How should he refer to thickly populated regions consisting of a sprawling range of cities clustered together? "Some name, then, for these city-regions, these town aggregates, is wanted . What of 'conurbations'?" he asked rhetorically early on in his work. For his coinage, Geddes combined "urbs" (the Latin word for "city," already familiar in "urban" and "suburb") with the Latin prefix "con-" ("together") and the English noun suffix "-ation." It turned out that his word suited English speakers just finewe've been using it ever since.
Date: Friday, 15 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 15, 2013 is: sporadic \spuh-RAD-ik\ adjective : occurring occasionally, singly, or in irregular or random instances Examples: Since the region only receives sporadic rainfall, it is not conducive to growing most crops. "His wife, Harriet, however, was a sweetie, a sculptress by occupation who displayed a sporadic enthusiasm for the history of the house, like a child who picked up a toy for a while then soon became bored once something more interesting came along." From Kate Ellis' 2013 novel The Shadow Collector Did you know? "Sporadic" describes the distribution of something across space or time that is not frequent enough to fill an area or period, often in scattered instances or isolated outbursts (as in "sporadic applause"). The word comes from Medieval Latin "sporadicus," which is itself derived from Greek "sporadēn," meaning "here and there." It is also related to the Greek verb "speirein" ("to sow"), the ancestor from which we get our word "spore" (the reproductive cell of a fungus, microorganism, or some plants), hinting at the seeming scattered nature by which such cells distribute and germinate.
Date: Thursday, 14 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 14, 2013 is: gormless \GORM-lus\ adjective : lacking intelligence : stupid Examples: Her new assistant quickly proved himself to be completely gormless, forgetting to do half of the tasks she assigned to him and making a mess of the others. "And how many times have I stood up, precariously, trying to keep hold of my programme, glasses and coat, and pushed back hard against my seat, to have some gormless latecomers tread on my shoes on their way past without so much as a by-your-leave?" From a commentary by Tim Walker in the Daily Telegraph (London), September 26, 2013 Did you know? "Gormless" began life as the English dialect word "gaumless," which was altered to the modern spelling when it expanded into wider use in the late 19th century. The origins of "gaumless" are easy to understand; the word derives from a combination of the dialect noun "gaum," meaning "attention" or "understanding," and the suffix "-less." "Gaum" also functions as a verb in some dialects, where it means "to pay attention to" and "to understand." An unrelated verb "gaum" means "to behave in a stupid or awkward manner." There's also a noun "gaum," meaning "a stupid doltish person." But none of these are as commonly used nowadays as "gormless," which itself is most frequently seen in British English.
Date: Wednesday, 13 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 13, 2013 is: shard \SHAHRD\ noun 1 a : a piece or fragment of a brittle substance; broadly : a small piece or part : scrap b : shell, scale; especially : elytron 2 : fragments of pottery vessels found on sites and in refuse deposits where pottery-making peoples have lived 3 : highly angular curved glass fragments of tuffaceous sediment Examples: Julia was so startled that she dropped the bowl, and it shattered into china shards. "The machine stubbornly held together for much of the pounding, though shards of glass could be seen flying in different directions with a few of the swipes." From an article by Tom Precious in the Buffalo News (New York), October 13, 2013 Did you know? "Shard" dates back to Old English (where it was spelled "sceard"), and it is related to the Old English word "scieran," meaning "to cut." English speakers have adopted the modernized "shard" spelling for most uses, but archeologists prefer to spell the word "sherd" when referring to the ancient fragments of pottery they unearth. Other specialized uses of the word "shard" include a sense referring to the thick front wings in beetles that protect a hind pair of wings and another sense used for the highly angular curved glass fragments of a type of volcanic rock formation.
Date: Tuesday, 12 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 12, 2013 is: undergird \un-der-GERD\ verb : to form the basis or foundation of : strengthen, support Examples: "High school students need to understand the paradigms and traditions that undergird social and political institutions." From a lesson plan at CNNfyi.com, July 3, 2001 "No one argues that a robust U.S. economy is needed to undergird an effective foreign policy." From an editorial by Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post, October 9, 2013 Did you know? The English verb "gird" means, among other things, "to encircle or bind with a flexible band." When "undergird" first entered English in the 16th century it meant "to make secure underneath," as by passing a rope or chain underneath something (such as a ship). That literal sense has long since fallen out of use, but in the 19th century "undergird" picked up the figurative "strengthen" or "support" sense that we still use. "Gird" and consequently "undergird" both derive from the Old English "geard," meaning "enclosure" or "yard." "Gird" also gives us "girder," a noun referring to a horizontal piece supporting a structure.
Date: Monday, 11 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 11, 2013 is: rectitudinous \rek-tuh-TOO-duh-nus\ adjective 1 : characterized by the quality of being honest and morally correct 2 : piously self-righteous Examples: The senatorial candidate's supporters insist that he is possessed of a rectitudinous character and a spotless record. "Hallie Foote is there, of course, excellent and rectitudinous as ever, playing a recent widow suddenly reconnected with her childhood flame." From a theater review by Jesse Oxfeld in the New York Observer, September 17, 2013 Did you know? "Rectitudinous" comes to us straight from Late Latin "rectitudin-" (English added the "-ous" ending), which itself ultimately derived from the Latin word "rectus," meaning both "straight" and "right." (There are other "rectus" descendants in English, including "rectitude," of course, and "rectilinear," "rectangle," and "rectify.") When "rectitudinous" first appeared in print in 1897, it was in the phrase "notoriously and unctuously rectitudinous." Although "rectitude" often expresses an admirable moral integrity, "rectitudinous" has always had a less flattering side. It can suggest not only moral uprightness but also a displeasing holier-than-thou attitude.
Date: Sunday, 10 Nov 2013 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 10, 2013 is: comprise \kum-PRYZE\ verb 1 : to include especially within a particular scope 2 : to be made up of 3 : compose, constitute Examples: The city developers' plans include a massive recreational complex that comprises a concert hall, four restaurants, two hotels and a theater. "One section of the report concluded that cars built 10 or more years ago now comprise almost 40 percent of the U.S. vehicle fleet." From an article by Ken Leiser in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 5, 2013 Did you know? "Comprise" has undergone a substantial shift in usage since first appearing in English in the 15th century. For many years usage commentators insisted that the usage of "comprise" meaning "to be made up of" (as shown in our first example) was correct and "comprise" meaning "to make up," as in our second example and in phrases like "the players who comprise the team" was not. (This disputed use is often used in passive constructions such as, "The album is comprised of ten classic songs.") Until relatively recently, this less-favored sense appeared mostly in scientific writing, but current evidence shows that it is now somewhat more common in general use than the word's other meanings.
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