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Date: Thursday, 09 Oct 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 09, 2014 is: infinitesimal \in-fin-ih-TESS-uh-mul\ adjective 1 : taking on values arbitrarily close to but greater than zero 2 : immeasurably or incalculably small Examples: Stella includes a lottery ticket in every birthday card she sends despite the infinitesimal chances that it will be a winning one. "Across the nation, voters in the magic age range of 18 to 29 … have been coming out in this year’s primaries at a rate 20 percent less than their mostly oblivious elders, a rate which in South Florida would put their impact on the election somewhere between sparse and infinitesimal." — Fred Grimm, The Miami Herald, August 27, 2014 Did you know? Infinite, as you probably know, means "endless" or "extending indefinitely." It is ultimately from Latin infinitus, the opposite of finitus, meaning "finite." The notion of smallness in infinitesimal derives from the mathematical concept that a quantity can be divided endlessly; no matter how small, it can be subdivided into yet smaller fractions, or "infinitesimals." The concept was still in its infancy in 1710 when Irish philosopher George Berkeley observed that some people "assert there are infinitesimals of infinitesimals of infinitesimals, etc., without ever coming to an end." He used the adjective in a mathematical sense, too, referring to "infinitesimal parts of finite lines." Less than a quarter century later, the adjective had acquired a general sense applicable to anything too small to be measured.
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Date: Wednesday, 08 Oct 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 08, 2014 is: pork barrel \PORK-BAIR-ul\ noun : government projects or appropriations yielding rich patronage benefits; also: government funds, jobs, or favors distributed by politicians to gain political advantage Examples: It was apparent that the construction of the new parking garage was not a necessary project but a pork barrel deal for the business owners who would see increased foot traffic. "In a debate over pork barrel projects in 2007, [Sen. Tom Coburn] admonished his colleagues, 'Your duty is to the country as a whole, not to the well-heeled special interests who are the beneficiaries.'" — Chris Casteel, NewsOK.com (Oklahoma City), September 7, 2014 Did you know? You might expect that the original pork barrels were barrels for storing pork—and you're right. In the early 19th century, that's exactly what pork barrel meant. But the term was also used figuratively to mean "a supply of money" or "one's livelihood" (a farmer, after all, could readily turn pork into cash). When 20th-century legislators doled out appropriations that benefited their home districts, someone apparently made an association between the profit a farmer got from a barrel of pork and the benefits derived from certain state and federal projects. By 1909, pork barrel was being used as a noun naming such government appropriations, and today the term is usually used attributively in constructions such as "pork barrel spending" or "a pork barrel project."
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arboreal   New window
Date: Tuesday, 07 Oct 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 07, 2014 is: arboreal \ahr-BOR-ee-ul\ adjective 1 : of or relating to a tree : resembling a tree 2 : inhabiting or frequenting trees Examples: "… we emerge into open space, 70 acres of green grassland, a savanna of widely spaced, mature trees, many reaching 60 feet tall, gnarled and weathered, separated as if each had staked out its own territory: an arboreal Gothic cathedral indeed." — Bill Marken, Sunset, April 2014 "[The hammocks] are relatively indestructible, mimic the arboreal nests used by orangutans, and provide a resting area for the gibbons as they swing among the treetops." — Jim Redden, Portland Tribune (Oregon), August 25, 2014 Did you know? Arbor, the Latin word for "tree," has been a rich source of tree-related words in English, though some are fairly rare. Some arbor descendants are synonyms of arboreal in the "relating to trees" sense: arboraceous, arborary, arborical, and arborous. Some are synonyms meaning "inhabiting trees": arboreous and arboricole. Others mean "resembling a tree": arborescent, arboresque, and arboriform. The verb arborize means "to branch freely," and arborvitae is the name of a shrub that means literally "tree of life." There's also arboretum and arboriculture. And we can't forget Arbor Day, which since 1872 has named a day set aside by various states (and the national government ) for planting trees. But watch out—the word arbor, in the sense of a "bower," is from Anglo-French herbe.
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obloquy   New window
Date: Monday, 06 Oct 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 06, 2014 is: obloquy \AH-bluh-kwee\ noun 1 : a strongly condemnatory utterance : abusive language 2 : the condition of one that is discredited : bad repute Examples: The manager walked quickly back to the dugout as insults and obloquy rained down from the stands. "Because of the stigma associated with drug convictions, such an indictment could be tantamount to a life sentence of obloquy in terms of future employment." — Floral Park Dispatch, January 15, 2014 Did you know? English speakers can choose from several synonyms to name a tongue-lashing. Abuse is a good general term that usually stresses the anger of the speaker and the harshness of the language, as in "scathing verbal abuse." Vituperation often specifies fluent, sustained abuse; "a torrent of vituperation" is a typical use of this term. Invective implies vehemence comparable to vituperation, but may suggest greater verbal and rhetorical skill; it may also apply especially to a public denunciation, as in "blistering political invective." Obloquy, which comes from the Late Latin ob- (meaning "against") plus loqui (meaning "to speak"), suggests defamation and consequent shame and disgrace; a typical example of its use would be "subjected to obloquy and derision."
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fulgent   New window
Date: Sunday, 05 Oct 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 05, 2014 is: fulgent \FULL-jint\ adjective : dazzlingly bright : radiant Examples: "Lilac and wistaria and redbud, even the shabby heaven-trees, had never been finer, fulgent, with a burning scent…." — William Faulkner, Sanctuary, 1931 "Both queens were outfitted with lush and representative mantles, white kid gloves, splendid jewelry and dazzling crowns to make a picture of fulgent finery." — Nell Nolan, Times-Picayune (New Orleans), February 26, 2012 Did you know? "The weary Sun betook himself to rest; — / Then issued Vesper from the fulgent west." That's how the appearance of the evening star in the glowing western sky at sunset looked to 19th-century poet William Wordsworth. Fulgent was a particularly apt choice to describe the radiant light of the sky at sunset. The word derives from the Latin verb fulgēre, meaning "to shine," a root which is itself akin to the Latin flagrare, meaning "to burn." English speakers have been using fulgent to depict resplendence since at least the 15th century.
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tankini   New window
Date: Saturday, 04 Oct 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 04, 2014 is: tankini \tang-KEE-nee\ noun : a woman's two-piece swimsuit consisting of bikini briefs and a tank top Examples: While women in the north are putting their swimsuits away for the season—be they one-pieces, bikinis, or tankinis—those in southerly climes can still comfortably relax poolside. "For the first time, select tankini styles feature the popular zip-front styling, making it easier to put on and take off the swimsuit after a dip in the pool." — Marketwired, September 9, 2014 Did you know? The two-piece swimsuit we call the bikini made its debut on Paris runways in 1946. The word bikini comes from Bikini atoll, the name of one of the Marshall Islands in the western Pacific, where atomic-bomb tests were performed in 1946. One theory of the coinage is that the effect achieved by a scantily clad woman appearing in public may be compared to the effect of an A-bomb blast. Another possible explanation is that the bikini leaves its wearer nearly bare, the way the bomb tests stripped Bikini atoll. In 1985, the tankini began appearing on beaches in the U.S., and the word bikini was combined with tank to create its appropriate name.
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solipsism   New window
Date: Friday, 03 Oct 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 03, 2014 is: solipsism \SOH-lip-sih-zum\ noun : a theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing; also : extreme egocentrism Examples: The actor’s memoir of the years during which he struggled to break into show business is loaded with so much introspection that it borders on solipsism. "Perhaps the most shocking part of [the novel] 10:04 is just how kind it feels, how Lerner is unafraid to show the narrator escaping intellectual solipsism and expressing real emotion." — Anthony Domestico, Boston Review, September 2, 2014 Did you know? Fans of René Descartes credit the French philosopher with introducing solipsism as a major problem of modern philosophy, but the word solipsism most likely sprang from a French satire written by Giulio Clemente Scotti in 1652 called La Monarchie des Solipses. The term wasn't used in English until the late 19th century, when solipsism, a composite of the Latin solus ("alone") and ipse ("self"), was applied purely in the philosophical sense. Recently the word has taken on another, more general sense, suggesting an ego-driven selfishness or self-indulgence.
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Date: Thursday, 02 Oct 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 02, 2014 is: expropriate \ek-SPROH-pree-ayt\ verb 1 : to deprive of possession or proprietary rights 2 : to transfer (the property of another) to one's own possession Examples: The city council rejected a proposal to expropriate private property for the highway expansion. "The city spent nearly $50,000 to expropriate eight tracts that could be used for a potential studio expansion." — Michele Marcotte, The Times (Shreveport, Louisiana), July 21, 2013 Did you know? If you guessed that expropriate has something in common with the verb appropriate, you're right. Both words ultimately derive from the Latin adjective proprius, meaning "own." Expropriate came to us by way of the Medieval Latin verb expropriare, itself from Latin ex- ("out of" or "from") and proprius. Appropriate descends from Late Latin appropriare, which joins proprius and Latin ad- ("to" or "toward"). Both the verb appropriate ("to take possession of" or "to set aside for a particular use") and the adjective appropriate ("fitting" or "suitable") have been with us since the 15th century, and expropriate has been a part of the language since at least 1611. Other proprius descendants in English include proper and property.
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Date: Wednesday, 01 Oct 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 01, 2014 is: global village \GLOH-bul VIL-ij\ noun : the world viewed as a community in which distance and isolation have been dramatically reduced by electronic media (such as television and the Internet) Examples: Thanks to crowdsourcing and the generous response of the global village, the couple received enough donations from strangers all over the world to pay their sick daughter's medical bills. "Adding fuel to each of these contagions is our ever-growing web of connections to the global village, with the virtual tethers now so much a part of our daily lives that they no longer surprise. Every Facebook user, in theory, is just a single friend request away from some 1.3 billion others." — Clifton Leaf, Fortune, August 22, 2014 Did you know? The term global village is closely associated with Herbert Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian communications theorist and literature professor hailed by many as a prophet for the 20th century. McLuhan's mantra, "the medium is the message," summarized his view of the influence of television, computers, and other electronic information sources in shaping society and modern life. By 1960, he had delineated his concept of the "global village," and by 1970, the public had embraced the term and recognized the idea as both exhilarating and frightening. As a 1970 Saturday Review article noted, "There are no boundaries in a global village. All problems will become so intimate as to be one's own...."
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wheedle   New window
Date: Tuesday, 30 Sep 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 30, 2014 is: wheedle \WEE-dul\ verb 1 : to influence or entice by soft words or flattery 2 : to gain or get by coaxing or flattering 3 : to use soft words or flattery Examples: Suzie wheedled the babysitter into letting her stay up an hour past her bedtime. "I still make fruitcake, using a recipe that is mostly fruit and nuts and not much cake. My dad owned a locker plant and butcher shop, and wheedled the recipe out of a customer in the 1950s." — Joan Daniels, Kansas City Star, August 12, 2014 Did you know? Wheedle has been a part of the English lexicon since the mid-17th century, though no one is quite sure how the word made its way into English. (It has been suggested that the term may have derived from an Old English word that meant "to beg," but this is far from certain.) Once established in the language, however, wheedle became a favorite of some of the language's most illustrious writers. Wheedle and related forms appear in the writings of Wordsworth, Dickens, Kipling, Dryden, Swift, Scott, Tennyson, and Pope, among others.
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rapier   New window
Date: Monday, 29 Sep 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 29, 2014 is: rapier \RAY-pee-er\ adjective : extremely sharp or keen Examples: The wit and keen insight found in her blog are a testament to her rapier mind. "Mr. Brady was a veteran Republican aide and a popular figure among Washington journalists. He was equipped with a rapier wit and a buoyant charm that tended to defuse controversy even before he began working for the White House in January 1981." — Jon Thurber, The Washington Post, August 5, 2014 Did you know? A rapier is a straight, two-edged sword with a narrow pointed blade, designed especially for thrusting. According to Encyclopædia Britannica, "the long rapier was beautifully balanced, excellent in attack, and superb for keeping an opponent at a distance." The word itself, which we borrowed in the 16th century, is from Middle French rapiere. The first time that rapier was used as an adjective in its figurative "cutting" sense, it described a smile: "Who can bear a rapier smile? A kiss that dooms the soul to death?" ("The Lover's Lament" by Sumner Lincoln Fairfield, 1824). The adjective these days most commonly describes wit—an association that dates to the 1850s.
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Date: Sunday, 28 Sep 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 28, 2014 is: sotto voce \sah-toh-VOH-chee\ adverb or adjective 1 : under the breath : in an undertone; also : in a private manner 2 : very softly — used as a direction in music Examples: As her husband headed into the kitchen, our hostess began telling us sotto voce about the upcoming surprise party for him. "Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell had just explained, with a heart-breaking letter and a sotto voce delivery, that his marriage was in shambles." — Laura Vozzella, Matt Zapotosky, and Rosalind S. Helderman, The Washington Post, August 23, 2014 Did you know? It’s no secret: in our first example sentence, sotto voce functions as an adverb, modifying the verb tell. But sotto voce, which was borrowed into English from the Italian word sottovoce (literally meaning "under the voice"), can also serve as an adjective. That’s the role it plays in our second example sentence. The adverb sense first appeared in English in the 18th century and soon afterward found use in musical directions calling for whispered vocals. The adjective sense came about in the early 19th century.
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fainéant   New window
Date: Saturday, 27 Sep 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 27, 2014 is: fainéant \fay-nay-AHN\ adjective : idle and ineffectual : indolent Examples: Deanna's parents warned her not to become fainéant during the summer; even if she didn't want to work, she should travel or volunteer somewhere. "We go on, Beckett-like, enacting the rituals that define existence, trapped in an existential spiral, too fainéant to change, ... doomed to repeat the same mistakes and fall into the same situations." — David Krasner, A History of Modern Drama, 2011 Did you know? You've probably guessed that fainéant was borrowed from French; it derives from fait-nient, which literally means "does nothing," and ultimately traces back to the verb faindre, or feindre, meaning "to feign." (The English word feign is also descended from this verb, as are faint and feint.) Fainéant first appeared in print in the early 17th century as a noun meaning "an irresponsible idler," and by 1854 it was also being used as an adjective. As its foreignness suggests, fainéant tends to be used when the context calls for a fancier or more elegant word than inactive or sluggish.
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Date: Friday, 26 Sep 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 26, 2014 is: Götterdämmerung \gher-ter-DEM-uh-roong\ : a collapse (as of a society or regime) marked by catastrophic violence and disorder; broadly : downfall Examples: There were those who worried that the latest civil war and attempted regime change would end in Götterdämmerung for the small country. "One wishes, of course, for some sort of Götterdämmerung … in which the former victims rise up to give the monsters a taste of their terrible medicine. That's what the movies are for." — James Taub, Stars and Stripes, August 23, 2014 Did you know? Norse mythology specified that the destruction of the world would be preceded by a cataclysmic final battle between the good and evil gods, resulting in the heroic deaths of all the "good guys." The German word for this earth-shattering last battle was Götterdämmerung. Literally, Götterdämmerung means "twilight of the gods." (Götter is the plural of Gott, meaning "god," and Dämmerung means "twilight.") Figuratively, the term is extended to situations of world-altering destruction marked by extreme chaos and violence. In the 19th century, the German composer Richard Wagner brought attention to the word Götterdämmerung when he chose it as the title of the last opera of his cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, and by the early 20th century, the word had entered English.
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palaver   New window
Date: Thursday, 25 Sep 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 25, 2014 is: palaver \puh-LAV-er\ noun 1 : a long discussion or meeting usually between persons of different cultures or levels of sophistication 2 a : idle talk b : misleading or beguiling speech Examples: "I don't know how you can stand to listen to that palaver," said Rachel, as she switched off the talk show her brother had been listening to on the radio. "The violinist Geoff Nuttall now directs the series, with a more contemporary sensibility in both programming and in the often corny introductory palaver carried over from the Wadsworth era." — James R. Oestreich, The New York Times, June 4, 2014 Did you know? During the 18th century, Portuguese and English sailors often met during trading trips along the West African coast. This contact prompted the English to borrow the Portuguese palavra, which usually means "speech" or "word" but was used by Portuguese traders with the specific meaning "discussions with natives." The Portuguese word traces back to the Late Latin parabola, a noun meaning "speech" or "parable," which in turn comes from the Greek parabolē, meaning "juxtaposition" or "comparison."
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Date: Wednesday, 24 Sep 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 24, 2014 is: teleological \tel-ee-uh-LAH-jih-kul\ adjective : exhibiting or relating to design or purpose especially in nature Examples: At dinner, Sandra and Miguel debated whether or not the complex structure of the human eye implied a teleological origin. "There is also something of a teleological aspect to all this urbanization hoopla, one that suggests that man was put on this planet to shop at Whole Foods." — Lionel Beehner, USA Today, February 25, 2014 Did you know? Teleological (which comes to us by way of New Latin from the Greek root tele-, telos, meaning "end or purpose") and its close relative teleology both entered English in the 18th century, followed by teleologist in the 19th century. Teleology has the basic meaning of "the study of ends or purposes." A teleologist attempts to understand the purpose of something by looking at its results. A teleological philosopher might argue that we should judge whether an act is good or bad by seeing if it produces a good or bad result, and a teleological explanation of evolutionary changes claims that all such changes occur for a definite purpose.
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syllepsis   New window
Date: Tuesday, 23 Sep 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 23, 2014 is: syllepsis \suh-LEP-sis\ noun 1 : the use of a word to modify or govern syntactically two or more words with only one of which it formally agrees in gender, number, or case 2 : the use of a word in the same grammatical relation to two adjacent words in the context with one literal and the other metaphorical in sense Examples: Jeannie held the door open for her unwelcome guest and, in a clever use of syllepsis, said, "Take a hint and a hike!" "… it works as two words in one: She shot the rapids and her boyfriend. Syllepsis produces a surprise, almost requiring the reader to go back and reparse the sentence to savor the double meaning of the word." — Jeanne Fahnestock, Rhetorical Figures in Science, 2002 Did you know? Charles Dickens made good use of syllepsis in The Pickwick Papers when he wrote that his character Miss Bolo "went straight home, in a flood of tears and a sedan chair." Such uses, defined at sense 2 above, are humorously incongruous, but they’re not grammatically incorrect. Syllepsis as defined at sense 1, however, is something to be generally avoided. For example, take this sentence, "She exercises to keep healthy and I to lose weight." The syllepsis occurs with the verb exercises. The problem is that only one subject, "she" (not "I"), agrees with the verb. The word syllepsis derives from the Greek syllēpsis, and ultimately from syllambanein, meaning "to gather together." It has been used in English since at least 1550.
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esurient   New window
Date: Monday, 22 Sep 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 22, 2014 is: esurient \ih-SUR-ee-unt\ adjective : hungry, greedy Examples: No one was surprised that the esurient media mogul planned to expand his empire into the social-media marketplace. "She sat opposite him …, as plump and indifferent to his presence as an old tabby cat whose esurient eye was wholly focused on a particularly toothsome mouse." — Pamela Aidan, An Assembly Such as This: A Novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman, 2006 Did you know? If you’re hungry for a new way to express your hunger, you might find that esurient suits your palate. Be forewarned, however, that when used literally esurient has a humorous flavor. This somewhat obscure word first appeared in English in the second half of the 17th century, deriving from the present participle of the Latin verb esurire, meaning "to be hungry." It is also related to edere, the Latin verb for "eat," which has given us such scrumptious fare as edible and its synonyms esculent and comestible. Esurient can be used somewhat playfully to suggest an actual hunger for food, but it is more often applied to such things as wealth or power. In the latter contexts, it takes on the connotation of greedy.
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aphelion   New window
Date: Sunday, 21 Sep 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 21, 2014 is: aphelion \a-FEEL-yun\ noun : the point in the path of a celestial body (such as a planet) that is farthest from the sun Examples: The comet is predicted to reach aphelion a mere 22 years from now. "Although this seems somewhat counter-intuitive for those of us in the northern hemisphere, Earth is actually at perihelion in early January each year, and at aphelion? in early July." — Alan Hale, Alamo Gordo News, August 14, 2014 Did you know? Aphelion and perihelion are troublesome terms. Which one means a planet is nearest to the sun and which means it is farthest away? An etymology lesson may help you keep those words straight. Just remember that the "ap" of aphelion derives from a Latin prefix that means "away from" (the mnemonic "'A' for 'away'" can help too); peri-, on the other hand, means "near." And how are aphelion and perihelion related to the similar-looking astronomical pair, apogee and perigee? Etymology explains again. The "helion" of aphelion and perihelion is based on the Greek word hēlios, meaning "sun," while the "gee" of apogee and perigee is based on gaia, meaning "earth." The first pair describes distance in relation to the sun, the second in relation to the earth.
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carouse   New window
Date: Saturday, 20 Sep 2014 06:00
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 20, 2014 is: carouse \kuh-ROWZ ("OW" as in "cow")\ verb 1 : to drink liquor freely or excessively 2 : to take part in a drunken revel : engage in dissolute behavior Examples: The sailor spent all of shore leave carousing with his mates. "Separatist fighters have taken to carousing drunkenly at night and wearing civilian clothes." — Andrew E. Kramer, The New York Times, August 20, 2014 Did you know? Sixteenth-century English revelers toasting each other's health sometimes drank a brimming mug of spirits straight to the bottom—drinking "all-out," they called it. German tipplers did the same and used the German expression for "all out"—gar aus. The French adopted the German term as carous, using the adverb in their expression boire carous ("to drink all out"), and that phrase, with its idiomatic sense of "to empty the cup," led to carrousse, a French noun meaning "a large draft of liquor." And that's where English speakers picked up carouse in the mid-1500s, first as a noun (which later took on the sense of a general "drinking bout"), and then as a verb meaning "to drink freely."
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