Word of the Day

Word of the day

Monday, December 09, 2019

tinselry

[ tin-suhl-ree ]

noun

cheap and pretentious display.

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What is the origin of tinselry?

Tinselry, “cheap and pretentious display,” is an obvious combination of the noun tinsel and the noun suffix –ry (a form of –ery). Tinsel, though, is an interesting word. It is a shortening of Middle French estincelle “spangle, spark” (source of the English noun stencil), from Old French estencele, estincele “a spark, flash,” from an unrecorded Vulgar Latin stincilla, a transposed variant of Latin scintilla. By the 14th and 15th centuries, French had lost the pronunciation of the s in es-, and estincelle developed into modern French étincelle. In Anglo-French the initial e– also disappeared, giving tencel, tincel. The earliest Middle English examples show tinsel, tinselle used as an adjective in tinselle satin, satin made to sparkle or glitter by brocading with or interweaving gold or silver thread, or by overlaying the satin with a thin coating of gold or silver. Tinselry entered English in the 19th century.

how is tinselry used?

Hence neither romance nor whim should be allowed to remove one useful feature, and substitute for it the gaudy and useless tinselry of false taste.

W. H. Barnes, "A Homily on Homes," The Ladies' Repository, Vol. 16, January 1856

But if it be true that the Emperor William, having the substance of power, could afford to dispense with some of its tinselry, and was personally of simple tastes, it is still true only in a sense which it is important to remember.

Herbert Tuttle, "The Emperor William," The Atlantic Monthly, May 1888

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Word of the day

Sunday, December 08, 2019

ology

[ ol-uh-jee ]

noun

Informal or Facetious.

any science or branch of knowledge.

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What is the origin of ology?

The only people who would object to the formation of the colloquial noun ology, “any science or field of knowledge,” are those cranky, old-fangled philologists who insist on writing with a quill pen. Admittedly ology is a malformation—perversion if you like—for the correct (but meaningless) logy, but ology is easily extracted from common nouns like biology, geology, or theology, in which the –o– is a connecting vowel between the two halves of the word and not part of the combining form –logy. Ology entered English in the early 19th century.

how is ology used?

You learnt a great deal, Louisa, and so did your brother. Ologies of all kinds from morning to night.

Charles Dickens, Hard Times, 1854

This home was in a large town, and my uncle a professor of philosophy, chemistry, geology, mineralogy, and many other ologies.

Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth, translated in 1871

Word of the day

Saturday, December 07, 2019

fastigiate

[ fa-stij-ee-it, -eyt ]

adjective

having branches that are erect and parallel, tapering to a pointed top.

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What is the origin of fastigiate?

The rare adjective fastigiate, “having branches that are erect and parallel, tapering to a pointed top, like a Lombardy poplar,” is used only in botany and zoology. It comes from Medieval Latin fastīgātus “high, lofty,” from Latin fastīgium “height, highest point, summit, taper.” Fastigiate entered English in the 17th century.

how is fastigiate used?

Most gardeners, looking for vertical features in a border, will turn to some conifer or other fastigiate shrub …

Christopher Lloyd, "Alternative means of support," Horticulture, November 1995

When one of two fastigiate oaks by her front door blew down in a hurricane, she watched it right itself, then called an arborist to prune its slender, upright branches.

Anne Raver, "Gardens in the Buff," New York Times, January 29, 2004

Word of the day

Friday, December 06, 2019

bonhomie

[ bon-uh-mee, bon-uh-mee ]

noun

frank and simple good-heartedness; a good-natured manner; friendliness; geniality.

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What is the origin of bonhomie?

The English noun bonhomie, “frank and simple good-heartedness, friendliness,” still feels French and foreign. The French original, bonhomie, bonhommie, which appeared only 40 years before the English noun, has the same meaning as the English. Bonhomie is a derivative of the Middle and Old French bon homme, bonhom, literally “good man” and later “commoner, peasant.” Even today in French-speaking countries bonhomme is a respectful form of address. Bon homme comes from Latin bonus homō; its plural, bonī hominēs, especially referred to the Albigensian heretics (also Cathars or Cathari), who were exterminated in the 13th century by the Inquisition. Bonhomie entered English in the second half of the 18th century.

how is bonhomie used?

Lennon would fire up his fellow Beatles with a bit of call-and-response bonhomie. “Where are we going, fellas?” he’d ask, to which Paul, George, and Ringo would respond, “To the toppermost of the poppermost, Johnny!”

Andrew Romano, "Lennon's Other Legacy," Newsweek, December 13, 2010

Einstein’s manner was full of charm and bonhomie.

Jacob Epstein, Let There Be Sculpture, 1940

Word of the day

Thursday, December 05, 2019

spoonerism

[ spoo-nuh-riz-uhm ]

noun

the transposition of initial or other sounds of words, usually by accident, as in a blushing crow for a crushing blow.

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What is the origin of spoonerism?

Spoonerisms, often hilarious, are named after the 19th-century Anglican clergyman William Archibald Spooner, warden of New College, Oxford University. The Reverend Spooner himself claimed as his only spoonerism “The Kinquering Congs Their Titles Take” (1879), a mangling of the name of the hymn “The Conquering Kings Their Titles Take.” In American English the most famous spoonerism must be the one made by the old-time radio announcer Harry von Zell, who in a live broadcast in 1931 announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States, Hoobert Heever.” Spoonerism entered English about 1900.

how is spoonerism used?

Spoonerisms are the comfortable shoes of slips of the tongue: when it comes time to illustrate the universality speech errors, they’re so familiar and broken in, they always get a laugh.

Michael Erard, Um ... : Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Really Mean, 2007

Other words the BFG coins are from errors. For example, in spoonerisms snapperwhipper, dory-hunky and catasterous disastrophe, the initial syllables have been swapped.

Simon Horobin, "The BFG reminds us that wordplay is part of learning and mastering language," The Conversation, July 22, 2016

Word of the day

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

snarf

[ snahrf ]

verb (used with object)

Slang.

to eat quickly and voraciously; scarf (often followed by down or up).

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What is the origin of snarf?

Snarf, “to eat greedily or voraciously,” is a slang word, originally American, and like many if not most slang terms, it has an obscure etymology. Some authorities claim snarf to be a variant of scarf “to eat greedily,” or a combination of the verbs snort and scarf. Snarf is just as likely to be onomatopoeic, as of the sound of pigs feeding at a trough. Snarf entered English in the late 1960s.

how is snarf used?

“My kids snarf these like candy,” he said.

Matt Lee and Ted Lee, "The Industry: Killer Tomatoes," New York Times Magazine, August 28, 2005

We don’t just snarf down the Hershey bars and gummy bears directly from the bag. We pour ourselves a glass of wine as well ….

Chris Morris, "The Wines That Pair Best With Your Kids' Halloween Candy," Fortune, October 31, 2019

Word of the day

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

benignity

[ bih-nig-ni-tee ]

noun

a good deed or favor; an instance of kindness: benignities born of selfless devotion.

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What is the origin of benignity?

Benignity comes via Old and Middle French from the Latin noun benignitās (inflectional stem benignitāt-) “kindness, graciousness, friendliness,” a derivative of the adjective benignus “kind, gracious, benign.” Benignus is composed of the adverb bene “well, neatly, rightly” (from the adjective bonus “good”) and –gnus, a suffix derived from the base of the verb gignere “to beget” (the sense is “good by nature, naturally good”; consider its English opposite, malign). Benignity entered English in the second half of the 14th century.

how is benignity used?

… there are young men and maidens pacing to and fro beside me, and to them the moon is only one of the innumerable benignities with which nature smiles on youth and love.

Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Studies in Romance, 1873

with a thousand generous benignities she stifled my ‘no’s,’ … and all I had breath to say at last, was, that ‘there was time enough for plans of that kind.’

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett to Robert Browning, April 28, 1846, The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 2, 1898

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