Word of the Day

Word of the day

Thursday, October 01, 2020

finagle

[ fi-ney-guhl ]

verb (used with object)

to get or achieve (something) by guile, trickery, or manipulation: to finagle an assignment to the Membership Committee.

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What is the origin of finagle?

Finagle (or fenagle), “to cheat or swindle a person,” is in origin an American slang word. Finagle is probably a variant of fainaigue, a British dialect term with two meanings: “to shirk work or responsibility” and “to renege at a card game,” that is, to play a card that is not of the suit led when one can follow suit” (this to a layman sounds an awful lot like cheating). A citation from 1839 from Herefordshire (a county in West England) reads, “If two men are heaving a heavy weight, and one of them pretends to be putting out his strength, though in reality leaving all the strain on the other, he is said to feneague [sic].” Fainaigue (feneague) and finagle (fenagle) have no agreed etymology. Finagle entered English in the mid-1920s.

how is finagle used?

Meng pleaded guilty last year to using his position in China to finagle more than $2 million in bribes between 2005 and 2017.

Colin Dwyer, "Former Interpol President Sentenced To Prison In China For Corruption," NPR, January 21, 2020

in order to provide its citizens tests for a pandemic disease, the wealthiest and most powerful nation had to desperately finagle the services of volunteer coders at Google.

, "I Don't Know Who Needs to Hear This, but Brands Can't Save You," New York Times, March 18, 2020

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Word of the day

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

susurration

[ soo-suh-rey-shuhn ]

noun

a soft murmur; whisper.

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What is the origin of susurration?

Susurration, “a murmur, whisper,” ultimately comes from the Latin noun susurrātiō (inflectional stem susurrātiōn-), “a murmur, whisper, soft rustling,” a derivative of susurrāt(us), the past participle of the verb susurrāre. Unsurprisingly, susurrāre (and all its derivatives) is onomatopoeic not only in Latin, but also in other Indo-European languages, from the Proto-Indo-European root swer-, swor-, swṛ– “to buzz, hum.” The same root supplies the name of small animals: for instance, the root variant swor– is the source of Latin sōrex (stem sōric-) “shrew, shrew mouse,” Greek hýrax (stem hýrak-) “shrew, shrew mouse, hyrax” and Greek hýron “beehive, swarm (of bees).” The Germanic form swar– (from swor-) supplies English swirl and swarm, Old Norse svarmr “uproar, tumult,” and German schwirren “to buzz (of an insect), whirr (of an arrow).” Susurration entered English in the first half of the 15th century.

how is susurration used?

It must be the whisper of time as it bends over the horizon, a susurration of mortality none can escape.

Dominique Browning, "Interiors," New York Times, December 6, 2013

Leaving the hotel and taking a stroll, I was reminded that the town’s homey otherness is heightened at night. … The susurrations of palms … caress the ear.

Thomas Swick, "A Susurration of Palms," Oxford American, March 28, 2017

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Word of the day

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

argy-bargy

[ ahr-gee-bahr-gee ]

noun

Chiefly British.

a vigorous discussion or dispute.

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What is the origin of argy-bargy?

Argy-bargy, “a vigorous discussion, dispute,” appears in print in 1887, just 15 years after its “original,” argle-bargle. The argle of argle-bargle is a variant of argue. Yet another variant, argue-bargue, which gives away the entire etymology, appears in 1906. Argle entered English towards the end of the 16th century; its offspring all date from the second half of the 19th century.

how is argy-bargy used?

There appears to have ensued more than two decades of argy-bargy over where the new hall should be located, during which time the merchants would meet at the Chamber of Commerce premises.

Nuala Naughton, Glasgow's East End, 2014

On the international scene, he can only be reassured by the strident argy-bargy between Moscow and Peking, despite some pundits’ predictions that the U.S. stand in Viet Nam could only induce harmony between the two great Communist powers.

"The War: The Greatest Drama," Time, April 1, 1966

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Word of the day

Monday, September 28, 2020

avow

[ uh-vou ]

verb (used with object)

to declare frankly or openly; own; acknowledge; confess; admit: He avowed himself an opponent of all alliances.

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What is the origin of avow?

Avow, “to declare openly, acknowledge, admit,” has always had a formal air, a solemnity about it. It comes from Middle English avouen, advouen, awouen, from Old French avo(u)er, a regular phonetic development of Latin advocāre “to call upon, summon (assistance), convoke” (whose past participle advocātus is the source of the English verb and noun advocate). Advocāre is composed of the overworked preposition and prefix ad, ad- “to, toward” and the verb vocāre “to call,” a derivative of the noun vox, stem vōc- “voice, human voice.” Avow entered English in the 13th century.

how is avow used?

Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write?

Rainer Maria Rilke, "The First Letter: February 17, 1903," Letters to a Young Poet, translated by Joan M. Burnham, 2000

Scott achieved fame (and a baronetcy) as a poet, but he did not avow authorship of his novels until relatively late in his career.

David Lodge, "Dickens Our Contemporary," The Atlantic, May 2020

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Word of the day

Sunday, September 27, 2020

illation

[ ih-ley-shuhn ]

noun

an inference; conclusion.

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What is the origin of illation?

Illation, “drawing an inference or conclusion,” is one of the meanings of the Late Latin noun illātiō (inflectional stem illātiōn-), literally, “a carrying in, a bringing in”; its other meanings include “burial, interment” and “impost or duty.” Illātiō is the noun that corresponds to the Latin verb inferre “to bring, bring into, conclude, infer.” Just as English uses better and best as the comparative and superlative of good, and went as the past tense of go (a process called suppletion), so Latin uses lātus as the past participle of ferre and its derivatives; thus the verbal noun of the verb inferre is illātiō (or inlātiō). Illation entered English in the 16th century.

how is illation used?

Such an illation seems to Croce without foundation and disastrous for the authentic history of that land.

A. Robert Caponigri, History and Liberty: The Historical Writings of Benedetto Croce, 1955

For those that are not men of art, not knowing the true forms of syllogism, nor the reasons of them, cannot know whether they are made in right and conclusive modes and figures or no, and so are not at all helped by the forms they are put into; though by them the natural order, wherein the mind could judge of their respective connexion, being disturbed, renders the illation much more uncertain than without them.

John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1689

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Word of the day

Saturday, September 26, 2020

supernumerary

[ soo-per-noo-muh-rer-ee, -nyoo- ]

adjective

being in excess of the usual, proper, or prescribed number; additional; extra.

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What is the origin of supernumerary?

Supernumerary comes from the Latin adjective supernumerārius “(of soldiers) appointed to a legion after its numbers have been completed,” a compound of the preposition and prefix super, super– “above, higher, more than,” the noun numerus “numerical sum, number,” and the adjective and noun suffix –ārius. In Late Latin (St. Augustine of Hippo), supernumerārius also meant “additional” (adjective) and finally the noun “an additional person.” The English sense “extra person; employee, crew member, or officer” dates from the 17th century; the English sense “person appearing on stage in a nonspeaking role” dates from the mid-18th century. Supernumerary entered English in the early 17th century.

how is supernumerary used?

But our century’s revelations of unthinkable largeness and unimaginable smallness, of abysmal stretches of geological time when we were nothing, of supernumerary galaxies and indeterminate subatomic behavior, of a kind of mad mathematical violence at the heart of matter have scorched us deeper than we know.

John Updike, "Books: Evolution Be Praised," The New Yorker, December 30, 1985

So the housekeeper (it’s usually a she) will stack up the dishes, put the cart in the hallway, clean up the toast crumbs, and then proceed to the rest of her work of stripping the beds, picking up the supernumerary pillows on the floor, wiping the butter stains off the remote, and leaving the bathroom, now with coffee spills, gleaming.

Margaret Carlson, "Tip Your Hotel Maid," The Atlantic, June 16, 2019

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Word of the day

Friday, September 25, 2020

whillikers

[ hwil-i-kerz, wil- ]

interjection

Informal.

(used as an intensive after gee or golly gee to express astonishment, delight, etc.)

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What is the origin of whillikers?

Whillikers and its variant whillikens are used only in the exclamatory phrase (golly) gee whillikers (whillikens). There is no satisfactory etymology for whillikers or whillikens. Gee whillikens first appeared in print in 1851.

how is whillikers used?

“Why,” she gasped, “It’s money!” “Gee whillikers—ten bucks!” Jason echoed.

Peggy Dern, Peddler of Dreams, 1940

We’re all going to look at the things that are thrilling and exciting for him and say, ‘But that music sucks!’ Gee whillikers, guess who else said that? Every generation ever.

Ada Calhoun, "The Many Lives of St. Marks Place," The New Yorker, October 30, 2015

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