Word of the Day

Word of the day

Saturday, April 17, 2021

specious

[ spee-shuhs ]

adjective

apparently good or right though lacking real merit; superficially pleasing or plausible.

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What is the origin of specious?

Specious, “apparently good but lacking real merit; superficially pleasing or plausible; pleasing to the eye but deceptive; pleasing to the eye, fair,” comes from Latin speciōsus, which has the same ambivalent meanings. Speciōsus is a derivative of the noun speciēs, which also has the same wide range of meaning, but even the literal meaning “sight, view,” as in the common Latin phrase prīmā speciē “at first sight,” implies a “but.” Speciēs is a derivative of the verb specere “to see, look at, observe,” from the Proto-Indo-European root spek-, spok-, with the same meaning. The root appears in Sanskrit spáśati “he sees” and Avestan spasyeiti “he watches out (for), looks out (for).” In the Germanic languages spek– appears as spähen “to scout, look out” in German, and in Old Norse as spā “prophecy” (i.e., something that one has looked out for). Greek not infrequently goes its own way: it metathesizes (switches the positions of) the p and k, resulting in the Greek root skep-, skop-, as in sképtesthai “to look around, survey, spy, contemplate” (source of English skeptic and skeptical); skop– appears in Greek skopós “spy, scout; target, goal, purpose” (English scope). The Greek combining form –skopion, –skopeion “instrument for viewing” appears in microscope and telescope. Specious entered English in the late 14th century.

how is specious used?

At the start of the pandemic, there were vague hopes of an artistic flourishing—that hoary and ultimately specious “Shakespeare wrote ‘King Lear’ in quarantine!” trope—but for me, at least, it was difficult to focus on much more than the ways in which my friends and neighbors were suffering.

Amanda Petrusich, "The Best Music of 2020," The New Yorker, November 27, 2020

And his own reasoning in these pages tends to be specious or skewed. He sets up ridiculous paper tigers to knock down easily …

Michiko Kakutani, "Novelist's Crash Course on Terror," New York Times, April 8, 2008

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Word of the day

Friday, April 16, 2021

pandiculation

[ pan-dik-yuh-ley-shuhn ]

noun

the act of stretching oneself, especially on waking.

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What is the origin of pandiculation?

Pandiculation, “stretching” (as when waking up),” comes via French pandiculation from the Latin verb pandiculārī “to stretch, grimace.” Pandiculārī is a derivative of pandere “to spread out, extend.” In Latin pandiculārī occurs only twice: the first time in a play by the Roman comic playwright Plautus (d. 184 b.c.), and the second time in the Epitoma Festi by the Benedictine monk Paulus Diaconus (Paul the deacon), who died about a.d. 799. Pandiculation entered English in the early 17th century.

how is pandiculation used?

There is a shared animal and human behaviour of “having a stretch” and yawning called pandiculation. It is often a combination of elongating, shortening and stiffening of muscles throughout the body.

Eyal Lederman, Therapeutic Stretching: Towards a functional approach, 2014

I had hoped to deal, here, with two other minor emotional luxuries that have been hitherto hidden in obscurity. They are oscitation (yawning) and pandiculation (stretching) which may be practiced separately or together.

Leon Gellert, "The Delights of Sneezing," Sydney Morning Herald, July 17, 1949

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Word of the day

Thursday, April 15, 2021

hydra

[ hahy-druh ]

noun

a persistent or many-sided problem that presents new obstacles as soon as one aspect is solved.

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What is the origin of hydra?

Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1340-1400) was the first English writer to use ydre, the nine-headed serpent. Middle French ydre derives from Latin hydra, itself a borrowing of Greek hýdra “water-serpent.” Hýdra is closely related to Greek hýdōr “water,” and both words come from the Proto-Indo-European root wed-, wod-, ud– “wet, water.” This same root is the source of wet, water, and wash in Germanic (English); of voda “water” and vodka “vodka” in Slavic (Czech), of Hittite wātar “water.” Ud– is the variant of the root for both Greek hýdōr and Old Irish uisce “water” (from unattested ud-skio-) and the immediate source of English whisky/whiskey.

how is hydra used?

At every turn, Lutie confronts that many-headed hydra of racism, sexism and classism.

Tayari Jones, "In Praise of Ann Petry," New York Times, November 10, 2018

Partially or fully wiping out federal student loan debt would be a godsend to many Americans but not be enough to slay the fund-eating dragon that has become a many-headed hydra.

Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, "Even forgiving student loans won't solve the higher education funding crisis," Washington Post, January 22, 2021

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