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Word of the Day

Word of the day

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

burgeon

[ bur-juhn ]

verb (used without object)

to grow or develop quickly; flourish.

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What is the origin of burgeon?

Burgeon “to grow or develop quickly” derives via Middle English and Anglo-French from the Old French noun burjon “shoot, bud,” and though the word’s history becomes murky from that point, the prevailing theory is that burjon is ultimately from Late Latin burra “wool, fluff,” in reference to the fine hairs that cover certain types of buds. An alternative theory connects burjon instead to a Proto-Germanic verb meaning “to raise; to emerge, occur”; compare Dutch gebeuren “to happen” and Swedish börja “to start.” If the latter theory is correct, burgeon derives from the Proto-Indo-European root bher- “to carry” and is therefore distantly related to burden (from Old English), transfer (literally “to carry across,” from Latin ferre “to bear”), and phosphorus (literally “light-bearing,” from Ancient Greek ​​phérein “to carry”). Burgeon was first recorded in English around the turn of the 14th century.

how is burgeon used?

Among the other mammals that made it through were some of the earliest placentals .… But only after the end-Cretaceous extinction did these advanced mammals burgeon and split into the major modern subgroups, including rodents and primates. The reason for their sudden about-face is clear. With Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops and kin out of the way, these placentals now had a clear playing field to conquer, and once again they quickly evolved to fill available niches.

Stephen Brusatte and Zhe-Xi Luo, “The Ascent of Mammals,” Scientific American, June 1, 2016

Since 2005, [Freddy] Mamani [Silvestre] and his firm have completed sixty projects in El Alto, the world’s highest city, which sits at nearly fourteen thousand feet, on an austere plateau above La Paz. In the past twenty years, the economy there has burgeoned, along with an enterprising, mostly Indigenous population. Mamani earned his fame building mixed-use dream houses for the city’s nouveaux riches.

Judith Thurman, "High Aspirations," The New Yorker, December 14, 2015

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Word of the day

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

manticore

[ man-ti-kawr, -kohr ]

noun

a legendary monster with a man's head, horns, a lion's body, and the tail of a dragon or, sometimes, a scorpion.

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What is the origin of manticore?

While the legends involving manticores were likely tall tales about lions and tigers and similar beasts, manticore is not a compound of English man and tiger, which is a common misconception. Instead, manticore “a legendary monster with a man’s head, a lion’s body, and the tail of a dragon or scorpion” derives via Middle English from Latin mantichōrās, which was a either a variant or a misreading of Ancient Greek martichṓras. This word, in turn, was borrowed from the Old Persian element martiya- “man” and an additional Iranian source akin to Modern Persian -khōr “eat, devour.” The martiya- element descends from a Proto-Indo-European root, mer- “to harm, die”—compare immortal (via Latin) and ambrosia (via Ancient Greek), both literally meaning “not of death”—while the -khōr element is cognate to English swallow and swill. Manticore was first recorded in English in the early 1300s.

how is manticore used?

According to 5th Century Greek physician and historian Ctesias, the Mantichora (or manticore) was an Indian creature with the strength and body of a lion and the face and ears of a man. It also had three rows of terrible, terrible teeth. Blood-red in colour and as swift as a stag, its densely quilled tail resembled a scorpion’s, right down to its poisoned tips.

Becky Crew, “Curious (and Terrifying) Creatures in Zoology, Plus One Obscure Christmas Gift Idea,” Scientific American, December 20, 2013
[B]estiaries featured incredibly vivid, lively illustrations that spelled out the behaviors of the various creatures .… Such symbolism was so important in the Middle Ages, according to [T. H.] White, “that it did not matter whether certain animals existed”—the part man, part lion, part scorpion with probably some identity issues known as the manticore, for instance—but “what did matter was what they meant.” It was an era of intense faith that a higher power had created every creature with a meaning to be decoded by man.

Matt Simon, “Fantastically Wrong: Unicorns Dig Virgin Women, and Other Lessons From Medieval Bestiaries,” Wired, November 19, 2014

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Word of the day

Monday, October 18, 2021

mojo

[ moh-joh ]

noun

exceptional ability, good luck, success.

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What is the origin of mojo?

Mojo “exceptional ability, good luck, success” in its earliest sense denoted an object that was believed to carry a magic spell. From there, the word expanded to indicate magic itself and personal use of magic, and mojo’s popular use today in reference to seemingly magical influence or ability is informal. Mojo is of uncertain origin but is most likely related to the word moco “witchcraft, magic” in Gullah, a creole language spoken by an African-American population located along the southern Atlantic coast. Though Gullah is based on English, it incorporates ample vocabulary from the Niger–Congo language subfamily, which is spread across much of sub-Saharan Africa and includes languages such as Fulani, Mende, Yoruba, Swahili, and Zulu. Gullah moco may have its origin in one of these languages, as the Fulani word for “medicine man” is moco’o. Mojo was first recorded in the late 1920s.

how is mojo used?

Here’s a confession: For the last week or so I’ve felt a little drained. Low energy, low motivation, a sense that something is a little off. It’s nothing serious, but one of those passing phases we’re all familiar with when things feel overwhelming. As an old editor of mine used to put it: My mojo is a little off.

Tim Herrera, “Feeling Burned Out? Here Are 3 Things That Can Help,” New York Times, May 6, 2018

Powers, here, Austin Powers. You know, Powers by name, Powers by reputation. Crikey, it’s been a long time. Finally somebody besides Dr. Evil’s invented a time machine to take us back to the 60’s. Back to the old U.K.—my time! Back to London at its swingingest, most smashing, most shagadelic, when I made my bones! When England—not America—had the mojo, when every man wanted to be me, and every dolly bird wanted to be with me!

Michiko Kakutani, "Books of the Times; Hipoisie and Chic-oisie And London Had the Mojo," New York Times, July 23, 2002

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