Word of the Day

Sunday, May 30, 2021

acme

[ ak-mee ]

noun

the highest point; summit; peak.

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What is the origin of acme?

Acme, “the highest point; summit; peak,” comes straight from Greek akmḗ “point, highest point, extremity.” Akmḗ is one of many Greek words derived from the widespread Proto-Indo-European root ak-, ok– “sharp, pointed, angular.” Other Greek derivatives include ákros “topmost, outermost,” as in akrópolis “upper city, citadel” (English acropolis), akrobátēs (English acrobat), literally “height walker,” and akís “point.” Latin derives from the same root ācer (stem ācr-) “sharp, stinging,” aciēs “point,” acidus “sour, acid,” and acūtus “sharp, sharpened” (English acute). The Proto-Germanic root from ak-, ok– is ag-. The Proto-Germanic noun agyō becomes ecg “sharpness, sharp side, blade, sword” in Old English (and edge in modern English); the Proto-Germanic verb agyan becomes eggja “to goad, incite” in Old Norse, the source of English egg (on). Acme entered English in the second half of the 16th century.

how is acme used?

To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence. Neither is it the acme of excellence if you fight and conquer and the whole Empire says, “Well done!”

Sun Tzu (flourished 5th century b.c.), The Art of War, translated by Lionel Giles, 1910

In this new era of television as high art, especially cable television, figuring out the acme of that art has been a task many have been eager to take on. We’ve mostly stayed silent, until now. That show, the best there ever was, is Breaking Bad.

Richard Lawson, "The Case for 'Breaking Bad' as Televisions Best Show," The Atlantic, July 13, 2012

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Saturday, May 29, 2021

pièce de résistance

[ pyes duh rey-zee-stahns; English pee-es duh ri-zee-stahns ]

noun

the most noteworthy or prized feature, aspect, event, article, etc., of a series or group; special item or attraction.

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What is the origin of pièce de résistance?

Pièce de résistance, “the principal dish of a meal; the most noteworthy item of a group,” entered English from French in 1789—a fateful year. In French pièce de résistance appears at least by 1732 and refers to the main course of a meal. By 1789 the phrase was used in English to describe a person. The phrase literally means “piece of resistance,” but scholars disagree on how the phrase acquired its senses.

how is pièce de résistance used?

Last year, Americans spent four times as much money on grocery store hummus as they did a decade before, according to the latest consumer surveys, and a growing number of snacks and fast-casual concepts also feature the fiber- and protein-rich chickpea as their pièce de résistance.

Whitney Pipkin, "Your Hummus Habit Could Be Good For The Earth," NPR, July 10, 2019

He goes home to his apartment, takes a good, long look at himself in the mirror, and decides to slick back his hair. Then he takes a cigarette break. (Pause for dramatic music.) And, finally, he brings out the pièce de résistance: a black turtleneck.

Emilia Petrarca, "The Most Important Costumes in Halston Are the Black Turtlenecks," The Cut, May 18, 2021

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Friday, May 28, 2021

skylark

[ skahy-lahrk ]

verb

to frolic; sport.

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What is the origin of skylark?

The verb skylark, “to frolic; sport; have boisterous fun,” dates from about 1771 in Britain. This sense is the same as the verb lark, which comes later, in 1813. How skylark acquired its “fun” sense isn’t clear: some suggest it was a term in sailors’ slang for roughhousing high up in a ship’s rigging, skylarks being known for their singing while hovering high in the air. The earliest occurrences of the verb, however, are from court and police records in London, which seem to indicate that the verb skylark is a city word, not a sailor’s one. Skylark is a favorite word of Mark Twain’s: he used the participle or gerund skylarking four times in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876).

how is skylark used?

He never backslapped, roughhoused or skylarked with his colleagues, and his statesmanlike calm evoked feelings of awe.

Ron Chernow, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., 1998

With all the jocularity of a clambake getting started in bare feet and shallow water, a crew of performers skylarked through a robust performance borrowing impartially from vaudeville, burlesque and backporch conversation last week before a Radio City audience.

R.W. Stewart, "With Bing at Work," New York Times, May 11, 1947

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