Word of the Day

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

ad hominem

[ ad hom-uh-nuhm -nem, ahd‐ ]

adjective

attacking an opponent's character or motives rather than answering the argument or claim.

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What is the origin of ad hominem?

The phrase ad hominem, literally “to a person,” originally meant in rhetoric and logic “by appealing to the audience’s feelings, emotions, or interests, not to their intelligence or reason.” Nowadays the usual meaning of ad hominem is “by attacking an opponent’s character or motives, not their arguments.” Hominem, the object of the preposition ad “to,” is the accusative singular case of the Latin noun homō (inflectional stem homin-) “human being (of either sex), individual, person.”Homō is also used colloquially in Roman comedy (Plautus): Mī homō et mea mulier, vōs salūtō, literally “My man and my woman, I greet you.” In the example from Plautus we can clearly see that homō “man” is contrasted with mulier “woman.” In fact, all the Romance languages use a form of homin– to mean “man” as opposed to woman, e.g., Italian uomo, Spanish hombre (dissimilated from omne, which is contracted from omine), Portuguese homem, Catalan home, French homme, Sardo (Sardinian) omine, and Romanian om. The unpleasant counterpart ad fēminam “appealing to one’s personal feelings about or prejudices against women,” appeared in the 19th century. Ad hominem entered English in the 16th century.

how is ad hominem used?

In the case of online harassment, that instinctive preference for “free speech” may already be shaping the kinds of discussions we have, possibly by discouraging the participation of women, racial and sexual minorities, and anyone else likely to be singled out for ad-hominem abuse.

Kefela Sanneh, "The Hell You Say," The New Yorker, August 3, 2015

Greta Thunberg, at age 16, has quickly become one of the most visible climate activists in the world. Her detractors increasingly rely on ad hominem attacks to blunt her influence.

Scott Waldman, E&E News, "Climate Deniers Launch Personal Attacks on Teen Activist," Scientific American, August 9, 2019

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Monday, June 22, 2020

lassitude

[ las-i-tood, -tyood ]

noun

weariness of body or mind from strain, oppressive climate, etc.; lack of energy; listlessness.

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What is the origin of lassitude?

The primary meaning of lassitude is “weariness of mind or body, listlessness,” but lassitude has a second meaning, “indolent indifference.” The immediate source of the English word is Middle French lassitude, which, as in English, may be pleasant or unpleasant fatigue. French lassitude comes from Latin lassitūdō, which in Latin always has an unpleasant sense. Lassitūdō is a derivative of the adjective lassus “tired, weary, exhausted,” a derivative of the Proto-Indo-European root -, – “to let go, go slack,” extended with –d (lēd-, ləd-). The same root yields Greek lēdeîn “to be tired,” Albanian lodhem “to become tired,” and Germanic lētan, which in Old English becomes lǣtan “to allow, permit, suffer” and let in English. Lassitude entered English in the 16th century.

how is lassitude used?

it occurred to me, as I ate another astringent chip, that this lassitude, the trouble focusing, the sleep difficulties, my exhaustion: Oh yes, I thought, I remember this. I was grieving.

R. O. Kwon, "Trouble Focusing? Not Sleeping? You May Be Grieving," New York Times, April 9, 2020

Heavy lassitude settled upon me as I walked away from Peter Kanarjian. There had been too much excitement in the past eighteen hours, and I had had little sleep.

Walter A. Roberts, The Mind Reader, 1929

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Sunday, June 21, 2020

agnate

[ ag-neyt ]

adjective

related or akin through males or on the father's side.

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What is the origin of agnate?

The English adjective and noun agnate comes straight from Latin agnātus, adgnātus, past participle (also used as a noun) of the verb agnascī (also adnascī and adgnascī) “to be born in addition to; (of a human being) to be born after the father makes his will.” (The noun agnātus, adgnātus is a male blood relative on the father’s side; agnāta, adgnāta is a female blood relative on the father’s side.) Agnascī (adnascī, adgnascī) is a compound verb formed from the preposition and prefix ad, ad– “to, toward, in addition” and the simple verb (g)nascī “to be born” (Romans of the classical age had the same difficulty with initial gn– as modern English speakers do with, say, gnat, gnarly, and Gnostic). The much rarer Latin terms for “a blood relative on the mother’s side” are ēnātus for a male relative and ēnāta for a female, formed from the preposition and prefix ē, ē– (from ex “out of”) and nascī. Agnate entered English in the second half of the 15th century.

how is agnate used?

Rather than writing that one thing is like another, she suggested, pupils might use “commensurate” or “agnate,” which means related through male descent or on the father’s side.

James R. Hagerty, "'Use More Expressive Words!' Teachers Bark, Beseech, Implore,"  Wall Street Journal, November 29, 2015

As office-holding tended to become hereditary, however, in the tenth and eleventh centuries, greater emphasis was placed upon agnate descent.

John B. Freed, The Counts of Falkenstein: Noble Self-Consciousness in Twelfth-Century Germany, 1984

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