Word of the Day

Friday, August 10, 2018

agora

[ ag-er-uh ]

noun

the place where a popular political assembly met in Ancient Greece, originally a marketplace or public square.

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What is the origin of agora?

In Greek agorá originally meant “assembly,” especially of the common people, not of the ruling class. Agorá gradually developed the meanings “marketplace, the business that goes on in the marketplace, public speaking.” The Greek noun is a derivative of the verb ageírein “to gather,” from the Proto-Indo-European root ger-, gere- “to gather, collect,” source also of Latin grex “flock, herd,” with its English derivatives aggregate, egregious, and gregarious. Agora entered English in the late 16th century.

how is agora used?

In the fall of 1964, left-wing students at U.C. Berkeley demanded the right to hand out antiwar literature on Sproul Plaza, the red brick agora at the center of the campus.

Andrew Marantz, "How Social-Media Trolls Turned U.C. Berkeley Into a Free-Speech Circus," The New Yorker, July 2, 2018

… it has become a commonplace among ancient historians to single out the agora as the political centre of the polis where the people met to make all important decisions or, in oligarchies and tyrannies, to rubber stamp the decisions made by the rulers.

, "The Agora as the Political Centre of the Polis," The Polis as an Urban Centre and as a Political Community, Symposium, August 29–31, 1996

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Thursday, August 09, 2018

littoral

[ lit-er-uhl ]

adjective

of or relating to the shore of a lake, sea, or ocean.

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What is the origin of littoral?

English littoral comes from the Latin adjective littorālis (lītorālis is more correct), a derivative of littor- (lītor-), the inflectional stem of lītus (littus) “shore, shoreline.” In general littoral is used for technical subjects, e.g., geography, biology. The one exception is the common noun lido meaning “fashionable beach resort,” and the somewhat less fashionable “public open-air swimming pool.” Lido comes directly from Venetian Italian Lido (di Venezia) (from Latin lītus), the name of a sandbar or chain of sandy islands between the Lagoon of Venice and the Adriatic, the site of the annual Venice Film Festival. Littoral entered English in the 17th century.

how is littoral used?

The Center for Advanced Studies would be built–perhaps there was still some virgin littoral stretch and the building he envisaged could be nestled somewhere along this lake or the other–but there would be modifications in the plan.

Ralph McInerny, The Green Revolution, 2008

In another hour the horns of motors began to blow down from the winding road along the low range of the Maures, which separates the littoral from true Provençal France.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night, 1934
Wednesday, August 08, 2018

calescent

[ kuh-les-uhnt ]

adjective

growing warm; increasing in heat.

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What is the origin of calescent?

The English adjective calescent comes directly from Latin calescent-, the inflectional stem of calescēns, the present participle of the verb calescere “to become warm or hot,” a verb derivative of calēre “to be warm or hot.” In Latin the element -sc- in the present tense has inceptive force (i.e., “I am beginning to x”); thus the present tense of noscere (also gnoscere) means “I get to know, I find out” and is the source of English recognize, cognition, and other words. Calescent entered English in the early 19th century.

how is calescent used?

I’ve tested the misting fan’s potency in several clammy places, from subway stations to the congested, calescent queues at Disney World (where, on a stinking-hot day, I’d unwisely worn a boiler suit).

Laura Bannister, "The Misting Fan That Kept Me Cool at Disney World," New York, June 12, 2017

Otis’ earlier statements had been calm, but calescent anger foamed in him and was soon to explode.

Arelo C. Sederberg, The Dynamite Conspiracy, 2001
Tuesday, August 07, 2018

normcore

[ nawrm-kawr, -kohr ]

noun

a fashion style or way of dressing characterized by ordinary, plain clothing with no designer names, often a reaction against trendy fashion.

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What is the origin of normcore?

Normcore has the unpleasant feel of a neologism such as doublethink in George Orwell’s novel 1984. Normcore may be formed from norm (“a standard, the average level”) or normal (“conforming to a standard”); core may simply be from core (“essential part”) or be a shortening of hard-core (“uncompromising”). Normcore entered English in 2014.

how is normcore used?

At first, I spotted just occasional forays into normcore: the rare cool kid wearing clothes as lukewarm as the last sips of deli coffee—mock turtlenecks with Tevas and Patagonia windbreakers; Uniqlo khakis with New Balance sneakers or Crocs and souvenir-stand baseball caps.

Fiona Duncan, "Normcore: Fashion for Those Who Realize They're One in 7 Billion," New York, February 26, 2014

Never mind that she’s royalty, Kate is in the vanguard of something that’s a bit like normcore (deliberately dressing in an untrendy way), only bigger and broader, which henceforth shall be known as Katenorm.

Shane Watson, "The Duchess of Cambridge's new relaxed style is like a royal version of 'normcore'," Telegraph, June 14, 2018
Monday, August 06, 2018

chevelure

[ shev-uh-loor ]

noun

a head of hair.

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What is the origin of chevelure?

The pronunciation of English chevelure, accented on the final syllable, reveals the still unnaturalized status of the word after nearly six centuries. Chevelure looks like–and is–a French word meaning “head of hair, wig.” In Old French the word was spelled cheveleüre, from Latin capillātūra “hairlike flaw in a gem or gemstone,” a derivative of the adjective capillātus “longhaired,” itself a derivative of capillus “the hair on the head” (and like English hair a collective noun). Chevelure entered English in the 15th century.

how is chevelure used?

The arrangement of this chevelure is performed for the chiefs by professional barbers, and is a work of great labour. Six hours are sometimes occupied in dressing a head; and the process is repeated at intervals of two or three weeks.

Robert Gordon Latham, The Natural History of the Varieties of Man, 1850

… time has stolen away his raven locks, and given him a chevelure of snow instead.

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, The Mysterious Lodger, 1850
Sunday, August 05, 2018

vespine

[ ves-pahyn, -pin ]

adjective

of or relating to wasps.

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What is the origin of vespine?

English vespine is a straightforward borrowing from the Latin noun vespa “wasp” plus the adjective suffix -ine, from Latin -īnus, and one could reasonably–but wrongly–conclude that wespā was the original Proto-Indo-European word for wasp. The original form was wepsā, wopsā, and Latin and English (among other languages) simply metathesized (or transposed) the consonants. Old English has many different forms for the insect: wæfs, wæps, wæsp, etc. The other Germanic languages also display the -ps- and -sp- forms. Outside Germanic, the extremely conservative Baltic languages have vapsvà (Lithuanian) and wobse (Old Prussian), both meaning “wasp.” The Baltic forms, especially the Old Prussian, also show more clearly the Proto-Indo-European root behind wasp and vespa: webh-, wobh- “to weave” (from the nests that wasps construct). Vespine entered English in the 19th century.

how is vespine used?

From above the cubicles looked like a magnified insect battery, a nest uncovered by mistake, a glimpse of geometrically precise rows of pods, lines of tiny vespine heads, shining with black Sony ovals, trembling with larval energy on T-shirt thoraces.

Rana Dasgupta, Tokyo Cancelled, 2005

The trees had turned a vespine yellow, as if trying to terrify what would eat them.

Bennett Sims, A Questionable Shape, 2013
Saturday, August 04, 2018

squiz

[ skwiz ]

noun

a quick, close look.

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What is the origin of squiz?

The noun squiz is a piece of slang used in Australian and New Zealand. Most slang terms are of uncertain origin, and squiz is no exception: it is possibly a blend of quiz and squint. Squiz entered English in the 20th century.

how is squiz used?

He’d been at me for months to come in and have a squiz at the work he’d done, but I really didn’t care that much, and kept putting him off.

Peter Doyle, The Devil's Jump, 2001

She shrugged–which sort of annoyed me too–and I led her clomping to the front room where the sun was streaming in, and I had another squiz.

Anne Kennedy, The Last Days of the National Costume, 2013

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