Word of the Day

Word of the day

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

alma mater

[ ahl-muh -mah-ter, al-; al-muh -mey-ter ]

noun

a school, college, or university at which one has studied and, usually, from which one has graduated.

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What is the origin of alma mater?

Alma mater “a school where one has studied” comes from a Latin phrase that means “nourishing mother.” The first half, alma “nourishing” or “kind,” derives from an Indo-European root appearing variously as al-, el-, ol-, or ul- that is found frequently in words connected to nourishment or, more generally, the life cycle. Alumnus means “nourished one” in Latin, while alimony derives from the noun alimōnia “feeding” or “nourishment,” and the verb coalēscere, the source of coalesce, literally means “to grow up together.” Adolescent and adult come from the same Latin verb, adolēscere, and respectively mean “becoming mature” and “having matured,” and prolific and proliferate derive from prōlēs “offspring.” This same Indo-European root found in alma appears in English as well, in words such as old, elder, and alderman, and in the Scots phrase auld lang syne.

how is alma mater used?

Famed actor Phylicia Rashad is returning to her alma mater as the new dean of the Howard University College of Fine Arts. The longtime performer and Tony Award winner … graduated magna cum laude from Howard with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in 1970.

Ashraf Khalil, “Phylicia Rashad to lead Howard College of Fine Arts,” AP News, May 12, 2021

In fact, Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, seemed to suggest last August that Obama would be returning to his New York alma mater. No doubt, Columbia would offer him a king’s ransom and every other academic perk imaginable.

Cinque Henderson, "Three Places Obama Could Teach," The New Yorker, March 15, 2016

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Word of the day

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

gorgonize

[ gawr-guh-nahyz ]

verb (used with object)

hypnotize; petrify.

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What is the origin of gorgonize?

Gorgonize is ultimately derived, via Latin, from Ancient Greek Gorgṓ, which comes from the adjective gorgós “dreadful” and is the original Greek name for each of the Gorgons, the triumvirate of mythic sisters with snakes for hair and whose appearance was so frightful that anyone who looked at them directly would turn to stone. The Gorgons were named Euryale, Medusa, and Stheno, and Medusa is the most famous of the three because of her mortality, which allowed for Perseus to behead her by using her reflection in his shield to guide his sword.

how is gorgonize used?

Offensively democratic exhibitions of free manners occur every once in a while. Churlish fellows will obtrude themselves with their hats on, lighted segars [sic] and their pantaloons tucked into their boots. Dropping into chairs, they will sit puffing away and trying to gorgonize the President with their silent stares, until their boorish curiosity is fully satisfied.

Henry Villard, as quoted in Lincoln on the Eve of '61, 1940

Athena smiled, then turned to Po. “Not a word out of you, Poseidon, or I’ll freeze you so fast you won’t know what hit you. Now watch while I gorgonize your little girlfriend.”

Kate McMullan, Say Cheese, Medusa, 2002

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Word of the day

Monday, August 30, 2021

nostrum

[ nos-truhm ]

noun

a pet scheme or remedy, especially for social or political ills; panacea.

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What is the origin of nostrum?

Nostrum is a direct borrowing from Latin and is the neuter form of the singular possessive adjective noster “our”; this neuter version is often found today in the Latin phrase mare nostrum “our sea,” which the Romans used in reference to the Mediterranean Sea. The shift from a possessive adjective to a noun that means “remedy” happened by way of the unattested phrase nostrum remedium “our medicine,” with the latter half chopped off. Nostrum’s primary meaning in English is “​​a medicine sold with false or exaggerated claims,” and it gained the additional sense of “a remedy for all problems” when applied to non-medical topics such as politics.

how is nostrum used?

Federalism encourages variation by creating incentives for political leaders [in each state] to craft innovative solutions to important problems. Governors who, for example, succeed in reforming education will win reelection. They may then parlay this success into approval at the national level, propounding their signature policies as nostrums for what ails the nation.

Virginia Gray, Russell L. Hanson, and Thad Kousser, “Preface,” foreword to Politics in the American States: A Comparative Analysis, 1990

I hold to journalistic nostrums about avoiding redundant adjectives and adverbs, and rationing abstract nouns and passive verbs. Ambiguity and hyperbole may sometimes light up fiction, but they are lethal when trying to convey literal truth.

Fred Pearce, "Notes on Craft," Granta, August 2018

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