Word of the Day

Monday, April 20, 2020

ambages

[ am-bey-jeez ]

noun

Archaic. (used with a plural verb)

winding, roundabout paths or ways.

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What is the origin of ambages?

The English noun ambages is usually used in the plural, just like its Latin original, ambāgēs. Both English and Latin nouns share the same meanings: “winding, roundabout paths; prolix, ambiguous, or equivocating language.” The Latin noun is a compound of the prefix ambhi– “around, about, both” (as in ambidextrous “able to use both hands equally well”), and a derivative noun of the hard-working verb agere “to lead, drive, act, do.” Ambages entered English in the early 15th century.

how is ambages used?

A city of monstrous size to which London was but a market town. Its ambages of streets bewildered.

Anthony Burgess, A Dead Man in Deptford, 2003

few readers, we apprehend, will have the resolution to keep him company to the end of his book, or to follow him through the ambages of his descriptions, without occasional symptoms of weariness.

Charles Stuart Cochrane, "Travels in Colombia," North American Review, 1825

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Sunday, April 19, 2020

kitsch

[ kich ]

noun

something of tawdry design, appearance, or content created to appeal to popular or undiscriminating taste.

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What is the origin of kitsch?

One person’s art is another person’s kitsch. Kitsch is a German noun meaning “trash, rubbish; slapdash, pretentious, sentimental, or tacky work of art.” Kitsch is a derivative of the verb kitschen “to throw together (a work of art),” from German kitschen “to sweep up or scrape up mud from the street,” or from German dialect kitschen “to sell cheaply.” Kitsch entered English in the first half of the 20th century.

how is kitsch used?

When the art critics call me “cornball” and my work “kitsch,” which I’m told is a derogatory term for popular art, I begin to worry. But I always pick up my brushes and go back to work. For better or for worse, I’ll never be a fine arts painter or a modern artist. I’m an illustrator, which is very different. 

Norman Rockwell, My Adventures as an Illustrator, 1960

Allee Willis … lives in a light-pink house north of Hollywood with a bowling-ball garden and a heaving collection of kitsch.

Matthew Schneier, "A Queen of Kitsch Who Made the Whole World Sing," New York Times, June 7, 2018

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Saturday, April 18, 2020

chockablock

[ chok-uh-blok ]

adjective

extremely full; crowded; jammed: a room chockablock with furniture and plants.

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What is the origin of chockablock?

Chockablock is a nautical term describing the position of tackle when the blocks are drawn close together. From the sense of the blocks being pressed tightly together, chockablock develops the sense “extremely full, crowded.” Chock and block are clear enough: they are synonyms for a wedge or other solid, heavy mass for holding something steady. The only problem with chockablock is the –a-: it is likely a reduced form of andChockablock entered English at the end of the 18th century.

how is chockablock used?

I have a steel engraving of the Old Harbor chockablock with ships ….

John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent, 1961

The lyrics and the video are chockablock with suburban Americana signifiers: lawns, pools, divorce.

Spencer Kornhaber, "What Adam Schlesinger Knew About America," The Atlantic, April 3, 2020

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