Word of the Day

Monday, February 11, 2019

amphiscians

[ am-fish-ee-uhnz, -fish-uhnz ]

plural noun

Archaic. inhabitants of the tropics.

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What is the origin of amphiscians?

Amphiscians is an altogether strange word, at least in its meaning. The English word, a plural noun, comes from Medieval Latin Amphisciī “those who cast a shadow on both sides,” i.e., in the tropics a person’s shadow will fall towards the north or towards the south depending on whether the sun is above or below the equator. Amphisciī is a straightforward borrowing of Greek amphískioi (a plural adjective used as a noun) “casting a shadow or shadowy on both sides,” formed from the preposition and prefix amphí, amphi- “around, about” (akin to Latin ambi- with the same meaning) and the noun skiá “shadow, shade, specter” (from the same Proto-Indo-European root from which English has shine). (Heteroscians is, of course, the opposite of amphiscians.) Amphiscians entered English in the 17th century.

how is amphiscians used?

The amphiscians, whose noon shadows fall on both sides, are the people who live between the two tropics, in the region which the ancients call the middle zone.

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543), On the Revolutions, translated by Edward Rosen, 1978

Are we not similar to those amphiscians / whose shadows fall at one season to the north, / but at another to the south?

Evan S. Connell, Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel, 1962

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

prebuttal

[ pri-buht-l, pree- ]

noun

an argument constructed in anticipation of a criticism: The alderman began his speech with a question-answer style prebuttal.

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What is the origin of prebuttal?

Prebuttal is a clever combination of the prefix pre- “before” and (re)buttal. It is equivalent to the Latin rhetorical term prolēpsis “anticipation in the form of a brief summary” or Late Latin procatalēpsis “anticipation and rebuttal of an opponent’s arguments,” a borrowing from Greek prolēpsis “(in rhetoric) anticipation” and prokatálēpsis “anticipation and rebuttal of an opponent’s arguments.” Former Vice President Al Gore seems to be the first person to use prebuttal in 1996.

how is prebuttal used?

President Clinton’s White House and campaign team have been drawing favorable reviews for their rapid response operation and penchant for picking off issues before Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) even gets his TelePrompTer warmed up. Vice President Gore calls it “prebuttal.”

Dan Balz, Washington Post, May 26, 1996

Both in the short term and for posterity, Sotomayor’s work will serve as a prebuttal to what Chief Justice John Roberts and company are poised to do.

Andrew Cohen, "Sonia Sotomayor and the Real Lessons of Affirmative Action," Atlantic, January 11, 2013
Saturday, February 09, 2019

inculpate

[ in-kuhl-peyt, in-kuhl-peyt ]

verb

to involve in a charge; incriminate.

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What is the origin of inculpate?

Inculpate, like inflammable, is capable of two opposite meanings depending on whether you take in- to be a negative prefix (from the same Proto-Indo-European source as English un-) or an intensive prefix. If in- is the negative prefix, then inculpate means “unblamed, blameless,” the only meaning of the Latin inculpātus and a meaning that inculpate had in (and only in) 17th-century English. Likewise inflammable would mean “not flammable,” a very common mistake in modern English. The in- in inculpate and inflammable is in fact the intensive in-; Late Latin inculpāre means “to blame”; inflammāre means “to set on fire.” The Romans, too, were confused by the two different prefixes: inaudīre (in- here the intensive prefix) means “to catch the sound of, get wind of, hear”; its past participle inaudītus (in- here the negative prefix) means “unheard, unheard of, not listened to.” Inculpate in the sense “to blame” entered English in the late 18th century.

how is inculpate used?

Then someone came into your room and placed the pistol there in order to inculpate you.

Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Problem of Thor Bridge," The Strand Magazine, Volume 63, 1922

Their job was simply to get as much information as possible, which, along with corroborating evidence, would either inculpate the suspect or set him free.

Douglas Starr, "The Interview," The New Yorker, December 9, 2013
Friday, February 08, 2019

roborant

[ rob-er-uhnt ]

adjective

strengthening.

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What is the origin of roborant?

Roborant comes from Latin rōborant- (the stem of rōborāns), present participle of rōborāre “to strengthen, invigorate,” a derivative of the noun rōbor (stem rōbur-) “oak, oak tree.” From rōborāre Latin forms corrōborāre “to strengthen, harden” (English corroborate). Latin also has an archaic form rōbus for rōbur, and the archaic form clearly shows the source of Latin rōbustus “strong, powerful” (English robust). The Latin noun rōbus is akin to the adjective rōbus “red” and dialectal rūfus “light red, fox red” (English rufous), the noun rōbīgō (also rūbīgō), stem rōbīgin- (rūbīgin-) “rust,” and its derivative adjective rōbīginōsus “rusty” (English rubiginous). Roborant entered English in the 17th century.

how is roborant used?

… they put him to bed in the rest room, where the doctor gave him a roborant injection.

Thomas Glavinic, Carl Haffner's Love of the Draw, translated by John Brownjohn, 1999

The label, designed for the English speaking market, gives this description of its virtues: “Nutritious and roborant: promoting the brain and recovering the memory: strengthening the organs and systems of generations.”

Jack Anderson, "Fat Cats Show They Care," Daytona Beach Morning Journal, Saturday October 7, 1972
Thursday, February 07, 2019

dullsville

[ duhlz-vil ]

noun

Slang. something boring or dull.

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What is the origin of dullsville?

Dullsville, originally an Americanism, is an obvious, self-explanatory compound. The suffix -ville comes from the French noun and suffix ville, -ville “city, town,” a straightforward development of Latin villa “farmhouse, farm, estate.” Both French and English use the suffix -ville to form placenames (nearly 20 percent of the toponyms, or placenames, in northern France end in -ville); American toponyms include Gainesville, Charlottesville, and Chancellorsville. French and English also use -ville to form derogatory or disparaging quasi-toponyms: French has bidonville “shantytown,” formed from bidon “metal can, metal drum (used in constructing shanties).” American English has Hooverville, dating from the Great Depression of the 1930s, and named “in honor of” president Herbert Hoover; Squaresville, associated with the Beat Generation, dates from the mid-1950s; Hicksville dates from the early 1920s; dragsville dates from the mid-1960s; and dullsville (also Dullsville) from 1960.

how is dullsville used?

Just that it was another system that didn’t look particularly noteworthy. A star and some planets. No record of human presence. Dullsville, really.

Alastair Reynolds, Absolution Gap, 2003

I work in a big insurance office now, working in the customer enquiries department. No doubt this will sound a bit dullsville to you …

David Nicholls, One Day, 2009
Wednesday, February 06, 2019

temerity

[ tuh-mer-i-tee ]

noun

reckless boldness; rashness.

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What is the origin of temerity?

Temerity ultimately comes from the Latin noun temeritās (inflectional stem temeritāt-) “rashness, recklessness, thoughtlessness.” The Latin noun is a derivative of the adverb temerē (with the same meanings), and temerē in form is a fossil form of an assumed noun temus (stem temer-) “darkness” and meant “in the dark, blindly.” The Latin forms come from a Proto-Indo-European root teme- “dark,” with a suffixed noun form temesra “darkness.” Temesra in Latin becomes tenebrae (plural noun) “darkness” (source of tenebrous). The Latin name for the River Thames is Tamesis (Tamesa), adapted from a local Celtic language in which Tamesas means “dark river.” Temerity entered English in the 15th century.

how is temerity used?

… he was taken aback by skeptical reviews that had the temerity to question his research methods or his conclusions.

Jennifer Szalai, "Steven Pinker Wants You to Know Humanity Is Doing Fine. Just Don't Ask About Individual Humans." New York Times, February 28, 2018

The guys off the docks at the port who came in looking for engagement rings and wedding rings for their girlfriends would sometimes have the temerity to take the salesgirl’s hand in order to examine the stone up close.

Philip Roth, Everyman, 2006
Tuesday, February 05, 2019

hoggery

[ haw-guh-ree, hog-uh- ]

noun

slovenly or greedy behavior.

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What is the origin of hoggery?

Hoggery in its original (and still current) sense means “a place where hogs are kept.” The sense “swinish behavior, piggishness, greediness” dates from the 19th century. The latter sense is close to the Yiddish chazerei “piggery, filth, junk food, junk,” ultimately derived from Hebrew ḥazīr “pig.” Hoggery entered English in the 17th century.

how is hoggery used?

The culprits behind such acts of beach hoggery are said to range from unscrupulous umbrella operators hoping to bilk tourists, to eager sun seekers reserving space for friends and relatives.

Barry Neild, "Italy fines tourists who hog beach spots," CNN, August 9, 2016

Harry, this is game-hoggery of the worst kind. It has got to stop. I’m going to write my congressman.

Durward L. Allen, "Fifty Million Bunnies," Boys' Life, October 1960

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