Word of the Day

Monday, June 29, 2020

anchorite

[ ang-kuh-rahyt ]

noun

a person who has retired to a solitary place for a life of religious seclusion; hermit.

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What is the origin of anchorite?

The English noun anchorite “hermit” comes from Middle English anchorite, anachorite, ancorite, from Old French anacorittes and Medieval Latin anachōrīta, equivalent to Late Latin anachōrēta “a hermit, eremite, recluse, ascetic,” from Late Greek anachōrētḗs “one who has retired from the world,” a derivative of anachōreîn “to withdraw, retire.” Anachōreîn is a compound of the adverb and preposition aná and prefix ana– “up, back, re-“ and chōreîn “to make room for, withdraw, give way,” a verb derived from chôros “piece of ground, space, place.” Anchorite entered English in the 15th century.

how is anchorite used?

I am most gratified to find that you are among those who indulge in a legitimate enjoyment of the good things of life. I am sure that if God intended us to be anchorites he would have fashioned this world after another sort.

Robert Archer Tracy, The Sword of Nemesis, 1919

We’re all lonely now. We’re all cut off from each other, trapped inside the walls of our own domestic space, the 21st-century version of the medieval anchorite.

Olivia Laing, "How to Be Lonely," New York Times, March 19, 2020

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Sunday, June 28, 2020

megafauna

[ meg-uh-faw-nuh ]

noun

Zoology.

large or giant animals, especially of a given area.

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What is the origin of megafauna?

Megafauna is a hybrid of mega-, a combining form meaning “very large” (as in megachurch and megalith), from Greek mégas “large,” and fauna “the animals of a given region or period considered as a whole.” Fauna comes from the Latin proper noun Fauna, a rustic goddess and sister of Faunus, the rustic god who protected fields, herds, agriculture, and shepherds, identified with the Greek god Pan. Megafauna tend to have long lives and slow population growth and recovery rates. As a result, many such species, as elephants and whales, are particularly vulnerable to overexploitation by humans. Megafauna entered English in the first half of the 20th century.

how is megafauna used?

Poaching threatens megafauna, our planet’s largest animals that often function as the keystones of their respective ecosystems.

Robin R. Ganzert, "Coronavirus Effect On The Environment: Without Tourism, We Will Lose Elephants," International Business Times, May 31, 2020

Like the V-shaped graptolites or the ammonites or the dinosaurs, the megafauna weren’t doing anything wrong; it’s just that when humans appeared, the “rules of the survival game” changed.

Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction, 2014

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Saturday, June 27, 2020

bight

[ bahyt ]

noun

a bend or curve in the shore of a sea or river.

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What is the origin of bight?

Bight has several senses in Modern English. It can refer to a bend or curve in the shore of a sea or river, a body of water bounded by such a bend, or the loop or bent part of a rope. Following the twists and turns of its morphology, we arrive at Middle English byght, bight, beghte, beythe “the fork of the legs, the pit or hollow of the arm, (in names) bend or bay,” from Old English byht “a bending, corner, dwelling, bay, bight.” The English word comes from Germanic buhtiz, from the Proto-Indo-European root bheug(h)-, bhoug(h)-, bhug(h)– “to bend,” which is the source of Sanskrit bhujáti “(he) bends,” Gothic biugan and Old English būgan, both meaning “to bow,” and Old English boga “arch, bow” (as in English rainbow and bow and arrow).

how is bight used?

The boardwalk weaves along the bight from the ferry terminal on Grinnell to the end of Front Street.

Melissa Coleman, "36 Hours in Key West, Fla." New York Times, April 29, 2015

A bight is simply a long and gradual coastal curve that creates a large bay, often with shallow waters. You’re likely already familiar with a number of bights — for instance, the area between Long Island and New Jersey on the East Coast is known as the New York Bight, while California’s Channel Islands live in the Southern California Bight, which stretches all the way from Santa Barbara to San Diego.

Hannah Lott-Schwartz, "Australia's Southern Coast Has Stunning Views and Incredible Wildlife You Won't Find Anywhere Else," Travel & Leisure, July 14, 2019

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Friday, June 26, 2020

lugubrious

[ loo-goo-bree-uhs, -gyoo- ]

adjective

mournful, dismal, or gloomy, especially in an affected, exaggerated, or unrelieved manner: lugubrious songs of lost love.

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What is the origin of lugubrious?

The source of English lugubrious is the Latin adjective lūgubris “mournful, sorrowful,” a derivative of the verb lūgēre “to mourn, grieve.” The meaning of lūgēre is closely akin to the Greek adjective lygrós “sad, sorrowful,” and both the Latin and the Greek words derive from the Proto-Indo-European root leug-, loug-, lug– “to break,” source of Sanskrit rugná– (from lugná-) “shattered” and rujáti “(he) breaks to pieces, shatters,” Old Irish lucht and Welsh llwyth, both meaning “load, burden,” Lithuanian lū́žti “to break” (intransitive), and Old English tō-lūcan “to tear to pieces, tear asunder.” Lugubrious entered English in the early 17th century.

how is lugubrious used?

The radio slid from mournful to downright lugubrious. Ridiculously lugubrious. There was even sobbing in the background. Talk about melodramatic.

Molly MacRae, Last Wool and Testament, 2012

Cohen’s lugubrious tones always divided opinion; for some they were intrinsic to his melancholic charms, to others a turn-off that blindsided them to the genius of his songcraft, which was always gilded, its cadences measured, its images polished.

Neil Spencer, "Hallelujah and all that ... Leonard Cohen remembered," The Guardian, November 13, 2016

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Thursday, June 25, 2020

mondegreen

[ mon-di-green ]

noun

a word or phrase resulting from a mishearing of another word or phrase, especially in a song or poem.

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What is the origin of mondegreen?

The trouble with mondegreens is that they are usually so hysterically funny that you cannot stop citing examples of them instead of describing their “taxonomy” and history. Mondegreen was coined by the U.S. writer and humorist Sylvia Wright (1917-81), who wrote in an article in Harper’s Magazine: “When I was a child, my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy’s Reliques, and one of my favorite poems began, as I remember: ‘Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands, / Oh, where hae ye been? / They hae slain the Earl Amurray, / And Lady Mondegreen,’” the last line being a child’s mishearing and consequent misunderstanding of “laid him on the green.” Ms. Wright persisted in her idiosyncratic version because the real words were less romantic than her own (mis)interpretation in which she always imagined the Bonnie Earl o’ Moray dying beside his faithful lover Lady Mondegreen.

how is mondegreen used?

We’ve been misunderstanding song lyrics for decades, Elton John’s “hold me closer, Tony Danza”—er, “tiny dancer”—­included. These funky musical mishearings even have their own name: mondegreens.

Sara Kiley Watson, "This is why you mishear popular song lyrics," Popular Science, January 23, 2020

We still have mondegreen moments. Even though I know Creedence Clearwater Revival is singing, “There’s a bad moon on the rise,” lately it sounds suspiciously like “There’s a bathroom on the right.”

Liane Kupferberg Carter, "We've celebrated our 35th anniversary with an usual gift: His-and-hers hearing aids," Washington Post, December 18, 2016

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

withershins

[ with-er-shinz ]

adverb

Chiefly Scot.

in a direction contrary to the natural one, especially contrary to the apparent course of the sun or counterclockwise: considered as unlucky or causing disaster.

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What is the origin of withershins?

All you have to remember is that withershins (or widdershins) is the exact opposite of deasil, and you’ll get back home all safe and sound. Withershins is an adverb meaning “going contrary to the natural direction, contrary to the course of the sun, counterclockwise (and therefore unlucky).” Deasil, from Scots Gaelic and Irish Gaelic deiseal “to the right, clockwise, following the sun,” is restricted to Scots. Withershins comes from Middle Low German weddersins, weddersinnes “against the way, in the opposite direction,” formed from wider “back, again” (cognate with the prefix with– in withstand) and sinnes, the genitive case (used as an adverb) of sin “way, course, direction.” Withershins entered English in the first half of the 16th century.

how is withershins used?

The fishermen, when about to proceed to the fishing, think they would have bad luck, if they were to row the boat “withershins” about.

The New Statistical Account of Scotland, Vol. XV, 1845

Abel had walked slowly around the outside of the building, first clockwise and then withershins, but there was still no sign of his quarry, and the rest of the lower hollow was just as empty. 

Kate Sedley, The Brothers of Glastonbury, 1997

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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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