Word of the Day

Word of the day

Thursday, December 16, 2021

angst

[ ahngkst, angst ]

noun

a feeling of dread, anxiety, or anguish.

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What is the origin of angst?

Angst “a feeling of dread, anxiety, or anguish” is a borrowing from German, in which the noun is capitalized, from Old High German angust. If you are wondering whether angst is related to anxiety and anguish, your suspicion is correct; all three words ultimately derive from a Proto-Indo-European root, angh- “tight, painful,” which is the source of numerous pain-related terms beginning with ag-, ang-, or anx-. From Old English, derivatives include hangnail (originally agnail, but altered by association with hang). Via Old Norse angr “sorrow, grief,” English has borrowed anger. Through Latin angere “to strangle” (stem anx-) and angustus “narrow,” we have anxiety and anguish. Last, from Ancient Greek anchónē “strangling,” English has inherited angina “an attack of painful spasms.” Angst was first recorded in English in the 1840s.

how is angst used?

It can be hard to tell the difference, in the midst of a crisis, between normal levels of angst and those that indicate we might be edging into serious psychological problems. Key signs of declining mental health include changes in appetite or sleep patterns that last more than a week …. Having more trouble concentrating than usual or being unable to enjoy things you used to enjoy may also indicate that your mental health is declining and that you need to try new coping strategies.

Melinda Wenner Moyer, “You Can Get through This Dark Pandemic Winter Using Tips from Disaster Psychology,” Scientific American, December 21, 2020

My motherly intuition senses that my baby is an old soul, recalling many past lives and really feeling them. According to her doctor, she’s teething and has gas. This may be true on a basic level, but I am certain that she’s also a highly advanced nascent human with acute existential angst. I’ve lived long enough to know flatulence from the unbearable dread of existence.

Carla Ciccone, "My Baby’s Existential Angst," The New Yorker, August 12, 2020
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Word of the day

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

atoll

[ at-awl, -ol, -ohl ]

noun

a ring-shaped coral reef or a string of closely spaced small coral islands, enclosing or nearly enclosing a shallow lagoon.

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What is the origin of atoll?

Atoll “a ring-shaped coral reef enclosing a shallow lagoon” is an adaptation by way of French from Divehi atoḷu. Divehi is the official language of the Maldives, an archipelago country in the northern Indian Ocean comprising more than two dozen atolls, and belongs to the Indic group of Indo-European languages. Atoḷu may derive from Sanskrit ántara “within,” a distant cognate of interior (via Latin) and entero- “inside” (via Ancient Greek). An alternative theory is that atoḷu derives from aḍal “a sinking reef,” which is a term from Malayalam, a Dravidian language unrelated to the Indo-European language family. Atoll was first recorded in English circa 1620.

how is atoll used?

For the Marshall Islands, climate change isn’t some distant, future danger: It is already wreaking havoc across the Pacific country’s more than 1,100 low-lying atolls …. As sea levels rise around the islands, bigger waves will flood farther inland than ever before. If enough of these waves hit in succession, flooded saltwater will irreparably taint the islands’ freshwater supplies …. one of the Marshall Islands’ atolls—and potentially thousands of other islands—could become uninhabitable when sea levels rise by 16 inches, which could happen as soon as midcentury.

Michael Greshko, “Within Decades, Floods May Render Many Islands Uninhabitable,” National Geographic, April 25, 2018

In the film “The Island of the Colorblind,” Sacks tells this story while visiting the small Micronesian atoll of Pingelap, where an unusually large portion of the population is affected by complete achromatopsia, or total color blindness. Whereas an estimated one in forty thousand people worldwide are afflicted with this condition, among the Pingelapese, by some estimates, it’s closer to one in ten—a contained community of people who see the world in shades of gray.

Max Campbell, "Revisiting Oliver Sacks’s 'Island of the Colorblind,' in Photographs," The New Yorker, July 11, 2017

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Word of the day

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

neurodiversity

[ noor-oh-di-vur-si-tee, -dahy-, nyoor- ]

noun

the variation and differences in neurological structure and function that exist among human beings, especially when viewed as being normal and natural rather than pathological.

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What is the origin of neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity “the variation in neurological structure and function among human beings” is a recent coinage based on the combining form neuro- and the noun diversity. Neuro- “nerve” derives from Ancient Greek neûron “tendon, nerve,” which is distantly related to Latin nervus “tendon” and may be related to English sinew. Diversity comes from Latin dīversitās “difference,” from the verb dīvertere “to divert.” The ultimate source of dīvertere is the same as that for the recent Word of the Day selection verst: the Proto-Indo-European root wert- “to turn.” Neurodiversity was first recorded in English in the late 1990s.

how is neurodiversity used?

Respecting neurodiversity means challenging assumptions about what intelligence is and how to measure it. It means reminding ourselves that just because a person can’t speak doesn’t mean they aren’t listening. It means not asking someone to prove their intelligence before talking to them in an age-appropriate way or offering them intellectually stimulating opportunities. It means remembering that there can be a huge disconnect between mind and body, and that a person’s actions may not reflect their intentions, especially when they are overwhelmed or upset.

Aiyana Bailin, “Clearing Up Some Misconceptions about Neurodiversity,” Scientific American, June 6, 2019

While diversity metrics such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability are widely tracked among law firms and legal departments, the use of neurodiversity metrics as part of their DEI initiatives currently lags far behind …. It would behoove employers to implement more neurodiversity tracking. Neurodiverse employees often perform better and more efficiently at certain mathematical and computer tasks, which could be beneficial regarding legal tech usage. They can voice creative ideas at meetings and present new ways to approach problem-solving that their neurotypical counterparts may have overlooked. To achieve true diversity, tracking this important metric is essential.

Robert Brown, "Analysis: Why Neurodiversity Remains DEI’s Least-Tracked Metric," Bloomberg Law, November 4, 2021

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