Word of the Day

Friday, April 30, 2021

arboreal

[ ahr-bawr-ee-uhl, -bohr- ]

adjective

of or relating to trees; treelike.

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What is the origin of arboreal?

Arboreal, “relating to trees; treelike; living in or among trees,” comes from the Latin adjective arboreus “pertaining to trees; wooden,” a derivative of the noun arbor (inflectional stem arbor-) “tree, tree trunk, trees, timber, gallows, (ship’s) mast, (wooden) beam or post.” Latin arbor has no reliable etymology. The original meaning of arboreal is “relating to trees”; the sense “living in or among trees” dates from the first half of the 19th century. One must not confuse the Latin noun with arbor “leafy, shady recess formed by tree branches,” which comes from Old French herbier, erbier “grassy place,” with Late Latin herbārium “dried plants, herbarium,” a derivative of herba “grass, small plant, herb.” Arboreal entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is arboreal used?

Like an arboreal matchmaker, a forester could take seeds from spruces or lodgepole pines at a low elevation, say, and plant them farther upslope.

Josh Fischman, Hillary Rosner
, "How to Move a Forest of Genes," Scientific American,

Gaps in the treetops might even curb the spread of leaf-munching insects, parasitic vines, or infectious disease. In some ways, crown shyness is the arboreal version of social distancing …

Katherine J. Wu, "Some trees may 'social distance' to avoid disease," National Geographic, July 6, 2020

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Thursday, April 29, 2021

refractory

[ ri-frak-tuh-ree ]

adjective

hard or impossible to manage; stubbornly disobedient.

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What is the origin of refractory?

Refractory, “stubborn, obstinate,” is a respelling (or even a misspelling) of earlier refractary, which comes straight from Latin refractārius, with the same senses. Refractārius is a derivative of refractus, the past participle of the verb refringere “to break, break back, break open,” a compound of the prefix re– “again, back again, back” and the simple verb frangere “to break, shatter, smash.” Refractary entered English in the second half of the 16th century; the spelling refractory first occurs in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida (1602).

how is refractory used?

He knew the game, and could conquer the most refractory lion with a broom handle—not outside the cage, but inside and locked in.

Jack London, Michael, Brother of Jerry, 1917

“She can’t seem to get from A to B, and she always listens to my advice and doesn’t do it,” Ms. Stanger continued about the refractory client …

Amanda Fortini, "The Mating Game," New York Times, October 22, 2010

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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

mammock

[ mam-uhk ]

verb

to break, tear, or cut into fragments; shred.

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What is the origin of mammock?

Mammock, a noun and verb meaning “a fragment; to break,” has several spellings, including mommick, mommock, mammick. Unfortunately, the word has no reliable etymology: the only thing scholars agree on is the suffix –ock, used to form diminutive nouns such as hillock (“a small hill”). The noun sense of mammock entered English in the first half of the 16th century; the verb sense first appears in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus (1623).

how is mammock used?

whether his fall enraged him, or how ’twas, he did so set his teeth and tear it; O, I warrant it, how he mammocked it!

William Shakespeare, Coriolanus, 1623

he paced along the avenues, taking great strides, a stick in his hand, breaking the branches of the shrubs, mammocking the flower-beds, decapitating the flowers with lashing blows, leaving petals flying in his wake.

Patrick Rambaud, Napoleon's Exile, translated by Shaun Whiteside, 2005

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