Word of the Day

Word of the day

Saturday, August 21, 2021

arete

[ ahr-i-tey ]

noun

the aggregate of qualities, as valor and virtue, making up good character.

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What is the origin of arete?

Not every word has a direct translation in other languages, and arete falls into this category; though it is frequently translated as “excellence,” using “excellence” alone ignores all the nuances, such as bravery, intellect, and productivity, that arete implies in the original Greek. You may also know that Ancient Greek had multiple words for “love,” and “love” alone can’t fully communicate how philia is a type of brotherly love, how eros signifies passion and desire, or how agape refers to the love between spouses or for fellow humans. These translation issues also arise with philosophical terms such as pathos, which can be translated succinctly as “feeling”–its intended meaning in compounds such as apathy, empathy, and sympathy. However, pathos is more than another word for “emotion”; it refers to the feelings of pity, sorrow, or compassion that result when hearing, seeing, or listening to another person’s story or experiences. As with arete, no single English word can capture all these subtle meanings.

how is arete used?

Arete can most easily be recognized on the playing field, where outstanding performance can be judged quickly and succinctly. But arete was not the exclusive possession of the winner. Anyone who exceeded the performance reasonably expected of him could be said to have shown his arete, and arete was essentially an individual, rather than a collective, characteristic.

Stephen G. Miller, Ancient Greek Athletics, 2004

Flourishing starts with knowing who you are and what your job is. If you’re not in an ideal job yet, consider your strengths and weaknesses and what you want to achieve. Also known as arete, virtue or excellence is about more than earning money.

Bryan Collins, "This Unusual Greek Word Reveals The Secret To Finding Happiness At Work," Forbes, July 11, 2019

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Word of the day

Friday, August 20, 2021

mickle

[ mik-uhl ]

adjective

great; large; much.

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What is the origin of mickle?

Mickle is often found in the expression “many a little makes a mickle,” which sometimes appears instead as “many a pickle makes a mickle” or “many a mickle makes a muckle” and points to how a vast number of small quantities can form a great quantity. Mickle has many cognates in other Indo-European languages that pertain to greatness, whether literal size or figurative influence—from mickle’s Latin cognate, we have magnify and magnitude; from its Greek cognate, we have megabyte and megalomania; and from its Sanskrit cognate, we have maharajah “a ruling prince,” and maharishi “a respected teacher of mystical knowledge.” The adjective much originated as a shortened form of mickle likely in the 12th century and is not related to Spanish mucho, which derives instead from the Latin word for “many”—the same word that gives us multiple and multitude.

how is mickle used?

[M]ight never any man bethink of bliss that were greater in any country than in this; might never man know any so mickle joy, as was with Arthur, and with his folk here!

Layamon (12th century), Brut, translated by Eugene Mason, 2020

God’s help! my lady fair the conjuror plays This very night: good angels her deceive! But let me laugh awhile, I’ve mickle time to grieve.

John Keats, "The Eve of St. Agnes," 1820

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Word of the day

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Phlegethon

[ fleg-uh-thon, flej- ]

noun

a stream of fire or fiery light.

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What is the origin of Phlegethon?

In addition to referring to “a stream of fire or fiery light,” Phlegethon retains its original meaning as the river of fire that surrounded Hades, the underworld, in Greek mythology. Its name literally means “burning” or “flaming” in Ancient Greek. The Phlegethon was one of five rivers in Hades; the others were the Acheron, Cocytus, Lethe, and Styx. While the Phlegethon was known as the river of fire, the Acheron was the river of sadness, the Cocytus was the river of weeping, the Lethe was the river of forgetfulness, and the Styx was the river of hatred. All five rivers coalesced at the center of Hades, and Charon ferried the souls of the dead either along the Acheron or the Styx, depending on the author.

how is Phlegethon used?

[T]he Baptistery shone with ice, and the porch-lions of the Cathedral looked as though some eighteenth-century Farnese had fitted powdered wigs upon them. The Torrente from its bridges seemed a Phlegethon, a river of whirling smoke, but felt like what it really was: a reservoir of benumbing vapor.

Edwin Howland Blashfield and Evangeline Wilbour Blashfield, Italian Cities, Vol. 1, 1900

The buckets dropped; the water sizzed and steamed on the sand. The boy barely missed stumbling into a Phlegethon of molten iron as he dodged the murderous missile.

Isaac K. Friedman, By Bread Alone, 1901

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