Word of the Day

Monday, September 17, 2018

aspersion

[ uh-spur-zhuhn, -shuhn ]

noun

a damaging or derogatory remark or criticism; slander: casting aspersions on a campaign rival.

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What is the origin of aspersion?

Aspersion comes from aspersion-, the stem of the Latin noun aspersiō “a sprinkling.” In classical Latin the noun is restricted to literal sprinkling. In the Vulgate (the Latin version of the Bible prepared by Saint Jerome at the end of the 4th century a.d.), aspersiō also refers to the sprinkling of blood (as for a sacrifice). Aspersiō in the sense “sprinkling with holy water” has always been practiced in the Roman Catholic Church, e.g., in baptisms. The metaphorical sense “sprinkling calumnies; slander” is a development within English. Aspersion entered English in the 16th century.

how is aspersion used?

The full enormity of this remark then dawned on me; it was at once a lie and a cruel aspersion on my mother, who would certainly have got me some lighter clothes had I not discouraged her.

L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between, 1953

A notorious New York magazine profile this fall, which cast aspersions on Kaur’s reading habits and penchant for gold rings, showed its cards in the first paragraph …

Carl Wilson, "Why Rupi Kaur and Her Peers Are the Most Popular Poets in the World," New York Times, December 15, 2017
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Sunday, September 16, 2018

tunesmith

[ toon-smith, tyoon- ]

noun

Informal. a person who composes popular music or songs.

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What is the origin of tunesmith?

Tunesmith was originally an Americanism, dating from the Jazz Age (roughly from the 1918 Armistice to the stock-market crash of 1929). Fittingly enough, an early citation for tunesmith (1923) is attributed to the American bandleader Paul Whiteman (1890–1967), who debuted George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (1924).

how is tunesmith used?

The monthly pay Walnut Records offered me as a tunesmith would barely amount to enough for rent and groceries, but held the promise of royalties should one of my songs get recorded.

Kenny Rogers with Mike Blakely, What Are the Chances, 2013

Granted, the limited palette of film scores sometimes results from the limited abilities of the practitioners, but almost any Hollywood tunesmith could achieve more distinctive results if the iron fist of cliché were to relax just a little.

Alex Ross, "Composing for Hollywood," The New Yorker, February 27, 2015
Saturday, September 15, 2018

piacular

[ pahy-ak-yuh-ler ]

adjective

expiatory; atoning; reparatory.

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What is the origin of piacular?

Piacular comes directly from the Latin adjective piāculāris “(of a rite or sacrifice) performed or offered by way of atonement; expiatory.” Piāculāris is a derivative of the noun piāculum “a sacrificial victim or expiatory offering,” itself a derivative of the verb piāre “to propitiate a god, remove or avert by expiation.” Finally, piāre is a derivative of the adjective pius “faithful, loyal, and dutiful to the gods, one’s country, family, kindred and friends.” Pius is one of the most potent words in Latin and typical of the Romans. The phrase pius Aenēās “loyal, faithful, dutiful Aeneas” occurs 17 times in the Aeneid. Piacular entered English in the 17th century.

how is piacular used?

T. S. Eliot made a fetish of using long-dormant adjectives like defunctive, anfractuous, and polyphiloprogenetive; he apparently felt piacular (meaning something done or offered in order to make up for a sin or sacrilegious action) was too run-of-the-mill, so he made up a new form: piaculative.

Ben Yagoda, When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It, March 11, 2007

Sacrifices have generally been divided into three classes of (1) honorific, where the offering is believed to be in some sense a gift to the deity; (2) piacular, or sin-offerings, where the victim was usually burnt whole, no part being retained for eating …

W. Warde Fowler, The Religious Experience of the Roman People, 1911

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