Word of the Day

Sunday, October 04, 2020

asunder

[ uh-suhn-der ]

adverb, adjective

into separate parts; in or into pieces: Lightning split the old oak tree asunder.

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What is the origin of asunder?

Asunder, “into separate parts or pieces; widely separated,” comes from Middle English asonder, asondre, osonder (with still more variant spellings), from Old English on sundrum, on sundran, on sundron “separately, separated from one another, apart,” a prepositional phrase meaning literally “in separate (positions),” from the adverb sundor, which has cognate forms in all the Germanic languages, e.g., German sonder “without” (preposition) and Gothic sundro (adverb) “alone, aside, apart.” Sundor and its Germanic relatives come from a Proto-Indo-European root sen-, senə- “separate, apart,” which appears in Latin as sine (preposition) “without,” as in the Medieval Latin phrase (beneficium) sine cūrā “(benefice) without care (of parishioners),” source of English sinecure. Asunder dates from the Old English period.

how is asunder used?

You don’t enter the school by being strangely keen on chess. … You need to be a mutant, and your gift must be funkily unique to you. Helplessly shooting blood-red beams of flame out of your eyes that rip through the lawn and split a tree asunder: that’s the kind of talent that gets you enrolled …

Anthony Lane, "Apocalypse Now: Bryan Singer's New 'X-Men' Movie," The New Yorker, May 27, 2016

two souls, two thoughts, two un-reconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

W.E.B. Du Bois, "Of Our Spiritual Strivings," The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

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Saturday, October 03, 2020

leitmotif

[ lahyt-moh-teef ]

noun

a unifying or dominant motif; a recurrent theme: A leitmotif in science fiction is the evolving relationship between humans and machines.

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What is the origin of leitmotif?

The English noun leitmotif, also spelled leitmotiv, “leading motive, guiding motive, a recurring theme associated with a particular person, place, or event,” comes from the German noun Leitmotif and is especially associated with Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung (the Ring Cycle), but the term antedates Wagner, and Wagner himself never used it. German Leitmotif is a compound of the verb leiten “to guide, lead” (cognate with the English verb lead) and the noun Motiv, a German borrowing from French motif. Leitmotif entered English in the second half of the 19th century.

how is leitmotif used?

Two weeks before Christmas, on one of those balmy, pale-gold afternoons that pass for winter in Northern California, a handful of Silicon Valley’s most prominent executives and financiers held a secret meeting whose leitmotif was that rarest of concepts in the world of business: guilt.

"Fear and Trembling in Silicon Valley," Wired, March 1, 2000

So the leitmotif of the inevitability of change and loss in the 10 items of grandfatherly wisdom I wanted to share with him is now something he is experiencing palpably.

Charles Johnson, "Charles Johnson on What We Learn From Impermanence," Vanity Fair, May 1, 2020

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Friday, October 02, 2020

élan

[ ey-lahn, ey-lan; French ey-lahn ]

noun

dash; impetuous ardor: to dance with great élan.

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What is the origin of élan?

The still unnaturalized French noun élan, “dash, impetuous ardor,” originally applied to a military charge or rush. Élan comes from Old and Middle French eslan “a rush,” from the verb eslancer “to throw or cast a lance or dart.” Eslancer in turn comes from the Latin preposition and prefix ex, ex- “out, out of, from” and the noun lancea “light spear for throwing,” possibly a Gaulish or Spanish loanword in Latin. Élan entered English in the second half of the 19th century.

how is élan used?

He then launched into the Gigue of Bach’s C-major Suite—robust, driving music that Ma brought off with his usual precision and élan.

Alex Ross, "Yo-Yo Ma's Days of Action," The New Yorker, December 10, 2008

With a certain élan, the San Francisco Chronicle has taken to publishing letters from readers who remark the diminishing pleasure or usefulness of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Richard Rodriguez, "Final Edition," Harper's Magazine, November 2009

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