Word of the Day

Monday, June 04, 2018

atavism

[ at-uh-viz-uhm ]

noun

reversion to an earlier type; throwback.

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What is the origin of atavism?

The Latin noun behind the English noun atavism is atavus “great-great-great grandfather; ancestor.” Atavus is formed from atta “daddy,” a nursery word widespread in Indo-European languages, e.g., Greek átta “daddy,” and the possibly Gothic proper name Attila “little father, daddy.” The second element, avus “(maternal) grandfather,” also has cognates in other Indo-European languages, e.g., Old Prussian (an extinct Baltic language related to Latvian and Lithuanian) awis “uncle,” and, very familiar in English, those Scottish and Irish surnames beginning with “O’,” e.g., O’Connor “descended from Connor”). The Celtic “O’” comes from Irish ó “grandson,” from early Irish aue, and appearing as avi “descendant of” in ogham (an alphabet used in archaic Irish inscriptions from about the 5th century). Atavism entered English in the 19th century.

how is atavism used?

So much of their business was done via e-mail that the phone was almost unnecessary–a sort of quaint atavism that nobody thought to use first–but this morning the ringing had been ceaseless.

Debra Ginsberg, What the Heart Remembers, 2012

Because the United States has proved successful in absorbing people from so many different backgrounds, the American political elite has, since the mid-20th century at least, tended to look on group identity as a kind of irrational atavism.

Park MacDougald, "Can America's Two Tribes Learn to Live Together?" New York, April 19, 2018
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Sunday, June 03, 2018

doss

[ dos ]

verb

Chiefly British. to sleep or lie down in any convenient place.

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What is the origin of doss?

The origin of the English verb doss is obscure. It is most likely derived from the Latin noun dossum, a variant of dorsum “the back (of the body),” a noun of unclear origin. The verb endorse comes from Medieval Latin indorsāre “to write on or sign the back of a document”; the adjective dorsal “having a back or located on the back” is most likely familiar as an anatomical term, especially referring to the fin of a shark or a dolphin. Doss entered English in the late 18th century.

how is doss used?

… he was too old to doss on furniture night after night.

Coleen Nolan, Envy, 2010

I didn’t want a place to doss down.

Jonathan Gash, The Gondola Scam, 1984
Saturday, June 02, 2018

brontide

[ bron-tahyd ]

noun

a rumbling noise heard occasionally in some parts of the world, probably caused by seismic activity.

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What is the origin of brontide?

Brontide is an uncommon word, probably formed from the Greek noun brontḗ “thunder” and the suffix -ide, a variant of -id (“offspring of”) occurring originally in loanwords from Greek, and productive in English especially in names of dynasties (e.g., Attalid) and in names of periodic meteor showers, with the base noun usually denoting the constellation in which the shower appears (e.g., Perseid). Brontḗ appears in brontosaurus “thunder lizard” and is from the same Proto-Indo-European root bhrem- (with a variant brem-) “to growl” as Latin fremitus “dull roar,” Old High German breman and Old English bremman, both meaning “to roar,” and Slavic (Polish) brzmieć “to make a sound.” Brontide entered English about 2000.

how is brontide used?

“What’s a brontide?” she said, keeping him from bolting. … “They’re like thunder on a clear day. They’re like the unexplained sounds of artillery when there’s no battle.”

Gary Fincke, "Faculty X," Emergency Calls, 1996

… he urges that brontides predominate in countries which are subject to earthquakes, that they are often heard as heralds of earthquakes, and are specifically frequent during seismic series, and that brontides are sometimes accompanied by very feeble tremors.

Charles Davison, A Manual of Seismology, 1921

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