Word of the Day

Monday, July 05, 2021

au fond

[ oh -fawn ]

adverb

at bottom or to the bottom; thoroughly; in reality; fundamentally.

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What is the origin of au fond?

The French adverb phrase au fond, “thoroughly; in reality; fundamentally,” literally “at the bottom, to the bottom,” has been in English for more than 200 years; yet its French pronunciation in English shows that it is still unnaturalized. The French phrase is composed of au “at the, to the,” from Old French al, which is a contraction of a le, from Latin ad “to” and illum “that” (illum and its relatives become the definite article in most Romance languages). The French noun fond “bottom, floor, background (for lacework)” comes from Latin fundus “bottom, base, depths, farm, country estate.” The Latin noun is the source of the verb fundāre “to lay a foundation,” which becomes fonder in Old French, founden, fonden, funden in Middle English, and found, i.e., “establish firmly,” in modern English. Au fond entered English toward the end of the 18th century.

how is au fond used?

Some days I see myself as the Recording Angel, collecting together all the sins of Gilead, including mine; on other days I shrug off this high moral tone. Am I not, au fond, merely a dealer in sordid gossip?

Margaret Atwood, The Testaments, 2019

A diamond Cartier feather is, au fond, a fake feather, but I doubt that any severely pro-authenticity proprietress of one of those earnest, soulless spaces would throw one in the trash.

Nicky Haslam, "In Design, Now Is the Time for All Materials to be Treated Equally," New York Times, March 9, 2016

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Sunday, July 04, 2021

spangle

[ spang-guhl ]

verb

to decorate with any small, bright drops, objects, spots, or the like.

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What is the origin of spangle?

The verb spangle, to decorate with any small, bright drops, objects, spots, or the like,” comes from the noun spangle, “a small, thin piece of glittering metal used for decorating cloths” or “a small, bright object or spot” (such as one of the stars on the Star-Spangled Banner), which is formed from the noun spang “a small, glittering ornament” and the diminutive suffix –le, as in bramble or thimble. Spang may come either from Middle Dutch spange, spaenge “brooch, clasp” or from Old Norse spǫng “clasp, buckle, spangle.” Spangle entered English in the first half of the 15th century.

how is spangle used?

That night bright stars spangle the heavens. Orion, one of the few constellations I know well, appears upside down, a disconcerting habit it picks up below the equator.

John Harlin, "A Few G'Days Down Under," Backpacker, August 1998

An Iowa man digging through a junkyard in search of used car parts stumbled upon an unexpected find: a rare American flag spangled with only 45 stars.

Snejana Farberov, "One man's trash is Utah's treasure: Rare 45-star American flag discovered in a junkyard is gifted to 45th state," Daily Mail, January 14, 2016

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Saturday, July 03, 2021

girandole

[ jir-uhn-dohl ]

noun

a rotating and radiating firework.

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What is the origin of girandole?

Girandole, “a firework that rotates and spreads out,” comes via French girandole from Italian girandola, a diminutive of giranda “a revolving jet.” Giranda is a derivative of girare “to turn in a circle, revolve,” from Late Latin gyrāre “to turn in a circle, wheel around.” Gyrāre comes from the noun gyrus “a circular track (for horses); circular movement; celestial orbit.” Gyrus in turn comes from Greek gŷros “ring, circle, circular trench.” Gŷros also appears in gyroscope, an instrument typically used in navigation; in modern Greek gýros “a turn” is also the name of the Greek dish made of meat roasted on a vertical rotisserie, our gyro. Girandole entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is girandole used?

I used to like the Fourth of July okay because of the fireworks. I’d go down by the East River and watch them flare up from the tugboats. The girandoles looked like fiery lace in the sky.

Cristina García, Dreaming in Cuban, 1992

There were solemn mountains of opalescent fire which burst and faded into flaming colonnades, and in an enchanting turquoise effervescence became starry spears and scimiters and sparkling shields, and finally the whole mass would reunite and evaporate into brilliant violet auroras or seven-tailed, vermilion-coloured comets. … Consumed by anxiety for Mila’s safety, he wished that these soundless girandoles, this apocalypse of architectural fire and weaving flame, would end.

James Huneker, "The Spiral Road," Visionaries, 1905

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