Word of the Day

Monday, October 26, 2020

autoschediasm

[ aw-toh-skee-dee-az-uhm ]

noun

something that is improvised or extemporized.

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What is the origin of autoschediasm?

If there is any one word that fully displays the amazing plasticity of Greek, that word is autoschediasm “improvisation,” a borrowing from the Greek noun autoschedíasma. Autoschedíasma is a derivative of autoschediázein, “to speak offhand, improvise,” a verb formed from the adjective of autoschédios “hand-to-hand (fighting), rough and ready, improvised (speaking),” a derivative of the adverb autoschedón “near at hand, on the spot.” Autoschedón breaks down into the familiar naturalized combining form auto– “self, same, right (here, there),” used here as an intensifier of the adverb schedón “close by, near.” The last element, –(as)ma, is a neuter noun suffix that shows the result of an action: for example, prâgma “something done, an act (concrete),” versus the active noun suffix –sis, as in prâxis “a doing, transacting.” Autoschediasm entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is autoschediasm used?

The first thing is to collect the material. This must comprise the whole range of ancient literature, always carefully weighing the nature of the evidence, so as to reject mere autoschediasms.

Ernst Riess, "On Ancient Superstition," Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol. 26, 1895

He was a little over-conscious of his command of English, for it was not without an obvious sense of enjoyment that he described his recent refusal of a certain professorial post as “a mere exhibition of autoschediasm.”

Alleyne Ireland, "The Clock Peddler," The Unpartizan Review, No. 29, Vol. 15, 1921

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Sunday, October 25, 2020

wherewithal

[ hwair-with-awl, -with-, wair- ]

noun

that with which to do something; means or supplies for the purpose or need, especially money.

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What is the origin of wherewithal?

The noun wherewithal, “the means or supplies for a need, especially money,” is composed of the adverbs where and withal “with, by means of which.” The oblique sense “money” seems to be from a phrase such as “the X by means of which to do something,” the unexpressed X being money. Wherewithal entered English in the 16th century.

how is wherewithal used?

In Los Angeles and Oakland, it became a status symbol to have the wherewithal to take in roomers.

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns, 2010

Most new nonprofits do not have the financial wherewithal to use direct mail, which is expensive, and thus rely on e-mail and other technology-based means of communication.

Stephanie Strom, "Answers to Questions on Philanthropy," New York Times, November 12, 2009

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Saturday, October 24, 2020

indelible

[ in-del-uh-buhl ]

adjective

impossible to eliminate, forget, or change.

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What is the origin of indelible?

Most people probably learn the word indelible in grammar school (a.k.a. primary school, elementary school, lower school) specifically and only referring to permanent ink, which cannot be easily erased or removed. The modern spelling, indelible, arose in the second half of the 17th century, replacing the earlier, more etymologically correct indeleble. Indelible comes from Medieval Latin indēlibilis and is equivalent to Latin indēlēbilis “indestructible, imperishable.” Indēlēbilis is a compound of the Latin negative prefix in– (from the same Proto-Indo-European source as English un-) and the adjective dēlēbilis “that can be defaced or obliterated,” a derivative of the verb dēlēre “to destroy, annihilate.” Cato the Elder fought in the Second Punic War as a private soldier, and many Americans will remember the sentence with which Cato ended every speech in the Senate: Carthāgō dēlenda est “Carthage must be destroyed.” Indeleble entered English in the second half of the 16th century, indelible in the second half of the 17th century.

how is indelible used?

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made an indelible mark on the law as an advocate for gender equality long before she became an icon on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Robert Iafolla, "Ginsburg championed gender equality before joining Supreme Court," Tampa Bay Times, September 19, 2020

There in a classroom, amid a cohort of presumed losers and layabouts, I took my lessons in the great sin of idleness. The venue at least felt appropriate: the classroom had always been the site of my most indelible failures and losses.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, "Notes from the First Year," We Were Eight Years in Power, 2017

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Friday, October 23, 2020

supercilious

[ soo-per-sil-ee-uhs ]

adjective

haughtily disdainful or contemptuous, as a person or a facial expression.

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What is the origin of supercilious?

Supercilious comes from the Latin adjective superciliōsus, which has only one meaning, “full of stern or disapproving looks.” Superciliōsus is a derivative of the noun supercilium “eyebrow; the eyebrow and its underlying ridge; the eyebrow as used in expressing haughtiness, disapproval, sternness.” Supercilium is a compound of the preposition and prefix super, super– “above, beyond,” and cilium “eyelid” (unless cilium is a back formation from supercilium). At any rate, cilium is a derivative of the verb cēlāre “to hide,” that is, the eyelid hides the eye. Supercilious entered English at the end of the 14th century.

how is supercilious used?

Culkin inhabits space with a squalid sort of entitlement, and he employs a supercilious side-eye as if twirling a mustache.

Troy Patterson, "'Success,' Reviewed: An Irresistible Family Power Struggle, Told Through Soap and Satire," The New Yorker, June 1, 2018

For, though elated by his rank, it did not render him supercilious; on the contrary, he was all attention to everybody.

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, 1813

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Thursday, October 22, 2020

psephology

[ see-fol-uh-jee ]

noun

the study of elections.

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What is the origin of psephology?

Psephology, “the study of elections,” comes from Greek psêphos “small stone, pebble.” (The Greeks used pebbles in counting and arithmetic functions; the ancient Athenians also used pebbles to cast votes in elections and trials.) The element –logy is the completely naturalized combining form used in the names of sciences (geology, biology) and bodies of knowledge (theology, astrology). The 20th-century British historian R.B. McCallum wrote in a personal letter that while with C.S. Lewis and other heavy-hitting philologists, he proposed the term electionology, which so offended the sensibilities of Lewis and the others that they proposed the etymologically correct psephology, avoiding the dreadful Latin-Greek hybrid. Psephology entered English in the mid-20th century.

how is psephology used?

You don’t need a degree in psephology from the Kennedy School of Government to figure out that without the female vote and the male vote it’s hard to be elected President.

John Cassidy, "Romney Needs More Than Money—A Lot More," The New Yorker, August 6, 2012

Well, for one thing, we’re inveterate psephology addicts—but also, the more special elections that occur, the more data we have to identify patterns not only across special elections, but within them.

Nathaniel Rakich, "Be Skeptical of Anyone Who Tells You They Know How Democrats Can Win In November," FiveThirtyEight, April 2, 2018

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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

nimbus

[ nim-buhs ]

noun

a cloud, aura, atmosphere, etc., surrounding a person or thing.

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What is the origin of nimbus?

Nimbus, “shining cloud surrounding a deity; dense clouds with ragged edges,” comes straight from Latin nimbus, “rainstorm, rain cloud, cloud (of smoke), cloudburst.” Nimbus comes from a complicated Proto-Indo-European root (e)nebh-, (n)embh– “damp, vapor, cloud,” as in Sanskrit nábhas– “fog, vapor, cloud, heaven,” Latin nebula, Greek nephélē, néphos “cloud,” Old Irish nem and Welsh nef, both meaning “heaven,” Polish niebo “sky, heaven,” Hittite nebis “heaven,” German Nebel “fog, mist,” and Old Norse niflheimr “home of fog, abode of the dead, Niflheim.” Nimbus entered English in the early 17th century.

how is nimbus used?

She had a capacity for excess, and a nimbus of exhausted hedonism trailed along with her.

Dwight Garner, "A New Biography of Janis Joplin Captures the Pain and Soul of an Adventurous Life," New York Times, October 25, 2019

It is curious how certain words accumulate a nimbus of positive associations, while others, semantically just as innocuous, wind up shrouded in bad feelings.

Roger Kimball, "If We Love Democracy, Why Does 'Populism' Get Such a Bad Rap?" Wall Street Journal, November 29, 2017

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

desideratum

[ dih-sid-uh-rey-tuhm, -rah-, -zid- ]

noun

something wanted or needed.

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What is the origin of desideratum?

The noun desideratum (plural desiderata) means “something wanted or needed.” It is a noun use of the Latin neuter past participle dēsīderātum, from the verb dēsīderāre “to long for, desire.” According to the Roman grammarian Festus, dēsīderāre and its close relative cōnsīderāre “to observe attentively, contemplate,” were compound verbs formed from sīdus (stem sīder-) “heavenly body, star, planet,” that is, dēsīderāre and cōnsīderāre were originally terms used in astrology in general or Roman augury in particular, but aside from Festus there isn’t much evidence for the sidereal connection. Desideratum entered English in the 17th century.

how is desideratum used?

Power becomes its own desideratum. The search for it can trump economic well being, stability and safety.

Michael Gonzalez, "Selling the Atlantic," Wall Street Journal, May 7, 2003

Sitzfleisch, or “sitting still,” became the ultimate desideratum for showing one’s understanding of the new language of classical music.

Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding, "How Beethoven’s 5th Symphony put the classism in classical music," Vox, updated September 16, 2020

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