Word of the Day

Friday, March 12, 2021

avant-garde

[ uh-vahnt-gahrd, uh-vant-, av-ahnt-, ah-vahnt- ]

adjective

of or relating to the experimental treatment of artistic, musical, or literary material.

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What is the origin of avant-garde?

Avant-garde originally meant the “advance guard” of an army or other major military force in the field (that sense is now replaced by vanguard, a shortened form of avant-garde). Avant-garde used in its military sense died out a little after 1800. Its current sense “the advance group in any field, especially in the visual, literary, or musical arts,” first appears in 1910. Avant-garde, spelled aduant garde, entered English in the second half of the 15th century.

how is avant-garde used?

He co-founded a futurist group that sought to transform Poland … through avant-garde literature.

Pasha Malla, "'I Burn Paris' and the Temptation of Newly Topical Fiction," The New Yorker, October 30, 2020

Henson’s lesser-known works are tiny avant-garde masterpieces that are infused with the same humor, character, and vision as his enduring legacy.

Alison Nastasi, "Before the Muppets:10 Surreal and Experimental Works by Jim Henson," The Atlantic, November 23, 2011

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Thursday, March 11, 2021

waesucks

[ wey-suhks ]

interjection

alas.

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What is the origin of waesucks?

Waesucks or waesuck, “alas, woe (is me),” is a Scots word composed of wae, the Scots form of woe, and suck or sucks, Scots variants of the noun sake, now used only in the expression “for the sake of X, for X’s sake.” But Robert Burns uses waesucks in The Holy Fair (1786), which makes waesucks a keeper.

how is waesucks used?

Waesucks! For him that gets nae lass, / Or lasses that hae naething!

Robert Burns, "The Holy Fair," Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, 1786

But waesucks! night cam’ on at last, / And fiercely raged the furious blast; / And, what made waur his piteous case, / The storm blew keenly in his face … 

Alexander Rodger, Peter Cornclips: a tale of real life; with other poems & songs, 1827

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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

pleonasm

[ plee-uh-naz-uhm ]

noun

the use of more words than are necessary to express an idea; redundancy.

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What is the origin of pleonasm?

Pleonasm, “the use of more words than are necessary to express an idea; redundancy,” may be annoying or foolish, as in “free gift” or “true fact,” but not so in emphatic expressions such as “I saw it with my own eyes.” Pleonasm comes via Late Latin pleonasmus (where it is only a term in rhetoric), from Greek pleonasmós “redundancy, surplus, superabundance, (rhetoric) use of redundant words, lengthening of clauses, repetition,” a derivative of pleonázein “to be or have more than enough,” which is itself derivative of pleíōn, the comparative degree of polýs “much, many.” Pleonasm entered English in the early 17th century.

how is pleonasm used?

Federal foreign policy is a pleonasm. What foreign policy can a federal nation have except a national policy?

9th Circuit Judge John T. Noonan, United States v. State of Arizona, 641 F.3d 339 (9th Cir. 2011)

Like most writers, I can be a stickler about language, but anyone who hangs out with me for long enough will learn that I favor a certain ungrammatical turn of phrase: “true fact.” Technically speaking, that expression is a pleonasm—a redundant description—since all facts are, by definition, true.

Kathryn Schulz, "The Best Facts I Learned from Books in 2018," The New Yorker, December 19, 2018

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