Word of the Day

Monday, September 28, 2020

avow

[ uh-vou ]

verb (used with object)

to declare frankly or openly; own; acknowledge; confess; admit: He avowed himself an opponent of all alliances.

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What is the origin of avow?

Avow, “to declare openly, acknowledge, admit,” has always had a formal air, a solemnity about it. It comes from Middle English avouen, advouen, awouen, from Old French avo(u)er, a regular phonetic development of Latin advocāre “to call upon, summon (assistance), convoke” (whose past participle advocātus is the source of the English verb and noun advocate). Advocāre is composed of the overworked preposition and prefix ad, ad- “to, toward” and the verb vocāre “to call,” a derivative of the noun vox, stem vōc- “voice, human voice.” Avow entered English in the 13th century.

how is avow used?

Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write?

Rainer Maria Rilke, "The First Letter: February 17, 1903," Letters to a Young Poet, translated by Joan M. Burnham, 2000

Scott achieved fame (and a baronetcy) as a poet, but he did not avow authorship of his novels until relatively late in his career.

David Lodge, "Dickens Our Contemporary," The Atlantic, May 2020

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Sunday, September 27, 2020

illation

[ ih-ley-shuhn ]

noun

an inference; conclusion.

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What is the origin of illation?

Illation, “drawing an inference or conclusion,” is one of the meanings of the Late Latin noun illātiō (inflectional stem illātiōn-), literally, “a carrying in, a bringing in”; its other meanings include “burial, interment” and “impost or duty.” Illātiō is the noun that corresponds to the Latin verb inferre “to bring, bring into, conclude, infer.” Just as English uses better and best as the comparative and superlative of good, and went as the past tense of go (a process called suppletion), so Latin uses lātus as the past participle of ferre and its derivatives; thus the verbal noun of the verb inferre is illātiō (or inlātiō). Illation entered English in the 16th century.

how is illation used?

Such an illation seems to Croce without foundation and disastrous for the authentic history of that land.

A. Robert Caponigri, History and Liberty: The Historical Writings of Benedetto Croce, 1955

For those that are not men of art, not knowing the true forms of syllogism, nor the reasons of them, cannot know whether they are made in right and conclusive modes and figures or no, and so are not at all helped by the forms they are put into; though by them the natural order, wherein the mind could judge of their respective connexion, being disturbed, renders the illation much more uncertain than without them.

John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1689

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Saturday, September 26, 2020

supernumerary

[ soo-per-noo-muh-rer-ee, -nyoo- ]

adjective

being in excess of the usual, proper, or prescribed number; additional; extra.

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What is the origin of supernumerary?

Supernumerary comes from the Latin adjective supernumerārius “(of soldiers) appointed to a legion after its numbers have been completed,” a compound of the preposition and prefix super, super– “above, higher, more than,” the noun numerus “numerical sum, number,” and the adjective and noun suffix –ārius. In Late Latin (St. Augustine of Hippo), supernumerārius also meant “additional” (adjective) and finally the noun “an additional person.” The English sense “extra person; employee, crew member, or officer” dates from the 17th century; the English sense “person appearing on stage in a nonspeaking role” dates from the mid-18th century. Supernumerary entered English in the early 17th century.

how is supernumerary used?

But our century’s revelations of unthinkable largeness and unimaginable smallness, of abysmal stretches of geological time when we were nothing, of supernumerary galaxies and indeterminate subatomic behavior, of a kind of mad mathematical violence at the heart of matter have scorched us deeper than we know.

John Updike, "Books: Evolution Be Praised," The New Yorker, December 30, 1985

So the housekeeper (it’s usually a she) will stack up the dishes, put the cart in the hallway, clean up the toast crumbs, and then proceed to the rest of her work of stripping the beds, picking up the supernumerary pillows on the floor, wiping the butter stains off the remote, and leaving the bathroom, now with coffee spills, gleaming.

Margaret Carlson, "Tip Your Hotel Maid," The Atlantic, June 16, 2019

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