Word of the Day

Friday, December 11, 2020

avuncular

[ uh-vuhng-kyuh-ler ]

adjective

acting like an uncle, as in being kind, patient, generous, etc., especially to younger people.

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What is the origin of avuncular?

Avuncular typically means “acting in a kindly, benevolent manner towards one’s nieces and nephews.” Avuncular comes from the Latin noun avunculus “mother’s brother, uncle,” a derivative of the noun avus “grandfather, forefather, ancestor.” (English uncle comes via Old French and Anglo-French oncle, uncle from avunculus.) Latin avus comes from Proto-Indo-European awos “grandfather, maternal grandfather.” Awo– is also the source for Armenian hav “grandfather,” Old Irish áue, Middle Irish ó(a), úa, both meaning “grandson, descendant,” and the source of O’ in Gaelic surnames, such as O’Connor “descendant of Connor.” Variants of the stem appear in Lithuanian avýnas “maternal uncle,” Old Prussian awis, and Old Church Slavonic ujĭ, both meaning “uncle.” The Latin term for father’s brother, paternal uncle is patruus (a derivative of patr– father), for maternal aunt matertera (a derivative of mātr-), and for paternal aunt amita. Latin is interesting to anthropologists because of its unusually full and exact kinship terms, every possible kinship relation having its own term and not a descriptive compound noun, for example, “father’s brother, mother’s mother, sister’s son.” (The Latin system of kinship terms is an excellent example of the so-called Sudanese pattern.) Indeed, anthropologists use Latin kinship terms as the basis of a general terminology for cross-cultural use. Avuncular entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is avuncular used?

Immersed in bubbles, fully suited, he [Stephen Colbert] provided his signature mix of acid critique and avuncular reassurance.

Doreen St. Félix, "What We're Watching Under Quarantine," The New Yorker, March 23, 2020

He also, later on, has a consoling, avuncular chat with his frightened boy-self.

James Parker, "The New David Copperfield Movie Might Be Better Than the Book," The Atlantic, September 2020

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Thursday, December 10, 2020

mitzvah

[ meets-vah, mits-; mits-vuh ]

noun

any good or praiseworthy deed.

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What is the origin of mitzvah?

Mitzvah “law, divine law, commandment” is probably most familiar to Americans in the phrases bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah “son / daughter of the Law / commandment,” the ceremony making the young person responsible for observing the Law. Mitzvah represents a modern pronunciation of Hebrew mișwāh “command, commandment.” There also exists the developed meaning of mișwāh “good deed performed in fulfillment of a commandment,” such as the obligation to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Mitzvah entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is mitzvah used?

Wearing something new for a festive occasion is a mitzvah, a commandment and good deed in Jewish law.

Elizabeth Hayt, "Sprucing Up For Holidays: It's a Mitzvah," New York Times, September 20, 1998

Here’s what I learned: it’s a mitzvah for humanity that I didn’t take my parents’ advice about becoming a doctor.

Patricia Marx, "Taking Virtual Reality for a Test Drive," The New Yorker, December 9, 2019

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Wednesday, December 09, 2020

abscond

[ ab-skond ]

verb (used without object)

to depart in a sudden and secret manner, especially to avoid capture and legal prosecution.

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What is the origin of abscond?

Abscond ultimately comes from Latin abscondere, “to hide away, stow away, store away,” a double compound verb formed from the preposition and prefix abs, abs-, a variant of ab, ab– “away, away from,” and the compound verb condere “to put in or into, store away, put away” (formed from the familiar prefix con-, here used with intensive force “thoroughly, completely,” and –dere “to put,” a verb used only in compounds). The usual modern meaning of abscond “to depart in a sudden and secret manner, so as to avoid capture and prosecution,” does not occur in Latin but developed in English during the 17th century. It is a reflexive or passive use of the verb: “to hide oneself, hide oneself away (from), flee, flee from prosecution.” Abscond entered English in the second half of the 16th century in the sense “to conceal, obscure.”

how is abscond used?

Mr. Angiolillo’s descendants say that their stepbrother absconded with the diamond after his mother died in 2009, but the stepbrother, Marco Milella, has insisted that he inherited the stone from his mother and that it was his to sell, according to court records.

Julia Jacobs, "Appeals Court Sends the Case of a Pink $40 Million Diamond to Trial," New York Times, July 10, 2020

In a complaint filed in the Central District of California, the three principals were charged not only with running the site but also with planning an “exit scam,” in which they intended to abscond with some eleven million dollars being held in users’ accounts.

Ed Caesar, "The Cold War Bunker That Became Home to a Dark-Web Empire," The New Yorker, July 27, 2020

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