Word of the Day

Word of the day

Friday, December 10, 2021

babushka

[ buh-boosh-kuh, -boosh- ]

noun

an elderly Russian woman, especially an elderly grandmother.

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What is the origin of babushka?

Babushka “an elderly Russian woman” is a borrowing from Russian bábushka “grandmother,” equivalent to bába “old woman” and -ushka, a diminutive suffix. Bába is but one example of the innumerable kinship terms that originated from baby talk; the bilabial consonants b, m, and p are among the first sounds that infants acquire, and these three sounds are the bases of the words for “father” and “mother,” as well as for other elder relatives, in multiple language families. It is not a coincidence that the word for “mother” in Basque (ama), Hawaiian (makuahine), Hebrew (ímma), Latin (māter), Korean (eomi), Mandarin Chinese (mǔqīn), Navajo (amá), and Quechua (mama) all contain the letter m even though these languages are unrelated. Babushka was first recorded in English in the late 1930s.

how is babushka used?

The singing Babushkas of Buranova have made a name for themselves, first as an Internet sensation and then at the Eurovision competition this year .… Babushka is Russian for grandmother and these women are mostly in their 70s and 80s. Their story is sadly familiar in Russia. Many of these elderly women lost their husbands years ago to alcoholism or hard work. Searching for companionship, the babushkas of Buranova turned to one another and to music.

David Greene, as quoted in “Babushkas Sing For The Good Of Their Village,” NPR, July 15, 2012

My own Siberian-born babushka, it must be said, does not go to the trouble of stewing short ribs for eight hours when she makes borscht. Nor does any babushka in my circle incorporate delectably astringent homemade garlic mayo into her spin on herring under a fur coat, an already laborious dish that involves prepping and layering potatoes, carrots, hard-boiled eggs, and beets atop pickled herring.

David Kortava, "Taking Care with Babushka Classics, at Tzarevna," The New Yorker, September 3, 2021

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Word of the day

Thursday, December 09, 2021

eradicate

[ ih-rad-i-keyt ]

verb (used with object)

to remove or destroy utterly; extirpate.

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What is the origin of eradicate?

Eradicate “to remove or destroy utterly” comes from the Latin verb ērādīcāre “to root out,” a compound of ē- “out” and rādīx “root.” Other derivatives of rādīx include radical, the primary sense of which is “of or going to the root or origin,” and radish, an edible root. The ultimate origin of rādīx is the Proto-Indo-European root wrād- “branch, root,” which is also the source of English root, wort, and orchard; Latin rāmus “branch” (as in ramify); and Ancient Greek rhíza “root” (as in the combining form rhizo- and the noun licorice, the latter from Ancient Greek glykýrriza “sweet root”). Eradicate was first recorded in English circa 1560.

how is eradicate used?

Four years ago, Pakistan had more than 300 cases of polio. And the government, the United Nations and aid groups started a campaign to eradicate the virus. It is not easy because in order to vaccinate a kid, you need to find the kid several times over many weeks and give several doses of vaccine. So now every few weeks, almost half a million people are going out and trying to vaccinate 38 million children. Things are looking good. There’s only been one polio case this year, but getting down to zero is tough.

Steve Inskeep, as quoted in “Pakistan Still Struggles To Eradicate Polio,” NPR, May 18, 2018

Since 2008, Argentina and Chile have agreed that to save their southernmost forests, they must rid them of beavers. Some hunters working to eradicate beavers use snares in addition to rifles. But beavers are smart—they sometimes use weeds and sticks to trigger the snares without getting caught themselves.

Haley Cohen Gilliland, "Argentina brought beavers to Tierra del Fuego. It was not a good idea," National Geographic, July 25, 2019

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Word of the day

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

fomites

[ fom-i-teez, foh-mi-. ]

plural noun

surfaces, as clothing or door handles, that can become contaminated with pathogens when touched by the carrier of an infection, and can then transmit the pathogens to those who next touch the surfaces.

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What is the origin of fomites?

Fomites “surfaces that can become contaminated with and transmit pathogens” is the plural form of the noun fomes, from Latin fōmes “kindling wood.” Although fomes is the correct singular form of fomites, fomite also appears in English because of a process known as back formation; because most English nouns are pluralized by adding -s, the final -s is dropped from fomites by mistaken analogy with other English nouns. Similar back formations include primate (from Latin singular prīmās, plural prīmātēs) and termite (from Latin singular termes, plural termitēs). Other back formations of non-Latin origin include cherry (from Old English singular ċiris) and pea (from Modern English singular pease). Fomites was first recorded in English at the turn of the 19th century.

how is fomites used?

[Girolamo] Fracastoro believed that diseases were caused by imperceptible seedlike entities … which could multiply rapidly, propagate quickly, and were unique to each disease. He posited that these seeds could spread in three distinct ways. Firstly, by direct contact (including shaking hands), secondly, by indirect contact through fomites (inanimate objects such as clothing), and lastly over long distances through the air, emphasizing that the thing that binds the three modes of transmission together is that all are “contagious by direct contact.” While some of these ideas had been considered by previous scholars, Fracastoro was the first to fuse the three causes of transmission into a coherent theory of contagion.

Ewan Morgan, “The Physician Who Presaged the Germ Theory of Disease Nearly 500 Years Ago,” Scientific American, January 22, 2021

I realized that when I took a croissant barehanded I touched only the one that I was going to eat, whereas if I’d used tongs I’d have handled an implement that had been touched by every diner who came before me. Tongs are an example of what epidemiologists call fomites—objects that convey infectious agents between individuals. And fomites, if you look for them, are just about everywhere: tabletops, doorknobs, toilet seats, stethoscopes. Smooth objects, like tongs, make better fomites than porous ones, like dollar bills, because infectious agents protrude from their surfaces and can be detached more easily.

David Owen, "Hands Across America," The New Yorker, February 24, 2013

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