Word of the Day

Monday, January 20, 2020

beacon

[ bee-kuhn ]

noun

a person or thing that illuminates or inspires: The Bible has been our beacon during this trouble.

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What is the origin of beacon?

Beacon comes from Old English bēacen, bēcen, bēcn “a sign, portent; a standard, banner; a signal, signal fire, signal hill or tower, watchtower; lighthouse.” (Most of these senses appear in Beowulf.) Bēacen comes from Germanic baukna– “beacon, signal,” the source of Old Frisian bāken, Old Saxon bōkan, Old High German bouhhan. The derivative Germanic verb bauknjan “to make a sign, signal” becomes bēcnan in Old English and beckon in English.

how is beacon used?

As is often the case with those who die young, Martin Luther King Jr. has become more symbol than man: pacifist, beacon of nonviolent racial reform.

, "Remembering Martin Luther King Jr." New York Times, January 20, 2019

At first sight we had not rated the American town favorably, but now it seemed a beacon of civilization.

James A. Michener, Texas, 1985
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Sunday, January 19, 2020

langlauf

[ lahng-louf ]

noun

the sport of cross-country skiing.

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What is the origin of langlauf?

Langlauf, “cross-country skiing, cross-country skiing race,” is a German compound noun formed from the adjective lang, cognate with English long, and the noun Lauf “run,” related to English leap (from the Old English noun hlȳp) and lope. Langlauf entered English in the 1920s.

how is langlauf used?

“Haven’t you got a boat that’ll cut through the ice?” … “It’s too thick to get through. Langlauf is the easiest way by far.”

Michael Smith, No Man Dies Twice, 2018

Pontresina, a picture-book village tucked just around the mountain from imperious St. Moritz, turns out to be one of the best places in the world to do cross-country skiing—or langlauf as it’s known.

Allison Pearson, "Skiing in Switzerland: Allison Pearson learns to cross-country ski in Pontresina," Telegraph, March 2, 2012
Saturday, January 18, 2020

synonymous

[ si-non-uh-muhs ]

adjective

equivalent in meaning; expressing or implying the same idea; having the character of synonyms or a synonym.

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What is the origin of synonymous?

Synonymous comes from the Medieval Latin adjective synōnymus, from Greek synṓnymos “having the same name and nature and definition,” a term that Aristotle uses in his logical system. Synṓnymos is a compound of the preposition and prefix syn, syn– “with, together with” and the noun ónyma, ónoma “name, word, noun.” The English metaphysical poet John Donne is the first writer credited with using synonymous in English in 1610.

how is synonymous used?

But for a while there, Netflix was on its way to being like Kleenex or Coke—a brand name that becomes synonymous with an entire product (in this case, streaming video).

Katey Rich, "30 Rock Leaving Netflix Is Truly the End of an Era," Vanity Fair, September 15, 2017

Over time, Instagram became synonymous with artfully posed, aspirational photos of everyday life.

Casey Newton, "Instagram's new stories are a near-perfect copy of Snapchat stories," The Verge, August 2, 2016
Friday, January 17, 2020

riposte

[ ri-pohst ]

noun

a quick, sharp return in speech or action; counterstroke: a brilliant riposte to an insult.

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What is the origin of riposte?

Riposte, earlier risposte, in its “social” sense “a quick, sharp return in speech or action” and its fencing sense “a quick thrust given after parrying a lunge,” comes via French from Old Italian risposta “response, reply” (13th century), which by the mid-16th century had developed its fencing sense. Risposta is a (feminine) noun use of the past participle of the verb rispondere “to answer,” from an unattested Vulgar Latin verb respondere, from Latin respondēre “to speak in answer to, answer, answer back” (the Latin verb has no “touché” sense associated with it). Risposte entered English in the early 18th century, riposte a century later.

how is riposte used?

George stands humiliated as laughter fills the room, his mind searching frantically for the perfect riposte.

Talib Visram, "How to Craft the Perfect Comeback, According to Experts," Mental Floss, July 16, 2018

Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos, in an annual letter to shareholders, argued that Amazon’s growth has benefited its third-party merchants—a veiled riposte to calls to break up the company.

Spencer Soper, "Bezos Rebuts Warren's Amazon Breakup Call in Antitrust Defense," Washington Post, April 11, 2019
Thursday, January 16, 2020

flinty

[ flin-tee ]

adjective

unyielding; unmerciful; obdurate: a flinty heart.

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What is the origin of flinty?

Flinty is an obvious combination of the noun flint “a hard stone, a type of silica” and the adjective suffix –y, from Old English –ig, cognate with German –ig, and related to Greek –ikos and Latin –icus. One odd element here is that the derived, metaphorical sense “unyielding, unmerciful, obdurate” appears in the first half of the 16th century, about 75 years before the literal sense “consisting of flint stone” (in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 1). A second oddity is that the noun flint, which comes from Old English flint, has impeccable cognates with other Germanic languages (Middle Dutch vlint, Old High German flins, Danish flint, Swedish flinta), from a Proto-Indo-European root (s)plei– “to split, splice.” But flint may be related to Greek plínthos “brick, air-dried brick, squared building stone,” except that a non-Greek language is the usual source of Greek terms associated with building and architecture and nouns with the suffix –inthos, such as asáminthos “bathtub,” terébinthos “terebinth tree, turpentine tree”—the ultimate source of English turpentine. Flinty entered English in the first half of the 16th century.

how is flinty used?

The section’s editor, Seymour Peck, a flinty New Yorker, had me write columns on movies, theatre, rock music, and television as well as on art, extending my capacities, while cracking down on my flakiness.

Peter Schjeldahl, "The Art of Dying," The New Yorker, December 16, 2019

I opened my mouth to deny it, and he forestalled me with one lifted finger, his gaze flinty.

Jacqueline Carey, "You, and You Alone," Songs of Love and Death, 2010
Wednesday, January 15, 2020

trangam

[ trang-guhm ]

noun

Archaic.

an odd gadget; gewgaw; trinket.

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What is the origin of trangam?

Trangam, also spelled trangame, trangram, and trankum, is a rare noun with no obvious etymology. Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) helped revive trangam in The Abbot (1820), one of the earlier Waverley Novels. Trangam entered English in the 17th century.

how is trangam used?

And meet time it was, when yon usher, vinegar-faced rogue that he is, began to enquire what popish trangam you were wearing …

Sir Walter Scott, The Abbot, 1820

Go, go your ways, get you gone, and finefy your Knacks and Tranghams

Aphra Behn, Sir Patient Fancy, 1678
Tuesday, January 14, 2020

mythomane

[ mith-uh-meyn ]

noun

a person with a strong or irresistible propensity for fantasizing, lying, or exaggerating.

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What is the origin of mythomane?

The noun and adjective mythomane is a relatively recent word, dating from only the 1950s, and is a synonym for the noun and adjective mythomaniac, which is almost a century older (1857). Mythomaniac originally meant someone passionate about or obsessed with myths, its etymological meaning. By the early 1920s mythomaniac had acquired its current sense “someone with a strong or irresistible propensity for fantasizing, lying, or exaggerating.” The Greek noun mŷthos means “word, discourse, conversation, story, tale, saga, myth”; it does not mean “lie.” The curious thing is that the source word mythomania “lying or exaggerating to an abnormal degree” dates from only 1909.

how is mythomane used?

Lawrence himself was a mythomane and, after the first world war, took particular pains to project an image of himself to the public that was as much a construct as anything worked up by the PR team of a film star or celebrity of today.

William Boyd, "Lawrence of Arabia: a man in flight from himself," The Guardian, April 29, 2016

… he is a flat-out mythomane, dedicated to the Sublime, the Enormous and the Ultra-German; a marvelous artist at his best and at his worst a Black Forest ham.

Robert Hughes, "Mocker of All Styles," Time, May 27, 1999

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