Word of the Day

Saturday, January 23, 2021

belly-wash

[ bel-ee-wosh, -wawsh ]

noun

any barely drinkable liquid or beverage, as inferior soda, beer, coffee, or soup.

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What is the origin of belly-wash?

Belly-wash is an obvious slang term with several meanings: a barely drinkable liquid (such as soup) or beverage (alcoholic or nonalcoholic); it also means nonsense, rather like hogwash. Belly-wash, an Americanism, entered English in the second half of the 19th century.

how is belly-wash used?

Mr. Nevins, the head of Great Waters of France, which is running the campaign to make America fizz with Perrier, made the company’s objective even clearer … to capture part of the $10 billion a year Americans spend on what used to be called bellywash.

James F. Clarity, "Perrier, the Snob's Drink, Soon to Come in Six-Packs," New York Times, April 27, 1977

He drinks Bordeaux claret and hock. Bellywash, I call it, bellywash.

Edgar Jepson, Sibyl Falcon, 1895

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Friday, January 22, 2021

cause célèbre

[ kawz suh-leb-ruh, -leb; French kohz sey-leb-ruh ]

noun

any controversy that attracts great public attention.

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What is the origin of cause célèbre?

Cause célèbre is a French phrase still unnaturalized in English, meaning “famous (legal) case.” French cause comes from Latin causa “legal proceedings, trial”; célèbre comes from Latin celeber (inflectional stem celebr-) “crowded, busy, well-attended, famous.” Causes célèbres in the U.S. include the Scopes Trial, maybe more commonly known as the Monkey Trial (1925) about the teaching of evolution, and the O.J. Simpson Trial (1994–95). The term is also used more broadly to refer to any controversy that attracts great public attention. Cause célèbre entered English in the second half of the 18th century.

how is cause célèbre used?

The case eventually became a global cause célèbre; Bob Dylan wrote a song about it, Denzel Washington starred in a movie about it.

Jonathan Dee, "Nelson Algren's Street Cred," The New Yorker, April 8, 2019

Krajnc’s case became a cause celebre among animal protection activists, some of whom have established groups modeled on Toronto Pig Save, and attracted the support of celebrities including the singer Moby, who offered financial support.

Karin Brulliard, "Activist who gave water to pigs is found not guilty of a crime," Washington Post, May 5, 2017

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Thursday, January 21, 2021

macaronic

[ mak-uh-ron-ik ]

adjective

composed of a mixture of languages.

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What is the origin of macaronic?

Macaronic originally meaning “composed in a mixture of Latin and vernacular languages, or using vernacular words with Latin inflectional endings, typically for burlesque or parody” is not much used nowadays with Latin composition on its way out. But macaronic also includes any combination of languages, such as the John Lennon and Paul McCartney song Michelle (1965) written in a combination of English and French. Macaronic comes from Middle French macaronique and New Latin macarōnicus. The French and Latin adjectives come from Southern dialectal Italian maccaroni (Italian maccheroni) “dumplings, gnocchi,” the source of English macaroni. The original Italian dish was a mixture of pasta, butter, and cheese (pretty close to our macaroni and cheese), and it was originally regarded as coarse food only for peasants. The meaning of macaronic comes from the association of this peasant food with the vernacular language of peasants. Macaronic entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is macaronic used?

Perhaps the world’s most difficult “novel,” James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake,” is almost entirely constructed of multilayered puns, often macaronic puns, which draw on two or more languages. A simple example would be calling an elegant frankfurter a “haute dog.”

Michael Dirda, "So you think it’s all a big joke? What wit really is—and why we need it," Washington Post, December 12, 2018

Indeed, linguistic change—the amazing porousness of English to influence, its macaronic glory—is exactly what gave us all these interesting words in the first place …

Sam Leith, "Don’t be a juggins–why some words deserve to fall out of use," The Guardian, November 16, 2018

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