Word of the Day

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

big-hearted

[ big-hahr-tid ]

adjective

generous; kind.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of big-hearted?

Big-hearted “generous; kind” certainly wears its heart on its sleeve, etymologically speaking. It’s a straightforward compound of big “magnanimous; generous; kindly” and hearted “having a specified kind of heart.” While big-hearted is found in English in the 1700s in the sense of “courageous,” the word heart, as regarded as the center of a person’s emotion and disposition, reaches well back into Old English. Hearted is used in combination with other adjectives to describe various temperaments: cold-hearted, fainthearted, hardhearted, and lighthearted are some other common examples.

how is big-hearted used?

The varied gifts were ranged about the foot of the bed, the golf stockings bulging with sweets were hung at its head, and the big-hearted donors retired ….

John Kendrick Bangs, "The House of Seven Santas," The Little Book of Christmas, 1912

For his part, the Badger left him in no doubt that a small effort now, and a big-hearted gesture, would make all the difference to the life of Toad, of the River Bank and of them all.

William Horwood, The Willows at Christmas, 1999
WORD OF THE DAY QUIZ
Put your wits to the test! New quizzes added weekly.
TAKE THE QUIZ
ALEXA, ENABLE DICTIONARY.COM
Now you can ask Alexa what the Word of the Day is at any time.
ENABLE ALEXA

SIGN UP FOR A VOCABULARY BOOST IN YOUR EMAIL

Get the Word of the Day delivered daily
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Tuesday, December 24, 2019

atiptoe

[ uh-tip-toh ]

adverb, adjective

eagerly expectant, as anticipating a desired event or arrival: waiting atiptoe for the mail.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of atiptoe?

If children wait atiptoe for Christmas morning, they are “eagerly expectant,” their anticipation likened to the excitement associated with standing on tiptoe. And indeed, “on tiptoe” is what the adjective and adverb atiptoe literally means. The initial a– in atiptoe is a reduced form of the Old English preposition on, variously meaning “on, in, into, toward.” This particular a– (the form has many other senses or functions in English) appears in a great variety of words, such as acknowledge, ablaze, aloud, and away. So, afoot, as another example, began as the prepositional phrase on foot. Atiptoe is recorded English by the late 1500s.

how is atiptoe used?

Ethel was standing beside her all aglow and atiptoe with anticipation.

The Cooperative Poultryman, 1950

The audience was atiptoe when “Suor Angelica” began, but despondent at the curtain’s fall.

Pierre V. R. Key, "Music and Musicians," Theatre Magazine, Vol. 29, 1919
Monday, December 23, 2019

gemütlich

[ guh-moot-lik, -moot-; German guh-myt-likh ]

adjective

comfortable and pleasant; cozy.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of gemütlich?

The adjective gemütlich “comfortable and pleasant; cozy” is borrowed directly from German gemütlich “homey, casual, social.” Gemütlich is composed of Gemüt “mind, mentality” and –lich, which is equivalent to English’s adverb-forming suffix –ly. The German noun Gemüt—which might be more properly translated as “the total composition of the human psyche and spirit”—is formed from ge-, a collective noun-forming prefix, and Mut “courage,” related to English mood. Gemütlich entered English in the mid-1800s.

how is gemütlich used?

[S]he … looks after their five-room apartment, with its gemütlich mélange of plump hassocks and squashy chairs and cream-colored lace window curtains.

Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, 1965

Nina exclaimed at the old walnut trimmings, gurgled over the crowded decorations in the Victorian manner, and settled down, announcing that it was so gemütlich, she would love a cup of tea.

Paul Horgan, The Fault of Angels, 1933
Sunday, December 22, 2019

kvell

[ kvel ]

verb (used without object)

Slang.

to be extraordinarily pleased; especially, to be bursting with pride, as over one's family.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of kvell?

We can’t help but kvell about Yiddish words borrowed into English. Kvell “to be extraordinarily pleased, burst with pride” comes from Yiddish kveln “be delighted,” related to Middle High German and German quellen “well up, gush.” The informal verb kvell is often used to convey pride and pleasure, especially about the accomplishments of one’s own family. For example: “‘My granddaughter graduated at the top of her medical school class,’ he kvelled.” For the opposite of kvell, one might consider another borrowing from Yiddish: kvetch “to complain, especially chronically,” from the Yiddish verb kvetshn, which literally means “to squeeze, pinch.” Kvell entered English in the mid-1900s.

how is kvell used?

Sidney, more than any of the others, has kept his parents reliably supplied with … reasons to kvell: full scholarships, graduation cum laude, smart grandsons, Junior Chamber of Commerce awards.

Jane Howard, Families, 1978

Omega threw a rollicking cocktail party starring Buzz Aldrin and other astronauts, to kvell over the fortieth birthday of the first lunar landing—of both man and wristwatch.

Patricia Marx, "Face Value," The New Yorker, May 18, 2009
Saturday, December 21, 2019

halcyon

[ hal-see-uhn ]

adjective

calm; peaceful; tranquil: halcyon weather.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of halcyon?

The English adjective halcyon “calm; peaceful; tranquil” is rooted in ancient Greek—and classical mythology. Halcyon ultimately derives via Latin alcyōn from Greek alkyṓn “kingfisher.” In ancient myths, the halcyon named a bird, usually identified with the kingfisher, that was said to breed around the time of the winter solstice in a nest floating on the sea, and was believed to have the power to charm the winds and waves into calmness. Halcyon frequently occurs in the expression halcyon days, a period of calm weather in the winter, historically a stretch of fourteen days around the winter solstice connected with (the myth of) breeding kingfishers. Halcyon days evolved to mean, more broadly, “a time of peace and prosperity,” and the adjective halcyon evolved to mean, variously, “calm; rich; carefree.” Halcyon is recorded in English by the late 1300s.

how is halcyon used?

… the sun high and bright, the sky a preternatural robin’s-egg blue. The kind of halcyon day reserved for picture postcards.

Carmen K. Sisson, "After the tornadoes: Rebuilding a campus, piece by piece," Christian Science Monitor, February 13, 2008

This halcyon weather continued until the day a black storm arose.

Richard O'Mara, "The Sea," The Sewanee Review, Fall 2013
Friday, December 20, 2019

effervescent

[ ef-er-ves-uhnt ]

adjective

vivacious; merry; lively; sparkling.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of effervescent?

Effervescent is a buoyant adjective meaning “vivacious; merry; lively; sparkling,” as in “The choir delivered an effervescent performance of favorite Christmas carols.” Effervescent derives from Latin effervēscere “to boil (over); burst forth; seethe; rage.” Effervēscere is composed of ef-, a variant of the prefix ex– “out of,” and fervēscere “to start boiling,” from fervēre “to be hot,” ultimate source of English fervent “enthusiastic, ardent.” True to its Latin root, fervent originally meant “hot, glowing” in English, just as effervescent first meant “giving off bubbles of gas” before evolving to its variously “bubbly” metaphorical senses. Effervescent entered English in the late 1600s.

how is effervescent used?

Yet his spirits are so effervescent that, with only a candle for fuel and only raw turnips for supper, he is able to lose himself in illusions of grandeur.

Walter Fuller Taylor, The Story of American Letters, 1956

The book combines effervescent comedy and stinging critique, but its most arresting quality is the lively humanity of its characters.

"Briefly Noted: The Sellout," The New Yorker, April 13, 2015
Thursday, December 19, 2019

flâneur

[ flah-nœr ]

noun

idler; dawdler; loafer.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of flâneur?

Flâneur “idler; dawdler; loafer” is borrowed directly from French flâneur, an agent noun of the verb flâner “to stroll, saunter aimlessly; lounge.” The ultimate origin of French flâner is obscure. In 19th-century France, the flâneur was a figure for a type of wealthy, foppish man-about-town who leisurely wandered the boulevards of Paris and lounged at its cafés. In the early 1900s, German literary critic Walter Benjamin, inspired in great part by the writing of Charles Baudelaire, helped develop the flâneur into a symbol of the modern artist and writer, at once immersed in and alienated by the hustle and bustle of urban life. English borrowed another noun from French to describe the disposition of the flâneur: flânerie “idleness, dawdling.” Flâneur entered English in the mid-1800s.

how is flâneur used?

It was, after all, the age of the flaneur: a foppish, solvent young man who would roam the colonnades of Paris from dawn to dusk, idly though publicly observing the quotidian pathos of the working men around him.

Paul Llewellyn, "America's Walk of Shame," Spy, July/August 1997

Oscar Wilde is a flaneur, but not William Wordsworth. It happens in crowds, in great capital cities, in man-made environments.

Peter Bradshaw, "A walk on the Wilde side: 'The Flaneur'," Independent, October 9, 1994

SIGN UP FOR A VOCABULARY BOOST IN YOUR EMAIL

Get the Word of the Day delivered daily
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.