Word of the Day

Monday, June 14, 2021

billow

[ bil-oh ]

verb

to swell out, puff up, etc., as by the action of wind.

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What is the origin of billow?

The noun billow, “a great wave or surge of the sea,” appears nearly 45 years before its derivative verb billow “to swell out, puff up, as by wind.” Billow appears in print pretty late in English, just after the middle of the 16th century, but it most likely comes from Old Norse bylgja “a billow,” from the Proto-Germanic root balg-, bulg– “to swell.” The root variant bulg– is the source of the Proto-Germanic noun bulgjan, the source of Old Norse bylgja. The root variant balg– forms the Proto-Germanic noun balgiz, source of Old English belg “bag.” Belg becomes beli in Middle English, and belly in modern English. Belgas, the plural of Old English belg, becomes belowes in Middle English, and bellows in modern English.

how is billow used?

Managed by two men, the flag billows within their grasp as though it could unfurl any moment.

Kenneth Hartvigsen, "The Flag in American Art," The American Flag: An Encyclopedia of the Stars and Stripes in U.S. History, Culture and Law, edited by John R. Vile, 2018

Say she stooped breathlessly in her corset to lift up a sodden sheet by its hems, and say that when she had pinned three corners to the lines it began to billow and leap in her hands, to flutter and tremble, and to glare with the light, and that the throes of the thing were as gleeful and strong as if a spirit were dancing in its cerements. That wind!

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping, 1980

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Sunday, June 13, 2021

fiddlesticks

[ fid-l-stiks ]

interjection

(used to express impatience, dismissal, etc.)

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What is the origin of fiddlesticks?

Fiddlesticks originally was the plural of fiddlestick, “the bow used to play a violin or fiddle,” which dates to the first half of the 15th century. By the second half of the 18th century, the phrase fiddlestick’s end meant “nothing” (a fiddlestick ends in a point); fiddlestick’s end, reduced also to fiddlestick and fiddlesticks, was used as an expression of mild annoyance or dismissal.

how is fiddlesticks used?

Otho would have been Bilbo’s heir, but for the adoption of Frodo. He read the will carefully and snorted. It was, unfortunately, very clear and correct (according to the legal customs of hobbits, which demand among other things seven signatures of witnesses in red ink). “Foiled again!” he said to his wife. “And after waiting sixty years. Spoons? Fiddlesticks!” 

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 1954

In her nineties, flying into Washington on the president’s private airplane on Mother’s Day, she took in the crowd of well-wishers at the airport and announced, “Oh, fiddlesticks, if I’d known there was going to be all this fuss, I wouldn’t have come.”

Doug Wead, The Raising of a President: The Mothers and Fathers of Our Nation's Leaders, 2005

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Saturday, June 12, 2021

dissilient

[ dih-sil-ee-uhnt ]

adjective

bursting apart; bursting open.

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What is the origin of dissilient?

Dissilient, “bursting apart or open,” is primarily a botanical term referring to ripe pods or capsules of some plants bursting apart. Dissilient comes from Latin dissiliēns (inflectional stem dissilient-), the present participle of dissilīre, “to leap apart,” a compound of the prefix dis– “apart, asunder, away” and –silīre, a derivative of the simple verb salīre “to leap, jump, spurt.” Dissilient entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is dissilient used?

Dissilient as milkweed, deprived of cohesion, I am a blown surface.

Joan Houlihan, "You Would Be Warm," The Mending Worm: Poems, 2006

The court was dissilient, generationally fractured, mannered (as it were) by an increasingly impatient and acquisitive nobility.

Eric S. Mallin, Inscribing the Time: Shakespeare and the End of Elizabethan England, 1995

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