Word of the Day

Monday, September 14, 2020

blatherskite

[ blath-er-skahyt ]

noun

a person given to voluble, empty talk.

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What is the origin of blatherskite?

Blatherskite “one who is given to voluble, empty talk,” which dates from the middle of the 19th century, was originally and remains mostly an Americanism. Blatherskite is a variant of Scottish bletherskate, which dates from the mid-17th century and is a compound of the verb blether or blather “to talk nonsense” and the Anglo-American slang word skate “person, contemptible person, broken-down horse.” Another variant, bladderskate, appears in the traditional Scottish song “Maggie Lauder,” which was popular among American soldiers during the American Revolution.

how is blatherskite used?

This appeared to deeply offend Deputy Gregorig, who shouted back at Iro, “You cowardly blatherskite, say that again!”

Mark Twain, "Stirring Times in Austria," Harper's Magazine, March 1898

Ms. Murphy had already developed, for one reason or another, a reputation for fragility, and the blatherskites around Broadway began whispering.

Campbell Robertson, "No Ill Feelings: Producers Bet on a 'Superwoman,'" New York Times, April 30, 2007

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Sunday, September 13, 2020

lapidify

[ luh-pid-uh-fahy ]

verb (used with or without object)

Archaic.

to turn into stone.

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What is the origin of lapidify?

The relatively rare verb lapidify, “to turn into or become stone, petrify,” comes via French lapidifier from Medieval Latin lapidificāre. Lapidificāre is a transparent compound of Latin lapid– (the inflectional stem of lapis “stone”) and the Latin verb-forming suffix –ficāre, ultimately a derivative of facere “to make, do.” The resemblance between lapis and Greek lépas “bare rock” is “hardly accidental,” as the pros say: Both words probably come from a Mediterranean (non-Indo-European) language. Lapidify entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is lapidify used?

Perhaps in a few months a slow seepage, rich in minerals, would return to these passages and gradually glue their bodies to the rocks where they sat, to seal their crypt and lapidify their bones.

David Brin, Earth, 1990

The rule of the Abang, in an age when the techniques existed to lapidify any rule to permanency, was, because of the very rise of a party, doomed.

Anthony Burgess, The Enemy in the Blanket, 1958

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Saturday, September 12, 2020

threequel

[ three-kwuhl ]

noun

the third in a series of literary works, movies, etc.; a second sequel: The first two films in this underworld anthology were cinematic gems, but the threequel was at best a disappointment.

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What is the origin of threequel?

Threequel, “the third in a series of literary works, movies, etc.; a second sequel,” is a very recent neologism dating from around 1980. Threequel is an obvious compound of three and (se)quel. The term pops up in amusingly dismissive reviews of Jaws 3-D (a.k.a. Jaws III and Jaws 3), Rambo III, and RoboCop 3.

how is threequel used?

Threequels present a unique challenge: audiences expect the exact same cast to make them feel the exact same way the first two installments did, but with an entirely new and original storyline.

Seth Grossman, "This Wasn’t Even Good Reality TV," New York Times, October 20, 2016

2011’s five top-grossing films tell a very different story: one sequel (The Hangover Part II), one threequel (Transformers: Dark of the Moon), two fourquels (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides)—and one eightquel (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2).

Scott Meslow, "Between 'Potter' and 'Hunger Games,' a Spotty Decade for Teen-Lit Films," The Atlantic, March 22, 2012

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Friday, September 11, 2020

ineffable

[ in-ef-uh-buhl ]

adjective

incapable of being expressed or described in words; inexpressible.

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What is the origin of ineffable?

Ineffable ultimately comes from Latin ineffābilis “(of a word) unpronounceable,” and in Late Latin and Christian Latin “(of the divine name) that cannot or must not be spoken.” Ineffābilis is a compound of in-, the Latin negative prefix that is equivalent to English un– (as in unspoken), and the verb effārī “to speak, speak out, speak solemnly, declare” (itself a compound of the preposition and prefix ex, ex– “out, out of” and fārī “to speak”). Another English derivative, infant, comes from Latin infāns (inflectional stem infant-) “small child, infant,” literally “nonspeaking,” formed from the same prefix in– and fāns, the present participle of fārī. Ineffable entered English in the late 14th century.

how is ineffable used?

As a child, I loved reading the dictionary in search of the precise words for everything. Reading this poem, whose title is a Japanese word often translated as ‘‘sunshine filtering through leaves,’’ I felt that wonder again—how the language of poetry can move us closer to naming what is ineffable.

Natasha Trethewey, "'Komorebi,' by Caitriona O'Reilly," New York Times Magazine, November 20, 2015

Again, I was listening very hard to jazz and hoping, one day, to translate it into language, and Shakespeare’s bawdiness became very important to me since bawdiness was one of the elements of jazz and revealed a tremendous, loving and realistic respect for the body, and that ineffable force which the body contains …

James Baldwin, "This Nettle, Danger ..." Show, Vol. 4, February 1964

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Thursday, September 10, 2020

vale

[ veyl ]

noun

the world, or mortal or earthly life: this vale of tears.

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What is the origin of vale?

Vale may be familiar to some readers from the woeful expression vale of tears, which casts the world as a place of sorrow and difficulty. Vale, “a valley, a low-lying piece of land usually having a brook,” comes from Middle English val, valle, vaile (and more variants), from Old French val, vau, vauls (and more variants), from Latin vallēs (inflectional stem valli-) “valley.” Vale in its literal sense as a geographical feature dates from the second half of the 14th century; the extended, figurative sense, “the world, mortal life, earthly existence,” dates from the first half of the 15th century.

how is vale used?

all he really wanted to do in company was to make jokes, to turn the world upside down and laugh at it, to enrich and enliven this vale of tears with a little fantasy.

Auberon Waugh, Will This Do?, 1991

As Keats witnessed more and more suffering—his brother Tom’s death; the infectious illnesses sweeping London—he connected his aesthetic vision to lived experience, and wrote in a letter that life is “a vale of soul-making”: “Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?”

Meghan O'Rourke, "Americans Have to Accept Uncertainty," The Atlantic, May 6, 2020  

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Wednesday, September 09, 2020

somnambulism

[ som-nam-byuh-liz-uhm, suhm- ]

noun

sleepwalking.

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What is the origin of somnambulism?

Somnambulism, “sleepwalking,” comes via French somnambulisme from New Latin somnambulismus, a pretty transparent compound of the noun somnus “sleep” and the verb ambulāre “to walk, take a walk, stroll,” source of English amble. Somnus is the Latin result of the very common Proto-Indo-European root swep-, swop-, sup– “to sleep.” In Latin, the derivative noun swepnos (or swopnos) becomes sopnos, then somnus. The derivative noun supnos becomes hýpnos in Greek. Another derivative noun, swepos-, becomes sopor– “sleep” in Latin (via swopos-, then sopor-), as in English soporific “causing sleep.” Swepnos becomes swefn “sleep, dream” in Old English and sweven “dream, dream-vision” in Middle English. William Langland, usually considered to be the author of Piers Plowman, fell into a merveilouse swevene, a “curious dream,” one May morning in the Malvern Hills in Hereford and Worcestershire, England, and Piers Plowman is the narrative of his dream. Somnambulism entered English at the end of the 18th century.

how is somnambulism used?

Sleepwalking, or somnambulism, doesn’t always involve walking. A person is said to be sleepwalking if they are performing a complex task—talking, sitting up in bed, getting dressed—while in a state of deep sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Karen Kaplan, "Sleepwalking is often a family affair, study says," Los Angeles Times, May 5, 2015

Out and about, I spotted drowsy or dozing people everywhere; and I realized that a kind of mechanized mass somnambulism is an essential component of modern life ….

Joseph O'Neill, "The Sinking of the Houston," The New Yorker, October 23, 2017

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Tuesday, September 08, 2020

doddle

[ dod-l ]

noun

something easily done, fixed, etc.: He was really worried about my finishing the fence repairs on my own, but it was a doddle.

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What is the origin of doddle?

Doddle, “something easy to do or fix,” is a British colloquialism of uncertain origin. Some say it comes from Scottish doddle “a small lump of toffee” (and therefore attractive and easy to make away with). Some say doddle may come from the verb dawdle “to waste time, idle.” Doddle may also be a variant of the verb toddle “to move with short unsteady steps” (as a toddler does). Doddle entered English in the first half of the 20th century.

how is doddle used?

But it is a delusion to think we can solve Earth’s problems by relocating to Mars. I completely disagree with Musk and with my late colleague Stephen Hawking on that, because dealing with climate change on Earth is a doddle compared with terraforming Mars.

Martin Rees, interviewed by Ian Tucker, "Martin Rees: 'Climate change is a doddle compared with terraforming Mars,'" The Guardian, August 18, 2019

This [journey] would have been a doddle on Highway 1 at any other time of year, but a succession of winter storms had blocked the coast road with landslides in half a dozen places.

Jason Lewis, The Seed Buried Deep, 2014

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