Word of the Day

Friday, September 13, 2019

bona fides

[ boh-nah fee-des ]

noun

good faith; absence of fraud or deceit; the state of being exactly as claims or appearances indicate: The bona fides of this contract is open to question.

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What is the origin of bona fides?

The Latin phrase bona fidēs “good faith,” is composed of a singular noun in the nominative case (fidēs “faith”) modified by a singular adjective (bona “good”). The relatively recent sense of bona fides “guarantees of good faith, credentials” (as if fidēs, because of its final s, were a plural noun) is first recorded in 1944. The Latin phrase bonā fidē and the English phrase bona fide also mean “in good faith” (fidē being a singular noun in the ablative case, which is frequently used in Latin in adverbial functions). Bona fide was originally an adverbial phrase but since the late 18th century also used as an adjective, e.g., the legal term bona fide purchaser. Bona fides entered English in the 19th century.

how is bona fides used?

Few things have sent up our food-conscious era quite so accurately (or affectionately) as that first-season “Portlandia” sketch in which a restaurant waiter is given the third degree by concerned patrons over the bona fides of the menu’s locally raised chicken.

Robert Abele, "Review: 'The Biggest Little Farm' is a winning doc about a couple's agricultural dream," Los Angeles Times, May 9, 2019

Of course it took me a little while to establish my bona fides but at last I did—it will seem ironic to you, but while neither side fully believed in my honesty both were exultant at having penetrated the enemy intelligence service.

Lawrence Durrell, Quinx, 1985
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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Ciceronian

[ sis-uh-roh-nee-uhn ]

adjective

characterized by melodious language, clarity, and forcefulness of presentation, as in the style of Cicero: Ciceronian invective.

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What is the origin of Ciceronian?

The adjective Ciceronian comes from Latin Cicerōniānus “pertaining to Cicero,” an adjective coined by the Stoic author and philosopher Seneca. The Roman orator, statesman, and man of letters Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 b.c.) made Roman oratory the equal of Greek, especially of Demosthenes, the last great Athenian orator, as Greek rhetoricians themselves admitted. Ancient critics said of the styles of Demosthenes and Cicero that Demosthenes was so lean and spare that nothing could be taken away, that Cicero was so full and ample that nothing could be added. For as long as Latin was the chief cultural language of Western civilization (up to the 18th or 19th century), Cicero in prose (like Vergil in poetry) was held up as a model to be imitated or an idol to be cast down. There are still several million former teenagers who after a martini or two can recite from memory the opening sentence of Cicero’s First Oration Against Catiline from their junior year in high school: Quō ūsque tandem abūtēre, Catilīna, patientiā nostrā? (“How long, Catiline, will you abuse our patience?”) Ciceronian entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is Ciceronian used?

… those who could not follow her reasoning were nonetheless able to enjoy her Ciceronian eloquence. “She spoke like an angel,” one of the Frenchmen commented.

Massimo Mazzotti, "From Genius to Witch: The Rise and Fall of a Filosofessa," Los Angeles Review of Books, July 11, 2018

Its rhetoric was powerful, even Ciceronian, I thought, with the grand sweep of its opening line: “Great triumphs and great tragedies can redirect the course of a people’s destiny.”

Willem Marx, "Misinformation intern," Harper's Magazine, August 23, 2019
Wednesday, September 11, 2019

epistolary

[ ih-pis-tl-er-ee ]

adjective

contained in or carried on by letters: an epistolary friendship.

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What is the origin of epistolary?

English epistolary comes from the Latin adjective epistulāris (also epistolāris), a derivative of the noun epistula (epistola) “a letter, a dispatch, a written communication, an epistle (as in the New Testament).” Epistula comes from Greek epistolḗ, which has the same meanings. An epistolary novel is one that is composed in a series of documents, usually (private) letters, but also diary entries, newspaper articles, and other documents. Such novels were especially popular in the 18th century, e.g., in England, Pamela by Samuel Richardson (1740); in France, Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (1782); and in Germany, The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774). Bram Stoker’s epistolary novel Dracula, published in 1897, and continuously in print ever since, has attained a kind of immortality. Epistolary entered English in the 17th century.

how is epistolary used?

Her imaginative epistolary novel opens with Johanna’s engagement to Theo in 1888 and winds its way through the avant-garde Paris art scene ….

Sarah Ferguson, "Johanna: A Novel of the van Gogh Family," New York Times, June 4, 1995

Their disagreement lay dormant for nearly two decades, during which time their epistolary friendship flourished ….

Nathan Goldman, "'I Don't Know If This Letter Will Reach You': The Letters of Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem," Los Angeles Review of Books, March 12, 2019

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