Word of the Day

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

bonbonnière

[ bon-buh-neer, -nyair; French bawn-baw-nyer ]

noun

a box or dish for candies.

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What is the origin of bonbonnière?

A bonbonnière is a person or store that sells candies, or a box or tray for serving candies. Bonbonnière, a French noun, has been in English for more than 200 years, but it is still completely unnaturalized. Bonbonnière is a derivative of the noun bon-bon, literally “good-good,” French baby talk for “candy” (especially chocolate candy). Bonbonnière entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is bonbonnière used?

He drew from his pocket a marvellous bonbonnière, formed out of a single emerald, and closed by a golden lid, which unscrewed and gave passage to a small ball of a greenish colour, and about the size of a pea.

Alexander Dumas, The Count of Monte-Cristo, translated from French in 1846

At Sotheby’s the Rivers collection includes a gold and enamel cigarette case with pink rosettes, a carved nephrite gold and enamel bonbonnière, whose lid has Cupid riding an eagle on a cloud, and several elephants in bowenite, obsidian and aventurine.

Wendy Moonan, "An Easter Feast Of Rare Fabergé," New York Times, April 13, 2001

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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

eidetic

[ ahy-det-ik ]

adjective

of, relating to, or constituting visual imagery vividly experienced and readily reproducible with great accuracy and in great detail.

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What is the origin of eidetic?

Eidetic “pertaining to visual images vividly experienced and readily reproducible” is a technical term used in psychology. It comes via German eidetisch from the equally technical Greek adjective eidētikós, whose senses include “constituting an image; (of a number) capable of being represented by a mathematical figure; formal (cause).” Eidētikós is a derivative of eídēsis, one of the several Greek nouns meaning “knowledge.” Eidetic entered English in the first half of the 20th century.

how is eidetic used?

His eidetic memory went to work, conjuring an image of a large-scale map he had once studied. Closing his eyes he laid off the exact distance, latitude and longitude, individual islands.

Poul Anderson, "The Sensitive Man," Fantastic Universe, January 1954

Dr. Matsuzawa said the ability reminded him of the phenomenon called eidetic imagery, in which a person memorizes details of a complex scene at a glance.

Henry Fountain, "Chimps Exhibit Superior Memory, Outshining Humans," New York Times, December 4, 2007

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Monday, December 28, 2020

amity

[ am-i-tee ]

noun

friendship; peaceful harmony.

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What is the origin of amity?

Amity “friendship; peaceful harmony; peaceful harmony between states” comes via Middle English amite, amitie, amiste from Old French amistié, amisté, amistet “friendship, affection,” from the unrecorded Vulgar Latin noun amīcitāt-, the inflectional stem of amīcitās, equivalent to Latin amīcitia “friendship.” (The same Vulgar Latin noun becomes amistad in Spanish, which may be familiar to Americans from the Steven Spielberg movie Amistad, 1997.) Amīcitia is a derivative of the noun amīcus “friend, lover,” which in its turn is a derivative of the verb amāre “to love, be in love, fall in love with,” which has no further etymology. Amity entered English in the first half of the 15th century.

how is amity used?

Felix held out his hand as a token of amity, which the other took.

Richard Jefferies, After London, 1885

She did not care for. Mrs. Markey … but John and Joe Markey were congenial and went in together on the commuting train every morning, so the two women kept up an elaborate pretence of warm amity.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Baby Party," Hearst's International Cosmopolitan, February 1925

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Sunday, December 27, 2020

fainéant

[ fey-nee-uhnt; French fe-ney-ahn ]

adjective

idle; indolent.

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What is the origin of fainéant?

The English adjective and noun fainéant “indolent, idle; an idler, a do-nothing” is plainly French. The earlier French spelling fait-nient, literally meaning “he does nothing,” is a folk etymology of Old French faignant “idler, sluggard,” the present participle of faindre, feindre “to shirk,” source of English faint and feign. Fainéant entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is fainéant used?

He became a very fainéant Pope, occupying his leisure hours, not discreditably, with literature and learned men, but making of those hours a far larger portion of his life than was consistent with the duty of a supreme head of the Church.

Thomas Adolphus Trollope, The Papal Enclaves, As They Were and As They Are, 1876

The evidence which he presents in such detail continues to produce, if anything, precisely that impression of the faineant President which he has been anxious to dispel.

George Dangerfield, "One in the shade of Jefferson, one in the shade of Adams," New York Times, July 4, 1971

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Saturday, December 26, 2020

fistic

[ fis-tik ]

adjective

of boxing; pugilistic.

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What is the origin of fistic?

Fistic “pertaining to the fists or boxing” is a transparent compound of the English noun fist and the adjective suffix –ic. Fist comes from Old English fȳst and is closely related to Dutch vuist and German Faust. The thoroughly naturalized suffix –ic derives from Latin –icus and Greek –ikos and was originally applied to Latin or Greek nouns (such as metallic, music, poetic, public). Fistic is a facetious synonym of pugilistic, which is a derivative of Latin pugil “fist fighter, boxer.” Pugil is akin to pugna “fist” and its derived verb pugnāre “to fight,” ultimate source of English pugnacious. All of the Latin words are related to the Greek adverb pýx “with the fist,” and the noun pygmḗ “fist, fistfight, boxing,” also a measure of length from the elbow to the knuckles (of the fist). Fistic entered English in the early 19th century.

how is fistic used?

Yes, boxing and the other fistic and grappling arts are still with us, driven by the popularity of mixed martial arts and Ultimate Mixed Fighting bouts.

William Porter, "Metro Denver gyms offer a workout for everyone," Denver Post, July 7, 2014

To continue in fistic phraseology, he had a genius for coming up to the scratch, wherever and whatever it was, and proving himself an ugly customer. … He was certain to knock the wind out of common sense …

Charles Dickens, Hard Times, 1854

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Friday, December 25, 2020

merrymaking

[ mer-ee-mey-king ]

noun

the act of taking part cheerfully or enthusiastically in some festive or merry celebration.

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What is the origin of merrymaking?

Merrymaking “participating in a festive occasion” comes from the verb merrymake, from the verb phrase to make merry. The adjective merry, which these days quickly calls to mind the winter holidays, dates from Old English. Interestingly, the well-known Christmas carol God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen dates from the 16th century, if not earlier, and its first line (notice the position of the comma) originally meant “God keep you joyful, Gentlemen.” During the 18th century, the transitive sense of the verb rest “to keep, preserve” became obsolete, and rest acquired the transitive sense “to grant rest to,” which required a change of punctuation to “God rest you, Merry Gentlemen.” Merrymaking entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is merrymaking used?

We all know that Christmas will look different this year. But while many of our usual sources for merrymaking might be off limits or cancelled, there are still plenty of things we can do outside to make us feel jolly.

Ella Alexander, "8 outdoor Christmas activities you can still do this winter," Harper's Bazaar, November 24, 2020

He walked briskly back to his hole, and stood for a moment listening with a smile to the din in the pavilion, and to the sounds of merrymaking in other parts of the field.

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

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Thursday, December 24, 2020

sugarplum

[ shoog-er-pluhm ]

noun

a small round candy made of sugar with various flavoring and coloring ingredients; a bonbon.

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What is the origin of sugarplum?

Sugarplum is a transparent compound of the nouns sugar and plum. The sugar in a sugarplum is the ordinary kind used in cooking and confectionery, but plum here refers to the plum-like size (small) and shape (round or roundish) of the hardened mass of sugar. In fact, in the second half of the 17th century, sugarplum was synonymous with comfit, a candy with a kernel of nut or fruit. Sugarplums have long been associated with Christmas, as in Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas (perhaps more commonly known as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas), first published in 1823, “The children were nestled all snug in their beds, / While visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.” Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Nutcracker (1892), is set on Christmas Eve, and one of its main characters is the Sugarplum Fairy. The American journalist and poet Eugene Field (1850-95) is not much read today, but he is still famous for his children’s poems, such as Wynken, Blynken and Nod and The Duel (better known as The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat). Fields also wrote the lullaby The Sugar-Plum Tree. Sugarplum entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is sugarplum used?

The children were nestled all snug in their beds, / While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.

Clement Clarke Moore, A Visit from St. Nicholas, 1823

These days, the poem is more likely to prompt a question than a vision: what exactly is a sugarplum and, almost more importantly, why was it doing so much dancing back in the early 19th century?

Emelyn Rude, "The History That Explains Those 'Visions of Sugarplums,'" Time, December 21, 2016

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