Word of the Day

Word of the day

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

bunkum

[ buhng-kuhm ]

noun

insincere talk; claptrap; humbug.

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What is the origin of bunkum?

Bunkum means “insincere talk by a politician” and is an alteration of Buncombe, a county in North Carolina. Bunkum is an all-American word that fittingly enough derives from a debate in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 16th United States Congress (1819-21) during the House debate about the admission of Missouri as a state into the Union. This so-called “Missouri Question” was extremely important, because it dealt with whether Missouri entered the Union as a Free State or Slave State. (Under the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Maine was admitted as a Free State, Missouri as a Slave State.) Just before the vote was called, Felix Walker (1753-1828), U.S Representative from North Carolina, began a long, tedious, irrelevant, dull, and exasperating speech. His House colleagues tried to shout him down, but Walker persisted, saying that he was obliged to say something for the newspapers back home to prove that he was doing his job: “I shall not be speaking to the House, but to Buncombe.”

how is bunkum used?

It’s bunkum to suppose we can be touched by tragedies other than our own.

Beryl Bainbridge, Every Man for Himself, 1996

According to the Mail worldview of recent years, dignified British ways are under attack, mauled by vain liberal cosmopolitans, crafty foreigners, and fashionable bunkum.

Tom Rachman, "A Tabloid Changes Course—and Could Change Britain," The Atlantic, July 12, 2018

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Word of the day

Monday, January 11, 2021

aoristic

[ ey-uh-ris-tik ]

adjective

indefinite; indeterminate.

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What is the origin of aoristic?

Aoristic “indeterminate, undefined,” comes from Greek aoristikós, a derivative of the verbal adjective aóristos “unlimited, unbounded, indeterminate, debatable,” which is a compound of the negative prefix a-, an– (from the same Proto-Indo-European source as un– in English and in– in Latin), and the verbal adjective horistós “definable (of words), delimited (of property or land).” Horistós comes from the verb horízein “to divide, separate,” whose present active masculine participle horízōn “separating,” when modifying the noun kýklos “circle” (“the separating circle”) refers to the (apparent) circle separating the land from the sea, the horizon. Horízōn kýklos seems to be a coinage of Aristotle’s; so it can be trusted. Aoristic entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is aoristic used?

Because Gideon is away indefinitely our lives seem bracketed in a kind of aoristic limbo where things happen haphazardly, without an ordered sequence.

Elon Salmon, When There Were Heroes, 2003

She caught at the nerves like certain aoristic combinations in music, like tones of a stringed instrument swept by the wind, enticing, unseizable.

George Meredith, Beauchamp's Career, 1875

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Word of the day

Sunday, January 10, 2021

guileless

[ gahyl-lis ]

adjective

sincere; honest; straightforward; frank.

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What is the origin of guileless?

Guileless means “without guile, sincere, honest, frank.” Guile comes from Middle English gile, guile “a crafty or fraudulent trick, double-dealing,” from Old French guile “lie, trick, deception,” most likely from a Germanic source. The problem is: Which Germanic language or languages? From the point of view of phonetics, Old French guile could very well come from Germanic wīl, but sources are lacking: Old English wīl “device, trick” may itself be a borrowing from Old French. Old Norse vél “artifice, device, trick” is wrong for phonetic reasons. Guileless entered English in the first half of the 18th century.

how is guileless used?

Looking at them is an exercise in nostalgia not only for the languid California of the early seventies, or the looseness offered by working in a medium that had little respect from the art world and therefore no money, but for a moment when, even if only in the world of these images, the encounter between self and stranger could be guileless.

Emma Cline, "Mike Mandel's Selfies from the Seventies," The New Yorker, October 12, 2020

Guileless? Guess again, sister. There is nothing remotely guileless about this guy, and nowhere is that more evident than in his land deals.

Elizabeth Gilbert, The Last American Man, 2002

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