Word of the Day

Saturday, April 03, 2021

cackleberry

[ kak-uhl-ber-ee ]

noun

a hen's egg used for food.

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What is the origin of cackleberry?

Cackleberry, “an egg, a hen’s egg,” is a piece of facetious American slang. The word is a compound of the verb cackle “to utter a shrill, broken cry such as a hen makes” and the common noun berry “small fruit without a pit,” also used often in compounds such as strawberry or gooseberry.

how is cackleberry used?

Cackleberries,” said Gately, picking up one of the eggs and examining it as though it were an emerald. “A genuine cackleberry.”

Beirne Lay, Jr. and Sy Bartlett, Twelve O'Clock High! 1948

Klock had played swell ball all week, scampering around station one like a hare—the March variety, of course—but he wasn’t hitting hard enough to imperil the shell of a cackleberry.

James W. Egan, "Cuckoo Klock," Munsey's Magazine, Vol. 73, June to September, 1921

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Friday, April 02, 2021

passe-partout

[ pas-pahr-too; French pahs-par-too ]

noun

something that passes everywhere or provides a universal means of passage.

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What is the origin of passe-partout?

Passe-partout, “something that provides a universal means of passage; a master key, skeleton key,” comes from the French compound passe-partout, whose literal meaning is “(it) passes everywhere.” In French the phrase originally meant “a person who can go anywhere,” and slightly later “a master key.” The French verb passer “to pass” comes from Vulgar Latin passāre “to walk, step, pass,” from the Latin noun passus “pace, step.” Partout is a compound of par “through” and tout “all.” Par comes from the Latin preposition per “through”; tout comes from Latin tōtus “all, the whole of, complete.” Passe-partout entered English in the 17th century.

how is passe-partout used?

Journalists have an invisible passe-partout that allows them to roam the world and ask consequential people impertinent questions.

Nicholas Lemann, "Spheres of Influence," The New Yorker, April 4, 2004

I conducted my own furtive tour of the French intelligence community and found that de Villiers’s name was a very effective passe-partout, even among people who found the subject mildly embarrassing.

Robert F. Worth, "The Spy Novelist Who Knows Too Much," New York Times, January 30, 2013

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Thursday, April 01, 2021

jocular

[ jok-yuh-ler ]

adjective

given to, characterized by, intended for, or suited to joking or jesting.

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What is the origin of jocular?

The English adjective jocular “given to or suited to joking or jesting; facetious” comes straight from the Latin adjective joculāris “humorous, laughable, facetious,” which, used as the neuter plural noun joculāria, means “jests, jokes.” Joculāris, a derivative of the noun jocus “a jest, joke,” comes from the widespread Proto-Indo-European root yek-, yok– “to speak, speak solemnly, pray.” In other ancient Italic languages, such as Umbrian (spoken north and east of Rome), iuka means “prayers”; in Oscan (spoken around Naples), iúkleí means “(in) consecration.” The root variant yek– appears in Old Saxon and Old High German gehan, jehan “to speak, acknowledge, confess.” The suffixed variant yekti– yields Middle Welsh ieith and Breton iez “prayers,” and in far-off Turkestan, both Tocharian languages, A and B, have the root yask– “to demand, beg.” Jocular entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is jocular used?

She said to us, “Good morning, class,” half in a way that someone must have told her was the proper way to speak to us and half in a jocular way, as if we secretly amused her.

Jamaica Kincaid, Annie John, 1983

The voice will be instantly recognizable as Saundersesque to anyone familiar with his fiction: jocular and often stand-up-comic funny, with a focus on providing joyful surprises with every turn of phrase.

Lisa Zeidner, "Thrilling little machines: George Saunders analyzes Russian short fiction," Washington Post, January 21, 2021

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