Word of the Day

Saturday, October 19, 2019

canny

[ kan-ee ]

adjective

astute; shrewd; knowing; sagacious: a canny negotiator.

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What is the origin of canny?

Canny originally meant “knowing, wise,” and was a doublet of cunning, originally “knowledgeable, learned, skillful.” Canny (and cunning) both derive from Old English cunnan “to become acquainted with, know” (Modern English verb can). All of the citations of canny before, say, 1800, are from Scottish authors, and the word is first attested in the latter half of the 16th century. Uncanny is also originally Scottish, but feels as American as the pulp horror and sci-fi magazines of the 1930s. The now usual sense of uncanny, “having a supernatural or inexplicable basis,” dates from the mid-19th century.

how is canny used?

He thought himself canny and alert, able to uncover plots, or flatter the great and trick them, bend events to his will.

Tanith Lee, White as Snow, 2000

You have had things all your own way for all your life (… your brothers are much more canny than you are about political issues).

Jane Smiley, Private Life, 2010
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Friday, October 18, 2019

minutiae

[ mi-noo-shee-ee, -nyoo- ]

plural noun

precise details; small or trifling matters: the minutiae of his craft.

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What is the origin of minutiae?

In English, minutiae is the plural of the noun minutia, which usually appears in the plural with the meaning “precise details, trifling matters,” the same sense as the Late Latin plural noun minūtiae. In Latin only the singular minūtia appears, and it has its literal meaning “smallness, fineness,” a derivative of minūtus, the past participle of minuere “to reduce in size, lessen.” From the same root min-, Latin also has the words minor “smaller in size or kind” (English minor), minus “a smaller number” (English minus), minimus “smallest, least” (English minimum and minimal), and minusculus “rather small, pretty small” (English minuscule). Minutiae entered English in the mid-18th century.

how is minutiae used?

In my preceding chapters I have tried, by going into the minutiae of the science of piloting, to carry the reader step by step to a comprehension of what the science consists of ….

Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, 1883

In a thank-you note to his devotees that he tweeted last week, the congressman offered a similar lulling density of minutiae.

Katy Waldman, "Beto O'Rourke's Rebirth as a Knausgaardian Blogger," The New Yorker, November 16, 2018
Thursday, October 17, 2019

erumpent

[ ih-ruhm-puhnt ]

adjective

bursting forth.

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What is the origin of erumpent?

The rare adjective erumpent, used almost exclusively in biology, comes straight from Latin ērumpēns (stem ērumpent-), the present participle of ērumpere “to burst forth.” The compound verb ērumpere is composed of the prefix ē– (a variant of ex– “out, out of”) and the simple verb rumpere “to break,” whose past participle ruptus forms the much more common derivative erupt. Erumpent entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is erumpent used?

… on his head—pressing down his erumpent red hair—the vaguely Westernish broad-brimmed hat that signalled his difference from other philosophers (as if any such signal were needed) ….

John Gardner, Mickelsson's Ghosts, 1982

Minutes passed, sun-bathed, as they crossed a stretch of open land; the river slowed, the valley wider, furrowed fields flanking the highway, an erumpent green from rich black soil.

David Bosworth, "Psalm," Death of Descartes, 1981

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