Word of the Day

Word of the day

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

caprice

[ kuh-prees ]

noun

a sudden, unpredictable change, as of one's mind or the weather.

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What is the origin of caprice?

Caprice is capricious. It certainly comes from French, from Italian capriccio; the problem is where does Italian capriccio come from? In Italian, capriccio originally meant “sudden startle, shiver,” now “whim, fancy, fad.” The Italian word may come from an unattested Vulgar Latin capriceus “goat,” the image being of a kid skipping or frisking. Capriccio may also derive from the Italian noun capo “head, leader” (from Vulgar Latin capum, from Latin caput) and riccio (from Latin ēricius “hedgehog”), which as an adjective means “curly, frizzy” and as a noun means “hedgehog,” the image now being of the hair standing on end in fright. Caprice entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is caprice used?

This is only a caprice—and it would be the worst thing in the world to give in to her.

Rachel Crothers, He and She, 1920

The only difference between a caprice and a lifelong passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891
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Word of the day

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

quorum

[ kwawr-uhm, kwohr- ]

noun

the number of members of a group or organization required to be present to transact business legally, usually a majority.

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What is the origin of quorum?

Quorum comes from Latin quōrum “of whom.” (To get into the grammatical weeds, quōrum is the masculine genitive plural of the relative and interrogative pronoun and adjective quī, quae, quod “who, which, what.”) In medieval England, the Latin formula for commissioning justices of the peace would mention certain prominent local persons in general, known for their learning, experience, and prudence, and then specify one or more such persons as definitely to be included: Quōrum ūnum N esse volumus “Of whom we want N to be one.” Such commissioned justices were necessary to constitute a bench and were known as justices of the quorum. The current sense, “the number of members of a group or organization required to be present to transact business legally, usually a majority,” dates from the early 17th century. Quorum entered English in the first half of the 15th century.

how is quorum used?

… new members can only be approved by a twelve-member quorum, and the shrunken Academy now has ten active members instead of its usual eighteen: a Catch-22 if there ever was one.

Alexandra Schwartz, "The Swedish Academy and the Illusions of the Nobel Prize in Literature," The New Yorker, May 5, 2018

Along with two pre-existing vacancies, this will shrink what should be a six-member board to three members—one short of the quorum required to hold meetings and perform many basic functions.

The New York Times Editorial Board, "The Election Watchdog That Can't Bark," New York Times, August 29, 2019

Word of the day

Monday, January 20, 2020

beacon

[ bee-kuhn ]

noun

a person or thing that illuminates or inspires: The Bible has been our beacon during this trouble.

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What is the origin of beacon?

Beacon comes from Old English bēacen, bēcen, bēcn “a sign, portent; a standard, banner; a signal, signal fire, signal hill or tower, watchtower; lighthouse.” (Most of these senses appear in Beowulf.) Bēacen comes from Germanic baukna– “beacon, signal,” the source of Old Frisian bāken, Old Saxon bōkan, Old High German bouhhan. The derivative Germanic verb bauknjan “to make a sign, signal” becomes bēcnan in Old English and beckon in English.

how is beacon used?

As is often the case with those who die young, Martin Luther King Jr. has become more symbol than man: pacifist, beacon of nonviolent racial reform.

, "Remembering Martin Luther King Jr." New York Times, January 20, 2019

At first sight we had not rated the American town favorably, but now it seemed a beacon of civilization.

James A. Michener, Texas, 1985

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