Word of the Day

Saturday, July 18, 2020

catalyst

[ kat-l-ist ]

noun

a person or thing that precipitates an event or change: His imprisonment by the government served as the catalyst that helped transform social unrest into revolution.

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What is the origin of catalyst?

Catalyst was originally (at the beginning of the 20th century) a technical term used in chemistry, meaning “a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected.” By the early 1940s, the English poet and critic Sir Herbert Read extended the sense to a poet as a person who precipitates an event or change: “The catalyst [the poet] is unchanged, unabsorbed; its activity therefore not acknowledged.” Catalyst is irregularly formed from the Greek noun katálysis “dissolution, tearing down (especially of governments), a derivative of the verb katalýein “to pull down, destroy, dissolve (a political system), and the (originally Greek) agent suffix –ist. Katalýein is a compound of the Greek preposition and prefix katá, kata– “down, against, back” (usually spelled cata– in English) and the simple verb lýein “to loose, untie, release, solve, resolve.”

how is catalyst used?

What happened in Ferguson is often described as a catalyst—the beginning of a social justice movement that would sweep the nation.

Timothy Williams and , "The Lives of Ferguson Activist, Five Years Later," New York Times, August 9, 2019

On the heels of the Free-Soil convention in Buffalo, three hundred women and men held a women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Margaret Fuller was still in Italy, but it was her work that had served as a catalyst.

Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States, 2018

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Friday, July 17, 2020

rebus

[ ree-buhs ]

noun

a representation of a word or phrase by pictures, symbols, etc., that suggest that word or phrase or its syllables: Two gates and a head is a rebus for Gateshead.

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What is the origin of rebus?

A rebus is a representation of a word or phrase by pictures or symbols suggesting that word or phrase or its syllables. Rebuses were formerly very popular with children in the Sunday funnies. The origin of rebus is disputed, but the most likely source is Latin rēbus “by things,” the ablative plural of the grievously overworked noun rēs “thing, matter, circumstance, affair, property, wealth, etc.” Rēbus is short for nōn verbīs sed rēbus “not by words but by things.” Some French authorities claim that rebus comes from the Latin phrase dē rēbus quae geruntur “concerning the affairs that are going on,” alluding to the satirical pieces composed and performed by the clerks of Picardy (northwest France) in the annual carnival, but this usage is later than attestations of rebus in the sense “puzzle.” Rebus entered English in the early 17th century.

how is rebus used?

All I wanted to do was wish my fiancée happy birthday using emojis. But I couldn’t replicate the rebus of the classic Sandra Boynton greeting card: Hippo, Birdie, Two Ewes.

Damon Darlin, "America Needs Its Own Emojis," New York Times, March 7, 2015

It [Seattle] created a new logo: a rebus that featured an eyeball, the “@” symbol, and the letter “L” (pronounced “See-at-L”), above the slogan, “Seattle: soak it up!”

Paul Hiebert, "What's the Point of City Logos?" The New Yorker, February 7, 2014

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Thursday, July 16, 2020

adamantine

[ ad-uh-man-teen, -tin, -tahyn ]

adjective

utterly unyielding or firm in attitude or opinion.

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What is the origin of adamantine?

Adamantine “unyielding in attitude or opinion; too hard to cut, break, or pierce; like a diamond (in luster)” comes from Middle English adama(u)ntin, from the Middle French adjective adamantin (feminine adamantine), from Latin adamantinus “pertaining to diamondlike adamant or steel; resembling diamonds (saxa adamantina), from Greek adamántinos, an adjective derived from the noun adámas (stem adamant-) “steel (the hardest metal); diamond.” The traditional etymology for adámas is the corresponding adjective meaning “unbreakable,” somehow a derivative of damân “to tame, subdue,” with the privative prefix a-; more likely adámas is a loanword from Semitic. Adamantine entered English in the first half of the 13th century.

how is adamantine used?

Her dedication to the pursuit of equality for the masses was adamantine, however.

"Briefly Noted: 'Goddess of Anarchy,'" The New Yorker, February 5, 2018

And the moment of commitment came with the special force that was central to his character: an adamantine, unshakable conviction that what he was doing was unequivocally right …

Ben Macintyre, The Spy and the Traitor, 2018

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

sojourn

[ soh-jurn ]

noun

a temporary stay: during his sojourn in Paris.

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What is the origin of sojourn?

The noun sojourn means “a temporary stay.” The verb sojourn, “to stay for a time, reside temporarily,” has several dozen Middle English spellings: sojournen, sojourni, suggorn, suggeourn, etc. The Middle English forms derive from equally exuberant Old French forms, for example, sejorner, sojorner, sojourneir, sojurner, and Anglo-French forms, for example, sojurner, sujurner. The French forms derive from an unrecorded Vulgar Latin verb subdiurnāre “to stay for a time,” a compound of the preposition and prefix sub, sub-, here meaning “a little, for a while” and the Latin verb diurnāre “to live for a long time,” a derivative of the Latin adjective diurnus “belonging to the daytime, occurring every day.” Sojourn entered English in the 13th century.

how is sojourn used?

Nevertheless, in this mansion of gloom I now proposed to myself a sojourn of some weeks.

Edgar Allan Poe, "The Fall of the House of Usher," Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, 1839

He begins to conjecture how much he has gained and lost during his long sojourn in the American republic.

James Baldwin, "Encounter on the Seine: Black Meets Brown," Notes of a Native Son, 1955

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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

déjà vu

[ dey-zhah voo, vyoo; French dey-zha vy ]

noun

the illusion of having previously experienced something actually being encountered for the first time.

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What is the origin of déjà vu?

The late, great social philosopher Lawrence “Yogi” Berra is credited with saying “It’s déjà vu all over again,” referring to Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris constantly hitting back-to-back home runs for the Yankees in the early ’60s. This “Yogi-ism” aside, déjà vu, literally “already seen,” is the illusion of having previously experienced something actually being encountered for the first time, a term used in psychology. The phrase is French; it was first used and perhaps coined by Emile Boirac (1851–1917), a French philosopher and parapsychologist. Déjà “already” comes from Old French des ja “from now on”; des comes from Vulgar Latin dex or de ex, a combination of Latin prepositions “of, from” and ex “out, out of.” Ja “now, already,” comes from the Latin adverb jam with the same meaning. Vu comes from Vulgar Latin vidūtus or vedūtus, equivalent to Latin vīsus, past participle of vidēre “to see.” Déjà vu entered English in the early 20th century.

how is déjà vu used?

Trapped in a time loop: That’s how one man felt because of his recurring episodes of deja vu.

Bahar Gholipour, "A strange case of deja vu, again and again and again." Washington Post, January 5, 2015

A person experiencing déjà vu is no more likely to accurately predict what they’re going to see around the next corner than someone who is blindly guessing.

Michelle Starr, "Scientists Have Recreated Déjà Vu in The Lab, And It's Less Spooky Than You'd Think," ScienceAlert, March 6, 2018

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Monday, July 13, 2020

bellicose

[ bel-i-kohs ]

adjective

inclined or eager to fight; aggressively hostile; belligerent; pugnacious.

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What is the origin of bellicose?

Bellicose comes directly from Latin bellicōsus “warlike, fond of war,” ultimately from the noun bellum “war, warfare” and the adjective suffix –ōsus “full of, abounding in,” the source, via Anglo French and Old French, of the English suffixes –ose and –ous. The usual classical form bellum comes from preclassical duellum (the further origin of the noun is unknown), which remained in classical Latin as a poetic and archaic variant of bellum. Duellum in Vulgar and Medieval Latin developed the sense “an arranged combat between two people, according to a code of procedure,” English duel, from a mistaken etymological connection with duo “two.” Bellicose entered English in the second half of the 15th century.

how is bellicose used?

I was always inappropriately dressed, and inappropriately calibrated in tone: In one instance, I was too deferential; in another, too bellicose

Ta-Nehisi Coates, "My President Was Black," The Atlantic, January/February 2017 

Although North Korea has often sounded incorrigibly bellicose, it has proved​ to be a shrewd ​strategist capable of judging when to throttle up the tensions and when to pull back on them.

, "For North Korea, Blowing Hot and Cold Is Part of the Strategy," New York Times, June 24, 2020

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Sunday, July 12, 2020

rhathymia

[ ruh-thahy-mee-uh ]

noun

carefree behavior; light-heartedness.

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What is the origin of rhathymia?

Rhathymia “carefree behavior, lightheartedness” comes straight from Greek rhāthȳmía (also rhāithȳmía, rhāḯthȳmía) “easiness of temper, taking things easy.” Rhāthȳmía is a derivative of the adjective rhā́ithȳmos “easygoing, good-tempered,” but also “frivolous; indifferent, slack.” The first part of rhāthȳmía is the adverb rhã, rhéa, rheīa “easily, lightly” (its further etymology is unknown). The second element of rhāthȳmía is a derivative of the noun thȳmós “soul, spirit, mind, life, breath.” The combining form of thȳmós, –thȳmía, is used in English in the formation of compound nouns denoting mental disorders, such as dysthymia, alexithymia, and cyclothymia. Rhathymia entered English in the first half of the 20th century.

how is rhathymia used?

Rhathymia is the preferred mode of presentation of the self.

Donald Barthelme, "Paraguay," The New Yorker, September 6, 1969

From this sprang slackness, rhathymia, long delays in reaching decisions or paying out salaries, and downright callousness in ignoring positive distress.

E. G. Turner, "Ptolemaic Egypt," The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. 7, Part 1, 2nd ed., 1984

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