Word of the Day

Monday, June 17, 2019

caterpillar

[ kat-uh-pil-er, kat-er- ]

noun

a person who preys on others; extortioner.

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What is the origin of caterpillar?

Caterpillar has a complicated history. Late Middle English has catyrpel, catirpiller (and other variants). These are probably alterations of catepelose, an Old North French variant of Old French chatepelose “hairy cat,” from chate “(female) cat,” from Late Latin cattus (masculine) and catta (feminine) “cat” and pelose, pelouse “hairy,” from Latin pilōsus. The Middle English spelling with –yr– is probably due to association with cater “tomcat” (as in caterwaul “to utter long, wailing cries”); the final –er is probably by association with piller “despoiler.” Caterpillar in its original sense “larva of a butterfly or moth” entered English in the 15th century; the sense “extortioner” arose in the late 15th century; the sense “a tractor with two endless steel bands for moving over rough terrain” is a trademark dating from the early years of the 20th century, just in time for World War I.

how is caterpillar used?

The caterpillars of the commonwealth, / Which I have sworn to weed and pluck away.

William Shakespeare, Richard II, 1623

By dismissing the Hanoverians … we shall only send away the caterpillars which devour our victuals …

Statement of the Earl of Chesterfield, January 31, 1744, The Parliamentary History of England, Vol. 13, 1812
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Sunday, June 16, 2019

dada

[ dah-dah ]

noun

(sometimes initial capital letter)

the style and techniques of a group of artists, writers, etc., of the early 20th century who exploited accidental and incongruous effects in their work and who programmatically challenged established canons of art, thought, morality, etc.

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What is the origin of dada?

Despite how it sounds, Dada has nothing to do with dads or Father’s Day. It is a reduplication of the familiar, universal baby syllable da, a French reduplication, specifically, chosen as an arbitrary name for the French and German art movement founded in Zurich in 1916, in the middle of World War I, by a group of multinational and multilingual writers, artists, and composers. According to two of Dada’s founders, the word was chosen at random from dada, a headword in a French dictionary, meaning, in baby talk, “horse, hobbyhorse.” The founders were also attracted by the meaninglessness of the two syllables.

how is dada used?

In terms of art, Dada could be said to have had the most wide-ranging post-war impact, a fact which is paradoxical given Dada‘s anti-art inclinations.

David Hopkins, Dada and Surrealism: A Very Short Introduction, 2004

… Scramsfield had manufactured enough Dada poetry to fill up the rest of the magazine by copying out random sections of a boiler repair manual into irregular stanzas, knowing that this should be sufficiently confusing to satisfy his patron …

Ned Beauman, The Teleportation Accident, 2012
Saturday, June 15, 2019

fruitlet

[ froot-lit ]

noun

Botany.

a small fruit, especially one of those forming an aggregate fruit, as the raspberry.

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What is the origin of fruitlet?

Fruitlet is a perfectly transparent word, used as a technical term in botany. The first syllable, fruit, comes from Old French fruit, a regular development from Latin frūctus “enjoyment, produce, results.” The diminutive suffix –let comes from Middle French –elet, from Latin –āle (the neuter of the adjective suffix –ālis), or from the Latin diminutive suffix –ellus and the Old French noun suffix –et (-ette). Fruitlet entered English in the second half of the 19th century.

how is fruitlet used?

… in the raspberry the separate fruitlets are all crowded close together into a single united mass, while in the strawberry they are scattered about loosely, and embedded in the soft flesh of the receptacle.

Grant Allen, The Evolutionist at Large, 1881

… the eyes, or diamond fruitlets, on the surface have soft or smooth tips.

Mimi Sheraton, "A Guide to Choosing a Ripe Pineapple," New York Times, April 21, 1982

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