• Word of the day
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    Thursday, August 08, 2019

    cat’s-paw

    noun [kats-paw]
    a person used to serve the purposes of another; tool.
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    What is the origin of cat's-paw?

    In English cat's-paw originally meant “a person used to serve the purposes of another; tool.” The term comes from a Le Singe et le Chat, “The Monkey and the Cat,” a fable by Jean de La Fontaine (1621–1695), the French poet and collector of fairy tales, in which a monkey persuades a cat to pull chestnuts out of hot coals that the chestnuts are roasting in and promises to share the chestnuts with the cat. The cat scoops the chestnuts one by one out of the coals, burning his paw in the process, while the monkey eats up the chestnuts. A maid enters the room, stopping all the action, and the cat gets nothing for its pains. Both nautical senses, “a light breeze on the surface of the water” and "a kind of knot made in the bight of a rope,” date from the second half of the 18th century. Cat's-paw entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

    How is cat's-paw used?

    I believe these people are simply using you as a cats-paw. Victor Bridges, A Rogue by Compulsion, 1915

    ... we should not take these fifty-one painters and sculptors ... too seriously. In a certain sense they are mere cat's-paws. "Are They Only Cat's-Paws?" New York Times, April 5, 1909

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  • Word of the day
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    Wednesday, August 07, 2019

    manqué

    adjective [mahng-key]
    having failed, missed, or fallen short, especially because of circumstances or a defect of character; unsuccessful; unfulfilled or frustrated (usually used postpositively): a poet manqué who never produced a single book of verse.
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    What is the origin of manqué?

    Everything about the adjective manqué is French, including its spelling and syntax (manqué follows its noun, that is, a novelist manqué, not a manqué novelist). Manqué is the French past participle of manquer “to lack, be short of,” a borrowing from Old Italian mancare (early 14th century). Mancare comes from the Latin adjective mancus “having a useless hand, maimed, feeble, powerless,” a derivative of the noun manus “hand.” Manqué entered English in the second half of the 18th century.

    How is manqué used?

    I got an e-mail from a fellow-scholar who accused me of being an intellectual manqué. Jill Lepore, "The Lingering of Loss," The New Yorker, July 1, 2019

    At first, I planned to take a degree in psychiatry as many manqué talents do; but I was even more manqué than that ... Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita, 1955

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, August 06, 2019

    spondulicks

    noun [spon-doo-liks] Older Slang.
    money; cash.
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    What is the origin of spondulicks?

    Spondulicks “money, cash” was originally an American slang term, never very common, that emigrated to England and Ireland. It has no certain, agreed-upon etymology, but a Greek origin sphóndylos (later also spóndylos) “vertebra, cervical vertebra” has been suggested (from the supposed resemblance of vertebrae to a stack of coins). Huck Finn uses spondulicks in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, chapter 13 (1884): "I’m derned if I’d live two mile out o’ town, where there ain’t nothing ever goin’ on, not for all his spondulicks and as much more on top of it," but the word had already existed in American English for several decades. Spondulicks also occurs in one of James Joyce’s short stories, “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” in the Dubliners (1914). Spondulicks survived among Irish Americans in New York City into the early 1950s. Spondulicks entered American English in the 1850s.

    How is spondulicks used?

    I need to make a dramatic gesture, and for that I need spondulicks. Ben Schott, Jeeves and the King of Clubs, 2018

    Surely no bottom-line sharpie would cough up that kind of spondulicks for ad time after the first few minutes of a show that customarily had all America groaning with boredom before the first 40 commercials had blasted the parlor. Russell Baker, "Right After This Shark," New York Times, January 29, 1986

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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, August 05, 2019

    intellection

    noun [in-tl-ek-shuhn]
    the action or process of understanding; the exercise of the intellect; reasoning.
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    What is the origin of intellection?

    In Latin intellectiō (stem intellectiōn-), literally "understanding," originally meant only synecdoche “a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for a part.” In Late Latin intellectiō acquired the further senses “an act or the faculty of understanding, intellect, idea, notion,” and in Old French and Middle English “understanding, comprehension, meaning, purpose.” Intellection entered English in the mid-15th century.

    How is intellection used?

    I arranged my face into a look of intense concentration, a look that implied I'd had a lightning flash of intellection .... Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station, 2011

    Right or wrong, agree or disagree, Hitchens “made intellection dramatic,” as his friend Martin Amis said. David Remnick, "Remembering Christopher Hitchens," The New Yorker, April 20, 2012

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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, August 04, 2019

    stolid

    adjective [stol-id]
    not easily stirred or moved mentally; unemotional; impassive.
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    What is the origin of stolid?

    The English adjective stolid is a back formation from the noun stolidity, which comes from Middle French stolidite and Latin stoliditās (stem stoliditāt-) “brutish insensibility, stupidity.” Stoliditās is a derivative of the adjective stolidus “dull, stupid, brutish” and is related to stultus “stupid, dense, slow-witted.” Samuel Johnson has the headword stolidity in his Dictionary (1755) but not stolid. Stolid begins to become popular in the first half of the 19th century, in the works of Sir Walter Scott. Stolid entered English about 1600.

    How is stolid used?

    What I required was something cheap and small and hardy, and of a stolid and peaceful temper; and all these requisites pointed to a donkey. Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, 1879

    David Harbour, the stolid and familiar presence from Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” is given the opportunity to cut loose here with a broad, loopy half-hour that feels a bit like one long comedy sketch, with all that implies. Daniel D'Addario, "TV Review: 'Frankenstein's Monster's Monster, Frankenstein'," Variety, July 16, 2019

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, August 03, 2019

    vinculum

    noun [ving-kyuh-luhm]
    a bond signifying union or unity; tie.
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    What is the origin of vinculum?

    English vinculum comes straight from Latin vinclum, vinculum “a bond, fetter, chain, a force that unites people (as in friendship) or cements a relationship (as in marriage).” The general sense "bond of union, tie,” the original sense of the word in English, dates from the mid-17th century. The mathematical sense of vinculum "a stroke or brace drawn over a quantity consisting of several terms" dates from the early 18th century. Those with an interest in Roman antiquity or early Christianity will be familiar with the Latin phrase Sanctus Petrus in Vinculis (ad Vincula) (Italian San Pietro in Vincoli) “St. Peter in Chains,” a church in Rome originally consecrated in 439 and housing the relics of the chains that bound St. Peter in Jerusalem, as narrated in chapter 12 of the Acts of the Apostles.

    How is vinculum used?

    While nation clashed against nation, and tribe met tribe in bloody collision, through all ages the scholars have preserved the commune vinculum, and have joined hands in a humane and cosmopolitan union. "The London Saturday Review," New York Times, October 14, 1861

    ... his insistence upon the need to create a vinculum among men and to live in hope arises not from a blindness to human conflict but precisely from a very clear awareness of this very conflict. Clyde Pax, An Existential Approach to God: A Study of Gabriel Marcel, 1972

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  • Word of the day
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    Friday, August 02, 2019

    slake

    verb (used with object) [sleyk]
    to lessen or allay (thirst, desire, wrath, etc.) by satisfying.
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    What is the origin of slake?

    Slake means "to lessen or allay something by satisfying it." While we can slake our curiosity, desire, hunger, or anger, we most commonly say we slake our thirst. Slake comes from Middle English slaken “to mitigate, allay, moderate, lessen one’s efforts,” from Old English slacian “to slacken.” Old English slacian is a verb based off the adjective sleac, slæc, variously meaning “loose, lazy, careless, sluggish, lax (of conduct),” which by Middle English (as slac, slak) narrowed to the sense of “loose, not tight,” the principal sense of its modern form, slack, today. Old English sleac (via Germanic slak-) derives from the Proto-Indo-European root (s)lēg-, which, in its Latin variants, ultimately yielded such English words as languid,  languish, lax, lease, release, and relax. Once again, etymology offers an important life lesson: it’s best not to languish, so slake your thirst—with a beverage of your choice—and relax, but don’t be too lax about it and slack off.

    How is slake used?

    The desperate elephants dig a well in order to slake the thirst of their little calf. Sonia Saraiya, "Staggering, Marvelous Our Planet Is the Nature Show We've Been Waiting For," Vanity Fair, April 9, 2019

    He could not slake his thirst; he kept going into the kitchen and ladling more water out of the bucket that stood on a bench under the window facing the large moonlit yard. Péter Nádas, Parallel Stories, translated by Imre Goldstein, 2011

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