Word of the Day

Thursday, August 08, 2019

cat's-paw

[ kats-paw ]

noun

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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Wednesday, August 07, 2019

manqué

[ mahng-key ]

adjective

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
Tuesday, August 06, 2019

spondulicks

[ spon-doo-liks ]

noun

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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