Word of the Day

Monday, February 03, 2020

caucus

[ kaw-kuhs ]

noun

U.S. Politics. a local meeting of party members to select candidates, elect convention delegates, etc.

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What is the origin of caucus?

“You pays your money, and you takes your choice” when it comes to the origin of caucus. The true answer is that the origin of caucus is unknown, which naturally leads to many folk etymologies. The word first appears in the Boston Gazette (1760) and is spelled Corcas. The modern spelling caucus appears in 1788, and the citation reads “More than fifty years ago [therefore about 1735], Mr. Samuel Adams’s father, and twenty others…, used to meet, make a caucus.” A possible source of caucus is the Late Latin noun caucus “drinking cup,” from Greek kaûkos with the same meaning. The trouble with Latin caucus is that there is no evidence for this development of meaning, and that Latin caucus occurs only once, in a work by St. Jerome. A second etymology, closer to home, so to speak, claims that caucus is an Algonquian word, from Virginia Algonquian Cawcawwassough, specifically, and means “elders of the Chickahominy people.” Cawcawwassough dates from 1608, but again there is no “chain of evidence” connecting Cawcawwassough to political clubs in Boston.

how is caucus used?

The Iowa caucuses are never simple. Voters spend hours in high school gymnasiums or public libraries, starting their night by declaring support for their preferred presidential candidate.

Alexandra Jaffe, "New Iowa caucus rules could spark clashing claims of victory," Washington Post, January 16, 2020

The caucuses were supposed to be less important this time. But they still might pick the winner.

Ross Douthat, "Will Iowa Decide the Democratic Nomination?" New York Times, January 14, 2020
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Sunday, February 02, 2020

gree

[ gree ]

noun

Chiefly Scot.

the prize for victory.

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What is the origin of gree?

The senses of the very rare noun gree “superiority, mastery; prize for victory” are either obsolete or Scottish. The Middle English spellings include gre and gree; in Middle English the word means “a step, flight of steps; victory in combat; a prize for such a victory; rank, position, dignity,” from Old French gré, grei “a step, degree.” The Old French forms are regular phonetic developments of Latin gradus “a step (literal and metaphorical), pace, stair, rung (of a ladder), tier (of seats), (musical) interval.” Gradus, a derivative of the verb gradī “to walk, step, proceed,” is the ultimate source of English grade, gradual, graduate, and degree. Gree entered English in the early 14th century.

how is gree used?

And here to win gree happily for ever …

James I, "The Kingis Quair," The Poetic Remains of Some of the Scotish Kings, 1824

A false usurper wan the gree, / Who now commands the towers and lands …

Robert Burns, "The Bonie Lass of Albanie," Second Commonplace Book, 1787–90
Saturday, February 01, 2020

fictile

[ fik-tl; British fik-tahyl ]

adjective

of or relating to pottery.

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What is the origin of fictile?

Some of the meanings of the rare adjective fictile are “capable of being molded; made of earth or clay by a potter; pertaining to pottery.” Fictile comes straight from Latin fictilis “made of or pertaining to earthenware, pottery, terra cotta,” a derivative of fictus, the past participle of the verb fingere “to shape (from clay, wax, molten metal, etc.), create, produce, transform.” Also from fic-, a variant of the Latin root fig-, Latin has fictiō (stem fictiōn-) “act of shaping or molding; pretense, personification; supposition, legal fiction” (English fiction). From fig– Latin has the nouns figūra “form, shape, composition, makeup” (English figure) and figmentum “something formed or devised; a fiction or invention” (English figment). Fictile entered English in the 17th century.

how is fictile used?

… in the fictile arts we can not approach the French and Italian potters of the sixteenth …

Henry Van Brunt, "Growth of Conscience in the Decorative Arts," The Atlantic, August 1878

The chief function of clay in the fictile arts is its partial fusion upon firing, and upon this and the skill of the artisan who fires the kiln depends the product, which is wonderfully varied by the mixtures of fluxes and tempering material.

Robert T. Hill, "Clay Materials of the United States," Mineral Resources of the United States, 1893

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