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
Friday, January 31, 2020

sagacious

[ suh-gey-shuhs ]

adjective

having or showing acute mental discernment and keen practical sense; shrewd: Socrates, that sagacious Greek philosopher, believed that the easiest way to learn was by asking questions.

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What is the origin of sagacious?

Sagacious derives straightforwardly from the Latin adjective sagāx (stem sagāc-) “having keen (mental) perception or senses (especially of smell)” and is a derivative of the verb sagīre “to perceive keenly.” The Latin forms come from a Proto-Indo-European root sāg-, “to trace, track down, investigate,” from which Greek derives hēgeîsthai (dialect hāgeîsthai) “to go before, guide,” and English derives “seek.” Sagacious entered English in the early 17th century.

how is sagacious used?

This also preserves the long-standing archetype of the infallible, unflappable and sagacious physician.

Jalal Baig, "Why crying over a terminal patient made me a better doctor," Washington Post, February 24, 2019

It was the service of a trained and sagacious mind, a cool and sure judgment.

"Mr. Root as Secretary of War," New York Times, July 23, 1899
Thursday, January 30, 2020

mizzle

[ miz-uhl ]

verb (used with or without object)

to rain in fine drops; drizzle; mist.

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What is the origin of mizzle?

The word mizzle, both noun and verb, is dialectal and regional in the U.S. The verb comes from Middle English misellen (missill) “to drizzle,” and is related to Middle Dutch misel “fog, dew” and Dutch dialect miezelen “to rain gently.” The noun sense entered English in the late 15th century.

how is mizzle used?

It had started to mizzle again as a matter of course; that sunshine had been far too fragile; now it had relapsed into a suffused presence behind the ceiling of steady grey.

Alan Hunter, Gently to the Summit, 1961

By the time I left the cathedral it was already dark, mizzling, the kind of rain that looks like mist but drenches you in minutes.

Pat Barker, "Medusa," The New Yorker, April 8, 2019
Wednesday, January 29, 2020

definiendum

[ dih-fin-ee-en-duhm ]

noun

something that is or is to be defined, especially the term at the head of a dictionary entry.

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What is the origin of definiendum?

Definiendum comes straight from Latin dēfīniendum “to be defined.” In Latin grammar, dēfīniendum is a gerundive, a kind of verbal adjective showing, among other things, obligation or necessity. Dēfīniendum derives from the verb dēfīnīre “to fix the limits of, bound, define,” a compound of the preposition and intensive prefix , – and the simple verb fīnīre “to mark out or form the boundaries of,” a derivative of the noun fīnis “boundary (of a territory).” Definiendum is a technical term used in lexicography and logic. A similar gerundive, demonstrandum “to be demonstrated,” appears in Q.E.D., an abbreviation of quod erat dēmonstrandum, “what was to be demonstrated,” used at the end of a proof in geometry. Definiendum entered English in the second half of the 19th century.

how is definiendum used?

Discussions of definition distinguish between the definiendum (the word or phrase that is to be defined) and the definiens (the word of phrase that is used to define it).

Patrick Hanks, "Definition," The Oxford Handbook of Lexicography, 2016

Don’t make the definiens technical or subtle if the definiendum is not technical or subtle.

Andrew Woodfield, Teleology, 1976
Tuesday, January 28, 2020

canting

[ kan-ting ]

adjective

affectedly or hypocritically pious or righteous: a canting social reformer.

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What is the origin of canting?

Canting comes from one of the senses of the verb cant, “to talk hypocritically or with affected piety.” One of the famed lexicographer Samuel Johnson’s five senses for cant is “A whining pretension to goodness, in formal and affected terms.” Cant and canting ultimately come from Latin cantāre “to sing.” Cantāre and its derivatives such as cantus “song, chant, chanting” were used contemptuously in Medieval Latin for perfunctory and lackluster liturgical chanting of the hours. In English by the first half of the 18th century, cant also meant “the singsong whining or chants of beggars; the phraseology peculiar to a particular class, party, or profession,” and “insincere, conventional expressions of enthusiasm for high ideals, goodness, or piety.” Canting entered English in the second half of the 16th century.

how is canting used?

He’s a villain in disguise; that’s my opinion of him. A low, canting hypocrite.

T. S. Arthur, True Riches; or, Wealth Without Wings, 1852

While conducting a petty, politically motivated trial and listening to a canting, ideological prosecutor, she looks bored and casts her glance aside.

Richard Brody, "The Distasteful Vagueness of 'Ida'," The New Yorker, May 9, 2014

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