Word of the Day

Word of the day

Friday, January 22, 2021

cause célèbre

[ kawz suh-leb-ruh, -leb; French kohz sey-leb-ruh ]

noun

any controversy that attracts great public attention.

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What is the origin of cause célèbre?

Cause célèbre is a French phrase still unnaturalized in English, meaning “famous (legal) case.” French cause comes from Latin causa “legal proceedings, trial”; célèbre comes from Latin celeber (inflectional stem celebr-) “crowded, busy, well-attended, famous.” Causes célèbres in the U.S. include the Scopes Trial, maybe more commonly known as the Monkey Trial (1925) about the teaching of evolution, and the O.J. Simpson Trial (1994–95). The term is also used more broadly to refer to any controversy that attracts great public attention. Cause célèbre entered English in the second half of the 18th century.

how is cause célèbre used?

The case eventually became a global cause célèbre; Bob Dylan wrote a song about it, Denzel Washington starred in a movie about it.

Jonathan Dee, "Nelson Algren's Street Cred," The New Yorker, April 8, 2019

Krajnc’s case became a cause celebre among animal protection activists, some of whom have established groups modeled on Toronto Pig Save, and attracted the support of celebrities including the singer Moby, who offered financial support.

Karin Brulliard, "Activist who gave water to pigs is found not guilty of a crime," Washington Post, May 5, 2017

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Word of the day

Thursday, January 21, 2021

macaronic

[ mak-uh-ron-ik ]

adjective

composed of a mixture of languages.

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What is the origin of macaronic?

Macaronic originally meaning “composed in a mixture of Latin and vernacular languages, or using vernacular words with Latin inflectional endings, typically for burlesque or parody” is not much used nowadays with Latin composition on its way out. But macaronic also includes any combination of languages, such as the John Lennon and Paul McCartney song Michelle (1965) written in a combination of English and French. Macaronic comes from Middle French macaronique and New Latin macarōnicus. The French and Latin adjectives come from Southern dialectal Italian maccaroni (Italian maccheroni) “dumplings, gnocchi,” the source of English macaroni. The original Italian dish was a mixture of pasta, butter, and cheese (pretty close to our macaroni and cheese), and it was originally regarded as coarse food only for peasants. The meaning of macaronic comes from the association of this peasant food with the vernacular language of peasants. Macaronic entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is macaronic used?

Perhaps the world’s most difficult “novel,” James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake,” is almost entirely constructed of multilayered puns, often macaronic puns, which draw on two or more languages. A simple example would be calling an elegant frankfurter a “haute dog.”

Michael Dirda, "So you think it’s all a big joke? What wit really is—and why we need it," Washington Post, December 12, 2018

Indeed, linguistic change—the amazing porousness of English to influence, its macaronic glory—is exactly what gave us all these interesting words in the first place …

Sam Leith, "Don’t be a juggins–why some words deserve to fall out of use," The Guardian, November 16, 2018

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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

inaugurate

[ in-aw-gyuh-reyt, -guh- ]

verb (used with object),

to induct into office with formal ceremonies; install.

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What is the origin of inaugurate?

“Well begun is half done” about sums up the verb inaugurate. Inaugurate derives from Latin inaugurātus, the past participle of inaugurāre “to consecrate by augury (as by observing the flight of birds).” The Romans were addicted to religion, law, farming, the military, and the accompanying rituals to ensure the successful beginning and completion of an undertaking. Inaugurāre is a derivative of the noun augurium “soothsaying, divination,” a derivative of augur, an official who observes and interprets the flight of birds. The Romans themselves interpreted augurium to be derived from avis “bird” (pronounced awis and thus resembling the first syllable of augurium). It is more likely that augur and its derivatives derive from the verb augēre “to make grow, increase (crops, cattle),” the source of augment and auction in English. Inaugurate entered English in the early 17th century.

how is inaugurate used?

As we prepare to turn the page on 2020, and inaugurate Joe Biden as president on 20 January 2021, the incoming administration has a climate mandate to listen to people across America—and keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Faith Spotted Eagle and Kendall Mackey, "Biden must be our 'climate president'. He can start by ending pipeline projects," The Guardian, December 23, 2020

In the coming months, after years of ground-laying, controversy, and anticipation, the United States will finally complete an imperfect civic process that, though heavily compromised by geography, logistics, and partisanship, will affect the life of every single American for years to come. Also, the country will inaugurate a new president.

Adam Chandler, "What I Saw as a 2020 Census Worker," The Atlantic, November 24, 2020

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