Word of the Day

Saturday, March 07, 2020

cavil

[ kav-uhl ]

verb (used without object)

to raise irritating and trivial objections; find fault with unnecessarily (usually followed by at or about): He finds something to cavil at in everything I say.

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What is the origin of cavil?

The verb cavil “to raise irritating and trivial objections” ultimately comes from the Latin verb cavillārī “to jeer, scoff, quibble,” a derivative of the noun cavilla “jesting, banter.” Cavillārī and calvī “to deceive, trick” come from the Latin root cal-, and cavilla comes from an earlier unrecorded calvilla. Cavil entered English in the 16th century.

how is cavil used?

Now, I’m not the type to cavil at the outrageous fortune of others, as long as they come by it legally.

, "Maybe Anyone Can Hop on the I.P.O. Bandwagon," New York Times, July 8, 2007

Has it become a custom for the brothers and sisters to carp and cavil at one another—and even for Mamma to cavil at her children—as I have heard you all do to-night?

Louis Couperus (1863–1923), Small Souls, translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos, 1914

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Friday, March 06, 2020

tantamount

[ tan-tuh-mount ]

adjective

equivalent, as in value, force, effect, or signification: His angry speech was tantamount to a declaration of war.

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What is the origin of tantamount?

In contemporary English tantamount is an adjective meaning “equivalent,” an adjective use of the obsolete noun tantamount “something equivalent, an equivalent,” which, in its turn, is a development of the somewhat earlier verb tantamount “to amount to as much” (all three parts of speech are recorded between 1628 and 1641). Tantamount comes from Anglo-French tant am(o)unter or Italian tanto montare “to amount to as much.” Tant and tanto come from the neuter Latin adjective tantum “so much”; am(o)unter “to add up to, ascend” comes from the Old French adverb amont “up, upward,” from Latin ad montem “(up) to the hill.”

how is tantamount used?

It was a daring move in those days; most men of the countryside feared the city, clung to what was safe and familiar, teaching their sons that leaving the land was tantamount to dying.

Bina Shah, A Season for Martyrs, 2014

Recovering a diamond at Karowe is tantamount to finding a needle in a haystack, in a barn full of other haystacks without needles.

Ed Caesar, "The Woman Shaking Up the Diamond Industry," The New Yorker, January 27, 2020

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Thursday, March 05, 2020

cacoethes

[ kak-oh-ee-theez ]

noun

an irresistible urge; mania.

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What is the origin of cacoethes?

The rare noun cacoethes, “irresistible urge, mania,” comes from the Latin neuter noun cacoēthes “malignant tumor at an early stage, incurable disease (of character),” from Greek kakóēthes “malice, wickedness,” neuter singular noun use of the adjective kakóēthes, “ill-disposed, malicious, malignant,” a compound of kakós “bad, wretched” and the noun êthos “custom, habit, character, usage.” Cacoethes in the sense “irresistible urge, mania” comes from the Roman satirist Juvenal’s phrase insānābile scrībendī cacoēthes “incurable urge to write.” Cacoethes entered English in the 16th century.

how is cacoethes used?

We must talk, think, and live up to the spirit of the times, and write up to it too, if that cacoethes be upon us, or we are nought.

Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers, 1857

“Malachi has caught cacoethes scribendi, the scribbling craze, and is writing more sermons,” Turlow reported.

Sam Pickering, Indian Summer, 2005

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