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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Wednesday, March 04, 2020

sic

[ seek; English sik ]

adverb

Latin.

so; thus: usually written parenthetically to denote that a word, phrase, passage, etc., that may appear strange or incorrect has been written intentionally or has been quoted verbatim: He signed his name as e. e. cummings (sic).

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What is the origin of sic?

People may be familiar with the motto of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Sic semper tyrannis “Thus ever to tyrants.” Usually, English sic appears alone, usually written in italics within square brackets, [sic], showing that the preceding misused or misspelled word is correctly cited, as, for instance, “marshal [sic] law” for “martial law.” Sic comes straight from the Latin adverb sīc “thus, so,” which is the source of Italian , Spanish and Catalan , and French si, all meaning “yes.” A related Latin word, the conjunction “if,” is the source of Italian se, Spanish and Catalan si, and French si, all meaning “if.” Sic entered English in the second half of the 19th century.

how is sic used?

Would love to take a new look at you’re (sic) new book. … Is Clint Reno still you’re (sic) agent?

Ted Heller, Pocket Kings, 2012

In her remarks, she flattered her audience as “smart people who also happens [sic] to be rich and powerful.”

Avi Steinberg, "Can a Robot Join the Faith?" The New Yorker, November 13, 2017

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Tuesday, March 03, 2020

delegate

[ noun del-i-git, -geyt ]

noun

a person designated to act for or represent another or others; deputy; representative, as in a political convention.

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What is the origin of delegate?

English delegate ultimately comes from Latin dēlēgātus “appointee,” a noun use of the past participle of the verb dēlēgāre “to appoint, assign,” a compound of the prefix dē- “away (from here)” and the simple verb lēgāre “to send as an envoy, depute,” a derivative of the noun lex (stem lēg-) “law” (source of legal and, via Old French, loyal). Formerly in U.S legal and constitutional usage, a delegate was the title of a representative of a state in the First Continental Congress (1774), and later the title of the representative of a Territory in the U.S. House of Representatives. Delegate entered English in the 14th century.

how is delegate used?

By the end of Super Tuesday, more than a third of all convention delegates will have been pledged nationally.

George Skelton, "California won't be a kingmaker on Super Tuesday. But it's the gatekeeper to the final stretch," Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2020

By the mid-1960s, Nixon was still regarded as a joke by the national press and the national party structure, but he found himself with more and more friends at the party’s local level, friends who would eventually be delegates to the 1968 Republican Convention.

Gregg Easterbrook, "The Perpetual Campaign," The Atlantic, January 1983

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Monday, March 02, 2020
Today's Word of the Day was selected by NASA

astronaut

[ as-truh-nawt, -not ]

noun

a person engaged in or trained for spaceflight.

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Why NASA chose astronaut

Calling all astrophiles! Today, March 2, NASA begins accepting applications for their next class of astronauts. Do you have what it takes to become a "star sailor"? Watch this video to find out!

What is the origin of astronaut?

Astronaut entered the orbit of English speakers in the late 1800s from the realm of science fiction. The first recorded instance comes from an 1880 novel by Percy Greg called Across the Zodiac: The Story of a Wrecked Record, in which Astronaut is the name of the narrator’s spacecraft. The sense under discussion today, “a person engaged in or trained for spaceflight,” emerged in the 1920s, decades before the launch of Sputnik (1957) marked the beginning of the Space Age. Astronaut is a compound of astro– “pertaining to stars or celestial bodies or to activities, as spaceflight, taking place outside the earth’s atmosphere,” from Greek ástron “star, constellation,” and –naut a combining form meaning “traveler,” from Greek naútēs “sailor.” 

how is astronaut used?

In the latter part of the twentieth century, those fantasies [of conquering space] were replaced by actual vehicles which could venture into space and a daring new breed of hero—the astronaut.

Colin Burgess, Selecting the Mercury Seven: The Search for America's First Astronauts, 2011

From the very beginning this “astronaut” business was just an unbelievable good deal. It was such a good deal that it seemed like tempting fate for an astronaut to call himself an astronaut, even though that was the official job description.

Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff, 1979

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Sunday, March 01, 2020

habitué

[ huh-bich-oo-ey, -bich-oo-ey; French a-bee-twey ]

noun

a frequent or habitual visitor to a place: a habitué of art galleries.

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What is the origin of habitué?

Habitué, “a frequent or habitual visitor,” still feels very French in its spelling and pronunciation. Habitué is often used for someone who frequents places of recreation or amusement, such as poolrooms, bars, or used bookstores. French habitué is a noun use of the masculine past participle of the verb habituer “to frequent,” from Late Latin habituāre, a derivative of the Latin noun habitus “state, state of being, condition.” Habitué entered English in the 19th century.

how is habitué used?

[He was] a jaded habitué of nightclubs, an expert poker player, deceitful and polite, who trimmed his nails carefully every morning.

Victor Serge (1890–1947), The Birth of Our Power, translated by Richard Greeman, 2014

Mr. Zegen is a hunter and gatherer of no mean talent, a gift he said he inherited from his mother, a habitué of garage, estate and yard sales, who scored the red-and-black rug on the floor in the living room.

Joanne Kaufman, "Mr. Maisel's Memorabilia," New York Times, November 27, 2018

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