Word of the Day

Word of the day

Thursday, December 23, 2021

cavort

[ kuh-vawrt ]

verb (used without object)

to behave in a high-spirited, festive manner; make merry.

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What is the origin of cavort?

Cavort “to behave in a high-spirited, festive manner,” earlier cavault, is of uncertain origin. One hypothesis is a connection to curvet “a leap of a horse from a rearing position”; curvet ultimately derives via Italian corvette and French courbette from the Latin adjective curvus “crooked, bent, curved.” An alternative hypothesis is a link to vault, in the sense “to leap over,” which follows a path similar to that of curvet above: vault comes by way of French volter and Italian voltare, both meaning “to turn,” from Latin volvere, of the same meaning. Whether cavort is simply a corruption of curvet, an elaboration of vault, or a compound of curvet and vault remains unclear. Cavort was first recorded in English circa 1790.

how is cavort used?

Boise is home to Basque Block, a visually striking, albeit compact, corridor of Basque restaurants, murals, and a museum in the middle of downtown. Once every five years, the block comes alive with Jaialdi, a massive, six-day celebration that takes over West Grove Street …. Dancers from across the country cavort to the sounds of the txirula, while other Basque-Americans show off their skills in farm competitions like milk-can carrying, wagon lifting, and hay bale throwing. Standing in the audience, you’re likely to hear as much Basque as English.

Alex Schechter, “Looking for Basque country in Idaho? Just follow the sheep,” National Geographic, November 1, 2019

Visitors to Great Ormond Street Hospital this Christmas are in for a woolly surprise. The local postbox, on the corner with Queen Square, has been decorated with this festive tableau. Elves, reindeer and gingerbread people cavort around a Christmas tree, all on top of a traditional postbox. A note around the pillar (and a bit of sleuthing) reveals this to be the work of Sabine Oakley in the Random Acts of Crochet Kindness group on Facebook. She placed the topper on 10 November, and it’s still looking bright and cheerful one month on.

Matt Brown, "Crocheted Christmas Post Box Brings Joy To Great Ormond Street," Londonist, December 9, 2021
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Word of the day

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

encumber

[ en-kuhm-ber ]

verb (used with object)

to impede or hinder; hamper.

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What is the origin of encumber?

Encumber “to impede or hinder” derives via Middle English from the Anglo-French noun combre “dam, weir”; just as encumber involves restricting action, the purpose of a dam is to restrict the movement of water. Combre ultimately comes from unattested Gaulish comberos “confluence, bringing together,” which may derive from two Proto-Indo-European roots: kom “with” (compare the Latin-derived prefix co- “together”) and bher- “to carry, bring” (compare English bear and the -fer element in the Latin-origin verbs prefer, refer, and transfer). Encumber was first recorded in English in the early 1300s.

how is encumber used?

Around half of all people with these mutations depend on blood transfusions throughout their entire lives. The quality of that life is encumbered, and its length might be curtailed. The only cure is a transplant of blood stem cells from a close relative or preferably an identical twin. As you might imagine, that’s not always possible and even when it is, it’s a risky procedure with no guarantee of success.

Ed Yong, “Gene therapy saves patient from lifetime of blood transfusions,” National Geographic, September 15, 2010
[W]hile the maker of television documentaries [Fred W. Friendly] has the means of recording with great precision what appears in front of his cameras, the very equipment that enables him to do this also encumbers him in his attempt to depict every situation truly. A conventional journalist can go into a room, get interviews with some of the people present, and then depart without having noticeably intruded upon the proceedings. The arrival of a network television camera crew, however, is an event in itself, and for many people in a room may overshadow in importance anything else that is taking place there.

Thomas Whiteside, "The One-Ton Pencil," The New Yorker, February 9, 1962
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Word of the day

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

hiemal

[ hahy-uh-muhl ]

adjective

of or relating to winter; wintry.

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What is the origin of hiemal?

Hiemal “of or relating to winter” comes from Latin adjective hiemālis, of the same meaning, from hiems “winter.” Another adjective related to hiems is hībernus “wintry,” which is the source of hibernal and hibernate. Hiems comes from the Proto-Indo-European root ghei- “winter,” which is also the source of Ancient Greek chiṓn “snow” and cheimṓn “winter” as well as Sanskrit hima “snow,” as in Himalayas, the mountain range in southern Asia. The English word winter, in contrast, derives instead from the same root as water and wet. Hiemal was first recorded in English in the 1550s.

how is hiemal used?

School was taught from the fifteenth of September to the twenty-fifth of May, with a couple of interruptions…Since snow and frost lasted from October well into April, no wonder the mean of my school memories is definitely hiemal.

Robert Roper, Nabokov in America: On the Road to Lolita, 2015

The air through which it raced was thin, with less than one per cent of sea-level pressure, and at sixty below as deadly cold as the most hiemal places on earth, but despite that the matt-black [sic] titanium alloy skin of the aircraft seared with enough heat to vaporise a hand.

Peter Fox, Downtime, 1986
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