Word of the Day

Word of the day

Saturday, November 20, 2021

cenotaph

[ sen-uh-taf ]

noun

a sepulchral monument erected in memory of a deceased person whose body is buried elsewhere.

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What is the origin of cenotaph?

Cenotaph “a monument erected in memory of a person buried elsewhere” derives by way of Latin cenotaphium from Ancient Greek kenotáphion, literally meaning “empty tomb,” from kenós “empty” and táphos “tomb.” A common misconception is that the ceno- element of cenotaph is related to the identical combining forms ceno- (also caeno- or caino-) “new” and ceno- (also coeno-) “common,” but despite the resemblance, there is no connection. The diphthongs ai and oi in Ancient Greek, which were adapted as ae and oe in Latin, both frequently become e in American English, which can easily result in homonyms—words that sound and are spelled the same but are unrelated. A similar example occurred with the element pedo- in pedology, which can mean “soil science” when pedo- is derived from Ancient Greek pédon “soil,” or can mean “the study of child development” when pedo- is derived from Ancient Greek paîs (stem paid-) “child.” Cenotaph was first recorded at the turn of the 17th century.

how is cenotaph used?

Archaeologists said on Friday they had discovered an ancient cenotaph that almost certainly commemorated the legendary founder of Rome, Romulus, buried in the heart of the Italian capital. The small chamber containing a simple sarcophagus and round stone block was originally found at the start of the last century beneath the Capitoline Hill inside the old Roman forum.

Crispian Balmer, “Archaeologists unveil possible shrine to Rome’s first king,” Reuters, February 21, 2020
[T]he Austrian Government has practically decided to erect an imposing monument on the summit of Grossglockner, the highest mountain in the Tyrolese Alps, to the memory of the unknown Austrian soldier. The site of the cenotaph has been chosen by engineers. The project, however, is meeting some opposition from Vienna, where it is considered that the monument should be erected in the Austrian capital. Alpinists are supporting the first plan.

"Austria to Build a Cenotaph On Its Highest Alpine Peak," New York Times, March 25, 1926

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Friday, November 19, 2021

nugatory

[ noo-guh-tawr-ee ]

adjective

of no force or effect; ineffective; futile; vain.

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What is the origin of nugatory?

Nugatory “of no force or effect” comes from Latin nūgātōrius “worthless, useless,” from the verb nūgārī “to trifle.” Nūgārī, in turn, derives from the plural noun nūgae “trifles, idle talk, frivolities,” which is also the source of nugacious, a synonym of nugatory, and nugacity, a noun that means “insignificance.” While it may seem odd that Latin features nouns such as nūgae that always appear in the plural, English is no stranger to nouns that usually or exclusively appear in plural form. Many objects that contain two component parts, such as pants, trousers, scissors, and shears, are typically limited to the plural, as are certain location-related words, such as headquarters and surroundings. Nugatory was first recorded in English at the turn of the 17th century.

how is nugatory used?

I am sending you herewith photo and description of our pressure testing machine. It is our belief that the method and construction employed entirely avoid errors from the following sources: (1) Variation in wind velocity; (2) Variations in temperature and density of the atmosphere; (3) Travel of center of pressure; (4) Variation in angle of incidence owing to movements of the mounting arms, The first two causes gave Mr. Langley trouble; while the third and fourth vitiate somewhat the natural wind experiments of Lilienthal. Gravity and centrifugal force are also rendered nugatory.

Wilbur Wright, Letter to Octave Chanute, January 19, 1902

While outdated theory may not render one’s interpretations nugatory, they may seem quaint to those who work within the field from which the ideas came, and intramural strife, if it remains unobserved, can not then serve to provide occasions for fruitful comparison, since intellectual battles in one arena often have interesting parallels and previously unimagined consequences within another.

Carlo Ginzburg, James D. Herbert, W. J. T. Mitchell, Thomas F. Reese and Ellen Handler Spitz, "Inter/disciplinarity," Art Bulletin, Vol. 77, December 1995

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Thursday, November 18, 2021

circadian

[ sur-key-dee-uhn ]

adjective

noting or pertaining to rhythmic biological cycles recurring at approximately 24-hour intervals.

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What is the origin of circadian?

Circadian “pertaining to 24-hour biological cycles” is a coinage based on two Latin terms: the preposition circā “about, around” and diēs “day.” English has also adapted circā directly (as circa) when providing estimates of dates. If you were wondering why circā resembled circle and circus, it is because all three words descend from Ancient Greek kírkos “ring, circle.” Latin diēs is also the source of day-related words such as diary, diet, and meridian; the term also has an adjective form, diurnus “daily,” which is the source of words such as diurnal and journal, as we learned about in the etymology for the recent Word of the Day selection toujours perdrix. Circadian was first recorded in English in the late 1950s.

how is circadian used?

Think of every cell and system in your body as having a tiny clock. And each of these tiny clocks is on approximately a 24-hour cycle, so a master clock in your brain coordinates and makes sure those tiny clocks work together. This “circadian system” essentially signals to your body what time of day it is and what time of year it is and helps match your behavior with your environment.

Kavitha Cardoza and Andee Tagle, “‘Tis the Season: Coping With SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder,” NPR, October 29, 2020

Sleep seems to remove us from the general tyranny of the advancing clock. When you wake, 20 minutes could have passed as easily as three hours. But sleep defines time, dividing day and night. Humans discover circadian rhythm through the urge to sleep. That urge is, of course, cyclic, endless: always more sleep to be had.

Siobhan Phillips, "Sleep as Resistance," Poetry Foundation, March 25, 2014

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