Word of the Day

Word of the day

Monday, September 27, 2021

chernozem

[ chur-nuh-zem, chair- ]

noun

a soil common in cool or temperate semiarid climates, very black and rich in humus and carbonates.

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What is the origin of chernozem?

Chernozem “a soil common in cool or temperate semiarid climates, very black and rich in humus” is a borrowing from Russian chernozëm, a compound of chërnyĭ “black” and zemlyá “earth.” The first element derives from a root also found in the Slavic names Chernobog “black god” (also spelled Chernabog and Czernobog), one of two gods of fate in Slavic mythology, and Chernobyl, the site of a nuclear disaster in Ukraine, whose name derives from Russian chernobyl “wormwood” or, literally, “black herb.” This same root also appears in Sanskrit as the Hindu god Krishna, whose name means “black.” The latter part of chernozem derives from the Proto-Indo-European root dhghem- “earth,” which is the source of several land-related words, such as chthonic (from Ancient Greek khthōn “earth”), exhume and humble (from Latin humus “earth”), and chameleon and chamomile (from Ancient Greek chamaí “on the ground”). Further derivatives of this root include person-related terms such as bridegroom (from Old English guma “man”), hominid (from Latin homō “man”), and human (from Latin hūmānus, of the same meaning). Chernozem was first recorded in English in the mid-1800s.

how is chernozem used?

The temperate climate of the Ukraine, which lies south of Russia, is similar to that of France and the American Midwest. Here, rainfall is well distributed, and we’ll be riding with heads bowed under a drizzle every other day. As we advance, the earth turns black; this is the famous chernozem that nourishes this lush and grassy country and enables it to support many species of wildlife flying, grazing, and crawling in every direction.

Bjarke Rink, The Rise of the Centaurs, 2013

Two thirds of Ukrainian land, or 42.7 million hectares, is made up of chernozem, the legendary black earth that is widely regarded as the world’s most fertile soil. This is almost exactly the same size as the US state of California. Ukraine’s remarkable land bank makes the country a potential agricultural superpower.

Roman Leshchenko, "Land reform can make Ukraine an agricultural superpower," Atlantic Council, June 22, 2021

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Word of the day

Sunday, September 26, 2021

perfidy

[ pur-fi-dee ]

noun

deliberate breach of faith or trust; faithlessness; treachery.

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What is the origin of perfidy?

Perfidy “deliberate breach of faith or trust” derives from Latin perfidia “faithlessness,” from the adjective perfidus, literally meaning “through faith” but more accurately translated as “beyond the limits of faith.” The base of perfidus is fidēs “trust, honesty, faith,” which is related to the verb fīdere “to trust,” and both terms are the source of numerous trust-related words, such as confidence, defiance, fealty, and fidelity. Perfidy was first recorded in English in the late 1500s.

how is perfidy used?

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat [sic] the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

Thomas Jefferson, et al., The Declaration of Independence, July, 4, 1776

Perhaps the only thing stranger than my circuitous locution in English is my sheepishness in ordering General Tso’s in Chinese in front of other Chinese people, uttering a name that is simultaneously so evidently Chinese and not-Chinese that its very pronunciation presents, at least to this neurotic immigrant, a paralyzing problem of cultural fidelity and perfidy.

Jiayang Fan, "Searching for America with General Tso," The New Yorker, March 12, 2015

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Word of the day

Saturday, September 25, 2021

codicil

[ kod-uh-suhl ]

noun

any supplement; appendix.

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What is the origin of codicil?

Codicil “any supplement; appendix” derives via Late Latin cōdicillus from Latin cōdex (stem cōdic-) “bound book” or, earlier, “piece of wood” or “tree trunk.” This semantic shift from “part of a tree” to “book” is rather common in world languages; the word book is likely connected to the beech tree, and Latin liber “book” originally referred to the inner bark of a tree. Cōdex is a variant of caudex, with the same meaning, of uncertain origin, though a connection to Latin cauda or cōda “tail” has been suggested. An additional theory is a derivation from the Proto-Indo-European root kau- “to hit, strike,” as a tree must be struck and cut down to obtain wood; if this theory is correct, caudex would be a cognate of the English words hew “to strike forcibly with an ax” and hay “grass cut and dried for use as forage.” Codicil was first recorded in English in the late 1300s or early 1400s.

how is codicil used?

William Ernest Hocking, an emeritus professor of philosophy at Harvard … considered the First Amendment “glorious” but “potentially mischievous,” and he took it upon himself to recalibrate it. Initially he proposed adding a codicil to the Bill of Rights stating that its freedoms extend only to those who exercise them responsibly. Other commission members resisted a rewrite of the Constitution, so he came up with a way to reconceive it without changing the text.

Stephen Bates, “The Man Who Wanted to Save the First Amendment by Inverting It,” The Atlantic, October 7, 2020

I’m still on board with the scientists who believe that advances in AI will make life better for all of us. Ultimately, using the power of computation for cognition is a great and historic human enterprise. But may I add a codicil to that declaration? Always check the printouts.

Stephen Levy, "What Deep Blue Tells Us About AI in 2017," Wired, May 23, 2017

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