Word of the Day

Monday, September 16, 2019

clamant

[ kley-muhnt, klam-uhnt ]

adjective

compelling or pressing; urgent: a clamant need for reform.

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What is the origin of clamant?

The English adjective clamant comes from the Latin present participle clāmāns (stem clamant-), from the verb clāmāre “to shout, utter a loud noise.” The second sense in English, “compelling, pressing, urgent,” does not occur in Latin and is mostly a Scottish usage. Clamant entered English in the 17th century.

how is clamant used?

… despite the clamant need for economic and political measures which only peace can render possible, may it not be the part of the far-visioned statesmanship to face that inescapable issue now … ?

Henry P. Van Dusen, "China's Crisis," Life, September 2, 1946

I remember dwelling in imagination upon this or that dish till my mouth watered; and long before we got in for the night my appetite was a clamant, instant annoyance.

Robert Louis Stevenson, An Inland Voyage, 1878
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Sunday, September 15, 2019

refugium

[ ri-fyoo-jee-uhm ]

noun

an area where special environmental circumstances have enabled a species or a community of species to survive after extinction in surrounding areas.

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What is the origin of refugium?

The biological or ecological sense of English refugium “an area where special environmental circumstances have enabled a species or a community of species to survive after extinction in surrounding areas,” is a straightforward borrowing of the Latin noun refugium. (The usual English plural is the Latin plural, refugia, but refugiums is also found.) The Latin noun does not have the modern English sense, of course, and means only “a place or means of shelter, a place to flee or retreat to.” Refugium entered English in the early 20th century.

how is refugium used?

Hence, it served as a refugium for animal and plant species that the ice cap displaced or destroyed elsewhere.

Dan O'Neill, A Land Gone Lonesome, 2006

Trees that survive in a refugium also may help speed the recovery of the surrounding ecosystem. Their seeds float across the charred landscape, producing a new crop of plants.

Carl Zimmer, "'Lifeboats' Amid the World's Wildfires," New York Times, October 12, 2018
Saturday, September 14, 2019

contranym

[ kon-truh-nim ]

noun

a word that has opposite or nearly opposite meanings, as cleave, meaning "to adhere closely" and "to part or split"; Janus word.

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What is the origin of contranym?

Contranym, “a word that has opposite or nearly opposite meanings,” is a good term to have though trotting it out in certain circles may spark debate about whether it should be spelled contranym (from contra– and –(o)nym), an example of prodelision (loss of an initial vowel), or contronym (from contr(a)– and –onym), an example of elision (loss of a final vowel). Contranyms are also called Janus words (Janus was the Roman god of doorways, beginnings, transitions, and time, and is usually portrayed as having two faces, one looking toward the past, the other toward the future). Some very common, current contranyms (or Janus words) include sanction “to authorize, approve, or allow” and “to penalize, discipline” (the Latin verb sancīre means both “to ratify solemnly, confirm (laws, treaties)” and “to make an offense punishable by law”); the verb cleave “to split, divide” and “to remain faithful to” (cleave derives from two different Old English verbs: cleofian “to adhere, stick” and clēofan “to separate, split”); and oversight “supervision (as by a Congressional committee),” and “omission, mistake.” Contranym entered English in the early 1960s.

how is contranym used?

Sometimes, just to heighten the confusion, the same word ends up with contradictory meanings. This kind of word is called a contronym.

Bill Bryson, The Mother Tongue, 1990

“No, totally.” “No, definitely.” “No, exactly.” “No, yes.” These curious uses turn “no” into a kind of contranym: a word that can function as its own opposite.

Kathryn Schulz, "What Part of 'No, Totally' Don't You Understand?" The New Yorker, April 7, 2015

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