Word of the Day

Thursday, July 23, 2020

clamber

[ klam-ber, klam-er ]

verb (used with or without object)

to climb, using both feet and hands; climb with effort or difficulty.

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What is the origin of clamber?

Clamber, “to climb using hands and feet, with effort or difficulty,” comes from Middle English clambren (also clameren, clemeren), possibly a frequentative verb from climben (also clemme, climme, klimbe, clomme) “to climb.” Further etymology is unsatisfying: it has been suggested that clamber is a blend of Old English climban “to climb” and clæmman “to press”; clamber is akin to Old Norse klambra “to hook onto,” and Middle High German klamben and German klammern, both meaning “to clamp tightly.” Clamber entered English in the second half of the 14th century.

how is clamber used?

Outdoor restaurant tables and chairs could be seen bobbing in the waters, and tourists were forced to clamber through the windows of high-end hotels as the water rose to about six feet before 11 p.m. on Tuesday.

Elisabetta Povoledo, "Venice Flooding Brings City to 'Its Knees,'" New York Times, November 13, 2019

He began to clamber as fast as he could out of the enclosed space, his feet scrabbling at the wall and knocking bricks free.

Matthew Hughes, "Jewel of the Heart," Fantasy & Science Fiction, January/February 2018

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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

fungible

[ fuhn-juh-buhl ]

adjective

being of such nature or kind as to be freely exchangeable or replaceable, in whole or in part, for another of like nature or kind.

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What is the origin of fungible?

Fungible, with its precise definition “(especially of goods) of such a kind as to be freely exchangeable or replaceable for another of similar kind,” is pretty much restricted to law and finance. However the term is also used with a more general meaning of “interchangeable.” Fungible comes from Medieval Latin fungibilis “useful, interchangeable,” used especially in the legal term rēs fungibilēs “fungible things, interchangeable items.” Fungibilis is a derivation of Latin fungī “to perform the office of, enjoy.” Fungī forms part of the idiomatic phrase fungī vice or fungī prō “to take the place of,” which supplies the meaning for fungibilis. Fungible entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is fungible used?

Facebook and Google need content, but it’s all fungible.

Alexis C. Madrigal, "Prepare for the New Paywall Era," The Atlantic, November 30, 2017

Given that the Hong Kong-listed shares and the New York ones will be completely fungible, Alibaba can easily sell $13 billion of shares … at a small discount to its current share price.

Jacky Wong, "Hong Kong's Protests Won't Derail Alibaba's #13 Billion Listing," Wall Street Journal, November 18, 2019

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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

mirabilia

[ mee-rah-bil-i-ah; English mir-uh-bil-ee-uh ]

plural noun

Latin.

marvels; miracles.

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What is the origin of mirabilia?

In English, mirabilia is a plural noun meaning “miracles, wonders.” Mirabilia comes straight from Latin mīrābilia, a noun use of the neuter plural of the adjective mīrābilis “wonderful, marvelous, remarkable, singular.” In the Vulgate (the Latin version of the Bible, prepared chiefly by Saint Jerome at the end of the 4th century a.d.,) the adjective mīrābilis means “glorious, miraculous;” the noun use, mīrābile in the singular, mīrābilia in the plural, means “wondrous deed, miracle.” The corresponding form in Vulgar Latin, mīribilia (noun), regularly becomes merveille in Old French, merveille in Middle English, and marvel in English. Mirabilia entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is mirabilia used?

Reading this compendium is like exploring a cabinet of curiosities, each section home to uncanny and startling mirabilia.

Kanishk Tharoor, "Aphrodisiacs? Search This Medieval Islamic Encyclopedia," New York Times, October 7, 2016

in Rome you caused mirabilia to appear that the Romans themselves had never dreamed of, starting with the gabble of that Hugo of Jabala …

Umberto Eco, Baudolino, translated by William Weaver, 2002

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Monday, July 20, 2020

singularity

[ sing-gyuh-lar-i-tee ]

noun

a hypothesized future era or event when exponential improvements in computer intelligence and advances in technology will result in an acute change in human society and evolution.

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What is the origin of singularity?

Singularity comes from Middle English singularite, singulerite “solitude, solitary living; personal gain or advantage; individual or particular things; singleness of purpose,” from Old French singulerte, singulariteit “singular character or quality; peculiarity” or from Late Latin singulāritās (inflectional stem singulāritāt-) “a being alone or by oneself,” a derivative of the adjective singulāris “alone, alone of its kind, one by one, singular.” The computer or technological sense, “a hypothesized future in which exponential improvements in computer intelligence and technological advances result in an acute change in human society and evolution,” is closely associated with the computer scientist and science fiction author Vernor Vinge, who popularized this sense in his writings, most notably in his 1986 novel Marooned in Realtime, and later in an article titled “Technological Singularity” published in Whole Earth Review in 1993. Singularity entered English in the 14th century.

how is singularity used?

A lot of smart people are thinking about the singularity, when the machines grow advanced enough to make humanity obsolete.

Matt Simon, "The WIRED Guide to Robots," WIRED, April 16, 2020

But fulfilling the wishes of a revered biological legacy will occupy only a trivial portion of the intellectual power that the Singularity will bring.

Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, 2005

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Sunday, July 19, 2020

fain

[ feyn ]

adverb

gladly; willingly: He fain would accept.

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What is the origin of fain?

The word fain is very old, indeed: It first appears in English as an adjective about 888 in King Alfred the Great’s translation of Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy (Dē Cōnsōlātiōne Philosophiae, ca. 532). Fain comes from Old English fægen, fægn “glad, joyful, rejoicing.” Fægen is cognate with Old Norse feginn, Old Saxon fagan, fagin, Old High German fagin, all meaning “happy, glad,” and related to the Old English verb geféon, gefeohan, gefeagan “to be glad, rejoice,” from the Germanic verb stem fagin-, fagan– “to enjoy,” derived from the root fag-. From the same root fag– is derived the adjective stem fagra-, as in Gothic fagrs “fit for, beautiful,” Old Icelandic fagr “fine, fair, beautiful,” and Old English fæger “beautiful, joyous, pleasant,” English fair.

how is fain used?

It is rather sad to think that their revels now are ended, that the happy woods (where I would fain be, wandering in pensive mood) where they held high holiday will soon be a silent grove.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, "Patrick Leigh Fermor to Enrica (Ricki) Huston,  August 11, 1961," Patrick Leigh Fermror: A Life in Letters, 2016

What a poor soul it is that has not some secret chamber, sacred to itself; where one can file away the things others have no right to know, as well as things that one himself would fain forget!

Charles Wadell Chestnutt, House Behind the Cedars, 1900

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Saturday, July 18, 2020

catalyst

[ kat-l-ist ]

noun

a person or thing that precipitates an event or change: His imprisonment by the government served as the catalyst that helped transform social unrest into revolution.

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What is the origin of catalyst?

Catalyst was originally (at the beginning of the 20th century) a technical term used in chemistry, meaning “a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected.” By the early 1940s, the English poet and critic Sir Herbert Read extended the sense to a poet as a person who precipitates an event or change: “The catalyst [the poet] is unchanged, unabsorbed; its activity therefore not acknowledged.” Catalyst is irregularly formed from the Greek noun katálysis “dissolution, tearing down (especially of governments), a derivative of the verb katalýein “to pull down, destroy, dissolve (a political system), and the (originally Greek) agent suffix –ist. Katalýein is a compound of the Greek preposition and prefix katá, kata– “down, against, back” (usually spelled cata– in English) and the simple verb lýein “to loose, untie, release, solve, resolve.”

how is catalyst used?

What happened in Ferguson is often described as a catalyst—the beginning of a social justice movement that would sweep the nation.

Timothy Williams and , "The Lives of Ferguson Activist, Five Years Later," New York Times, August 9, 2019

On the heels of the Free-Soil convention in Buffalo, three hundred women and men held a women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Margaret Fuller was still in Italy, but it was her work that had served as a catalyst.

Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States, 2018

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Friday, July 17, 2020

rebus

[ ree-buhs ]

noun

a representation of a word or phrase by pictures, symbols, etc., that suggest that word or phrase or its syllables: Two gates and a head is a rebus for Gateshead.

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What is the origin of rebus?

A rebus is a representation of a word or phrase by pictures or symbols suggesting that word or phrase or its syllables. Rebuses were formerly very popular with children in the Sunday funnies. The origin of rebus is disputed, but the most likely source is Latin rēbus “by things,” the ablative plural of the grievously overworked noun rēs “thing, matter, circumstance, affair, property, wealth, etc.” Rēbus is short for nōn verbīs sed rēbus “not by words but by things.” Some French authorities claim that rebus comes from the Latin phrase dē rēbus quae geruntur “concerning the affairs that are going on,” alluding to the satirical pieces composed and performed by the clerks of Picardy (northwest France) in the annual carnival, but this usage is later than attestations of rebus in the sense “puzzle.” Rebus entered English in the early 17th century.

how is rebus used?

All I wanted to do was wish my fiancée happy birthday using emojis. But I couldn’t replicate the rebus of the classic Sandra Boynton greeting card: Hippo, Birdie, Two Ewes.

Damon Darlin, "America Needs Its Own Emojis," New York Times, March 7, 2015

It [Seattle] created a new logo: a rebus that featured an eyeball, the “@” symbol, and the letter “L” (pronounced “See-at-L”), above the slogan, “Seattle: soak it up!”

Paul Hiebert, "What's the Point of City Logos?" The New Yorker, February 7, 2014

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