Word of the Day

Sunday, November 24, 2019

copacetic

[ koh-puh-set-ik, -see-tik ]

adjective

Slang.

fine; completely satisfactory; OK.

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What is the origin of copacetic?

Copacetic first appears in the generation before World War II, in 1919 to be exact. It is a thoroughly American piece of slang, and all the citations of the word come from American writers. Perhaps foreigners avoided copacetic because of all its variant spellings, which include copa, copasetic, copasetty, copesette(e), copissettic, copus, kopacetic, kopasetic, kopasetee…. Many slang terms have no reliable etymology, and copacetic is within that happy group. Some of the more fanciful, not to say outrageous or just plain nutty etymologies for copacetic include; 1) Chinook jargon copasenee “everything is satisfactory (along the waterways of Washington State)”; 2) the excruciating phrase “the cop is on the settee” (i.e., he’s not paying attention), which transmogrified into copacetic and was supposedly used by American gangsters; or 3) an Italian word, but unknown in standard Italian or in any of its many dialects. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson claimed to have coined copacetic (not likely), but he did popularize copacetic in his vaudeville acts, radio programs, and movies he made with Shirley Temple in the 1930s.

how is copacetic used?

The United States of the 1960s experienced many social upheavals. But in one realm, all was copacetic.

Michael Tomasky, "The Real Legacy of the 1970s," New York Times, February 2, 2019

If he signed a paper saying he wouldn’t make any speeches, everything would be copacetic.

Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days, 2001

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Saturday, November 23, 2019

gusto

[ guhs-toh ]

noun

hearty or keen enjoyment, as in eating or drinking, or in action or speech in general: to dance with gusto.

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What is the origin of gusto?

Gusto comes from the Italian noun gusto “taste, flavor,” from Latin gustus “tasting, flavor, sense of taste.” Gustus is also the source of Spanish and Portuguese gosto and French goût, all meaning “taste, flavor, relish.” The main current sense of gusto, “keen enjoyment,” first appeared in 1629 but only started to become very common in the early 19th century.

how is gusto used?

She ate with gusto, sending particles of egg flying onto the table as she spoke.

Anna Esaki-Smith, Meeting Luciano, 1999

Anna could hear her father singing with gusto.

D. H. Lawrence, The Rainbow, 1915
Friday, November 22, 2019

usageaster

[ yoo-sij-as-ter ]

noun

a self-styled authority on language usage.

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What is the origin of usageaster?

A true expert on language usage will know that using usageaster “a self-styled authority on language usage” is not meant kindly. For instance: “The reader was no more than a usageaster; he insisted on corrections that were merely a matter of style, not grammar.” Usageaster is composed of usage and the -aster, which is a “diminutive or pejorative suffix denoting something that imperfectly resembles or mimics the true thing.” This suffix, derived from Latin, can also be found in such words as poetaster “an inferior poet” and criticaster “incompetent critic.”

how is usageaster used?

We can help such people overcome their insecurity by making a clear distinction between usageasters and usage experts.

Thomas L. Clark, "The Usageasters," American Speech, Vol. 55, No. 2, 1980

… a usageaster pretends to know about questions of usage in language.

Allan Metcalf, Predicting New Words, 2002
Thursday, November 21, 2019

avocation

[ av-uh-key-shuhn ]

noun

something a person does in addition to a principal occupation, especially for pleasure; hobby: Our doctor's avocation is painting.

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What is the origin of avocation?

Avocation derives from Latin āvocātiō, which literally means “a calling away” but has the sense of “distraction.” Āvocātiō is formed on the verb āvocāre “to call away; divert; distract; amuse,” composed of the prefix ā– “away from” and vocāre “to call,” source of English vocation. A person’s hobby or leisure pursuit is called an avocation, etymologically speaking, because it “calls away” that person from their main work—their vocation, or “calling.” Starting in the 1600s, however, avocation was used as a synonym for vocation, apparently on the thinking that a person’s side work can be or become as important as their regular occupation. Avocation entered English in the early 1500s.

how is avocation used?

So they signed up for a second shift, an avocation that earns them psychic income in the currencies of artistry, adventure and passion.

Charles Fenyvesi, "I Live Two Lives," Washington Post, September 4, 1983

Her three avocations—gardening, current events, and photography—were, like her writing, deeply informed by a desire to secure fragile moments as objects of art.

Danny Heitman, "The Quiet Greatness of Eudora Welty," Humanities, March/April 2014
Wednesday, November 20, 2019

controvert

[ kon-truh-vurt, kon-truh-vurt ]

verb (used with object)

to argue about; debate; discuss.

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What is the origin of controvert?

A controvert is not some kind of hybrid of an introvert and extrovert. It is actually a verb that means “to argue about; debate; discuss” and “argue against; deny; oppose.” Controvert does share a root, however, with introvert and extrovert: Latin vertere “to turn.” Controvert is based on Latin contrōversus “debatable, disputed”—that is, controversial, another derivative of contrōversus. Contrōversus is composed of a variant of contrā “against” and versus, past participle of vertere “to turn, turn around, spin.” (An introvert is literally someone “turned within” and an extrovert, someone “turned outside.”) Controvert entered English by the early 1600s.

how is controvert used?

It seemed as if his first instinct on hearing a proposition was to controvert it, so impatient was he of the limitations of our daily thought.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Thoreau," The Atlantic, August 1862

It seems natural to suppose—though many scholars controvert it—that Book I of the Republic was originally written as a separate book …

Basil Mitchell and J. R. Lucas, An Engagement with Plato's Republic, 2003
Tuesday, November 19, 2019

rhapsodic

[ rap-sod-ik ]

adjective

extravagantly enthusiastic; ecstatic.

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What is the origin of rhapsodic?

Not everyone may get “extravagantly enthusiastic or ecstatic” about word origins, but they are key to understanding the development of the word rhapsodic. Rhapsodic is an adjective form of rhapsody, which historically refers to an epic poem, or part of such a poem, such as a book of Homer’s Iliad, that can be recited at one time. Rhapsody ultimately derives from Greek rhapsōidía “recital of epic poetry.” Such recitals tended to be done with intense expression and feeling, leading to the English sense of rhapsodic. In music, a rhapsody is “an instrumental composition irregular in form and suggestive of improvisation,” such as George Gershwin’s truly rhapsodic 1924 opus, Rhapsody in Blue. Rhapsodic entered English in the mid-1700s.

how is rhapsodic used?

When I mentioned the Betty Crocker book to David Kamp … it didn’t seem to inspire the rhapsodic response I was hoping for.

Sadie Stein, "Betty Crocker and the Joys of Children's Cookbooks," The New Yorker, January 5, 2018

… he can now tell you about the rhapsodic joy of a perfect day out at his home break with his boys as well as the spiritual fulfillment he felt from chasing waves around the planet as a surf bohemian inspired by Jack Kerouac.

Jay Caspian Kang, "Writing Waves," New York Times, July 22, 2015
Monday, November 18, 2019

oppidan

[ op-i-duhn ]

adjective

of a town; urban.

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What is the origin of oppidan?

Oppidan derives from Latin oppidānus “of a town,” from the noun oppidum “town.” Oppidānus didn’t just describe any town, though: it was used of towns other than Rome, which was referred to as urbs “city,” specifically the capital city of Rome. Due to this distinction from Rome, Latin oppidānus could have the pejorative connotation of “provincial, rustic.” The adjective form of urbs was urbānus “of the city,” source of English urban. Another city-based adjective English gets from Latin is municipal, from mūnicipium, a town whose residents had the rights of Roman citizens but which otherwise governed itself. Oppidan entered English by the mid-1500s.

how is oppidan used?

A lot of people were confused when Kaplan … took a job at Condé Nast Traveler, a magazine not widely known as a bastion of oppidan irreverence.

Nathan Heller, "The Cranky Wisdom of Peter Kaplan," The New Republic, September 13, 2012

Forsake your oppidan haunts and play manorial backgammon in the ballroom at Old Westbury Gardens, John S. Phipps’s former Long Island estate.

Russell Edwards, "Future Social Events," New York Times, May 26, 1974

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