Word of the Day

Saturday, December 19, 2020

cordate

[ kawr-deyt ]

adjective

heart-shaped.

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What is the origin of cordate?

Cordate, now used only in botany and biology in the meaning “heart-shaped,” comes from the Latin adjective cordātus “intelligent, sensible,” a derivative of the noun cor (inflectional stem cord-) “the heart” (the organ, also considered the seat of one’s conscience, will, and emotions). In English the senses “intelligent, prudent” became obsolete during the first half of the 18th century; Latin cordātus never had any biological senses. Cordate in the sense “intelligent, prudent” entered English in the mid-17th century; its modern sense in the second half of the 18th century.

how is cordate used?

He also wrote, at 15, his first poem after seeing a raindrop cause a cordate leaf to flutter.

Alden Whitman, "Vladimir Nabokov, Author of 'Lolita' and 'Ada,' Is Dead," New York Times, July 5, 1977

Its leaves are variable in shape, as are those of most ivies, but generally cordate, or heart-shaped, and very dark green, larger than the Irish ivy, which is the ivy you see most often in Washington.

Henry Mitchell, "Getting Down to Steel and Stem," Washington Post, December 11, 1988

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Friday, December 18, 2020

eleemosynary

[ el-uh-mos-uh-ner-ee, -moz-, el-ee-uh- ]

adjective

of or relating to alms, charity, or charitable donations; charitable.

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What is the origin of eleemosynary?

Eleemosynary “relating to alms or almsgiving” comes from the Medieval Latin adjective eleēmosynārius, a derivative of the Late Latin noun eleēmosyna “alms,” used by Christian Latin authors (Tertullian, St. Augustine of Hippo). Latin eleēmosyna is a borrowing from Greek eleēmosýnē “pity, mercy, compassion” (and “alms” in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate), a derivative of the adjective ele(e)inós “rousing compassion.” The Greek forms derive from the noun éleos “pity, compassion,” from which Greek forms the verb eleeîn “to pity, have pity on, feel pity for.” The second singular active aorist imperative, eléēson, as in the phrase from the Christian liturgy (in Latin transcription representing the Late Greek pronunciation) Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison “Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy” will be familiar to those who like to listen to or take part in musical settings of the Latin Mass. Eleemosynary entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is eleemosynary used?

It would be fair enough to call Cornelia a power for good. I shared an apartment in New York with her the year before she was married, and I haven’t done so many eleemosynary acts in the whole rest of my life as I did during that time.

Eleanor Gilchrist, "Poor Darling," The New Yorker, February 5, 1944

When a church collects money to then redistribute to the poor in its neighborhood, it performs an eleemosynary function.

Ray Hennessey, "Why Milton Friedman Could Love Social Entrepreneurship," Entrepreneur, September 16, 2013

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Thursday, December 17, 2020

gravitas

[ grav-i-tahs, ‐tas ]

noun

seriousness or sobriety, as of conduct or speech.

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What is the origin of gravitas?

Gravitas comes straight from the Latin noun gravitās, which has many meanings: “seriousness of conduct, temperament, or speech; solemnity or majesty (of a speaker or writer); authority, influence or importance (of a person or institution).” (The inflectional stem of gravitās is gravitāt-, which by regular phonetic change becomes gravité in French and gravity in English.) Gravitas became necessary in English because during the first half of the 17th century, gravity acquired its physical meanings “force of attraction, heaviness, gravitation,” and a sentence like “The Prime Minister displayed an unusual lack of gravity” would be unintentionally humorous today. Gravitas entered English in the 1920s.

how is gravitas used?

Dad was gearing up to say something, a gradual process that involved shifting around in his chair, some throat-clearing, lifting his tea halfway to his mouth and putting it down again, so Paul and Grandma broke off their staring contest and waited for him to speak. Grief had lent him a certain gravitas.

Emily St. John Mandel, The Glass Hotel, 2020

… a growing number of independent research-oriented institutions like his own, Mr. Coogan said, have brought gravitas to a field that once seemed lighter than Spider-Man’s touch.

Michael Cieply, "Even at Comic-Con, You Can't Defy Gravitas," New York Times, July 13, 2012

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Wednesday, December 16, 2020

scintillating

[ sin-tl-ey-ting ]

adjective

witty; brilliantly clever.

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What is the origin of scintillating?

Scintillating “witty, brilliantly clever” ultimately derives from the Latin noun scintilla “glittering speck, spark.” Scintilla and its few derivatives refer generally only to physical phenomena; the only metaphorical sense that scintilla has is of eyes flashing in anger or passion, not the sense of sparkling or flashing wit. Scintilla comes from the Proto-Indo-European root skai– (and its variants) “to glow dully, reflect,” as in Greek skiā́ “shadow,” Gothic skeinan “to light, shine,” and Old English scīnan (English shine). Finally, Tocharian B skiyo “shadow, shade,” is exactly equivalent to Greek skiā́. Scintillating entered English in the second half of the 17th century in its literal sense; the sense “witty, clever” dates from the end of the 18th century.

how is scintillating used?

Across the crowded living room, where all the clever, scintillating talk and noise of a cocktail party seem nervous and inane, a boy and a girl suddenly see each other.

Thomas Williams, The Hair of Harold Roux, 1974

What had once seemed perhaps a bit flat next to the scintillating wit and effervescent sparkle of our mother came to seem the most valuable quality in the world one person could give another, infinite patience and attention ….

Corby Kummer, "About My Father," The Atlantic, December 17, 2009

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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

plotz

[ plots ]

verb (used without object)

to collapse or faint, as from surprise, excitement, or exhaustion.

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What is the origin of plotz?

Plotz “to collapse or faint, as from surprise, excitement, or exhaustion,” is one of those Yiddish words that make you smile just from its sound. Many Americans learned plotz in the early 1950s from Mad magazine (originally a comic book). Plotz is an American slang term that comes from Yiddish platsn “to crack, split, burst,” from Middle High German platzen “to burst.” Plotz entered English about 1920.

how is plotz used?

Simmel was worried about street lamps, murals, the occasional honk of a horn. Had he lived to see a smartphone, or modern Tokyo, he would have plotzed.

Andrew Marantz, "Can Smart Wood Help You Log Off?" The New Yorker, October 7, 2019

Make an effort to include your parents in this milestone, let them decide whether to take part somehow, and if they decline, then invite your mother-in-law to take a bigger role. If/when your mom plotzes … you can simply and kindly remind your mother that she was invited to take part and chose not to.

Carolyn Hax, "Q. Uninterested parents vs. engaged in-laws," Washington Post, April 29, 2016

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Monday, December 14, 2020

paraselene

[ par-uh-si-lee-nee ]

noun

Meteorology.

a bright moonlike spot on a lunar halo; a mock moon.

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What is the origin of paraselene?

Paraselene “a bright moonlike spot on a lunar halo; a mock moon, a moon dog,” is a compound noun formed from the Greek preposition and prefix pará, para– “alongside, contrary to” and the noun selḗnē “moon, the moon.” Selḗnē is the Attic Greek form (when people say they are studying classical Greek, they mean the Greek of Attica, whose chief city was Athens); other dialects have selā́nā (Doric Greek and most other dialects); as usual, Aeolic Greek goes its own way with selánnā (Aeolic is the dialect of the lyric poets Sappho and Alcaeus). All the Greek forms derive from an unrecorded selasnā, a derivative of the neuter noun sélas “light, glow, beam.” Sixty percent of Greek words have no clear etymology; selḗnē, selā́nā, selánnā is among them. Paraselene entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is paraselene used?

In this image, the first quarter moon is flanked on both sides of a halo by “mock moons,” also known as paraselenae or “moondogs.” The apparitions are formed when moonlight is refracted through thin, plate-shaped ice crystals in cirrus clouds.

Nina Sen, "Dazzling 'Moondogs' Shine Over Alaska's Call of the Wild (Photo)," Space.com, April 1, 2013

The darkest part of the winter is from the middle of December to the middle of January, when the aurora transforms the sky into a vault of fire, and paraselene appear, surrounding the moon with blazing cresses, circles, and mock-moons, scarcely surpassed by the wonderful deceptions of the solar rays.

"Arctic and Antarctic Oceans," Scientific American, March 20, 1869

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Sunday, December 13, 2020

misbegotten

[ mis-bi-got-n ]

adjective

badly conceived, made, or carried out.

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What is the origin of misbegotten?

Misbegotten “badly conceived, made, or carried out,” is hard to figure out from its component parts. Misbegotten is made up of the prefix mis– “wrongly, incorrectly,” from the Germanic prefix missa– “astray, wrong” (from the same root as the verb miss “to fail to hit or strike”), as in Gothic missadeths “transgression, offense,” which occurs in Old English as misdǽd and in English as misdeed. Begotten is the past participle of beget, which comes from the Old English verb begietan “to get, acquire,” which since the second half of the 14th century has meant “to generate offspring; produce as an effect.” Beget is a compound of the prefix be-, a Germanic prefix originally meaning “about, around, on all sides,” with many other meanings, but here having a figurative sense (as also with befall, begin, behave). The verb get is from Old Norse geta “to get, be able to, beget, engender.” Misbegotten entered English in the first half of the 16th century in the sense “illegitimate child.”

how is misbegotten used?

It is long past time to end U.S. support for this misbegotten and unwinnable war.

Editorial Board, "End U.S. support for this misbegotten and unwinnable war," Washington Post, August 18, 2018

Does our respect for companion creatures herald a new way of relating to non-humans, rejecting centuries of misbegotten thinking about animals as unfeeling biological machines?

Brandon Keim, "Dogs and Cats Are Blurring the Lines Between Pets and People," Wired, April 8, 2014

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