Word of the Day

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Croesus

[ kree-suhs ]

noun

a very rich man.

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What is the origin of Croesus?

Croesus comes from Latin Croesus, from Greek Kroîsos (the name has no further etymology). Croesus, who lived from about 595 b.c. to 546 b.c., was the last king of fabulously wealthy Lydia, an ancient kingdom that occupied much of modern western Turkey. (Croesus issued the first gold coins of standardized quality and weight, and the Greeks adopted coinage from the Lydians). For the ancient Greeks (e.g., for the poet Sappho), Sardis, the capital of Lydia, was the equivalent of the Paris of today, elegant and stylish. Croesus was also remarkable for the Greeks because of his philhellenism: he embellished Greek temples in Ionia and made many offerings to the oracle of Apollo at Delphi. The death of Croesus, possibly burnt alive on a pyre on the orders of Cyrus the Great, was profoundly shocking to the Greeks: how could a man of such piety come to such a brutal end? Croesus entered English at the end of the 14th century.

how is Croesus used?

Apple’s share price fell by 8% yesterday, wiping more than $40bn off its value in a few hours. Is the world falling out of love with the Croesus of Cupertino?

Steve Rose, "A brief guide to everything that's annoying about Apple," The Guardian, April 27, 2016

One of our countrymen, Mr. Cockerell, appears to be considered the manufacturing Croesus of these parts, and his name is that which is generally mentioned by the obsequious valets-de-place ….

Robert Clouston, Letters from Germany and Belgium, 1839

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Saturday, June 06, 2020

jury-rig

[ joo r-ee-rig ]

verb (used with object)

to assemble quickly or from whatever is at hand, especially for temporary use: to jury-rig stage lights using automobile headlights.

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What is the origin of jury-rig?

Jury-rig, “to assemble quickly with whatever is at hand, improvise, especially for temporary use,” is of obscure origin, but probably originally a nautical term, based on another, earlier nautical term jury-mast, “a temporary mast on a sailing vessel replacing a damaged or destroyed mast,” first recorded in 1617. Jury-rig is close enough in meaning and sound to jerry- in jerry-build (and its derivatives jerry-builder and jerry-built) “to build or make in a haphazard, slovenly fashion,” and the confusion of those terms resulted in the hybrid verb jerry-rig, first recorded about 1960. (There are people in south Jersey and Philadelphia who pronounce ferry as furry and color as keller.) But jerry-build and jerry-rig always imply flimsiness and shoddiness; jury-rig implies improvisation. Jury-rig entered English in the second half of the 18th century.

how is jury-rig used?

She told the school custodian that her bike handlebars were all screwed up and that she needed some duct tape to juryrig it until she got home.

Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes, 2007

New problems arose all the time, and the engineers were forever improvising ways to jury-rig a component or bypass a system.

Ken Follett, Code to Zero, 2000

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Friday, June 05, 2020

shambolic

[ sham-bol-ik ]

adjective

Chiefly British Informal.

very disorganized; messy or confused: I’ve had a shambolic year, the worst ever.

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What is the origin of shambolic?

Shambolic, “disorganized; messy or confused,” is a colloquial adjective, used mostly by the British. The word is a combination of shambles and symbolic. Shambolic is a fairly recent coinage, entering English about 1970.

how is shambolic used?

a programme to train thousands of contact-tracers to help control the spread of coronavirus has been described as shambolic and inadequate by recruits.

Frances Perraudin, "'No one had any idea': Contact tracers lack knowledge about Covid-19 job," The Guardian, May 20, 2020

If democratic procedures start to seem shambolic, then democratic ideas will seem questionable as well.

Timothy Snyder, "How a Russian Fascist Is Meddling in America's Election," New York Times, September 20, 2016

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Thursday, June 04, 2020

caseous

[ key-see-uhs ]

adjective

of or like cheese.

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What is the origin of caseous?

The English adjective caseous derives from the Latin noun cāseus “cheese,” which in Latin comedy (Plautus), at least, is used as a term of endearment: molliculus cāseus “delicate cheese.” (Molliculus is a diminutive of the adjective mollis “soft.” Diminutives are characteristic of colloquial Latin, and therefore of comedy, and also exist in modern Romance languages, e.g., Italian orecchio “ear,” from auricula, a diminutive of auris “ear.”) The etymology of cāseus is unknown, but it may come from earlier, unrecorded kwātsos, meaning “something runny,” from the Proto-Indo-European root kwat- “to ferment; be, become, or make sour.” If that is so, cāseus may be related to Russian kvas “sour beer,” and Polish kwas “acid.” Caseous entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is caseous used?

Second, eat these little caseous balloons immediately—like topical plays, they lose value every couple of minutes.

Jonathan Reynolds, "Say Cheese Balls," New York Times, September 30, 2001

I have no doubt but that in the process of churning the whole milk there is a large amount of lactic acid formed, and a much higher temperature attained, than in the churning of cream; consequently, the separation of caseous matter must be more perfectly effected in the former than in the latter case.

Charles A. Cameron, The Stock-Feeder's Manual: The Chemistry of Food in Relation to the Breeding and Feeding of Live Stock, 1868

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caseous

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Wednesday, June 03, 2020

glower

[ glou-er ]

verb (used without object)

to look or stare with sullen dislike, discontent, or anger.

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What is the origin of glower?

The verb glower, “to look or stare with sullen dislike,” comes from Middle English gloren, glouren “to shine, gleam, glow; stare, stare at fixedly.” The Middle English forms are mostly from the north (Yorkshire) and Scotland; the sense “to stare at fixedly” is Scottish. The source of gloren and glouren is obscure, but possibly Scandinavian, e.g., Icelandic glóra “to glow (like a cat’s eyes)” and Swedish and Norwegian dialect glora “to glow, stare.” The source of gloren, glouren may also be from Middle Low German glūren “to be overcast” or Dutch glueren “to leer, peep.” Glower entered English in the 15th century.

how is glower used?

Alfred glowered at us as if he never could, or would, forgive the injury of that night.

Charles Dickens, Bleak House, 1853

Angela was dismayed: was she sure she knew the way back? Of course she knew it, Cecilia said, glowering. She wasn’t an idiot.

Tessa Hadley, "Cecilia Awakened," The New Yorker, September 10, 2018

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glower

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Tuesday, June 02, 2020

ex-voto

[ eks-voh-toh ]

noun

a painting or other object left as an offering in fulfillment of a vow or in gratitude, as for recovery from an illness or injury.

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What is the origin of ex-voto?

Ex-voto, “out of a vow (fulfilled or undertaken),” refers to a painting or other artifact left as an offering in fulfillment of a vow or in gratitude, e.g., for recovery from an illness or injury. Ex-voto being a Latin phrase, such offerings are therefore associated with Western Christianity, especially with Mediterranean Catholicism (Italy, Iberia, former Spanish colonies abroad). (The Greek Orthodox Church has a similar custom; the offerings in the Greek Church are called támata, plural of táma “a vow, an ex-voto offering.”) The custom antedates Christianity by many hundreds of years: In the Iliad Hector says he will hang the weapons of his foe in the temple of Apollo; the poet Hesiod dedicated the tripod he won in a poetry contest in Chalcis to the Muses on Mount Helicon. Miltiades, the general of the Athenians and their Plataean allies at the Battle of Marathon (490 b.c.), dedicated his helmet in the temple of Zeus in Olympia (where his helmet is on display on the archaeological museum). Even the witty, urbane Horace refers to “the sacred wall with its votive tablet [tabulā… vōtīvā] shows where I have hung my sodden garments in gratitude to the god of the sea” (for escaping the surely destructive shipwreck of a love affair). Ex-voto entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is ex-voto used?

Amid the fear and uncertainty of wartime, ex-votos doubled as a means of communication and thanksgiving between a human and her god and saints.

Alexxa Gotthardt, "A Brief History of the Mexican Votive Paintings That Inspired Frida Kahlo," Artsy, November 1, 2016

The purpose of the ex-voto is not only to record the individual experiences of Messer Zaneto de Friza and his sons but also to proclaim their experiences to a public audience.

Mary Laven, "Recording Miracles in Renaissance Italy," Past & Present, Vol. 230, November 16, 2016

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Monday, June 01, 2020

spirituel

[ spir-i-choo-el; French spee-ree-tyel ]

adjective

showing or having a refined and graceful mind or wit.

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What is the origin of spirituel?

Spirituel is a French adjective meaning not only “spiritual” (as in English), but also “displaying a refined and graceful mind or wit.” In French spirituel is the masculine singular form, spirituelle the feminine singular, a distinction not usually observed in English. Most of the English citations of spirituel refer to women or to a particular woman’s liveliness and acuity. Spirituel entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is spirituel used?

It is a comedy in the sense that it is meant to make you laugh. The laughter is mostly spirituel: Cyrano is witty.

Anthony Burgess, "Why Edmond Rostand's 'Cyrano' Lives On," New York Times, November 18, 1984

They are more than witty, they are spirituel; and they have more than talent, they have taste.

Various, "Jules Janin and the Paris Feuilletonistes," The International Monthly, Vol. 4, No. 1, August 1851

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