Word of the Day

Saturday, July 20, 2019


[ deed-l ]


skillful; ingenious.

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What is the origin of daedal?

The adjective daedal (also spelled dedal) comes via the Latin adjective daedalus and proper noun Daedalus from the Greek adjective daídalos “skillful, skillfully made” and proper noun Daídalos, the mythical Athenian hero who built the Labyrinth at Knossos for King Minos and was the father of Icarus. Further etymology is unclear: daídalos is likely to be from a pre-Greek language. Daedal entered English in the late 16th century.

how is daedal used?

After dinner, they took a turn in the garden; where Leontine was surprized [sic] to see how greatly the daedal hand of nature had been improved by the assistance of art.

"The Danger of Deception; or, Loves of Clora and Leontine," The New Novelist's Magazine, Vol. 1, 1787

An unrestrained genius with a daedal mind, Plumer was New Hampshire’s only Jeffersonian.

John Reid, "The Arena of the Giants: Rockingham County, New Hampshire," ABA Journal, February 1960
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Friday, July 19, 2019


[ jol-ee-er ]


a person who talks or acts agreeably to someone, in order to keep that person in good humor, especially in the hope of gaining something.

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What is the origin of jollier?

The noun jollier, a derivative of the informal verb jolly “to talk or act agreeably in order to keep someone in good humor, especially in the hope of gaining something,” is an Americanism dating back to the end of the 19th century. If only there were fewer jolliers and “jollyees.”

how is jollier used?

Certainly he would never dream that a “jollier” could become the leader of a great English political party.

Edward Porrit, "Paradoxes of Gladstone's Popularity," Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1909, 1911

The Jollier jollied Mr. Thompson up and down the sweet nerve of flattery in a manner truly artistic, then came away with a double half column ad.

J. Angus MacDonald, Successful Advertising: How to Accomplish It, 1902
Thursday, July 18, 2019


[ kos-pley ]


the art or practice of wearing costumes to portray characters from fiction, especially from manga, animation, and science fiction.

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What is the origin of cosplay?

Cosplay is a blend of costume and play, but the combination is masking a much more complex performance. Japanese borrowed the English compound noun costume play (as in theater) and rendered it into its sound system as kosuchūmu-purē, which was shortened by the 1980s to kosupure and narrowed to the more specific sense “the art or practice of wearing costumes to portray characters from fiction, especially from manga, animation, and science fiction” (as well as characters from video games). English borrowed back kosupure and refashioned it as cosplay by the 1990s. Japanese words like kosupure are considered pseudo-English Japanese coinages known as wasei-eigo. Other familiar examples adopted into English from Japanese include salaryman, anime, and Pokémon, the latter itself a popular subject of cosplay.

how is cosplay used?

Although cosplay isn’t a requirement at Comic-Con, many people participate, and they take it extremely seriously.

Michael Hardy, "The Best Costumes at Comic-Con 2018," Wired, July 23, 2018

The goal, many cosplayers interviewed said, is to disrupt popular ideas of what cosplay can and should look like and to help create a more racially tolerant environment through cosplay, both in Black Panther costumes and outside of them.

Walter Thompson-Hernández, "'Black Panther' Cosplayers: 'We're Helping People See Us as Heroes," New York Times, February 15, 2018
Wednesday, July 17, 2019


[ id-ee-uh-gram, ahy-dee- ]


a written symbol that represents an idea or object directly rather than a particular word or speech sound, as a Chinese character.

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What is the origin of ideogram?

An ideogram or ideograph is “a written symbol that represents an idea or object directly rather than a word or speech sound, as a Chinese character.” Ideogram and ideograph literally mean “a written idea,” from Greek idéa “idea” and the noun grámma or the Greek combining form –graphos, both meaning “something written,” which are derivatives of the verb gráphein “to write.” Because ideograms convey meaning, not words or sounds, 5 can be pronounced five, fünf, pięć, pĕt, pénte, pémpe, or in several thousand other ways. Ideogram and ideograph both entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is ideogram used?

Ideograms are symbols that represent ideas or concepts rather than objects themselves—a circle with a line through it (🚫) to indicate prohibition, for example. Many emoji are hybrids of ideograms and pictograms.

Ian Bogost, "Emoji Don't Mean What They Used To," The Atlantic, February 11, 2019

Chinese characters are based on the simplified outlines of concrete elements in the visible world. Reduced to abstract lines and combined together, these yield the thousands of characters called ideograms, i.e.: idea transcribers.

Souren Melikian, "Separating East from West with a calligrapher's touch," New York Times, June 20, 2008
Tuesday, July 16, 2019


[ bahr-muh-sahyd-l ]


giving only the illusion of plenty; illusory: a Barmecidal banquet.

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What is the origin of Barmecidal?

It is forgivable, even rational—but nevertheless incorrect—to think that Barmecidal means something like “killing Barm or a Barm or a barm or barms,” just as the adjective homicidal is formed from the noun homicide. Analyzing Barmecidal from back to front, we see the familiar adjectival suffix –al. The element –id or –ide is the not so familiar Greek noun suffix –id, a feminine patronymic suffix having the general sense “offspring of, descendant of,” and used especially with the names of dynasties (such as Pisistratid, Abbasid, Attalid). The first two syllables, Barmec-, come from Persian Barmak, the name of a wealthy Iranian family that was very influential in Baghdad under the Abassid dynasty, and famous for its patronage of the arts and sciences. A Barmecidal banquet (or feast) refers to a story from the The Arabian Nights Entertainments; its “hero” is Ja’far ibn Yahya Barmaki (Ja’far al-Barmaki, also Giafar), who served a beggar a series of empty platters, pretending the empty platters were a sumptuous feast, a fiction or nasty joke that the beggar cheerfully accepted.

how is Barmecidal used?

The men employed by Mr. Hackley, the Street Contractor, assembled yesterday, the regular pay-day, at the office, in the Park, to receive their semi-monthly wages, but they were met by the assurance that there was no money, and that it was only a Barmecidal pay-day.

"The Street Contractor's Pay-Day, but no Money," New York Times, January 22, 1862

Why … did I leave the Great Gatsby bemoaning not the Barmecidal mousetrap of the American dream, but rather the director’s Liza-Minnelli-performing-“All-the-Single-Ladies”-in-Sex-and-the-City-2 style of adapting epic tragedies?

Moze Halperin, "How '#Rich Kids of Beverly Hills' Makes 'The Wolf of Wall Street,' 'Gatsby,' and 'The Bling Ring' Obsolete," Flavorwire, January 29, 2014
Monday, July 15, 2019


[ rem-er-uh ]


an obstacle, hindrance, or obstruction.

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What is the origin of remora?

Remora comes directly from Latin remora “hindrance, delay,” composed of the prefix re– “back, backward, again” and the noun mora “delay, obstacle, pause.” Other English words ultimately derived from mora include moratorium and demur. Remora is first recorded in English in the early 16th century as a name for the suckerfish, which has sucking disks on its head by which it can attach to the likes of sharks, turtles, and ships. This name is found in Late Latin in the 4th century a.d., so called because the fish was believed to slow the progress of ships. In Book 32, Chapter 1 of his Natural History, Pliny the Elder (a.d. 23–79 ) gives mora as a classical Latin gloss of Greek echenēis, literally meaning “holding (back) a ship,” and marvels at the supposed power of these fish: “But alas for human vanity!—when their prows, beaked as they are with brass and with iron, and armed for the onset, can thus be arrested and rivetted to the spot by a little fish, no more than some half foot in length!” (translated by John Bostock and Henry T. Riley, 1855). Remora in the archaic sense “obstacle, hindrance, obstruction” entered English by the early 1600s.

how is remora used?

… notwithstanding the remora of their dismasted ship, and the disadvantage of repairing damages at sea, the French fleet arrived in safety ….

David Price, Memoirs of the Early Life and Service of a Field Officer, 1839

The great remora to any improvement in our civil code, is the reduction that such reform must produce in the revenue.

Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon; or, Many Things in Few Words, Vol. 1, 1820
Sunday, July 14, 2019

raison d'être

[ rey-zohn de-truh ]


reason or justification for being or existence: Art is the artist's raison d'être.

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What is the origin of raison d'être?

The quasi-English phrase raison d’être “reason of being” is still unnaturalized, retaining a French pronunciation of sorts. The English noun reason comes from Middle English reason, raisoun, raison (with still more spelling variants), from Old French reason, reason, raison, etc., from Latin ratiō (inflectional stem ratiōn-), whose many meanings include “a count, calculation, reckoning (as in business or accounts), theory (as opposed to practice), faculty or exercise of reason.”

The French preposition de “of, for” becomes d’ before a vowel. De comes from the Latin preposition “away, away from, down, down from.” The development from to Romance de, di “of” can be seen over the centuries in graffiti, epitaphs, and personal letters. St. Augustine of Hippo defended vulgarisms (which after all became standard in Romance): “Better that grammarians condemn us than that the common people not understand.”

Être is the French infinitive “to be,” and as is typical in French, it is much worn down from its original. In Old French the infinitive was estre, a regular development of Vulgar Latin essere “to be,” from Latin esse. Esse in Latin is an archaism, and the infinitives of nearly all other verbs end in –ere or –āre, or –īre. In Vulgar Latin, however, esse is an anomaly, and the Vulgus “the common people” simple regularized esse to essere. (Essere is even today the infinitive of the verb “to be” in standard Italian.) French loses a vowel after a stressed syllable; thus essere becomes essre (esre), and esre develops an excrescent consonant t between s and r for ease of pronunciation. Raison d’être first appears in English in a letter written in 1864 by John Stuart Mill.

how is raison d'être used?

He would have no raison d’être if there were no lugubrious miseries in the world, as an undertaker would have no meaning if there were no funerals.

D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love, 1920

After all, measuring risk, and setting prices accordingly, is the raison d’être of a health-insurance company.

James Surowiecki, "Fifth Wheel," The New Yorker, December 27, 2009

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