Word of the Day

Friday, August 14, 2020

de facto

[ dee fak-toh, dey ]

adverb, adjective

in fact; in reality: Although his title was prime minister, he was de facto president of the country.

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What is the origin of de facto?

The English adjective and adverb de facto, “in fact, really, in actuality (whether legal or illegal),” comes from the Latin phrase dē factō, from the preposition “of, from” and the noun factum “deed, act.” De facto is frequently contrasted with de jure, from the Latin phrase dē jūre “according to law, legally.” De facto entered English in the early 17th century.

how is de facto used?

Teachers will be safe at home, Hicks-Maxie noted. She doesn’t blame them. But she said that will leave child care workers as de facto teachers—at half the pay.

Nina Shapiro, "Hobbled by 1,000 closures, Washington's child care industry thrust into de facto teaching," Seattle Times, August 9, 2020

By choosing her as his political partner, Mr. Biden, if he wins, may well be anointing her as the de facto leader of the party in four or eight years.

Alexander Burns and , "Kamala Harris Is Biden's Choice for Vice President," New York Times, August 11, 2020

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Thursday, August 13, 2020

sinistrality

[ sin-uh-stral-i-tee ]

noun

left-handedness.

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What is the origin of sinistrality?

There is nothing sinister about sinistrality: the word simply means “left-handedness” (as opposed to right-handedness) or “left-sidedness.” Sinistrality is a derivation of the adjective sinistral, whose current sense is “on the left-hand side, left” (in Middle English sinistralle meant “unlucky, adverse”). Sinistrality entered English in the mid-19th century.

how is sinistrality used?

Kermit’s sinistrality leapt right off the page at me as soon as I saw the photograph of him with Bret McKenzie that accompanies Adam Sternbergh’s feature in this week’s magazine.

David Vecsey, "How About a Hand for the Muppets!" New York Times, November 18, 2011

There are reports of editors being 31 per cent lefty and of graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in math and science showing 45 per cent sinistrality.

Conrad Chyatte, "Sinistrality Unmasked at Last," American Bar Association Journal, May 1975

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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

rodomontade

[ rod-uh-mon-teyd, -tahd, -muhn-, roh-duh- ]

noun

vainglorious boasting or bragging; pretentious, blustering talk.

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What is the origin of rodomontade?

Rodomontade, “vainglorious boasting, bragging,” is also occasionally spelled rhodomontade (as if it were from Greek rhódon “rose”) and rodomontado; it comes from Middle French rodomont, from Italian rodomonte “bully,” from Rodomonte, the name of the courageous but boastful king of Algiers in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso “Roland in Frenzy, Raging Roland,” 1516. Orlando Furioso is a continuation of an earlier Renaissance Italian epic Orlando Innamorato “Roland in Love,” by Matteo Boiardo, one of whose major characters is Rodomonte, also spelled Rodamontre, and popularly interpreted to mean “mountain roller,” from Italian rodare, from Latin rotāre, from rota “wheel,” and Italian monte, from Latin mons (stem mont-) “mount, mountain.” Rodomontade entered English in the late 16th century.

how is rodomontade used?

I am charmed to notice that things that were once said to matter—familiarity with epigrams, knowledge of rhetorical devices and their terrifying names, the ability to display a rich vocabulary without rodomontade—seem to matter still.

Edith Pearlman, "My word, they're immortal!" New York Times, January 8, 2008

because she has amused him with some rodomontade about despising rank and wealth in matters of love and marriage, he flatters himself that she’s devotedly attached to him.

Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, 1848

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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

backlins

[ bak-linz ]

adverb

Scot. and North England.

backward; back.

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What is the origin of backlins?

The extremely rare Scottish and northern English dialect adverb backlins, “back, backward,” comes from the equally rare Old English adverb bæcling, used only in the adverbial phrase on bæcling “on the back, behind, backward.” On bæcling, moreover, occurs only in the Rushworth Gospels (ca. 975), in the Northumbrian dialect of Old English—not even in late West Saxon, the standard literary dialect of Old English. Backlins is formed from the noun back, the uncommon adverb suffix –ling, as in middling, and the native English adverb suffix –s, as in always, sometimes.

how is backlins used?

Then backlins we hastened weel pleased wi the day, / Though some of our brithers had wandered away.

Henry Nutter, "A Poem in Scotch," Local Rhymes, 1890

An auld man’s howff’s a tapsalteerie touer: / Time backlins gaes, my warld turns withershins, / Glaur’s in the lift, sterns skeenkle in the stour …

Andrew Tannahill, "Haivers," A Tapsalteerie Touer, 2007

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Monday, August 10, 2020

plaudit

[ plaw-dit ]

noun

Usually plaudits.

an enthusiastic expression of approval: Her portrayal of Juliet won the plaudits of the critics.

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What is the origin of plaudit?

The noun plaudit, “a round of applause; an enthusiastic expression of approval,” first appears in print in English in 1600. It comes from the slightly earlier noun plaudite (pronounced as three syllables and probably pronounced plawditee), which appears in 1567. Plaudite comes straight from Latin plaudite “applaud!”, the second person plural imperative of the verb plaudere “to clap, clap (in approval), pat (on the back), beat (wings).” Roman comic actors would cry plaudite to the audience at the end of a play. Plaudere, which has no reliable etymology, has an alternative form plōdere, as in explōdere, “to drive off the stage (by clapping, hissing, hooting), reject, eject” (the modern sense “to burst violently; blow up” does not exist in Latin).

how is plaudit used?

On Tuesday, Dustin Hoffman and Mila Kunis became the latest A-listers to get plaudits for their recent acts of decency.

Adam Martin, "Celebrity Heroism Is Officially A Trend," The Atlantic, May 8, 2012

The ideologically divided [Supreme] court zigs left or right and earns cheers from the winning partisans. Then it zags in the other direction, and the plaudits turn to brickbats.

Robert Barnes, "Divided court draws plaudits and brickbats, but Kennedy's role remains constant—for now," Washington Post, June 25, 2016

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Sunday, August 09, 2020

tome

[ tohm ]

noun

a book, especially a very heavy, large, or learned book.

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What is the origin of tome?

The noun tome comes from Middle French tome, from Latin tomus “a cut, slice, or bit; a piece or length of papyrus; a book (in general).” Tomus is a borrowing of Greek tómos “a slice” (e.g., of ham, cheese), (in geometry) “the frustum” (e.g., of a cylinder), “a beam” (of wood). By the 3rd century b.c. and in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures, dating between the 3rd and 1st centuries b.c.), tómos had also come to mean “(papyrus) roll,” and by the 1st century a.d. “tome, volume” (in the modern sense). Tómos is a derivative of the verb témnein “to cut,” from the Proto-Indo-European root tem-, tom– (with its extensions tend-, tond-) “to cut.” From the variant tem-, Latin derives templum “shrine, temple” (because the property has been cut out from, set apart from profane use). The variant tond- forms Latin tondēre “to cut or clip (hair), shear (a sheep)” and the agent noun tonsor (stem tonsōr-) “barber,” with its derivative adjective tonsōrius, from which English derives the not very serious adjective tonsorial “of or relating to a barber or barbering.” Tome entered English in the first half of the 16th century.

how is tome used?

That eight-hundred-page tome (with an additional three hundred pages of downloadable essays to accompany it) includes the whole Caesarian corpus, as well as hundreds of maps and illustrations.

Michael Kulikowski, "A Very Bad Man," London Review of Books, June 18, 2020

The 240-page tome is less of a tourist guide than it is a primer for a future Washington “Jeopardy” category.

Katie Hickox, "Capital Tome," Washington Post, December 13, 1992

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Saturday, August 08, 2020

diphthong

[ dif-thawng, -thong, dip- ]

noun

an unsegmentable, gliding speech sound varying continuously in phonetic quality but held to be a single sound or phoneme, as the oi-sound of toy or boil.

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What is the origin of diphthong?

Diphthong is hard enough to spell and pronounce, let alone define. Diphthong ultimately comes from Greek díphthongos, literally “with or having two sounds,” a compound of the Greek prefix di- “two, twice, double” and the noun phthóngos “voice, sound,” a derivative of the euphonious verb phthéngesthai “to utter a sound, raise one’s voice, call, talk.” Phthéngesthai is also the root of the Greek verb apophthéngesthai “to speak one’s opinion plainly,” whose derivative noun apóphthegma “a brief, pointed saying” comes into English as apothegm or apophthegm, even harder to spell and pronounce than diphthong. Phthéngesthai has no convincing etymology, but some scholars point to “phonetically convincing” Lithuanian žvéngti “to neigh” and speñgti “(in the ears) to resound, hum, drone.” (The Lithuanian and Greek words derive from the Proto-Indo-European root ghwen-, ghwon- “to sound.”) Diphthong entered English in the second half of the 15th century.

how is diphthong used?

The best word ever—according to deep lexicographical research, science, taste, and common sense—is this: diphthong.

Megan Garber, "Here It Is: The Best Word Ever," The Atlantic, September 13, 2012

It [Atlas of North American English] is vast enough to include 139 color-coded maps and software that lets users click around the country to hear native speakers drop their r’s and overextend their diphthongs with abandon.

Tammy La Gorce, "Ya Gotta Blame New York for Dat," New York Times, February 12, 2006

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