Word of the Day

Thursday, July 05, 2018

debonair

[ deb-uh-nair ]

adjective

courteous, gracious, and having a sophisticated charm: a debonair gentleman.

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What is the origin of debonair?

The adjective debonair, from Old French debonaire, originated in Old French as the phrase de bon aire “of good lineage.” The aire of that phrase comes from the Latin noun ager “field,” which presumably meant “nest” in Vulgar Latin. Debonair entered English in the 13th century.

how is debonair used?

He was a tall, thin man, with gray hair swept back and a debonair ease of movement that suggested wealth, confidence, and success.

Jacqueline Winspear, Pardonable Lies, 2005

What could be simpler than to toddle down one flight of stairs and in an easy and debonair manner ask the chappie’s permission to use his telephone?

P. G. Wodehouse, Indiscretions of Archie, 1921
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Wednesday, July 04, 2018

fizgig

[ fiz-gig ]

noun

a type of firework that makes a loud hissing sound.

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What is the origin of fizgig?

Fizgig has a very cloudy history. The first syllable, fiz (also fis), may derive from the Middle English noun fise or feist “a fart” (cf. fizzle), from the Proto-Indo-European root pezd- “fart,” source of Latin pēdere, Greek bdeîn, and Polish bździeć, all meaning “to fart,” which well fits the sound made by the firework. Gig may be imitative in origin, but the word or words are very problematic, and it is less difficult to state what gig does not mean than what it does mean: “a flighty, giddy girl (cf. giglet, giggle); a top (i.e., the toy); “odd-looking character, a fool; a joke, merriment.” Fizgig entered English in the 16th century.

how is fizgig used?

Neither powder nor pepper (you know) was adulterated in those days, and if you made a fizgig, why it blossomed and starred like a golden thistle, flashed into a myriad sparklets like a tiny fountain for Queen Mab and her troupe to dance round.

Frank Fowler, Last Gleanings, 1864

What sputters green and blue, this fizgig called Fifine!

Robert Browning, Fifine at the Fair, 1872
Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Kafkaesque

[ kahf-kuh-esk ]

adjective

marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity: Kafkaesque bureaucracies.

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What is the origin of Kafkaesque?

Kafkaesque means “having a disorienting, confusing, nightmarish quality; feeling surreal and threatening,” as, for instance, a form letter from the IRS. Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was a German-speaking Jew born in Prague, Bohemia (now the capital of the Czech Republic). Kafka received a rigorous secular education: he wrote in both German and Czech and spoke German with a Czech accent but never thought himself fluent in Czech. He began publishing his artistic prose in 1908. Kafka’s father, Hermann Kafka (1854-1931), was a clothing retailer in Prague and employed around a dozen people in his business. Hermann Kafka used the image of a jackdaw (kavka in Czech) as the logo for his business. Kafkaesque entered English in the 20th century.

how is Kafkaesque used?

As I see it, there is still another telling Kafkaesque dimension to Watergate now that President Ford has written his version of The End. It is the enormousness of the frustration that has taken hold in America ever since Compassionate Sunday, the sense of waste, futility, and hopelessness that now attaches to the monumental efforts that had been required just to begin to get at the truth.

Philip Roth, "Our Castle," Reading Myself and Others, 1975

What makes the situation positively Kafkaesque is that under the terms of the Consent Decree, which was created in part to prevent songwriters from monopolizing the market, composers are now often compelled to license their songs to these monopolistic behemoths at absurdly low rates.

John Seabrook, "Will Streaming Music Kill Songwriting?" The New Yorker, February 8, 2016

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