Word of the Day

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Delphic

[ del-fik ]

adjective

oracular; obscure; ambiguous: She was known for her Delphic pronouncements.

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What is the origin of Delphic?

English Delphic comes via Latin Delphicus from the Greek adjective Delphikós, a derivative of the plural noun Delphoí, the name of the inhabitants of Delphi and of the historic city itself. The many dialect forms of the name, especially Aeolic Bélphoi, point to a form gwelphoi with an original labiovelar (a sound combining a velar, such as k or g, and a bilabial, such as w), as in Latin quis, quid “who, what” and English quick and Gwendolyn. Gwelphoi is a Greek derivative of the Proto-Indo-European root gwelbh– “womb” (the city was so named from its shape). Gwelbh– is also the source of the Greek noun adelpheós (Attic adelphós) “brother,” whose first letter a– is a much-reduced form of sem– “one,” related to Greek homós “same” and English “same.” Adelph(e)ós therefore means “born of the same womb.” Delphic entered English at the end of the 16th century.

how is Delphic used?

The poems of his mature career were often Delphic, haunted, and bleak.

Dan Chiasson, "The Final Prophecy of W. S. Merwin," The New Yorker, March 17, 2019

… he would certainly make a few Delphic pronouncements that next to nobody would understand, such as: “You can get many kinds of balance toward any seemingly grinding postulate of life.”

Newsweek, "About Jack," December 15, 2002
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Saturday, June 08, 2019

stymie

[ stahy-mee ]

verb

to hinder, block, or thwart.

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What is the origin of stymie?

The verb stymie has an obscure origin. It may be a golfing term, a noun referring to an opponent’s ball that lies closer to the hole than one’s own and is in the line of play, from which the slightly later verb sense in golf developed. By the beginning of the 20th century, the verb stymie had a generalized sense “to impede, hinder, thwart.” Stymie may come from Scots stymie “a person with poor eyesight,” a derivative of stime, styme “a glimmer, glimpse.” Stymie in the sense of “a person with poor vision” entered English in the early 17th century, the golfing sense in the first half of the 19th century.

how is stymie used?

This kind of leader would have little to no incentive to work with the Board of Supervisors and could easily stymie much of the progress the county is making on critical problems.

Alice A. Huffman, "Sacramento's plan to expand the L.A. County Board of Supervisors has nothing to do with diversity," Los Angeles Times, August 15, 2017

Astronomers concluded that the gas was being blasted out by winds from newly formed stars, a huge loss of starmaking material that could stymie the galaxy’s future growth.

Yudhijit Battacharjee, "Cosmic Dawn," National Geographic, April 2014
Friday, June 07, 2019

virtuoso

[ vur-choo-oh-soh ]

noun

a person who excels in musical technique or execution.

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What is the origin of virtuoso?

We might refer to a gifted violinist, for instance, as a virtuoso. First recorded in English in the early 1600s with a now-obsolete sense of “learned person,” virtuoso is borrowed from Italian virtuoso “a person with exceptional skill in the arts or sciences,” in Italian used especially of musicians by the latter part of the 1500s. Italian virtuoso is a noun form of the adjective virtuoso “skilled, virtuous.” English virtuous (via Anglo-French) and virtuoso are indeed related. Both ultimately derive from Late Latin virtuōsus, which joins the Latin adjective-forming suffix –ōsus “full of” with Latin virtūs (inflectional stem virtūt-). Latin virtūs means “manliness, strength, courage.” Apparently due to associations with honor and bravery (as of soldiers), the meaning of Latin virtūs was extended to “moral excellence,” hence English virtue. The root of virtūs is vir “man,” which yields virile “manly” and virago, which evolved from “heroic woman, female warrior” to the unsavory “scolding woman, shrew.” The Proto-Indo-European root wi-ro-, the source of Latin vir, resulted in Old English wer “man,” which survives in werewolf, literally “man-wolf,” a virtuosic vocalist, perhaps, in its own howling way.

how is virtuoso used?

What was it like to be the first pop virtuoso of the recorded era—the man whose earliest releases set the tune for America’s love affair with modern black music, and who went on to become one of history’s most famous entertainers?

Giovanni Russonello, "Louis Armstrong's Life in Letters, Music and Art," New York Times, November 16, 2018

… he is a literary virtuoso who understands the charisma needed to make songs you can play in a club.

Doreen St. Félix, "What Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Means for Hip-Hop," The New Yorker, April 17, 2018

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