Word of the Day

Word of the day

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

démodé

[ dey-maw-dey ] [ deɪ mɔˈdeɪ ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling

adjective

no longer in fashion; out of date; outmoded.

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What is the origin of démodé?

Démodé “no longer in fashion” is a borrowing of the past participle of the French verb démoder “to put out of fashion.” Démoder is based on the noun mode “fashion,” which also appears in the expression à la mode, which in English often means “served with a scoop of ice cream” but literally translates as “in the fashion.” French mode derives from Latin modus, a word with a wide range of meanings, such as “manner,” “measure,” “limit,” and even “rhythm.” To see the “manner” sense in action, compare the Latin-origin phrases modus operandi (or M.O.) “one’s usual way of doing something” and modus vivendi “lifestyle.” Démodé was first recorded in the late 19th century.

how is démodé used?

Researchers who study the structure and evolution of the American family express unsullied astonishment at how rapidly the family has changed in recent years, the transformations often exceeding or capsizing those same experts’ predictions of just a few journal articles ago …. Also démodé is the old debate over whether mothers of dependent children should work outside the home …. [T]he issue is settled, and Paycheck Mommy is now a central organizing principle of the modern American family. The share of mothers employed full or part time has quadrupled since the 1950s and today accounts for nearly three-quarters of women with children at home.

Natalie Angier, “The Changing American Family,” New York Times, November 25, 2013

By the late 1950s, American women were tired of being swathed in cumbersome layers. According to [Coco] Chanel, they were ready for the relaxed waist … of the modern silhouette even before the French. She rushed to fill the void that her American designer counterparts hadn’t, commenting, “They’ve been offering women [garments] which made it impossible to walk or run. American women refused these before Frenchwomen, because American women are more practical ….  They walk, they run.” What was already démodé in Paris was actually long overdue in the States.

Allison Geller, “The Military Origins of the Cardigan,” The Atlantic, June 24, 2016

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Tuesday, March 08, 2022

tour de force

[ toor duh -fawrs ] [ ˌtʊər də ˈfɔrs, -ˈfoʊrs ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling

noun

a feat requiring unusual strength, skill, or ingenuity.

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What is the origin of tour de force?

Tour de force “a feat requiring unusual strength, skill, or ingenuity” is a borrowing from French, in which the phrase literally means “turn of strength.” French tour has two separate derivations: the noun tour “a turn” in tour de force is related to the verb tourner “to turn” (from Latin tornāre), and this tour is not to be confused with tour “tower” (from Latin turris). This distinction is why the Tour de France refers to a long, winding bicycle race while the tour Eiffel is the original French name for the Eiffel Tower. Other derivatives of Latin tornāre “to turn” include return, tourniquet, tourist, and tornado. Tour de force was first recorded in English circa the year 1800.

how is tour de force used?

“The idea that nature is not bound by the artificial boundaries that we assign to physics, chemistry, biology or mathematics has been around a long time,” said astrophysicist Mayank Vahia …. He said the Nobel prize in physiology and medicine shared by Jim Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, for instance, for unraveling the double helix structure of DNA, might not have been won but for the technical (read physical) tour de force of X-ray diffraction studies achieved by Rosalind Franklin and her colleagues.

Vithal C. Nadkarni, “A brave new brand of science,” The Times of India, October 17, 2009

A tour de force from 1938, by the German-born Argentine Annemarie Heinrich in league with her sister Ursula, finds the two reflected in a mirrored orb. In the background—from our point of view—Annemarie grins as she snaps the shutter of a standing camera; Ursula looms gigantically and wildly distorted as she leans forward to grasp the sphere. It takes time, enjoyably, to puzzle out the picture’s vertiginous structure.

Peter Schjeldahl, "The Photographs That Women Took," The New Yorker, August 2, 2021

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Word of the day

Monday, March 07, 2022

azimuth

[ az-uh-muhth ] [ ˈæz ə məθ ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling

noun

the arc of the horizon measured clockwise from the south point, in astronomy, or from the north point, in navigation, to the point where a vertical circle through a given heavenly body intersects the horizon.

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What is the origin of azimuth?

Azimuth “the arc of the horizon measured clockwise” derives by way of Middle French azimut from Arabic as-sumūt “the ways,” an assimilated plural form of al-samt “the way.” As we learned from the recent Word of the Day acequia, the prefix al- “the” assimilates to match the first sound in the word that follows—but only when that sound is pronounced with the tip of the tongue. Azimuth shares an origin with zenith “the point on the celestial sphere vertically above a given position,” but while azimuth closely resembles its Arabic source, zenith arose when Arabic samt was borrowed into Old Spanish as zemt and was subsequently misread as zenit. We never know when a small scribal error can end up creating a new word! Azimuth was first recorded in English in the late 14th century.

how is azimuth used?

While we say that the sun sets in the west, most times that’s not exactly the case …. [B]etween the first day of spring and the first day of autumn, the position on the horizon where the sun appears to set, known as the azimuth, actually occurs somewhat north of due west. The azimuth of the sunset slowly shifts northward until the day of the June solstice; thereafter, it reverses course and shifts back to the south. On June 21, the sun sets at an azimuth of 302 degrees, or 32 degrees north of due west. But for the setting sun to be seen from all of Manhattan’s cross streets, its azimuth must be 299 degrees, or 29 degrees north of due west.

Joe Rao, “Manhattanhenge: What It Is, and How to See It,” Scientific American, May 29, 2018
[B]uilt by the ancestors of the Creek Indians in Georgia, western North Carolina and the eastern edge of Alabama, [t]hese five-sided mounds are unique to the region, and were “perfectly arranged on the apexes of a triangular matrix, stretching for several hundred miles,” according to an article by Richard Thornton, part of an alliance of Muskogean scholars. “One leg of the isosceles triangles was true north-south. Another leg was true east-west. The hypotenuse was the angle of the solar azimuth at sunset on the winter solstice. How the accurate surveying of such long distances was accomplished by the Indigenous people of the region has never been explained,[”] he wrote.

ICT Staff, “Welcoming the Winter Solstice,” Indian Country Today, December 21, 2011

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