verb (used without object)
to comment or discourse at great length.
Descant “to comment at great length” comes via Anglo-French and Medieval Latin from Latin dis- “apart; utterly” and cantus “song.” Modern Romance languages base their words for “song” (such as French chanson, Italian canzone, and Spanish canción) on Latin cantiō, a derivative of cantus of the same meaning. Cantus is a noun based on the verb canere “to sing,” and as we learned from the related Word of the Day cantillate, the verbal stem cant- is found today in music- and lyric-related terms such as canticle, cantor, and incantation. Through a process called dissimilation, which we learned about from the recent Word of the Day porphyry, when can(ere) is joined with the noun-forming suffix -men, the expected result “canmen” instead becomes carmen “song, magical formula,” which is the source of charm. Descant was first recorded in English in the late 14th century.
Kahéle patronized me extensively. I was introduced to camp after camp, and in rapid succession repeated the experiences of a traveler who has much to answer for in the way of colour, and the peculiar cut of his garments. I felt as though I was some natural curiosity, in charge of the robustious Kahéle, who waxed more and more officious every hour of his engagement; and his tongue ran riot as he descanted upon my characteristics, to the joy of the curious audiences we attracted …. The boy sat near me, still descanting upon our late experiences, our possible future, and the thousand trivial occurrences that make the recollections of travel forever charming.
to act in a manner showing excessive deference or eagerness to please.
Kowtow “to act in a manner showing excessive eagerness to please” is an adaptation of Mandarin Chinese kòutóu, which literally means “to knock (one’s) head.” In contrast to the negative sense that kowtow has acquired in English, the original purpose of kowtowing, which involves bowing and kneeling so that the forehead touches the ground, is to demonstrate respect. Mandarin kòutóu (cognate to Cantonese kautau) comprises two written characters: the first means “to knock,” while the second means “head”—or, by extension and depending on context, “hair,” “top,” “end, tip,” “first,” or “chief, leader.” Kowtow was first recorded in English circa 1800.
One of the great paradoxes of modern science is that scientists can speak with more confidence about supernovas, neutron stars and the first moments of cosmic creation than they can about what is going on in their own skulls. Humanities scholars should not ignore science or reject it in kneejerk fashion, but neither should they kowtow to it.
If you lived anywhere near New York City, you knew Jimmy Breslin. What made Breslin stand out was his blue-collar point of view. He was dogged in chasing a story. He didn’t kowtow to the powerful, and he often thought about how class and privilege might influence a narrative.
a kerchief or shawl, generally triangular in shape, worn draped over the shoulders or around the neck with the ends drawn together on the breast.
Fichu “a triangular shawl worn draped over the shoulders” is a borrowing from French, in which it is the past participle of the verb ficher “to do, give; kick out, fall apart.” Though the term fichu in French is often translated today as “screwed up,” a more traditional translation would be “thrown hastily,” much as the fichu garment is loosely attached as though it were hastily tossed over the shoulders. French has two verbs spelled ficher—the one discussed above, with the participle fichu, and another meaning “to drive or plug in by its point,” with the participle fiché—and both derive from Latin fīgere “to fasten, pierce.” Fīgere, through its stem fīx-, is the source of English fix, fixation, fixture, and suffix, all of which have to do with repairing or attaching something. Fichu was first recorded in English circa 1800.
From time to time one heard the crack of a whip behind the hedge; then the gates opened, a chaise entered. Galloping up to the foot of the steps, it stopped short and emptied its load. They got down from all sides, rubbing knees and stretching arms. The ladies, wearing bonnets, had on dresses in the town fashion, gold watch chains, pelerines with the ends tucked into belts, or little coloured fichus fastened down behind with a pin, and that left the back of the neck bare.
Get A Vocabulary Boost In Your Inbox