Word of the Day

Word of the day

Sunday, November 14, 2021

desolate

[ adjective des-uh-lit ]

adjective

deprived or destitute of inhabitants; deserted; uninhabited.

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What is the origin of desolate?

Desolate “deprived or destitute of inhabitants” comes via Middle English from Latin dēsōlātus “forsaken,” from sōlāre “to make lonely, abandon,” a derivative of the adjective sōlus “alone, on one’s own, lonely.” Sōlus is the source of numerous loneliness-related words in English, such as isolate, soliloquy, solitary, solitude, solo, and even sullen, and it is most likely descended from a Proto-Indo-European reflexive pronoun; compare self (via Old English) and the combining form idio- “proper to one” (via Ancient Greek). Alternative origins for sōlus include a connection to sollus “whole” as well as a distant link to English consolation and solace (via Latin) and the German adjective selig “overjoyed”—almost the opposite of what desolate means today. Desolate was first recorded in English in the late 1300s.

how is desolate used?

Hot, harsh, arid wastelands, nothing but sand, sky, and rocks. Majestic, sweeping landscapes, teeming with a life that seems it shouldn’t be, and more things to see, experience, and explore than one could imagine to fit in a lifetime. These are two ways to describe the desert, neither wrong, and neither giving the whole picture. A land of contrasts, with razor thin lines between polar opposites: pleasure and pain, life and death, success and failure, bleakness and beauty. The desert is a truly desolate and wondrous place.

Carston Oliver, “Utah by Dirt: Seeking the Secrets of the Desert,” National Geographic, June 26, 2015

Each of [J. G.] Ballard’s 98 short stories is like a dream more perfectly realized than any of your own. His personal vocabulary of scenarios imprints itself from the very first, each image with the quality of a newly minted archetype. Ballard was the poet of desolate landscapes marked by signs of a withdrawn human presence: drained swimming pools, abandoned lots littered with consumer goods, empty space stations, sites of military or vehicular tragedies.

Jonathan Lethem, "Poet of Desolate Landscapes," New York Times, September 8, 2009

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Word of the day

Saturday, November 13, 2021

brackish

[ brak-ish ]

adjective

somewhat salty or briny, as the water in an estuary or salt marsh.

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What is the origin of brackish?

Brackish “somewhat salty or briny” derives by way of the adjective brack “salty” from Dutch brak, which may be connected to Middle Dutch brak “worthless.” While freshwater has a relatively low sodium chloride content and seawater is far saltier, brackish water occurs where these two salt concentrations mix and merge, producing an environment between the two extremes. Because brackish water is too salty to be used for drinking or farming, the Middle Dutch definition of “worthless” surely applies. Note that brackish also contains the suffix -ish, which in this context indicates “somewhat” or “rather”; while brack is “salty,” brackish is salty to less than the full extent. Brackish was first recorded in English in the 1530s.

how is brackish used?

For decades, if you ordered oysters on the half-shell on the eastern Gulf coast, they most likely came from Apalachicola Bay—an estuary in north Florida where freshwater rivers meet the Gulf of Mexico, creating the perfect brackish mix for growing plump, salty oysters. But in recent years, they’re hard to come by.

Debbie Elliott, “Florida Closes Iconic Apalachicola Oyster Fishery,” NPR, July 22, 2020

Unfathomable Sea! whose waves are years, Ocean of Time, whose waters of deep woe are brackish with the salt of human tears! Thou shoreless flood, which in thy ebb and flow claspest the limits of mortality!

Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Time," Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1824

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Word of the day

Friday, November 12, 2021

dojo

[ doh-joh ]

noun

a school or practice hall where karate, judo, or other martial arts are taught.

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What is the origin of dojo?

Dojo “a school or practice hall where martial arts are taught” is a direct borrowing from Japanese dōjō “drill hall, Buddhist seminary.” Dōjō, in turn, follows a familiar trajectory from Middle Chinese, which is the source of hundreds of words that were exported to Japan, Korea, and Vietnam; dōjō derives from a Middle Chinese compound literally translated as “way place” or “place of the ways” (compare Mandarin dàochǎng), which originated as a transliteration of Sanskrit bodhi-maṇḍa “seat of wisdom.” This Sanskrit term is one of numerous Buddhism-related words that traveled across Asia and became part of the Japanese language, as we learned in the recent Word of the Day podcast about satori. Dojo was first recorded in English in the early 1940s.

how is dojo used?

On Wednesday, as preparations continued for the start of the Olympic judo competition on Saturday, buses arrived at regular intervals to disgorge groups of competitors in front of a set of unremarkable doors. Once they removed their shoes and took a few steps inside, however, it quickly became clear that they were entering a special place. Soon they fanned out across several floors and limbered up inside spartan dojos infused with a fragrance emanating from the pinewood walls.

Tariq Panja, “‘It’s Like Mecca for Judo,’” The New York Times, July 22, 2021

The four-time Venezuelan youth karate champion [Ricardo Perez] was upset when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of international tournaments in El Salvador, Bolivia and Mexico that he had been preparing for. But his family quickly turned the home into a full-time karate gym, or “dojo”, rearranging furniture to leave a tatami mat in the center of their living space where he works out and also leads classes via Zoom for children and other youth athletes.

Manaure Quintero, “In quarantined Venezuela, karate champion takes training to living room,” Reuters, May 15, 2020

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