Word of the Day

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

diffidence

[ dif-i-duhns ]

noun

the quality or state of lacking confidence in one's ability, worth or fitness; timidity.

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What is the origin of diffidence?

Diffidence is a straightforward borrowing from the Latin noun diffīdentia “distrust, mistrust, lack of confidence.” In the Vulgate, the Latin version of the Bible prepared chiefly by Saint Jerome at the end of the 4th century a.d., diffīdentia also meant “lack of faith, disobedience (to God).” The original sense of diffīdentia, “distrust of other people,” is obsolete; the current sense “distrust of one’s own ability or worth,” shading off to “modesty, retiring nature,” dates from the mid-16th century. Diffidence entered English in the 15th century.

how is diffidence used?

For an artist, insofar as modesty implies diffidence, an unwillingness to exhibit oneself or one’s work, it’s a virtue so dubious as to be a handicap.

Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Conversation of the Modest," The Wild Girls, 2011

I write with great diffidence, but it seems to me that there is no unfairness in punishing people for their misfortunes, or rewarding them for their sheer good luck …

Samuel Butler, Erewhon, 1872
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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

facetiae

[ fuh-see-shee-ee ]

plural noun

amusing or witty remarks or writings.

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What is the origin of facetiae?

Facētiae is a Latin plural noun meaning “skillfulness, cleverness, wittiness.” It is a derivative of the adjective facētus “clever, good-humored, whimsical,” which has no reliable etymology. In the olden days, in less enlightened and progressive times than our ownsay about 1850facetiae was used in book catalogs as a euphemism for pornography (now also called erotica). Facetiae entered English in the 16th century.

how is facetiae used?

Even the facetiae of the gallant expressman who knew everybody’s Christian name along the route, who rained letters, newspapers, and bundles from the top of the stage … failed to interest me.

Bret Harte, "A Night at Wingdam," The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Tales, 1871

… you had better beware how you excite that comic vein to its fullest current of facetiae.

Thomas Peckett Prest, The Brigand; or, The Mountain Chief, 1851
Monday, March 11, 2019

myopic

[ mahy-op-ik, -oh-pik ]

adjective

unable or unwilling to act prudently; shortsighted.

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What is the origin of myopic?

Myopic ultimately comes from the Greek noun myōpía “nearsightedness,” which in Greek has no extended or metaphorical meaning. (The suffix –ic is English, not Greek, i.e., there is no Greek adjective myōpikós.) Myōpía is a compound formed of the verb mýein “to close the eyes or mouth,” which is close kin to the Latin mūtus “inarticulate, dumb, silent” (English mute). The same mýein appears in the noun mystḗrion “secret, secret rite” (English mystery) and its adjective mystikós “connected with the mysteries” (English mystic). The second element of myopia, –ōpía, is a combining form of ṓps (stem ōp-) “eye, face, countenance.” Myopic in its original sense entered English at the end of the 18th century; the sense “unable or unwilling to act prudently” developed in English at the end of the 19th century.

how is myopic used?

The belief that simply running a data set will solve for every challenge and every bias is problematic and myopic.

Yael Eisenstat, "The Real Reason Tech Struggles With Algorithmic Bias," Wired, February 12, 2019

Science provides us with a new perspective on our place in the cosmos and a better understanding of ourselves as human beings. It helps us overcome our otherwise myopic preconceptions about how the world works.

Lawrence M. Krauss, "What Is Science Good For?" The New Yorker, April 21, 2017

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