Word of the Day

Thursday, July 09, 2020

discomfiture

[ dis-kuhm-fi-cher ]

noun

the state of being disconcerted; confusion; embarrassment.

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What is the origin of discomfiture?

Discomfiture comes from Middle English desconfiture, discomfitoure, discomfiture (and many other spelling variants) “the fact of being defeated in battle; the act of defeating in battle.” One of the first occurrences of the word is in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (after 1387). The Middle English word comes from Old French desconfiture “a defeat, a rout.” The English sense “frustration of hopes or plans,” weakened to “confusion” or “embarrassment,” occurs at the beginning of the 15th century.

how is discomfiture used?

She had her cry out, a good, long cry; and when much weeping had dulled the edge of her discomfiture she began to reflect that all was not yet lost.

Charles Waddell Chesnutt, The Colonel's Dream, 1905

A former critical-care nurse as well as an academic philosopher, Froderberg has carefully contemplated body, soul and their fragile nexus. That pays off superbly as the air thins, and the surrealism of the terrain, the hallucinatory wanderings of oxygen-robbed brains and the discomfiture of sapped bodies converge cinematically.

Alexander C. Kafka, "Adventure Seekers—and a few ghosts—make a dangerous trip up a mountain in 'Mysterium,'" Washington Post, August 7, 2018

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Wednesday, July 08, 2020

kaput

[ kah-poot, -poot, kuh- ]

adjective

ruined; done for; demolished.

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What is the origin of kaput?

The adjective kaput “ruined, done for; out of order,” is used only in predicate position, not in attributive position; that is, you can only say “My car is kaput,” but not “I’ve got a kaput car.” Kaput comes from the German colloquial adjective kaputt “broken, done for, out of order, (of food) spoiled,” which was taken from the German idiom capot machen, a partial translation of the French idioms faire capot and être capot, “to win (or lose) all the tricks (in the card game piquet).” Faire capot literally means “to make a bonnet or hood,” and its usage in piquet may be from an image of throwing a hood over, or hoodwinking one’s opponent. Unsurprisingly, kaput became widely used in English early in World War I.

how is kaput used?

“Is it as bad as that?” He shook his head. “It’s worse. If we get caught, all this is kaput. Kaput, you hear? Gone. Lost. Forever.”

Harry Turtledove, The Gladiator, 2007

The business of a woman I know has gone kaput and 15 employees are facing the sack.

David Marr, "One day we will tell stories of the virus, a time when we held our breath passing people in the street," The Guardian, March 27, 2020

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Tuesday, July 07, 2020

posterity

[ po-ster-i-tee ]

noun

succeeding or future generations collectively: Judgment of this age must be left to posterity.

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What is the origin of posterity?

Posterity “future generations” is a straightforward word. It comes from Middle English posterite, posteriti “a person’s offspring, a family’s successive generations,” partly from Old French posterite, and partly from Latin posteritās (stem posteritāt-), which has the same meanings as in Old French and Middle English. Posteritās is a derivative of the adjective posterus “future, later”; its plural, posterī, means “one’s descendants; future generations.” Latin posterior “later, later of two, younger” is the comparative of posterus, and is familiar enough in English (the humorous, colloquial noun posterior or posteriors in the sense “buttocks” originated within English in the early 17th century; the sense does not exist in Latin). Posterity entered English in the 14th century.

how is posterity used?

Climate change is a tragedy, but Rich makes clear that it is also a crime—a thing that bad people knowingly made worse, for their personal gain. That, I suspect, is one of the many aspects to the climate change battle that posterity will find it hard to believe, and impossible to forgive.

John Lanchester, "Two Books Dramatically Capture the Climate Change Crisis," New York Times, April 12, 2019

The act of 1866 gave the Freedmen’s Bureau its final form, the form by which it will be known to posterity and judged of men.

W.E.B. Du Bois, "Of the Dawn of Freedom," The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

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