Word of the Day

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

doldrums

[ dohl-druhmz, dol-, dawl- ]

noun

(used with a plural verb)

a state of inactivity or stagnation, as in business or art.

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What is the origin of doldrums?

Doldrums is the plural of doldrum, which had two very early meanings: the plural doldrums meant “a state or period of inactivity or stagnation” (1811), the singular doldrum “a dullard, a slow, stupid person” (1812). The later, sailing sense of doldrum, “a becalmed ship,” dates to 1823, and “a region in which ships are likely to become becalmed” dates to 1855. The etymology of doldrum(s) is difficult: it seems to have originated as a slang term (and slang terms are notoriously difficult to etymologize), possibly from dold “stupid,” originally a past participle of Middle English dollen, dullen “to dull,” or possibly from the adjective dull. The second syllable, –drum, is probably the same as in tantrum, which, unfortunately, has no satisfactory etymology. Doldrum and doldrums entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is doldrums used?

countries in economic doldrums may exit the pandemic more reliant on Chinese capital and markets rather than less so.

Richard Fontaine, "China Has Squandered Its First Great Opportunity," The Atlantic, July 30, 2020

A decade later, amid the doldrums of the 1970s, politicians were starting to worry about the financial implications of government regulations.

Adam Rogers, "How Much Is a Human Life Actually Worth?" Wired, May 11, 2020

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

scunner

[ skuhn-er ]

noun

an irrational dislike; loathing.

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What is the origin of scunner?

Those who are addicted to the late, great, dearly missed Terry Pratchett and his Discworld series of novels (41 of them!), particularly The Wee Free Men (2003) and its sequels, will be familiar with the Wee Free Men’s constant use of scunner, a term hard to define past “dislike, aversion, or a source of dislike or aversion” (as indefinable as Huck Finn’s fantods). The Wee Free Men are not talking gibberish or nonsense; they are speaking Scots. The verb scunner (also scurnen, skurne) “to shrink back in disgust or fear, quail, hesitate” is first recorded about 1425. Its further history is unknown, but some authorities think it is related to scornen “to despise, be contemptuous, hold in disdain.” Scunner entered English in the 14th century.

how is scunner used?

Many are in search of a copy of A Moveable Feast. This is not always on offer because, for some reason which I can’t remember, Whitman took a scunner to Hemingway.

Alan Massie, "Shakespeare and Company: the bookshop where you could read in bed," Telegraph, December 15, 2011

Ever since my school days I’ve always taken a scunner to businessmen. They’ll do anything for money.

Sōseki Natsume, I Am a Cat, translated by Aiko Ito & Graeme Wilson, 1972

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Monday, October 12, 2020

Indigenous

[ in-dij-uh-nuhs ]

adjective

relating to or being a people who are the original, earliest known inhabitants of a region, or are their descendants.

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What is the origin of Indigenous?

When used in reference to people (the sense we are highlighting today), Indigenous may be capitalized as a sign of respect. A quick glance at indigenous and endogenous shows close relationship in their formation and meaning. Both adjectives mean something like “internally produced, developing from within.” The first element, Latin indi- and Greek endo-, comes from Proto-Indo-European endo, endon “inside, indoors,” perhaps originally “in the house” (Greek éndon, Hittite anda, andan “within”). In Latin, endo, later indu, is an archaic preposition equivalent to the preposition and adverb in, in– “in, into, inside.” The Latin adjectival suffix –genus “born of” is a derivative of the verb gignere “to beget, bring into being, create” (indigena means “a native inhabitant”). Latin –genus is close kin to the Greek suffix –genḗs “born,” from the verb gígnesthai “to become, be born” (endogenḗs means “born in the house”).

how is Indigenous used?

One shelf contained nonfiction, mostly medical reference books and biographies of great Indigenous people.

Darcie Little Badger, Elatsoe, 2020

For Indigenous authors, writing themselves into sci-fi and fantasy narratives isn’t just about gaining visibility within popular genres. It is part of a broader effort to overcome centuries of cultural misrepresentation.

Alexandra Alter,

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Sunday, October 11, 2020

roister

[ roi-ster ]

verb (used without object)

to act in a swaggering, boisterous, or uproarious manner.

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What is the origin of roister?

The English verb roister, “to act boisterously; to revel without restraint,” started life as a noun meaning “noisy bully” (now roisterer), from Middle French rustre, ru(i)stre “ruffian, boor, lout,” from the adjective ruste “rude, rough,” from the Latin adjective rusticus “rural, rustic.” Roister entered English in the 16th century.

how is roister used?

Haerlem, Schiedam and Olifant were the ships, and they tied up so that their sailors could roister ashore, and large fights broke out because sailors from the first two ships, which bore honorable names, began to tease those. from the Olifant, Dutch for elephant.

James A. Michener, The Covenant, 1980

Their tails had become sticky with pine sap, then got knotted together as the squirrels roistered around.

John Kelly, "What do you do when five baby squirrels accidentally tie their tails together?" Washington Post, April 16, 2019

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Saturday, October 10, 2020

newfangled

[ noo-fang-guhld, -fang-, nyoo- ]

adjective

of a new kind or fashion.

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What is the origin of newfangled?

Newfangled comes from Middle English new– “new,” –fangel, –fangol, an otherwise unrecorded adjective suffix meaning “taken, inclined to take,” and the adjective suffix –ed, the entire adjective meaning “taken by the new, inclined to the new.” The element –fangel, –fangol most likely is from the same root as the British dialect verb fang “to seize, grab” and the standard English noun fang “canine tooth” (that is, “the seizer”), all from fang-, the stem of the Old English verb fōn “to take.” Newfangled entered English at the end of the 15th century.

how is newfangled used?

Both the floss and the AI toothbrush had surprised me. … But they had also sparked a desire for the potentially unnecessary, as newfangled things are prone to do.

Lauren Goode, "Don't Brush Off Mouth Tech As a Passing Fad," Wired, January 24, 2020

YouTube was less than two years old—Justin Bieber had not yet been discovered there—and still resembled a newfangled version of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

Michael Schulman, "Bo Burnham's Age of Anxiety," The New Yorker, June 25, 2018

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Friday, October 09, 2020

discommode

[ dis-kuh-mohd ]

verb (used with object)

to cause inconvenience to; disturb, trouble, or bother.

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What is the origin of discommode?

Discommode, “to cause inconvenience or trouble to,” comes from Middle French discommoder, a compound formed from the Latin prefix dis– “apart, away,” here with a privative or negative force, and the French adjective commode “convenient, easy,” from Latin commodus “of standard size or weight, suitable, convenient.” Commodus is a compound of the Latin prefix com-, here with the intensive force “completely,” and the noun modus, “measured amount, size, or quantity.” Discommode entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is discommode used?

I decided not to discommode him further on walks by abruptly bringing him out into the same car-whizzing streets that had so shivered and terrified him, so when we went outside it was through the back door into a warren of unthreatening urban alleyways.

Gene Weingarten, "The tail of a ruff few days," Washington Post, February 13, 2020

“We didn’t know we were discommoding you so.” Norma liked that word and she said it over under her breath. “Discommode —I wouldn’t want to discommode you, Mr. Gable, but I think you should know…”

John Steinbeck, The Wayward Bus, 1947

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Thursday, October 08, 2020

idiolect

[ id-ee-uh-lekt ]

noun

Linguistics.

a person's individual speech pattern.

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What is the origin of idiolect?

An individual person’s own pattern of speech is called an idiolect, formed from the Greek adjective ídios “private, one’s own, peculiar.” (The English noun idiot comes ultimately from Greek idiṓtēs “private person, a citizen who does not participate in public affairs,” a term of abuse and contempt in Periclean Athens). The combining form –lect, extracted from dialect (from Greek diálektos “speech, language, discourse, accent, manner of speech,” and later “the language of a country or district”), has been promoted to a full word, lect, which in linguistics means “a distinct variety of a language, such as a standard variety or a nonstandard regional dialect.” Idiolect entered English in the mid-20th century.

how is idiolect used?

Vollmann’s idiolect is obsessive, punctilious, twitchy, hyperobservational, and proudly amateurish.

Nathaniel Rich, "The Most Honest Book About Climate Change Yet," The Atlantic, October 2018

There is debate, for example, over whether we each have an “idiolect,” or unique linguistic fingerprint. And if we do, how consistent is it in academic essays or love letters as opposed to, say, e-mails and text messages? Betcha its not!! 🙂

Frances Stead Sellers, "Should texts, e-mail, tweets and Facebook posts be the new fingerprints in court?" Washington Post, February 27, 2015

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