Word of the Day

Saturday, July 11, 2020

ductile

[ duhk-tl, -til ]

adjective

capable of being molded or shaped; plastic.

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What is the origin of ductile?

The adjective ductile, “capable of being molded or shaped; plastic,” comes from Middle English ductil, “beaten out or shaped with a hammer,” from Old French ductile or Latin ductilis, “capable of being led along a course; malleable, ductile.” Ductilis is a derivative of duct-, the past participle stem of the verb dūcere “to draw along with, conduct, lead,” one of the verb’s dozens of meanings being the relatively rare “to model or mold material; draw out (metal) into wire.” In modern technical usage, ductile is restricted to “capable of being drawn out into wire or threads,” a quality of the noble metals such as silver and gold; malleable in technical usage covers the sense “capable of being hammered or rolled out into thin sheets,” another quality of the noble metals. Ductile entered English in the 14th century.

how is ductile used?

Ductile and sensuous, paint hugs the flat photographic forms of Leiter’s nudes in a tailor-made mantle.

Mona Gainer-Salim, "Saul Leiter's Painted Nudes," The New Yorker, May 19, 2015

she cheerfully proposed reading; complied with the first request that was made her to play upon the piano-forte and the harp; and even, to sing; though, not so promptly; for her voice and sensibility were less ductile than her manners.

Frances Burney, The Wanderer; or, Female Difficulties, 1814

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Friday, July 10, 2020

slugabed

[ sluhg-uh-bed ]

noun

a person who lazily stays in bed long after the usual time for arising.

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What is the origin of slugabed?

Slugabed is a relatively uncommon noun meaning “a person who lazily stays in bed long after the usual time for arising.” The noun slug, “a snaillike animal; a lazy person, sluggard,” developed from Middle English slugge “a lazy person; slothfulness, the sin of sloth.” Slugge probably comes from Old Icelandic slōkr “clumsy person,” Swedish and Norwegian dialect slok “lazy person,” Danish slog “rascal, rogue.” The element –a– is simply a reduced form of the Old English preposition on “on, in, into”; bed comes from Old English bedd, ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root bhedh-, bhodh– “to dig, bury,” from which Latin derives fodere “to dig” and fossa “a ditch, trench, groove”; the Celtic languages have Welsh bedd, Cornish bedh, and Breton béz, all three meaning “a grave.” Slugabed entered English in the late 16th century.

how is slugabed used?

“Auntie…” he said. “Don’t you Auntie me, you slugabed! There’s toads to be buried and stoops to be washed. Why are you never around when it’s time for chores?” 

Michael Swanwick, "King Dragon," The Dragon Quintet, 2003

‘I am not a slug-a-bed, Harriet.’ Asobel’s voice was high and clear across the garden, ‘I get up as soon as my eyes pop open.’

Barbara Ewing, The Trespass, 2002

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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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Monday, July 06, 2020

bailiwick

[ bey-luh-wik ]

noun

a person's area of skill, knowledge, authority, or work: to confine suggestions to one's own bailiwick.

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What is the origin of bailiwick?

Bailiwick nowadays means “one’s area of skill, knowledge, authority, or work,” and less commonly, its original sense “the district within which a bailiff has jurisdiction.” Bailiwick comes from Middle English baillifwik (bailliwik, bailewik), a compound noun formed from bailliff “an officer of the court; an official with minor local authority” and wick (wic, wike, wicke) “dwelling, home, village, town, city,” from Old English wīc “dwelling place, abode,” from Latin vīcus “village; a block (in a town or city often forming an administrative unit),” which appears in placenames such as Sandwich (on the coast of Kent), Old English Sandwic, Sondwic “market town on sandy soil, or Warwick “village by the weir (low dam).” Bailiwick entered English in the mid-15th century.

how is bailiwick used?

He was spooning up gelato but talking about music, which is his bailiwick, if it’s anybody’s.

Nick Paumgarten, "The Man Who Was There," The New Yorker, March 26, 2007

I wasn’t surprised to see him there because this was an action venue that was right in his political bailiwick

Herb Boyd, "George Curry (1947-2016): An Advocate and Soldier for Black Media," Ebony, August 23, 2016

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Sunday, July 05, 2020

hitherto

[ hith-er-too ]

adverb

up to this time; until now: a fact hitherto unknown.

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What is the origin of hitherto?

The adverb hitherto, “up to this time or place,” comes from Middle English hiderto; the modern spelling with th replacing d first appears in Wycliffe’s Bible (1382). Hitherto seems to have completely replaced hiderto by the time of Tyndale’s translation of the Bible in 1526. Hiderto first appears in English in the first half of the 13th century.

how is hitherto used?

The attention suddenly lavished on this hitherto obscure doctrine is surprising, but heartening, to anyone who has long labored in the civil-rights field …

Eric Schnurer, "Congress Is Going to Have to Repeal Qualified Immunity," The Atlantic, June 17, 2020

A team of archaeologists found “new evidence for hitherto unknown features or monumental structures” about two miles northeast of Stonehenge …

Becky Ferreira, "Scientists Found a Mysterious Structure of Deep Shafts Near Stonehenge," Vice, June 23, 2020

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