• Word of the day
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    Wednesday, July 31, 2019

    dumbledore

    noun [duhm-buhl-dawr]
    a bumblebee.
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    What is the origin of dumbledore?

    Dumbledore is a British dialect word, a compound of dumble, which is onomatopoeic, occurring variously as bumble-, dumble-, humble-, and the noun dor (also dorr) “an insect that makes a buzzing noise as it flies.” For her Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling selected Dumbledore as the surname of the headmaster of Hogwarts because dumbledore is a dialect word for “bumblebee,” Albus Dumbledore loved music, and she imagined him walking around "humming to himself.” Dumbledore is recorded in English by the late 1700s.

    How is dumbledore used?

    The dumbledore proper is Emerson's "burly dozing humblebee," in American prose always a bumblebee. Charles P. G. Scott, "English Words which hav Gaind or Lost an Initial Consonant by Attraction," Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol. 23, 1892

    Any Humble-bee, no matter what species, is known as a Bumble-bee, a Foggie, a Dumbledore, or a Hummel-bee, according to the peculiar dialect of the locality .... John George Wood, Homes Without Hands, 1866

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, July 30, 2019

    dégringolade

    noun [dey-gran-gaw-lad]
    a quick deterioration or breakdown, as of a situation or circumstance.
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    What is the origin of dégringolade?

    The rare noun dégringolade “a quick deterioration or breakdown,” comes unchanged from French. The French noun is a derivative of the verb dégringoler (earlier désgringoler) “to tumble down.” The prefix - (dés-) comes from the Latin prefix dis- “apart, asunder.” The French noun suffix -ade ultimately comes from the Latin past participle suffix -ātus (-āta, -ātum). The verb gringoler may be a borrowing of Middle Dutch crinkelen ”to curl, meander.” Dégringolade entered English by the second half of the 19th century.

    How is dégringolade used?

    The economically combatant nation entrenched themselves behind tariffs, played each other tricks with loans, repudiations, sudden inflations and deflations, and no power in the world seemed able to bring them into any concerted action to arrest and stop their common degringolade. H. G. Wells, The Shape of Things to Come, 1933

    What’s more, they believe that things cannot go on as they are: That the trajectory we’re on will end in crisis, disaster, dégringolade. Ross Douthat, "Pope Francis' Call to Action Goes Beyond the Environment," New York Times, June 20, 2015

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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, July 29, 2019

    nisus

    noun [nahy-suhs]
    an effort or striving toward a particular goal or attainment; impulse.
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    What is the origin of nisus?

    The rare noun nisus, a technical word used in various branches of philosophy and theology, comes directly from Latin nīsus, a derivative of the verb nītī and meaning “a resting of one’s weight on the ground, planting one’s feet firmly, a strong muscular effort, pressure (of forces), an endeavor, strong effort.” Nisus in the sense "effort" first appears at the end of the 17th century in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. In later usage nisus simply means "impulse."

    How is nisus used?

    The accumulation of wealth into a few hands is the nisus of all bad governments ... "Ireland in 1832," The Metropolitan, Vol. 5, No. 18, October 1832

    ... in Aristotle's teleological universe, every human being ... has a kind of inner nisus toward a life of at least civic virtue ... Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, 1985

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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, July 28, 2019

    fulgurant

    adjective [fuhl-gyer-uhnt]
    flashing like lightning.
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    What is the origin of fulgurant?

    Fulgurant comes straight from Latin fulgurant-, the inflectional stem of fulgurāns, the present participle of the verb fulgurāre, originally an impersonal and intransitive verb meaning “it lightens,” then becoming personal and applied to Jupiter or the sky, and finally being applied generally (such as to orators) and meaning “to shine, glitter.” There are many Latin words for lightning, e.g., the noun fulmen (from an unrecorded fulgmen), which has its own derivative verb fulmināre (like fulgurāre, originally an impersonal and intransitive verb), whose past participle fulminātus is the source of the English verb fulminate. And its present participle fulmināns (inflectional stem fulminant-) is the source of the uncommon adjective fulminant, which has largely been replaced by fulminating. Fulgurant entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

    How is fulgurant used?

    To the left the draw-bridge slowly raised its broken span, the soft edges illumined by fulgurant lights of red and green. Henry Miller, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, 1945

    The comedy has to arise from the daily disparities in which the playwright made her nest, from the way an irreverent mutter or a fulgurant non sequitur rends the conventional fabric of existence with a lightninglike tear. John Simon, "Pathetic and Peripatetic," New York, August 16, 1993

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, July 27, 2019

    heterography

    noun [het-uh-rog-ruh-fee]
    the use of the same letter or combination of letters to represent different sounds, as, in English, the use of s in sit and easy.
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    What is the origin of heterography?

    Orthodoxy "correct belief" is to heterodoxy as orthography "correct writing" is to heterography. The combining form hetero- comes from the Greek adjective héteros “one of two, the other, different.” (Even in ancient authors, words prefixed with hetero- were ambiguous: heterodoxía could mean “difference of opinion” and “error in opinion.”) Heterography originally meant “misspelling, incorrect spelling, bad spelling” (like awsome, kat, miniscule), then “irregular or inconsistent spelling,” which is usual in English: consider the value of c in call and cell, or of -ough in bough, cough, rough, though, or through. Heterography entered English in the late 18th century.

    How is heterography used?

    ... the whole world lies in heresy or schism on the subject of orthography. All climates alike groan under heterography. Thomas De Quincey, "Orthographic Mutineers," Tait's Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. 14, March 1847

    Of course everybody recollects the great phonetic mania of some years ago,—and how Mr. Pitman and his followers denounced English spelling as heterography, and organized an orthography of their own ... "Visible Speech," Littell's Living Age, Vol. 83, October 15, 1864

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  • Word of the day
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    Friday, July 26, 2019

    tripping

    adjective [trip-ing]
    proceeding with a light, easy movement or rhythm.
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    What is the origin of tripping?

    The adjective tripping “light and quick, nimble” and, by extension, "proceeding with a light, easy movement or rhythm" is a derivative of the verb trip. The verb comes via Old French treper, triper, tripper “to leap, dance, trample, hit with the feet,” from Low German, and is akin to Middle Dutch trippen “to hop, skip.” Tripping entered English in the 16th century.

    How is tripping used?

    The one before us has a light, tripping melody in 3/8 rhythm, the treatment of which is remarkably fanciful and delicate throughout. The Musical Times, review of Wayside Sketches, July 1, 1872

    To have the ability to seize upon some little incident of experience and by the exquisite nicety and humor of a few pithy and striking phrases elevate it to the dignity of easy and tripping conversation, that is a feat to which provincial self-complacency can never attain. The Outlook, "The Spectator," Vol. 86, No. 16, August 17, 1907

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  • Word of the day
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    Thursday, July 25, 2019

    Svengali

    noun [sven-gah-lee, sfen-]
    a person who completely dominates another, usually with selfish or sinister motives.
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    What is the origin of Svengali?

    Two terms survive from George du Maurier’s novel Trilby (1894). The first is Svengali, the evil musician who hypnotizes, controls, and exploits Trilby O’Ferrall, a young Irish girl, and makes her a great singer who is unable to perform without his help. In the stage version of the novel, the actress who played Trilby wore a sort of soft felt hat with an indented crown, now called a trilby or trilby hat. The trilby is now commonly mistaken for a different hat, the fedora. Svengali in its extended sense of "a person who completely dominates another, usually with selfish or sinister motives" is recorded by the early 1900s.

    How is Svengali used?

    Lou Pearlman, who died on Friday in federal prison in Miami, at the age of sixty-two, was arguably the great pop Svengali of our time. John Seabrook, "We Live in the Pop-Culture World That Lou Pearlman Created," The New Yorker, August 22, 2016

    Though he comes across in his own writings as witty and self-aware, the picture that emerges decades later is of a moody, manipulative Svengali, blinded by his ego to what was really happening on the raft. A. O. Scott, "'The Raft' Review: A Crew of 10 Set Adrift With a Moody Svengali," New York Times, June 6, 2019

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