Word of the Day

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

dumbledore

[ duhm-buhl-dawr ]

noun

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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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

dégringolade

[ dey-gran-gaw-lad ]

noun

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
Monday, July 29, 2019

nisus

[ nahy-suhs ]

noun

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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