Word of the Day

Word of the day

Friday, October 02, 2020

élan

[ ey-lahn, ey-lan; French ey-lahn ]

noun

dash; impetuous ardor: to dance with great élan.

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What is the origin of élan?

The still unnaturalized French noun élan, “dash, impetuous ardor,” originally applied to a military charge or rush. Élan comes from Old and Middle French eslan “a rush,” from the verb eslancer “to throw or cast a lance or dart.” Eslancer in turn comes from the Latin preposition and prefix ex, ex- “out, out of, from” and the noun lancea “light spear for throwing,” possibly a Gaulish or Spanish loanword in Latin. Élan entered English in the second half of the 19th century.

how is élan used?

He then launched into the Gigue of Bach’s C-major Suite—robust, driving music that Ma brought off with his usual precision and élan.

Alex Ross, "Yo-Yo Ma's Days of Action," The New Yorker, December 10, 2008

With a certain élan, the San Francisco Chronicle has taken to publishing letters from readers who remark the diminishing pleasure or usefulness of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Richard Rodriguez, "Final Edition," Harper's Magazine, November 2009

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Word of the day

Thursday, October 01, 2020

finagle

[ fi-ney-guhl ]

verb (used with object)

to get or achieve (something) by guile, trickery, or manipulation: to finagle an assignment to the Membership Committee.

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What is the origin of finagle?

Finagle (or fenagle), “to cheat or swindle a person,” is in origin an American slang word. Finagle is probably a variant of fainaigue, a British dialect term with two meanings: “to shirk work or responsibility” and “to renege at a card game,” that is, to play a card that is not of the suit led when one can follow suit” (this to a layman sounds an awful lot like cheating). A citation from 1839 from Herefordshire (a county in West England) reads, “If two men are heaving a heavy weight, and one of them pretends to be putting out his strength, though in reality leaving all the strain on the other, he is said to feneague [sic].” Fainaigue (feneague) and finagle (fenagle) have no agreed etymology. Finagle entered English in the mid-1920s.

how is finagle used?

Meng pleaded guilty last year to using his position in China to finagle more than $2 million in bribes between 2005 and 2017.

Colin Dwyer, "Former Interpol President Sentenced To Prison In China For Corruption," NPR, January 21, 2020

in order to provide its citizens tests for a pandemic disease, the wealthiest and most powerful nation had to desperately finagle the services of volunteer coders at Google.

, "I Don't Know Who Needs to Hear This, but Brands Can't Save You," New York Times, March 18, 2020

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Word of the day

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

susurration

[ soo-suh-rey-shuhn ]

noun

a soft murmur; whisper.

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What is the origin of susurration?

Susurration, “a murmur, whisper,” ultimately comes from the Latin noun susurrātiō (inflectional stem susurrātiōn-), “a murmur, whisper, soft rustling,” a derivative of susurrāt(us), the past participle of the verb susurrāre. Unsurprisingly, susurrāre (and all its derivatives) is onomatopoeic not only in Latin, but also in other Indo-European languages, from the Proto-Indo-European root swer-, swor-, swṛ– “to buzz, hum.” The same root supplies the name of small animals: for instance, the root variant swor– is the source of Latin sōrex (stem sōric-) “shrew, shrew mouse,” Greek hýrax (stem hýrak-) “shrew, shrew mouse, hyrax” and Greek hýron “beehive, swarm (of bees).” The Germanic form swar– (from swor-) supplies English swirl and swarm, Old Norse svarmr “uproar, tumult,” and German schwirren “to buzz (of an insect), whirr (of an arrow).” Susurration entered English in the first half of the 15th century.

how is susurration used?

It must be the whisper of time as it bends over the horizon, a susurration of mortality none can escape.

Dominique Browning, "Interiors," New York Times, December 6, 2013

Leaving the hotel and taking a stroll, I was reminded that the town’s homey otherness is heightened at night. … The susurrations of palms … caress the ear.

Thomas Swick, "A Susurration of Palms," Oxford American, March 28, 2017

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