Word of the Day

Friday, December 18, 2020

eleemosynary

[ el-uh-mos-uh-ner-ee, -moz-, el-ee-uh- ]

adjective

of or relating to alms, charity, or charitable donations; charitable.

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What is the origin of eleemosynary?

Eleemosynary “relating to alms or almsgiving” comes from the Medieval Latin adjective eleēmosynārius, a derivative of the Late Latin noun eleēmosyna “alms,” used by Christian Latin authors (Tertullian, St. Augustine of Hippo). Latin eleēmosyna is a borrowing from Greek eleēmosýnē “pity, mercy, compassion” (and “alms” in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate), a derivative of the adjective ele(e)inós “rousing compassion.” The Greek forms derive from the noun éleos “pity, compassion,” from which Greek forms the verb eleeîn “to pity, have pity on, feel pity for.” The second singular active aorist imperative, eléēson, as in the phrase from the Christian liturgy (in Latin transcription representing the Late Greek pronunciation) Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison “Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy” will be familiar to those who like to listen to or take part in musical settings of the Latin Mass. Eleemosynary entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is eleemosynary used?

It would be fair enough to call Cornelia a power for good. I shared an apartment in New York with her the year before she was married, and I haven’t done so many eleemosynary acts in the whole rest of my life as I did during that time.

Eleanor Gilchrist, "Poor Darling," The New Yorker, February 5, 1944

When a church collects money to then redistribute to the poor in its neighborhood, it performs an eleemosynary function.

Ray Hennessey, "Why Milton Friedman Could Love Social Entrepreneurship," Entrepreneur, September 16, 2013

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Thursday, December 17, 2020

gravitas

[ grav-i-tahs, ‐tas ]

noun

seriousness or sobriety, as of conduct or speech.

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What is the origin of gravitas?

Gravitas comes straight from the Latin noun gravitās, which has many meanings: “seriousness of conduct, temperament, or speech; solemnity or majesty (of a speaker or writer); authority, influence or importance (of a person or institution).” (The inflectional stem of gravitās is gravitāt-, which by regular phonetic change becomes gravité in French and gravity in English.) Gravitas became necessary in English because during the first half of the 17th century, gravity acquired its physical meanings “force of attraction, heaviness, gravitation,” and a sentence like “The Prime Minister displayed an unusual lack of gravity” would be unintentionally humorous today. Gravitas entered English in the 1920s.

how is gravitas used?

Dad was gearing up to say something, a gradual process that involved shifting around in his chair, some throat-clearing, lifting his tea halfway to his mouth and putting it down again, so Paul and Grandma broke off their staring contest and waited for him to speak. Grief had lent him a certain gravitas.

Emily St. John Mandel, The Glass Hotel, 2020

… a growing number of independent research-oriented institutions like his own, Mr. Coogan said, have brought gravitas to a field that once seemed lighter than Spider-Man’s touch.

Michael Cieply, "Even at Comic-Con, You Can't Defy Gravitas," New York Times, July 13, 2012

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Wednesday, December 16, 2020

scintillating

[ sin-tl-ey-ting ]

adjective

witty; brilliantly clever.

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What is the origin of scintillating?

Scintillating “witty, brilliantly clever” ultimately derives from the Latin noun scintilla “glittering speck, spark.” Scintilla and its few derivatives refer generally only to physical phenomena; the only metaphorical sense that scintilla has is of eyes flashing in anger or passion, not the sense of sparkling or flashing wit. Scintilla comes from the Proto-Indo-European root skai– (and its variants) “to glow dully, reflect,” as in Greek skiā́ “shadow,” Gothic skeinan “to light, shine,” and Old English scīnan (English shine). Finally, Tocharian B skiyo “shadow, shade,” is exactly equivalent to Greek skiā́. Scintillating entered English in the second half of the 17th century in its literal sense; the sense “witty, clever” dates from the end of the 18th century.

how is scintillating used?

Across the crowded living room, where all the clever, scintillating talk and noise of a cocktail party seem nervous and inane, a boy and a girl suddenly see each other.

Thomas Williams, The Hair of Harold Roux, 1974

What had once seemed perhaps a bit flat next to the scintillating wit and effervescent sparkle of our mother came to seem the most valuable quality in the world one person could give another, infinite patience and attention ….

Corby Kummer, "About My Father," The Atlantic, December 17, 2009

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