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Word of the Day

Word of the day

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

empyrean

[ em-puh-ree-uhn, -pahy-, em-pir-ee-uhn, -pahy-ree- ]

noun

the highest heaven, supposed by the ancients to contain the pure element of fire.

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What is the origin of empyrean?

Empyrean “the highest heaven” ultimately derives via Late Latin from Ancient Greek empýrios “fiery,” from pŷr “fire,” which is the source of words such as pyre, pyrite, and pyro- and is distantly related to English fire. The Ancient Greeks believed that the world around them comprised five elements—fire, water, air, earth, and ether—and although ether was considered a distinct airlike element found in the upper atmosphere, there was some overlap with fire; ether (Ancient Greek aithḗr) was related to the verb aíthein “to burn” and was considered together with fire to constitute the heavens and emit light and heat. Empyrean was first recorded in English in the early 1600s.

how is empyrean used?

It was the belief of Europe during the Middle Ages, that our globe was the centre of the universe. The earth, itself fixed and immovable, was encompassed by ten heavens successively encircling one another, and all of these except the highest in constant rotation about their centre. This highest and immovable heaven, enveloping all the others and constituting the boundary between created things and the void, infinite space beyond, is the Empyrean, the heaven of fire…

Viktor Rydberg, The Magic of the Middle Ages, translated by August Hjalmar Edgren, 1879

Makeda, rumor has it, is skilled in the sinister arts of voodoo. But what she’s channeling here is a spirit of pure divinity. And as Ms. Foy rides the bucking rhythms of Makeda’s journey through the past, present and future of African-Americans, she achieves an exaltation that lifts her and the audience into the empyrean.

Ben Brantley, "Review: In a New Orleans ‘House,’ Wealthy Women Are Haunted by Slavery’s Ghosts," New York Times, July 30, 2018

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Word of the day

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

hex

[ heks ]

verb (used with object)

to bewitch; practice witchcraft on.

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What is the origin of hex?

Hex “to bewitch” is a borrowing via Pennsylvania Dutch from German hexen, related to the noun Hexe “witch.” Hexe is a cognate of the English word hag “witch, sorceress; ugly old woman,” and the two are shortened from Old High German hagazussa and Old English hægtesse, respectively. Though hex and hag have long had negative connotations in English because of their magical associations, theories about their origin are far less biased; the haga-/hæg- element may derive from a root meaning “able, skilled” or could be connected to hawthorn, hay, and hedge, thereby reflecting a historical link between plants and sorcery. The -zussa/-tesse element, in turn, may be related to a variety of words in the Indo-European language family with meanings such as “fairy,” “ghost,” and “demon.” Hex was first recorded in English in the 1820s.

how is hex used?

“[The villagers] thought she had the evil eye, they thought she was hexing their cows. They didn’t want to waste their bullets so they used stones. Stones and clubs .… But she knew it was going to happen, she was a clairvoyant. She handed me over to a friend she had, in another village, the night before. That’s what saved me.”

Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride, 1993

I remember all manner of morality tales and fables about boys who stole pie and were hexed, vexed, and haunted, so many and so often that I came to believe that pie thievery must have been a very common thing back then. I would not do it again—it would be unseemly. But sometimes I pass a pie in a bakery, and I wonder. It would probably just taste like pie. But how will I ever know unless…

Rick Bragg, "Sometimes the Pie Just Calls Your Name," Paris Review, April 24, 2018

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Word of the day

Monday, October 11, 2021

fartlek

[ fahrt-lek ]

noun

a training technique, used especially among runners, consisting of bursts of intense effort loosely alternating with less strenuous activity.

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What is the origin of fartlek?

Fartlek “a training technique consisting of bursts of intense effort” is a direct borrowing from Swedish and comprises the elements fart “speed” and lek “play.” Fart is cognate with the English verb fare “to go, travel,” as found in the nouns warfare, wayfarer, and welfare, from a Proto-Indo-European root per- “to pass over.” Other derivatives from this root include port, portable, and portal (via Latin porta “door, gate” and portāre “to carry”) and pore and emporium (via Ancient Greek póros “passage”). Lek may be related to English lark “a carefree adventure; to have fun” but has a far more popular relative: LEGO, the name of a brand of interlocking plastic bricks, from Danish leg godt “to play well.” Fartlek was first recorded in English in the 1950s.

how is fartlek used?

Fartlek running is racing then recovering and so on. It became harder to race at a certain distance, and then slow to recover, then race again. At the moment his training was racing for half a mile then recovering for the next quarter. It was damned tough, but if he could get below three hours it would be worth every ounce of sweat and tears.

P. A. McAllister, In The Long Run, 2013

We head back and Sam puts me through another kind of torture, this time a Swedish interval training technique called ‘Fartlek‘—a word I’d find funny if the training weren’t so exhausting—where I have to sprint then jog alternately between the lampposts that all too frequently for my liking line the promenade.

Matt Dunn, The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook, 2006

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