Word of the Day

Word of the day

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

encumber

[ en-kuhm-ber ]

verb (used with object)

to impede or hinder; hamper.

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What is the origin of encumber?

Encumber “to impede or hinder” derives via Middle English from the Anglo-French noun combre “dam, weir”; just as encumber involves restricting action, the purpose of a dam is to restrict the movement of water. Combre ultimately comes from unattested Gaulish comberos “confluence, bringing together,” which may derive from two Proto-Indo-European roots: kom “with” (compare the Latin-derived prefix co- “together”) and bher- “to carry, bring” (compare English bear and the -fer element in the Latin-origin verbs prefer, refer, and transfer). Encumber was first recorded in English in the early 1300s.

how is encumber used?

Around half of all people with these mutations depend on blood transfusions throughout their entire lives. The quality of that life is encumbered, and its length might be curtailed. The only cure is a transplant of blood stem cells from a close relative or preferably an identical twin. As you might imagine, that’s not always possible and even when it is, it’s a risky procedure with no guarantee of success.

Ed Yong, “Gene therapy saves patient from lifetime of blood transfusions,” National Geographic, September 15, 2010
[W]hile the maker of television documentaries [Fred W. Friendly] has the means of recording with great precision what appears in front of his cameras, the very equipment that enables him to do this also encumbers him in his attempt to depict every situation truly. A conventional journalist can go into a room, get interviews with some of the people present, and then depart without having noticeably intruded upon the proceedings. The arrival of a network television camera crew, however, is an event in itself, and for many people in a room may overshadow in importance anything else that is taking place there.

Thomas Whiteside, "The One-Ton Pencil," The New Yorker, February 9, 1962
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Word of the day

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

hiemal

[ hahy-uh-muhl ]

adjective

of or relating to winter; wintry.

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What is the origin of hiemal?

Hiemal “of or relating to winter” comes from Latin adjective hiemālis, of the same meaning, from hiems “winter.” Another adjective related to hiems is hībernus “wintry,” which is the source of hibernal and hibernate. Hiems comes from the Proto-Indo-European root ghei- “winter,” which is also the source of Ancient Greek chiṓn “snow” and cheimṓn “winter” as well as Sanskrit hima “snow,” as in Himalayas, the mountain range in southern Asia. The English word winter, in contrast, derives instead from the same root as water and wet. Hiemal was first recorded in English in the 1550s.

how is hiemal used?

School was taught from the fifteenth of September to the twenty-fifth of May, with a couple of interruptions…Since snow and frost lasted from October well into April, no wonder the mean of my school memories is definitely hiemal.

Robert Roper, Nabokov in America: On the Road to Lolita, 2015

The air through which it raced was thin, with less than one per cent of sea-level pressure, and at sixty below as deadly cold as the most hiemal places on earth, but despite that the matt-black [sic] titanium alloy skin of the aircraft seared with enough heat to vaporise a hand.

Peter Fox, Downtime, 1986
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Word of the day

Monday, December 20, 2021

ecliptic

[ ih-klip-tik ]

noun

the great circle formed by the intersection of the plane of the earth's orbit with the celestial sphere; the apparent annual path of the sun in the heavens.

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What is the origin of ecliptic?

Ecliptic “the circle formed by the intersection of the plane of the earth’s orbit with the celestial sphere” comes by way of Middle English and Medieval Latin from Ancient Greek ekleiptikós “of an eclipse,” from the verb ekleípein “to leave out, “to fail to appear, to forsake one’s place.” These latter senses of ekleípein inform the definition of eclipse, an event in which the sun or moon refuses to appear. Ekleípein comes from the Proto-Indo-European root leikw- “to leave” and is related to the English numbers eleven and twelve, from Old English endleofan and twelfe, literally “one left over” and “two left over” (after counting to ten). An additional relative is the Latin verb linquere “to forsake, leave, quit” (as in delinquent, derelict, and relinquish). Ecliptic was first recorded in English in the late 1300s.

how is ecliptic used?

The reason all of the planets and our moon pretty much take the same ecliptic path among the stars is that they, along with our Earth, all orbit the sun in the nearly [sic] the same geometric plane. They also move along the ecliptic at different speeds. The planets close to the sun, like Venus and Mercury are on a celestial caffeine high, and they zip along the ecliptic because they whip around the sun much faster than outer planets like Uranus and Neptune, that really take their sweet time completing the ecliptic circuit. Consider the ecliptic the long and winding road in the stars.

Mike Lynch, “Starwatch: Planets travel the superhighway of the heavens,” AP News, May 6, 2017

The planets in our solar system mostly orbit around the Sun in a disk known as the ecliptic. Mercury and Pluto are the outliers, but the others only vary by a few degrees from this plane. This happens around other stars as well. However, the ecliptics of other stars are not necessarily lined up with our point of view. The farther off the ecliptic we are, the less likely we are to see a transit …. Distance factors in here, as well. The closer a planet is to its star, the farther off the ecliptic we can be and still see a transit. For planets farther away from their star, we need to be viewing the system from close to edge-on.

Scott Sutherland, "Astronomers may have spotted signs of an alien planet in a distant galaxy," Weather Network, October 26, 2021
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