Word of the Day

Thursday, December 26, 2019

ephemeral

[ ih-fem-er-uhl ]

adjective

lasting a very short time; short-lived; transitory: the ephemeral joys of childhood.

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What is the origin of ephemeral?

Something ephemeral lasts only a very short time. It derives from Greek ephḗmeros “short-lived, lasting but a day.” Ephḗmeros is ultimately based on the preposition and adverb epí “upon, up to, during,” among many other senses, and the noun hēméra “day.” In English, ephemeral originally described fevers that spanned just a day, and evolved to refer to organisms (and other things) not long for this world, including flowers or insects—like the mayfly, which is classified as an ephemerid and shuffles off this mortal coil within two days. Ephḗmeros is also the source of the English plural noun ephemera (singular ephemeron) “items designed to be useful or important for only a short time, especially pamphlets, notices, tickets, etc.” Ephemeral has not proved as much in English, entering in the late 1500s.

how is ephemeral used?

In this country, man’s work seems ephemeral, his influence transitory. Summer scorches the heath. Winter brings a pale damp light.

Hilary Mantel, A Change of Climate, 1994

It’s only with the rise of the Internet that a truly casual, willfully ephemeral prose has ascended—and become central to daily life.

Katy Waldman, "Is the Internet Making Writing Better?" The New Yorker, July 26, 2019
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Wednesday, December 25, 2019

big-hearted

[ big-hahr-tid ]

adjective

generous; kind.

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What is the origin of big-hearted?

Big-hearted “generous; kind” certainly wears its heart on its sleeve, etymologically speaking. It’s a straightforward compound of big “magnanimous; generous; kindly” and hearted “having a specified kind of heart.” While big-hearted is found in English in the 1700s in the sense of “courageous,” the word heart, as regarded as the center of a person’s emotion and disposition, reaches well back into Old English. Hearted is used in combination with other adjectives to describe various temperaments: cold-hearted, fainthearted, hardhearted, and lighthearted are some other common examples.

how is big-hearted used?

The varied gifts were ranged about the foot of the bed, the golf stockings bulging with sweets were hung at its head, and the big-hearted donors retired ….

John Kendrick Bangs, "The House of Seven Santas," The Little Book of Christmas, 1912

For his part, the Badger left him in no doubt that a small effort now, and a big-hearted gesture, would make all the difference to the life of Toad, of the River Bank and of them all.

William Horwood, The Willows at Christmas, 1999
Tuesday, December 24, 2019

atiptoe

[ uh-tip-toh ]

adverb, adjective

eagerly expectant, as anticipating a desired event or arrival: waiting atiptoe for the mail.

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What is the origin of atiptoe?

If children wait atiptoe for Christmas morning, they are “eagerly expectant,” their anticipation likened to the excitement associated with standing on tiptoe. And indeed, “on tiptoe” is what the adjective and adverb atiptoe literally means. The initial a– in atiptoe is a reduced form of the Old English preposition on, variously meaning “on, in, into, toward.” This particular a– (the form has many other senses or functions in English) appears in a great variety of words, such as acknowledge, ablaze, aloud, and away. So, afoot, as another example, began as the prepositional phrase on foot. Atiptoe is recorded English by the late 1500s.

how is atiptoe used?

Ethel was standing beside her all aglow and atiptoe with anticipation.

The Cooperative Poultryman, 1950

The audience was atiptoe when “Suor Angelica” began, but despondent at the curtain’s fall.

Pierre V. R. Key, "Music and Musicians," Theatre Magazine, Vol. 29, 1919

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