Word of the Day

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

epigone

[ ep-i-gohn ]

noun

an undistinguished imitator, follower, or successor of an important writer, painter, etc.

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What is the origin of epigone?

The English noun epigone ultimately comes from the Greek plural noun epígonoi “offspring, posterity,” literally “(ones) born after or later,” a noun use of the adjective epígonos “born besides.” The original, primary use of epígonoi was for the sons of the seven heroes who fought against “Seven-Gated” Thebes, traditionally a generation before the Trojan War. The secondary use of epígonoi was for the heirs of the diádochoi “successors,” i.e., Alexander the Great’s (356-323 b.c.) generals (e.g., Ptolemy, Seleucus) who divided Alexander’s conquests among themselves. The diádochoi were very competent and their offspring far inferior, which is the modern meaning of epigone. Epigone entered English in the 19th century.

how is epigone used?

… is there anything lower than stealing from an epigone?

John Simon, "Goo on an Island," New York, November 5, 1990

The palace was partly designed by a famous architect of the time, López i Porta, one of Gaudi’s epigones, and partly by Benvingut himself, which explains the labyrinthine, chaotic, indecisive layout of every storey in the building.

Roberto Bolaño, The Skating Rink, translated by Chris Andrews, 2009

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Monday, July 23, 2018

leonine

[ lee-uh-nahyn ]

adjective

resembling or suggestive of a lion.

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What is the origin of leonine?

The English adjective leonine comes from Latin leōnīnus, a derivative of the noun leō (inflectional stem leōn-), a borrowing from Greek léōn (inflectional stem léont-). Léōn is not a Greek word, but it does look somewhat like Hebrew lābhī; both the Greek and the Hebrew nouns may be borrowings from a third language. The Greek historian Herodotus (484?-425? b.c.) and the philosopher Aristotle (384-322 b.c.) both assert that lions were rare in Europe in their day but were still found. Leonine entered English in the 14th century.

how is leonine used?

Only a few discerned the inexorable firmness in the depth of his soul, and the magnanimous and leonine qualities of his nature.

Plutarch (c46–c120), "Fabius Maximus," Plutarch's Lives, Volume III, translated by Bernadotte Perrin, 1916

George Clooney was at home in Los Angeles one afternoon in mid-January, a few days before he flew to Sudan in his new role as a United Nations “Messenger of Peace” (an appointment that overlooked reports of a recent public scuffle with Fabio, the leonine model).

Ian Parker, "Somebody Has to Be in Control," The New Yorker, April 14, 2008
Sunday, July 22, 2018

vogie

[ voh-gee, vog-ee ]

adjective

Scot. conceited; proud.

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What is the origin of vogie?

The adjective vogie is Scottish through and through, and all the citations of the word come from Scottish authors. Vogie has no good etymology: it is tempting to etymologize the word as vogue plus the suffix -ie, but the meanings of vogue and vogie do not match. Vogie entered English in the 18th century.

how is vogie used?

… a most comical character, so vogie of his honours and dignities in the town council that he could not get the knight told often enough what a load aboon the burden he had in keeping a’ things douce and in right regulation amang the bailies.

John Galt, Ringan Gilhaize; or, The Covenanters, 1823

My only beast, I had nae mae, / And vow but I was vogie!

Robert Burns, "My Hoggie," 1788
Saturday, July 21, 2018

carte blanche

[ kahrt blanch, blahnch ]

noun

unconditional authority; full discretionary power: She was given carte blanche to decorate her room as she wished, perhaps an unwise decision on the part of her parents.

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What is the origin of carte blanche?

In the early 18th century carte blanche, literally “blank paper,” was a paper officially signed and given to another party to write in his or her own conditions or terms. By 1766 carte blanche acquired the meaning “full discretionary power, unconditional authority,” its current meaning. By the 19th century carte blanche in some card games, e.g., piquet, also meant “a hand of cards having no face cards, especially in piquet.”

how is carte blanche used?

If you think this … grants you carte blanche to stroll willy-nilly through that building asking any question that pops into your head, regardless of its bearing on the matter you are investigating, you are sadly mistaken.

Stephen Coonts, America, 2001

… what it said should not be interpreted as giving other businesses carte blanche to do what Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, did.

German Lopez, "Why you shouldn't freak out about the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling," Vox, June 4, 2018
Friday, July 20, 2018

tummler

[ toom-ler ]

noun

any lively, prankish, or mischievous man.

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What is the origin of tummler?

If one has firsthand knowledge of what a tummler is and does—or was and did—then one ain’t a kid no more. A tummler was a comedian and/or social director at a Jewish resort, especially in the Borscht Belt in the Catskills of New York State, between the 1920s and 1970s. Danny Kaye, Henny Youngman, Sid Caesar, and Joan Rivers are some notable tummlers. Tummler comes from the Yiddish tumler, an agent noun from the verb tumlen “to make a racket,” from German tummeln “to romp, stir.” Tummler entered English in the 20th century.

how is tummler used?

For there is another, decidedly un-Jamesian Philip Roth: an irreverent, taboo-flouting tummler whose boisterous hi-jinks have offended the sensibilities of some readers while incurring the outright wrath of others.

George J. Searles, "Introduction," Conversations with Philip Roth, 1992

He tried to amuse her with funny walks, crazy faces, and barnyard noises, and when she deigned to laugh his face reddened with happiness. He was her tummler, for crying out loud.

Scott Spencer, River Under the Road, 2017
Thursday, July 19, 2018

hoity-toity

[ hoi-tee-toi-tee ]

adjective

assuming airs; pretentious; haughty.

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What is the origin of hoity-toity?

The adjective hoity-toity now means “pretentious, haughty”; formerly it meant “frivolous, giddy.” The phrase is probably an alteration and reduplication of hoit, an obsolete verb of obscure origin meaning “to romp, play the fool.” Hoit may also be the source of or akin to hoyden “boisterous, carefree girl, tomboy,” possibly a borrowing from Dutch heiden “rustic, uncivilized person.” Hoity-toity entered English in the 17th century.

how is hoity-toity used?

Always crowing about their kid with the straight A’s at that hoity-toity school.

Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex, 2002

The typeface used for the credits is the kind of hoity-toity cursive writing—in hot pink, no less—one might see on a Tiffany & Co. shower invitation.

Laura Jacobs, "The Devil Inside: Watching Rosemary's Baby in the Age of #MeToo," Vanity Fair, Summer 2018
Wednesday, July 18, 2018

cheville

[ shuh-vee ]

noun

Prosody. a word or expression whose only function is to fill a metrical gap in a verse or to balance a sentence.

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What is the origin of cheville?

Cheville represents the normal northern French phonetic development of Latin clāvīcula “key, tendril, pivot,” a diminutive of clāvis “key, bar, hook.” In French cheville means “ankle, peg, dowel, pin, plug.” It is this latter sense “plug” that gave rise to the English meaning of a filler word or phrase in a sentence or line of verse. Clāvis derives from the Proto-Indo-European root klēu-, klāu- “hook, peg,” the same source of the very many Greek forms, e.g., kleís, klēī́s, klāī́s (all from assumed klāwis, identical to the Latin noun), Celtic (Old Irish) clō “nail,” Baltic (Lithuanian) kliū́ti “to hang, hang on,” and Slavic (Polish) klucz “key.” Cheville entered English in the 19th century.

how is cheville used?

The languages were by this time close enough to each other to make this easy, and when there was any difficulty it scarce required the wit of a Chaucer to supply such a cheville as “An emperesse or crowned queen” … (though it may be observed that “crowned” is a distinct improvement to the sound, if not to the sense of the line) …

George Saintsbury, A History of English Prosody, Volume I, 1906

But when we discover that … the word “Sparte” has been dragged in at any cost for the rhyme’s sake, we feel that a cheville, like some other concessions to the intractable nature of things, is least offensive when it asks for no admiration.

Frederic William Henry Myers, "Victor Hugo," Essays, Modern, 1883

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