Word of the Day

Sunday, April 05, 2020

erstwhile

[ urst-hwahyl, -wahyl ]

adjective

former; of times past: erstwhile friends.

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What is the origin of erstwhile?

Erstwhile is a compound of the Middle English adjective and adverb erest “first in time, rank, order, excellence, etc.,” from the similar Old English adjective and adverb ǣrest “first, at first.” (The –est ending indicates that Old English ǣrest is the superlative degree of ǣr “early,” which functions as an adjective, adverb, preposition, and conjunction.) While comes from the Old English noun hwīl “a space of time, a while, an indefinite space of time,” which in Middle English develops senses as an adverb and conjunction. Erstwhile as an adverb entered English in the second half of the 16th century, and as an adjective, in the early 20th.

how is erstwhile used?

Many of Biden’s erstwhile opponents have found roles for themselves.

Eric Lach, "What's Joe Biden's Role in the Response to the Coronavirus Crisis?" The New Yorker, March 27, 2020

When the the 75-year-old ruler … refused to step down, some of his erstwhile allies from the military and security forces pushed him out.

Mohammed Alamin, "Why Sudan's Pain Endures After a Brutal Leader's Ouster," Washington Post, June 11, 2019

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Saturday, April 04, 2020

assiduity

[ as-i-doo-i-tee, -dyoo- ]

noun

constant or close application or effort; diligence; industry.

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What is the origin of assiduity?

Assiduity ultimately comes from the Latin noun assiduitās (inflectional stem assiduitāt-) “constant presence or attendance, constant practice,” a derivative of the adjective assiduus “settled, continued, persistent.” Assiduus derives from the compound verb assidēre “to sit near, sit next to, pay attention to,” formed from the preposition and prefix ad, ad– “to, at, near” and the simple verb sedēre “to sit.” The semantics of sitting and therefore paying close attention fits perfectly with the German noun Sitzfleisch (borrowed into English in the 19th century), which means “the buttocks, (literally) sit-flesh,” and by extension, the ability to sit for a long period of time and persevere in an activity. Assiduity entered English in the early 17th century.

how is assiduity used?

“I really believe in working with youth, and particularly this age group — middle school — with respect and kindness and patience,” Palla said. It’s an approach that takes assiduity, especially considering the volume of students that Cook and Palla oversee.

Kathryn Bowen, "Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard Project changed how Berkeley students eat. Its next goal: to fight climate change," Berkeleyside, February 4, 2020

These disloyal thoughts came seldom, and she put them resolutely away, devoting herself with all the greater assiduity to her muslin curtains and ruffled pillow-shams.

Kate Douglas Wiggin, Rose o' the River, 1905

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Friday, April 03, 2020

personalia

[ pur-suh-ney-lee-uh, -neyl-yuh ]

plural noun

biographical data, personal reminiscences, or the like: He could never keep the personalia out of his essays.

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What is the origin of personalia?

Personalia is a noun use of the neuter plural form of the Latin adjective persōnālis “personal.” Persōnālis is not very common in Latin, being restricted to the law, as in beneficium persōnāle “personal benefit,” and grammar, as in verbum persōnāle “personal verb” (that is, a verb with three persons in both numbers). The modern English sense of personalia is a New Latin sense that first appeared in the 19th century.

how is personalia used?

Simply for its pictures of that old life, for its vivid anecdote, for its riches of personalia, and for its manly tone, the narrative is readable and delightful to a wonderful degree.

Royal Cortissoz, "Significant Art Books," The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 37, January 1906

But if the show is a bit hard to read (which is which?), the lavish catalog is a pleasure. With texts for each plate slyly sending up our fascination with personality and personalia, it is as engrossing as any new fiction.

, "Softly Treading Between Taste and Art," New York Times, March 16, 2008

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