• Word of the day
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    Tuesday, June 11, 2019

    esprit de l’escalier

    noun [es-pree duh le-skahl-yey] French.
    a perfect comeback or witty remark that one frustratingly comes up with only when the moment for doing so has passed: Writers, by nature, tend to be people in whom l' esprit de l'escalier is a recurrent experience.
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    What is the origin of esprit de l'escalier?

    The still very foreign phrase esprit de l'escalier first appears in English in one of the remarkable, not to say idiosyncratic, let alone cranky books by the Fowler brothers, F.W. (Francis George) and H.W. (Henry George), The King’s English (1906): “No one will know what spirit of the staircase is who is not already familiar with esprit d'escalier.” The French phrase was coined by the French philosopher and encyclopedist Denis Diderot in his Paradoxe sur le comédien (1773–77), a dramatic essay or dialogue between two actors: "l’homme sensible, comme moi, tout entier à ce qu’on lui objecte, perd la tête et ne se retrouve qu’au bas de l’escalier" (a sensitive man like me, entirely overcome by the objection made against him, loses his head and can only recover his wits at the bottom of the staircase), that is, after he has left the gathering.

    How is esprit de l'escalier used?

    Your esprit de l’escalier doesn’t kick in until you’re well out the door. Lauren Collins, "Sally Rooney Gets in Your Head," The New Yorker, December 31, 2018

    Later, l'esprit de l'escalier provided Mercia with: Glad you're in agreement/I haven't yet spoken/Is that a greeting/Yes indeed—but at the time, affronted, she grabbed at a couple of garments and announced, I'll try these. Zoë Wicomb, October, 2014

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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, June 10, 2019

    nebulated

    adjective [neb-yuh-ley-tid]
    having dim or indistinct markings, as a bird or other animal.
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    What is the origin of nebulated?

    The adjective nebulated comes from Late Latin nebulātus, past participle of nebulāre “to cloud, obscure,” a derivative of the noun nebula “mist, cloud.” Nebula is the Latin result of the Proto-Indo-European root nebh- (with many variants) “cloud.” The neuter noun nebhos yields Greek néphos “cloud, clouds,” Slavic (Polish) niebo “sky, heaven,” Hittite nebis “heaven.” The root nebh- and the suffix -el yield Middle Welsh nyfel “cloud” and Greek nephélē “cloud, clouds,” corresponding to Latin nebula. The Germanic form of the root, neb-, and the suffix -l- form German Nebel “fog, mist” and Old Norse niflheim “the world of darkness,” ruled over by the goddess Hel. Nebulated entered English in the late 15th century.

    How is nebulated used?

    Immature birds are smaller, with central tail-feathers not, or scarcely, projecting, and have chiefly nebulated plumage below, with admixture of pale cinnamon, especially on under tail-coverts ... William Leon Dawson, The Birds of California,  Vol. 3, 1923

    I fear that the intellectual gloom of the age is too great and nebulated by prejudice to duly appreciate your sentiments and devotion. Henry Hatch, letter to the editor, The Republican, Vol. 1, No. 8, October 15, 1819

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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, June 09, 2019

    Delphic

    adjective [del-fik]
    oracular; obscure; ambiguous: She was known for her Delphic pronouncements.
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    What is the origin of Delphic?

    English Delphic comes via Latin Delphicus from the Greek adjective Delphikós, a derivative of the plural noun Delphoí, the name of the inhabitants of Delphi and of the historic city itself. The many dialect forms of the name, especially Aeolic Bélphoi, point to a form gwelphoi with an original labiovelar (a sound combining a velar, such as k or g, and a bilabial, such as w), as in Latin quis, quid “who, what” and English quick and Gwendolyn. Gwelphoi is a Greek derivative of the Proto-Indo-European root gwelbh- “womb” (the city was so named from its shape). Gwelbh- is also the source of the Greek noun adelpheós (Attic adelphós) “brother,” whose first letter a- is a much-reduced form of sem- “one,” related to Greek homós “same” and English “same.” Adelph(e)ós therefore means “born of the same womb.” Delphic entered English at the end of the 16th century.

    How is Delphic used?

    The poems of his mature career were often Delphic, haunted, and bleak. Dan Chiasson, "The Final Prophecy of W. S. Merwin," The New Yorker, March 17, 2019

    ... he would certainly make a few Delphic pronouncements that next to nobody would understand, such as: "You can get many kinds of balance toward any seemingly grinding postulate of life." Newsweek, "About Jack," December 15, 2002

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, June 08, 2019

    stymie

    verb [stahy-mee]
    to hinder, block, or thwart.
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    What is the origin of stymie?

    The verb stymie has an obscure origin. It may be a golfing term, a noun referring to an opponent’s ball that lies closer to the hole than one’s own and is in the line of play, from which the slightly later verb sense in golf developed. By the beginning of the 20th century, the verb stymie had a generalized sense “to impede, hinder, thwart.” Stymie may come from Scots stymie “a person with poor eyesight,” a derivative of stime, styme “a glimmer, glimpse.” Stymie in the sense of “a person with poor vision” entered English in the early 17th century, the golfing sense in the first half of the 19th century.

    How is stymie used?

    This kind of leader would have little to no incentive to work with the Board of Supervisors and could easily stymie much of the progress the county is making on critical problems. Alice A. Huffman, "Sacramento's plan to expand the L.A. County Board of Supervisors has nothing to do with diversity," Los Angeles Times, August 15, 2017

    Astronomers concluded that the gas was being blasted out by winds from newly formed stars, a huge loss of starmaking material that could stymie the galaxy’s future growth. Yudhijit Battacharjee, "Cosmic Dawn," National Geographic, April 2014

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  • Word of the day
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    Friday, June 07, 2019

    virtuoso

    noun [vur-choo-oh-soh]
    a person who excels in musical technique or execution.
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    What is the origin of virtuoso?

    We might refer to a gifted violinist, for instance, as a virtuoso. First recorded in English in the early 1600s with a now-obsolete sense of “learned person,” virtuoso is borrowed from Italian virtuoso “a person with exceptional skill in the arts or sciences,” in Italian used especially of musicians by the latter part of the 1500s. Italian virtuoso is a noun form of the adjective virtuoso “skilled, virtuous.” English virtuous (via Anglo-French) and virtuoso are indeed related. Both ultimately derive from Late Latin virtuōsus, which joins the Latin adjective-forming suffix -ōsus “full of” with Latin virtūs (inflectional stem virtūt-). Latin virtūs means “manliness, strength, courage.” Apparently due to associations with honor and bravery (as of soldiers), the meaning of Latin virtūs was extended to “moral excellence,” hence English virtue. The root of virtūs is vir “man,” which yields virile "manly" and virago, which evolved from “heroic woman, female warrior” to the unsavory "scolding woman, shrew." The Proto-Indo-European root wi-ro-, the source of Latin vir, resulted in Old English wer “man,” which survives in werewolf, literally “man-wolf,” a virtuosic vocalist, perhaps, in its own howling way.

    How is virtuoso used?

    What was it like to be the first pop virtuoso of the recorded era—the man whose earliest releases set the tune for America’s love affair with modern black music, and who went on to become one of history’s most famous entertainers? Giovanni Russonello, "Louis Armstrong's Life in Letters, Music and Art," New York Times, November 16, 2018

    ... he is a literary virtuoso who understands the charisma needed to make songs you can play in a club. Doreen St. Félix, "What Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Means for Hip-Hop," The New Yorker, April 17, 2018

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  • Word of the day
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    Thursday, June 06, 2019

    bastion

    noun [bas-chuhn, -tee-uhn]
    anything seen as preserving or protecting some quality, condition, etc.: a bastion of solitude.
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    What is the origin of bastion?

    The English noun bastion still looks French. It comes from Middle French, from Upper Italian bastione “rampart, bulwark, bastion,” an augmentative noun formed from bastita “fortified,” from the verb bastire “to build,” from Medieval Latin bastīre, possibly of Germanic origin and akin to bastille “tower, small fortress, bastion.” Bastion entered English in the late 16th century.

    How is bastion used?

    ... Notre Dame went from being a football school to being not just academically respected but a bastion of intellectual freedom and ideological pluralism .... Ann Hornaday, "The timely documentary 'Hesburgh' looks back fondly on a great conciliator," Washington Post, May 1, 2019

    ... he'd seen it as a bastion of the familiar and orderly, where negotiations took place the way they were supposed to, in high-backed chairs, with checkbooks and contracts and balance sheets. T. C. Boyle, The Tortilla Curtain, 1995

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  • Word of the day
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    Wednesday, June 05, 2019

    appellative

    noun [uh-pel-uh-tiv]
    a descriptive name or designation, as Bald in Charles the Bald.
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    What is the origin of appellative?

    Appellative comes from the Late Latin grammatical term appellātīvus “pertaining to a common noun” and nōmen appellātīvum "a common noun" (in contrast to nōmen proprium “a proper noun”). Appellātīvus is a derivative of the verb appellāre “to speak to, address, call upon, invoke.” Appellative in the sense “descriptive name," as Great in Alfred the Great, is a development in English dating from the first half of the 17th century. Appellative in its original Latin sense entered English in the early 16th century.

    How is appellative used?

    In connection with this appellative of "Whalebone whales," it is of great importance to mention, that however such a nomenclature may be convenient in facilitating allusions to some kind of whales, yet it is in vain to attempt a clear classification of the leviathan ... Herman Melville, Moby Dick, 1851

    In addition too to this almost Cimmerian gloom was the agrément of a penetrating rain, known perhaps to some of my readers by the gentle appellative of a Scotch mist ... "Goodwood Races", The Sporting Magazine, Vol. 24, No. 144, September 1829

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