Word of the Day

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

ex-voto

[ eks-voh-toh ]

noun

a painting or other object left as an offering in fulfillment of a vow or in gratitude, as for recovery from an illness or injury.

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What is the origin of ex-voto?

Ex-voto, “out of a vow (fulfilled or undertaken),” refers to a painting or other artifact left as an offering in fulfillment of a vow or in gratitude, e.g., for recovery from an illness or injury. Ex-voto being a Latin phrase, such offerings are therefore associated with Western Christianity, especially with Mediterranean Catholicism (Italy, Iberia, former Spanish colonies abroad). (The Greek Orthodox Church has a similar custom; the offerings in the Greek Church are called támata, plural of táma “a vow, an ex-voto offering.”) The custom antedates Christianity by many hundreds of years: In the Iliad Hector says he will hang the weapons of his foe in the temple of Apollo; the poet Hesiod dedicated the tripod he won in a poetry contest in Chalcis to the Muses on Mount Helicon. Miltiades, the general of the Athenians and their Plataean allies at the Battle of Marathon (490 b.c.), dedicated his helmet in the temple of Zeus in Olympia (where his helmet is on display on the archaeological museum). Even the witty, urbane Horace refers to “the sacred wall with its votive tablet [tabulā… vōtīvā] shows where I have hung my sodden garments in gratitude to the god of the sea” (for escaping the surely destructive shipwreck of a love affair). Ex-voto entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is ex-voto used?

Amid the fear and uncertainty of wartime, ex-votos doubled as a means of communication and thanksgiving between a human and her god and saints.

Alexxa Gotthardt, "A Brief History of the Mexican Votive Paintings That Inspired Frida Kahlo," Artsy, November 1, 2016

The purpose of the ex-voto is not only to record the individual experiences of Messer Zaneto de Friza and his sons but also to proclaim their experiences to a public audience.

Mary Laven, "Recording Miracles in Renaissance Italy," Past & Present, Vol. 230, November 16, 2016

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Monday, June 01, 2020

spirituel

[ spir-i-choo-el; French spee-ree-tyel ]

adjective

showing or having a refined and graceful mind or wit.

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What is the origin of spirituel?

Spirituel is a French adjective meaning not only “spiritual” (as in English), but also “displaying a refined and graceful mind or wit.” In French spirituel is the masculine singular form, spirituelle the feminine singular, a distinction not usually observed in English. Most of the English citations of spirituel refer to women or to a particular woman’s liveliness and acuity. Spirituel entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is spirituel used?

It is a comedy in the sense that it is meant to make you laugh. The laughter is mostly spirituel: Cyrano is witty.

Anthony Burgess, "Why Edmond Rostand's 'Cyrano' Lives On," New York Times, November 18, 1984

They are more than witty, they are spirituel; and they have more than talent, they have taste.

Various, "Jules Janin and the Paris Feuilletonistes," The International Monthly, Vol. 4, No. 1, August 1851

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Sunday, May 31, 2020

plaintive

[ pleyn-tiv ]

adjective

expressing sorrow or melancholy; mournful: a plaintive melody.

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What is the origin of plaintive?

The English adjective plaintive “sorrowful, melancholic” comes from Middle English pleintif (also plaintive, plantif, and plantife), from the Old French adjective plaintif (masculine) and plaintive (feminine) “lamentable.” Plaintif derives from the noun plainte “mourning, lamentation,” and comes from the Medieval Latin noun plancta, from Latin planctus “the sound of a person striking their breast,” from the verb plangere “to beat, strike, mourn, bewail.” Old French plaintif is also the source of English plaintiff “one who brings suit in a court, complainant.” Plaintive entered English in the late 14th century.

how is plaintive used?

A strain of plaintive music, played on stringed instruments and flutes, recalled my attention to the hidden shrine.

Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone, 1868

Thundercat’s new album feels particularly suited for this moment — filled with both celestial, futuristic escapism and plaintive grief, the strength of human resilience and an unstinting sense of frustration.

Jeff Weiss, "Think there can't be a jazz-funk fusion superstar in 2020? Then you don't know Thundercat." Washington Post, March 27, 2020

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