Word of the Day

Monday, December 02, 2019

existential

[ eg-zi-sten-shuhl, ek-si- ]

adjective

of or relating to existence: Does climate change pose an existential threat to humanity?

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What is the origin of existential?

Existential comes from Late Latin existentiālis “relating to existence,” an adjective form of ex(s)istentia “existence, state of existing, something that exists.” Ex(s)istentia is in turn based on classical Latin ex(s)istere “to exist, appear, emerge,” a verb composed of the prefix ex- “out of” and sistere “to stand, cause to stand, stop, set up.” In its first sense “of or relating to existence,” as in “The economic downturn posed an existential threat to small businesses,” existential is recorded in English in the mid-1600s. The second sense of existential, “of, relating to, or characteristic of philosophical existentialism; concerned with the nature of human existence as determined by the individual’s freely made choices,” is found by the late 1800s. Existentialism comes from German Existentialismus, coined in 1919. It is a movement closely associated with such philosophers as Jean-Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger, and stresses the individual’s unique position as a self-determining agent responsible for making meaningful, authentic choices in a universe seen as purposeless or irrational.

Existential is the 2019 Word of the Year.

how is existential used?

I have a dream that the people in power, as well as the media, start treating this crisis like the existential emergency it is.

Greta Thunberg, Testimony to U.S. Congress, September 18, 2019

It is perhaps the darkest of all the existential crises facing the toy characters in these movies, although the film finds a clever way of having him [Forky] embrace his identity as a toy by intersecting it with what he loves about garbage.

Matthew Rozsa, "The beautiful bleakness of the 'Toy Story' movies," Salon, June 22, 2019

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What Does "Existential" Mean To You In 2019?

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Sunday, December 01, 2019

vicissitudes

[ vi-sis-i-toodz, -tyoodz ]

plural noun

successive, alternating, or changing phases or conditions, as of life or fortune; ups and downs: They remained friends through the vicissitudes of 40 years.

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What is the origin of vicissitudes?

Vicissitudes, the plural of vicissitude, is about ten times more common than the singular. Vicissitude comes via Middle French from Latin vicissitūdō (inflectional stem vicissitūdin-) “change, reversal, regular change or succession, reciprocity.” Vicissitūdō derives from vicissim “in turn, for a change, reciprocally,” a fossilized accusative noun used as an adverb, from the noun vicis “a turn, change, interchange.” Vicis (stem vic-) is the genitive singular of vix, a noun form that does not exist in Latin. The element –cissim is a combining form of the adverb cessim “giving way, yielding,” a derivative of cēdere “to go, proceed.” Vicissitude entered English in the second half of the 16th century.

how is vicissitudes used?

These are people who imagine their boutique blend of gold and goodness can protect them from the vicissitudes of life, even as their dynasty dissipates with each passing generation.

Ron Charles, "Is the end of an American dynasty a real tragedy?" Washington Post, April 29, 2019

The marble faces, which stand innumerable along the walls, and have kept themselves so calm through the vicissitudes of twenty centuries, had no sympathy for his disappointment ….

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, 1860
Saturday, November 30, 2019

roman

[ raw-mahn ]

noun

French.

a novel.

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What is the origin of roman?

The noun roman “a novel, a tale of adventure or chivalry” has a complicated history. The English noun comes from Middle French roman (French roman) and referred to a popular work written in the vernacular to be read for pleasure (as opposed to serious legal or scholarly writing, which would be in Latin). Middle French roman comes from Old French romans, romanz, ronmanz (and other spellings) “a popular story in verse or prose written in the vernacular, a Romance language, the Romance languages.” The Old French forms derive from the Medieval Latin adverb Rōmānicē “in the popular language, in Romance” (as opposed to Lātīnē “in Latin”). Rōmānicē itself is a derivative of the Latin adjective Rōmānicus “in the Roman style or manner.” The French noun roman meaning “(a) novel,” was adopted by other Germanic languages during the 17th and 18th centuries. The noun roman entered English in the second half of the 16th century.

how is roman used?

Red Harvest is often cited as the first hard-boiled American crime novel, but the fact that it might also constitute the first American roman noir draws attention to the close relationship between what we might tentatively call these different subgenres of writing.

Andrew Pepper, "The American roman noir," American Crime Fiction, 2010

Some of the romans, for example, produce the impression of a succession of short stories rather than of one continuous long story with succeeding chapters.

Agnes Rutherford Riddell, Flaubert and Maupassant, 1920
Friday, November 29, 2019

corybantic

[ kawr-uh-ban-tik, kor- ]

adjective

frenzied; agitated; unrestrained.

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What is the origin of corybantic?

The English adjective corybantic comes from the Greek adjective Korybantikós, a derivative of the noun Korýbās (inflectional stem Korýbant-) “a corybant, a priest of the goddess Cybele in Phrygia (now in west central Turkey),” and in Greek also meaning “drunken person, enthusiast.” Further etymology is risky: apart from Korýbās and its derivatives being non-Greek, not much can be said. Phrygian is an obvious choice, but the Phrygians themselves borrowed a great deal from other peoples of ancient Anatolia (Asian Turkey). Corybantic entered English in the 17th century.

how is corybantic used?

It penetrates the mind, filling it with a babel of distractions news items, mutually irrelevant bits of information, blasts of corybantic or sentimental music, continually repeated doses of drama that bring no catharsis, but merely create a craving for daily or even hourly emotional enemas.

Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy, 1945

There was obviously no enthroned authority here, no bejeweled king to pacify when emotions ran wild, but complete freedom to embrace joy with corybantic abandonment.

Frank Belknap Long, "The Man from Time," Fantastic Universe, March 1954
Thursday, November 28, 2019

foison

[ foi-zuhn ]

noun

Archaic.

abundance; plenty.

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What is the origin of foison?

The English noun foison is archaic in standard English, but it still occurs in Scottish English. Foison is a regular French phonetic development from the Vulgar Latin noun fusiō (inflectional stem fusiōn-), equivalent to the very rare Late Latin fūsiō (stem fūsiōn-) “a pouring out, effusion, melting (in metallurgy),” a derivative of the verb fundere “to pour, pour out, shed.” Foison came into English via Old French; its doublet, the English noun fusion, entered English straight from Latin in the mid-16th century. Foison entered English in the first half of the 14th century.

how is foison used?

Then delicacies and dainties were delivered to the guests, / Fresh food in foison, such freight of full dishes …

, Sir Gaiwan and the Green Knight (c1375), translated by Brian Stone, 1959
… but nature should bring forth / Of its own kind all foison, all abundance, / To feed my innocent people.
William Shakespeare, The Tempest, 1623
Wednesday, November 27, 2019

postprandial

[ pohst-pran-dee-uhl ]

adjective

after a meal, especially after dinner: postprandial oratory; a postprandial brandy.

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What is the origin of postprandial?

The Latin noun prandium means “midday meal, lunch, luncheon”; the verb prandēre “to have breakfast or lunch” is a derivative of prandium. There is no Latin adjective prandiālis “pertaining to breakfast or lunch,” let alone the adjectives preprandiālis (praeprandiālis) or postprandiālis. There is, however, the Late Latin noun prandiculum “breakfast,” which is found only in lexicographical writings–a salutary warning! Postprandial is used in medicine in its literal meaning “done or happening after a meal.” Apart from medical usage postprandial is a jocular word, as in this example from George Bernard Shaw, “The whole thing was mere postprandial brag, war-game and club-fender gossip” (1917). Postprandial entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is postprandial used?

Most people seem to switch on the game a few minutes after having wolfed down their fifth slice of pie, but if you do that, there’s the cognitive dissonance of watching professional athletes and cheerleaders vigorously moving their bodies while your own body lies on the couch in a state of postprandial lethargy and bloat.

Jeff Gordinier, "Is It Inappropriate to Watch Football While Eating Thanksgiving With My Family?" New York Times, November 18, 2011

The postprandial conversation goes on until dawn.

Roberto Bolaño, Woes of the True Policeman, translated by Natasha Wimmer, 2012
Tuesday, November 26, 2019

stargazer

[ stahr-gey-zer ]

noun

a daydreamer.

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What is the origin of stargazer?

Stargazer originally had a very derogatory meaning. The word first appears in English in the Geneva Bible, an English translation that appeared between 1557 and 1560. In Isaiah 47:13 in the King James Version, differing only slightly from the earlier Geneva Bible, the text reads “Thou [i.e. the “virgin daughter of Babylon”] art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee.” The text is scornful of idolatrous customs. In Daniel Defoe’s A system of magick (1727), we still see the same contemptuous usage as in the Geneva Bible but somewhat qualified to mean astronomer, “The Eminent Dr. H—— may be call’d the King’s Astronomer, or as the more Eminent Mr. Flamstead usually call’d himself, the King’s Star-gazer.” It is only in the first half of the 19th century that stargazer acquires the benign sense of amateur astronomer, “The mere star-gazer who is an Astronomer simply in the respect that he is the owner of a telescope.” Stargazer in the sense “daydreamer, impractical idealist” first occurs in Emerson’s Transcendentalist, “The materialist..mocks at..star-gazers and dreamers.”

how is stargazer used?

The materialist, secure in the certainty of sensation, mocks at fine-spun theories, at star-gazers and dreamers, and believes that his life is solid,

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Transcendentalist," Lecture at Masonic Temple, January 1842

He was a stargazer in both senses. … a man who questioned givens, resisted the forces of fate and tradition, saw himself as part of the picture.

Peter Standish, Understanding Julio Cortázar, 2001

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