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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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

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