Word of the Day

Sunday, July 19, 2020

fain

[ feyn ]

adverb

gladly; willingly: He fain would accept.

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What is the origin of fain?

The word fain is very old, indeed: It first appears in English as an adjective about 888 in King Alfred the Great’s translation of Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy (Dē Cōnsōlātiōne Philosophiae, ca. 532). Fain comes from Old English fægen, fægn “glad, joyful, rejoicing.” Fægen is cognate with Old Norse feginn, Old Saxon fagan, fagin, Old High German fagin, all meaning “happy, glad,” and related to the Old English verb geféon, gefeohan, gefeagan “to be glad, rejoice,” from the Germanic verb stem fagin-, fagan– “to enjoy,” derived from the root fag-. From the same root fag– is derived the adjective stem fagra-, as in Gothic fagrs “fit for, beautiful,” Old Icelandic fagr “fine, fair, beautiful,” and Old English fæger “beautiful, joyous, pleasant,” English fair.

how is fain used?

It is rather sad to think that their revels now are ended, that the happy woods (where I would fain be, wandering in pensive mood) where they held high holiday will soon be a silent grove.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, "Patrick Leigh Fermor to Enrica (Ricki) Huston,  August 11, 1961," Patrick Leigh Fermror: A Life in Letters, 2016

What a poor soul it is that has not some secret chamber, sacred to itself; where one can file away the things others have no right to know, as well as things that one himself would fain forget!

Charles Wadell Chestnutt, House Behind the Cedars, 1900

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Saturday, July 18, 2020

catalyst

[ kat-l-ist ]

noun

a person or thing that precipitates an event or change: His imprisonment by the government served as the catalyst that helped transform social unrest into revolution.

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What is the origin of catalyst?

Catalyst was originally (at the beginning of the 20th century) a technical term used in chemistry, meaning “a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected.” By the early 1940s, the English poet and critic Sir Herbert Read extended the sense to a poet as a person who precipitates an event or change: “The catalyst [the poet] is unchanged, unabsorbed; its activity therefore not acknowledged.” Catalyst is irregularly formed from the Greek noun katálysis “dissolution, tearing down (especially of governments), a derivative of the verb katalýein “to pull down, destroy, dissolve (a political system), and the (originally Greek) agent suffix –ist. Katalýein is a compound of the Greek preposition and prefix katá, kata– “down, against, back” (usually spelled cata– in English) and the simple verb lýein “to loose, untie, release, solve, resolve.”

how is catalyst used?

What happened in Ferguson is often described as a catalyst—the beginning of a social justice movement that would sweep the nation.

Timothy Williams and , "The Lives of Ferguson Activist, Five Years Later," New York Times, August 9, 2019

On the heels of the Free-Soil convention in Buffalo, three hundred women and men held a women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Margaret Fuller was still in Italy, but it was her work that had served as a catalyst.

Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States, 2018

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Friday, July 17, 2020

rebus

[ ree-buhs ]

noun

a representation of a word or phrase by pictures, symbols, etc., that suggest that word or phrase or its syllables: Two gates and a head is a rebus for Gateshead.

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What is the origin of rebus?

A rebus is a representation of a word or phrase by pictures or symbols suggesting that word or phrase or its syllables. Rebuses were formerly very popular with children in the Sunday funnies. The origin of rebus is disputed, but the most likely source is Latin rēbus “by things,” the ablative plural of the grievously overworked noun rēs “thing, matter, circumstance, affair, property, wealth, etc.” Rēbus is short for nōn verbīs sed rēbus “not by words but by things.” Some French authorities claim that rebus comes from the Latin phrase dē rēbus quae geruntur “concerning the affairs that are going on,” alluding to the satirical pieces composed and performed by the clerks of Picardy (northwest France) in the annual carnival, but this usage is later than attestations of rebus in the sense “puzzle.” Rebus entered English in the early 17th century.

how is rebus used?

All I wanted to do was wish my fiancée happy birthday using emojis. But I couldn’t replicate the rebus of the classic Sandra Boynton greeting card: Hippo, Birdie, Two Ewes.

Damon Darlin, "America Needs Its Own Emojis," New York Times, March 7, 2015

It [Seattle] created a new logo: a rebus that featured an eyeball, the “@” symbol, and the letter “L” (pronounced “See-at-L”), above the slogan, “Seattle: soak it up!”

Paul Hiebert, "What's the Point of City Logos?" The New Yorker, February 7, 2014

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