Word of the Day

Word of the day

Friday, March 15, 2019

fantods

[ fan-tods ]

noun

a state of extreme nervousness or restlessness; the willies; the fidgets (usually preceded by the): We all developed the fantods when the plane was late in arriving.

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What is the origin of fantods?

In chapter eight of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Huck, hiding on Jackson’s Island, spots a man sleeping on the ground: “It most give me the fantods.” Here the meaning of fantods is plain enough: “acute distress, fear, panic”; the meanings of fantods range between irritability, tension, an emotional fit or outburst, and physical or mental disorder—not at all specific. Fantods has no reliable etymology: it may be a jocular formation based on fantasy or fantastic. Fantods entered English in the 19th century.

how is fantods used?

It gave me the fantods to discover myself cooped up in that narrow room with such a ghastly figure beside me, which I’ll describe to you as best I can.

Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616), The Dialogue of the Dogs, translated by David Kipen, 2008

What would Mr. Gorey make of his status as an All Hallows’ Eve grand ghoul were he alive to see it?

“That would have given Gorey himself the fantods,” said Mark Dery, using one of the antiquated words the artist loved to collect and trot out in his books.

Steven Kurutz, "Edward Gorey Was Eerily Prescient," New York Times, October 30, 2018
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Word of the day

Thursday, March 14, 2019

upper crust

[ uhp-er kruhst ]

noun

the highest social class.

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What is the origin of upper crust?

The noun phrase upper crust is perfectly plain, self-explanatory: it is the top crust on a loaf of bread or a pie, a meaning the phrase has always had. Other meanings have come and gone, e.g., “exterior layer or surface of the earth” (from the mid-16th through the mid-18th centuries), “a person’s head; a hat” (from about 1825 to 1850). The most common meaning of upper crust, “the highest social class,” was originally an Americanism dating from the 19th century. Upper crust entered English in the 15th century.

how is upper crust used?

… the 1922 edition of Etiquette promised its readers that they could learn to fit in among intimidating elites, or just emulate the American upper crust within their own circles.

Laura Miller, "To the Manners Born," Slate, April 19, 2017

From his perspective, graffiti forced the upper crust to reckon with the names and the fugitive dreams of a forgotten underclass …

Hua Hsu, "The Spectacular Personal Mythology of Rammellzee," The New Yorker, May 28, 2018

Word of the day

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

diffidence

[ dif-i-duhns ]

noun

the quality or state of lacking confidence in one's ability, worth or fitness; timidity.

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What is the origin of diffidence?

Diffidence is a straightforward borrowing from the Latin noun diffīdentia “distrust, mistrust, lack of confidence.” In the Vulgate, the Latin version of the Bible prepared chiefly by Saint Jerome at the end of the 4th century a.d., diffīdentia also meant “lack of faith, disobedience (to God).” The original sense of diffīdentia, “distrust of other people,” is obsolete; the current sense “distrust of one’s own ability or worth,” shading off to “modesty, retiring nature,” dates from the mid-16th century. Diffidence entered English in the 15th century.

how is diffidence used?

For an artist, insofar as modesty implies diffidence, an unwillingness to exhibit oneself or one’s work, it’s a virtue so dubious as to be a handicap.

Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Conversation of the Modest," The Wild Girls, 2011

I write with great diffidence, but it seems to me that there is no unfairness in punishing people for their misfortunes, or rewarding them for their sheer good luck …

Samuel Butler, Erewhon, 1872

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