Word of the Day

Friday, February 21, 2020

farthing

[ fahr-thing ]

noun

something of very small value: I don't care a farthing for your opinion.

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What is the origin of farthing?

A farthing was formerly an English coin of the smallest denomination, worth a quarter of a penny. Originally the coin was made of silver, then of a copper alloy, and finally of bronze. The coin was discontinued in 1961. The Middle English name for the coin was ferthing, farthing (with still more variants), made of silver, and came from Old English fēorthing, fēorthung “a quarter, a fourth part, a farthing.” The Old English forms are derivatives of fēortha “fourth” and the noun suffix –ing “one belonging to, descended from,” sometimes used to form diminutives, as here. Farthing entered English before a.d. 1000.

how is farthing used?

… when he cares not a farthing for the general good, and will sell his vote for a dollar … then his vote becomes a public pest.

Francis Parkman, "The Failure of Universal Suffrage," North American Review, July–August, 1878

Most of the tunes are pegged to the show-within-the-show, which we couldn’t give a farthing about.

Scott Brown, "Theater Review: The Mystery of Edwin Drood," New York, November 13, 2012
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Thursday, February 20, 2020

phronesis

[ froh-nee-sis ]

noun

Philosophy.

wisdom in determining ends and the means of attaining them.

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What is the origin of phronesis?

Phronesis, “wisdom in determining ends and the means of attaining them, practical understanding, sound judgment,” comes from Latin phronēsis, from Greek phrónēsis, meaning “practical wisdom, prudence in government and public affairs” in Plato, Aristotle, and other heavy hitters. Phrónēsis is a derivative of the verb phroneîn “to think, be minded, be wise”; phroneîn in turn is a derivative formed from the noun phrēn (stem phren-), whose myriad meanings include “midriff, diaphragm, heart (as seat of the passions and bodily appetites), mind (seat of the mental faculties and perception).” Phronesis entered English in the 16th century.

how is phronesis used?

[Aristotle’s] concept of practical wisdom or phronesis involved constantly weighing the relative value of arguments in the face of decisions and actions.

Michelle Mielly and Sharon Crost, "Fake news meets fact in an Oxford-style debate revival," The Conversation, May 21, 2018

… courage also requires us to apply what Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics calls “phronesis” or practical wisdom.

The best analysis of practical wisdom I know of occurs in the chorus of “The Gambler” … “You got to know when to hold ‘em / Know when to fold ‘em / Know when to walk away / Know when to run.”

Bruce Weinstein, "A Royal Question: When Do Leaders Have A Duty To Step Back?" Forbes, January 11, 2020
Wednesday, February 19, 2020

détente

[ dey-tahnt; French dey-tahnt ]

noun

a relaxing of tension, especially between nations, as by negotiations or agreements.

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What is the origin of détente?

Détente, “a relaxation of tension, especially between nations,” still feels like a French word, as its spelling and pronunciation show. French détente comes from Old French destente, a derivative of destendre “to relax,” a compound of the prefix des– “apart, away” (from the Latin prefix dis– with the same meanings) and the verb tendre “to stretch” (from Latin tendere). Détente entered English in 1908 at the time of the détente between Great Britain and France.

how is détente used?

There is hope that the U.S. and China will at least reach some sort of detente on trade.

Justin Lahart, "A Perfect Storm for Business Investment," Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2019

The fairly stunning detente in what was shaping up to be a protracted war of digital assistants for ultimate domination of the smart home could lead to any number of smart home innovations now that the two systems are being allowed to work in tandem.

Adario Strange, "Alexa and Cortana will now be able to talk to each other to control your smart home," Mashable, August 30, 2017
Tuesday, February 18, 2020

plethoric

[ ple-thawr-ik, -thor-, pleth-uh-rik ]

adjective

overfull; turgid; inflated: a plethoric, pompous speech.

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What is the origin of plethoric?

The rare adjective plethoric means “overfull, inflated; marked by plethora (a morbid condition due to an excess of red blood cells).” And just as plethora does not mean “abundance” but “overabundance,” so plethoric means “overabundant.” Plethoric comes via the Late Latin medical term plēthōricus, plētōricus, from Greek plēthōrikós “plethoric,” a derivative of the noun plēthōra “fullness, satiety, excess of blood or another humor.” Plethoric in its medical sense entered English at the end of the 14th century; its extended sense “inflated, turgid, excessive” in the 17th.

how is plethoric used?

… my very astute friend Daniels pulled out a plethoric purse and began to display the marked gold with which it was plentifully supplied.

W. W. (Mary Fortune), "The Detectives Album," The Australian Journal, February 1882

The “blue book,” he says, “creates an atmosphere of formality and redundancy in which the drab, Latinate, plethoric, euphemistic style of law reviews and judicial opinions flourishes ….”

Tom Goldstein, "Drive for Plain English Gains Among Lawyers," New York Times, February 19, 1988
Monday, February 17, 2020

Lincolnesque

[ ling-kuh-nesk ]

adjective

like or characteristic of Abraham Lincoln: a Lincolnesque compassion.

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What is the origin of Lincolnesque?

The uncommon adjective Lincolnesque can be used to refer to President Lincoln’s physical features, in particular his homely face with its deep furrows and his beard, or to qualities of his character and intellect. The adjectival suffix –esque “in the style or manner of” comes from French, from Italian –esco, from Vulgar Latin –iscus. The suffix –iscus is a borrowing from Germanic –iska-, source of German –isch, English –ish, and akin to Slavic –ski (-sky). The proper name Lincoln comes from the city of Lincoln, the county seat of Lincolnshire, England. The Latin name for the city is Lindum Colonia, from the Celtic noun lindo “pool, lake” (Welsh llyn); Colonia here means specifically a retirement community for veterans (in this case the Legio IX Hispana “9th Legion—Spanish,” which was stationed in the area from a.d. 43 on). Lincolnesque entered English in the first half of the 20th century.

how is Lincolnesque used?

… Captain America, the embodiment of a kind of Lincolnesque optimism, poses a direct question for me: Why would anyone believe in The Dream?

Ta-Nehisi Coates, "Why I'm Writing Captain America," The Atlantic, February 28, 2018

Given Mr. Obama’s particular fondness for Lincolnesque oratory, it’s surprising that he hasn’t adopted one of Lincoln’s favorite habits: quoting Shakespeare.

Barry Edelstein, "Shakespeare for Presidents," New York Times, April 25, 2009
Sunday, February 16, 2020

soniferous

[ suh-nif-er-uhs, soh- ]

adjective

conveying or producing sound.

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What is the origin of soniferous?

The adjective soniferous “conveying or producing sound” is Latinate but not Latin. The first two syllables, soni-, are a combining form of the Latin noun sonus “sound.” The second two syllables, –ferous “bearing, producing,” make a hybrid suffix from the Latin suffix –fer “carrying, bearing” (as in aquifer) and the English suffix –ous “possessing, full of,” which comes via Old French –ous, –eus, –eux from Latin –ōsus. Soniferous entered English in the early 18th century.

how is soniferous used?

Since World War II biologists have learned much more about the characteristic sounds of many soniferous marine animals.

P. Vigoureux and J. B. Hersey, "Sound in the Sea," The Global Coastal Ocean, 1962

There is even an entire family of fishes, the Haemulidae or “grunts,” whose common name reflects their soniferous tendencies.

Christie Wilcox, "I am Lionfish, hear me ROAR!" Discover, May 12, 2017
Saturday, February 15, 2020

asana

[ ah-suh-nuh ]

noun

any of the postures in a yoga exercise.

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What is the origin of asana?

The noun asana, “any of the postures in a yoga exercise,” comes from the Sanskrit noun āsanam “(act of) sitting, sitting position,” from the Sanskrit root ās– “to sit, be seated,” from the Proto-Indo-European root ēs– “to sit,” found only in Indo-Iranian, Greek, and Hittite: Sanskrit ā́ste, Avestan āste, Greek hēstai, and Hittite esa, esari all mean “he sits.” Asana entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is asana used?

Getting in to the correct asana is good but you must also train your mind not to oscillate.

Dr. Rajalakshmi, quoted in "What India's Traditional Yoga Teachers Want You to Know for the International Day of Yoga," Time, June 20, 2018

I can still do some asanas. And I never could get the hang of meditation, but I still can do an asana or two.

Loudon Wainwright III, "Loudon Wainwright III Opens Up About The 'Exes & Excess' That Inform His Music," Fresh Air, September 6, 2017

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