Word of the Day

Saturday, December 07, 2019

fastigiate

[ fa-stij-ee-it, -eyt ]

adjective

having branches that are erect and parallel, tapering to a pointed top.

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What is the origin of fastigiate?

The rare adjective fastigiate, “having branches that are erect and parallel, tapering to a pointed top, like a Lombardy poplar,” is used only in botany and zoology. It comes from Medieval Latin fastīgātus “high, lofty,” from Latin fastīgium “height, highest point, summit, taper.” Fastigiate entered English in the 17th century.

how is fastigiate used?

Most gardeners, looking for vertical features in a border, will turn to some conifer or other fastigiate shrub …

Christopher Lloyd, "Alternative means of support," Horticulture, November 1995

When one of two fastigiate oaks by her front door blew down in a hurricane, she watched it right itself, then called an arborist to prune its slender, upright branches.

Anne Raver, "Gardens in the Buff," New York Times, January 29, 2004
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Friday, December 06, 2019

bonhomie

[ bon-uh-mee, bon-uh-mee ]

noun

frank and simple good-heartedness; a good-natured manner; friendliness; geniality.

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What is the origin of bonhomie?

The English noun bonhomie, “frank and simple good-heartedness, friendliness,” still feels French and foreign. The French original, bonhomie, bonhommie, which appeared only 40 years before the English noun, has the same meaning as the English. Bonhomie is a derivative of the Middle and Old French bon homme, bonhom, literally “good man” and later “commoner, peasant.” Even today in French-speaking countries bonhomme is a respectful form of address. Bon homme comes from Latin bonus homō; its plural, bonī hominēs, especially referred to the Albigensian heretics (also Cathars or Cathari), who were exterminated in the 13th century by the Inquisition. Bonhomie entered English in the second half of the 18th century.

how is bonhomie used?

Lennon would fire up his fellow Beatles with a bit of call-and-response bonhomie. “Where are we going, fellas?” he’d ask, to which Paul, George, and Ringo would respond, “To the toppermost of the poppermost, Johnny!”

Andrew Romano, "Lennon's Other Legacy," Newsweek, December 13, 2010

Einstein’s manner was full of charm and bonhomie.

Jacob Epstein, Let There Be Sculpture, 1940
Thursday, December 05, 2019

spoonerism

[ spoo-nuh-riz-uhm ]

noun

the transposition of initial or other sounds of words, usually by accident, as in a blushing crow for a crushing blow.

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What is the origin of spoonerism?

Spoonerisms, often hilarious, are named after the 19th-century Anglican clergyman William Archibald Spooner, warden of New College, Oxford University. The Reverend Spooner himself claimed as his only spoonerism “The Kinquering Congs Their Titles Take” (1879), a mangling of the name of the hymn “The Conquering Kings Their Titles Take.” In American English the most famous spoonerism must be the one made by the old-time radio announcer Harry von Zell, who in a live broadcast in 1931 announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States, Hoobert Heever.” Spoonerism entered English about 1900.

how is spoonerism used?

Spoonerisms are the comfortable shoes of slips of the tongue: when it comes time to illustrate the universality speech errors, they’re so familiar and broken in, they always get a laugh.

Michael Erard, Um ... : Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Really Mean, 2007

Other words the BFG coins are from errors. For example, in spoonerisms snapperwhipper, dory-hunky and catasterous disastrophe, the initial syllables have been swapped.

Simon Horobin, "The BFG reminds us that wordplay is part of learning and mastering language," The Conversation, July 22, 2016
Wednesday, December 04, 2019

snarf

[ snahrf ]

verb (used with object)

Slang.

to eat quickly and voraciously; scarf (often followed by down or up).

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What is the origin of snarf?

Snarf, “to eat greedily or voraciously,” is a slang word, originally American, and like many if not most slang terms, it has an obscure etymology. Some authorities claim snarf to be a variant of scarf “to eat greedily,” or a combination of the verbs snort and scarf. Snarf is just as likely to be onomatopoeic, as of the sound of pigs feeding at a trough. Snarf entered English in the late 1960s.

how is snarf used?

“My kids snarf these like candy,” he said.

Matt Lee and Ted Lee, "The Industry: Killer Tomatoes," New York Times Magazine, August 28, 2005

We don’t just snarf down the Hershey bars and gummy bears directly from the bag. We pour ourselves a glass of wine as well ….

Chris Morris, "The Wines That Pair Best With Your Kids' Halloween Candy," Fortune, October 31, 2019
Tuesday, December 03, 2019

benignity

[ bih-nig-ni-tee ]

noun

a good deed or favor; an instance of kindness: benignities born of selfless devotion.

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What is the origin of benignity?

Benignity comes via Old and Middle French from the Latin noun benignitās (inflectional stem benignitāt-) “kindness, graciousness, friendliness,” a derivative of the adjective benignus “kind, gracious, benign.” Benignus is composed of the adverb bene “well, neatly, rightly” (from the adjective bonus “good”) and –gnus, a suffix derived from the base of the verb gignere “to beget” (the sense is “good by nature, naturally good”; consider its English opposite, malign). Benignity entered English in the second half of the 14th century.

how is benignity used?

… there are young men and maidens pacing to and fro beside me, and to them the moon is only one of the innumerable benignities with which nature smiles on youth and love.

Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Studies in Romance, 1873

with a thousand generous benignities she stifled my ‘no’s,’ … and all I had breath to say at last, was, that ‘there was time enough for plans of that kind.’

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett to Robert Browning, April 28, 1846, The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 2, 1898
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

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