Word of the Day

Thursday, August 06, 2020

faux pas

[ foh pah ]

noun

a slip or blunder in etiquette, manners, or conduct; an embarrassing social blunder or indiscretion.

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What is the origin of faux pas?

Faux pas, from French and still unnaturalized in English, literally means “false step,” nowadays referring to a breach in good manners, a social blunder. French faux comes from Old French fals, faus, from Latin falsus, past participle of the verb fallere “to deceive, mislead.” The French noun pas, source of English pace, comes from the Latin noun passus “a step, stride, pace,” a derivative of the verb pandere “to spread (legs, arms, wings), spread out, open.” Faux pas entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is faux pas used?

I sat for almost half an hour as they finished preparing, acutely aware of my social faux pas.

Tressie McMillan Cottom, "The Problem With Obama's Faith in White America," The Atlantic, December 13, 2016

I accidentally exposed to them my entire desktop, which felt like a big faux pas despite the fact that there was nothing embarrassing on there at that moment.

Jeannie Suk Gersen, "Finding Real Life in Teaching Law Online," The New Yorker, April 23, 2020

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Wednesday, August 05, 2020

esurient

[ ih-soor-ee-uhnt ]

adjective

hungry; greedy.

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What is the origin of esurient?

Esurient, “hungry, greedily hungry, greedy,” comes from Latin ēsuriēns (stem esurient-), the present participle of the verb ēsurīre “to feel hunger, suffer from hunger,” formed from ēs(us), past participle of edere “to eat” and the desiderative suffix -urīre (of unknown origin); thus ēsurīre literally means “to desire to eat.” Esurient may be familiar to those who like Johann Sebastian Bach’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), which contains the verse Ēsurientēs implēvit bonīs et dīvitēs dīmīsit inānēs, “He [God] hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.” Esurient entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is esurient used?

The whole business of bribing, so far as it is carried on, will fall into disreputable hands, those of untrustworthy, esurient, broken attorneys, who will sell their clients very often …

"The Corrupt Practices Bill", The Spectator, January 15, 1881

However, this esurient eye for detail can, on rare occasions, cloud the larger picture.

Gordon Marino, "The Natural," New York Times, September 30, 2010

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Tuesday, August 04, 2020

simulacrum

[ sim-yuh-ley-kruhm ]

noun

an effigy, image, or representation: a simulacrum of Aphrodite.

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What is the origin of simulacrum?

Simulacrum, “a likeness, an image,” comes straight from Latin simulācrum “a resemblance in sight or sound, an image, a statue (of a god).” Simulācrum is a derivative of the verb simulā(re) “to simulate, pretend” and -crum, a variant of -culum, a suffix denoting tools or instruments. Simulāre in its turn is a derivative of the adjective similis “like, similar,” which through Medieval Latin similāris and Old French similaire becomes English similar. Simulacrum entered English at the end of the 16th century.

how is simulacrum used?

Except for flakes of plaster in its streets, the little city is entirely undamaged. The simulacrum now more whole than the original.

Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See, 2014

A gallery of thumbnail-size co-workers on a laptop screen is a diminished simulacrum of the conference-table gatherings that drive so much of corporate life.

Cal Newport, "Why Remote Work Is So Hard—And How It Can Be Fixed," The New Yorker, May 26, 2020

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Monday, August 03, 2020

vacillate

[ vas-uh-leyt ]

verb (used without object)

to waver in mind or opinion; be indecisive or irresolute: His tendency to vacillate makes him a poor leader.

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What is the origin of vacillate?

The verb vacillate comes from Latin vacillāt(us), the past participle of the verb vacillāre “(of a person) to be unsteady on one’s feet, stagger, reel; to waver in mind or opinion; (of a thing) to rock, sway, be in an unsound or precarious condition,” which is also used of persons in regard to their financial condition (yet another demonstration that in some respects the ancients were quite modern). Vacillate entered English at the end of the 16th century.

how is vacillate used?

Manfred, who has an unusual ability to vacillate between pugnacious and charming, cajoled owners, stressing the idea that the sport had to have a season.

Michael S. Schmidt, "How Rob Manfred Navigated A Summer of Peril for Baseball," New York Times, July 25, 2020

As state and local governments vacillate between easing and increasing restrictions, normal summer programs may be unavailable, or if open, may be operating at significantly reduced capacities.

Ashley T. Hirano, "DOL Issues Guidance on FFCRA and Summer School/Camp Closures," National Law Review, June 29, 2020

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Sunday, August 02, 2020

sororal

[ suh-rawr-uhl, -rohr- ]

adjective

of, relating to, or characteristic of a sister or sisters; sisterly.

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What is the origin of sororal?

Sororal means simply “relating to one’s sister or sisters; sisterly.” It derives from the Latin noun soror “sister” and the English adjective suffix -al, which ultimately comes from the Latin suffix -ālis. Soror comes from Proto-Indo-European swésor- “sister,” in Latin going through the stages from swesor to swosor to sworor to soror. Swésor- appears in Sanskrit as svásar-, in Greek as éor (Greek from preliterate times has had trouble with initial and intervocalic s and w, let alone the cluster sw-, all of which usually became h in classical Greek and disappeared in Hellenistic and later Greek). The form swésōr becomes siur in Old Irish and chwaer in Welsh. The Germanic variant swestar yields Gothic swistar, Old Norse systir, which influenced Old English sweostor and suster to become English sister. Sororal entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is sororal used?

Greta Gerwig’s take on Louisa May Alcott’s novel is intelligent and fleet, refreshing if not radical, and as organic in its feminist convictions as it is in its depiction of close-knit sororal love.

Philippa Snow, "The Reinvention of Little Women," The New Republic, January 1, 2020

Eva Kor describes having the same sort of sororal telepathy with her twin, Miriam Czaigher. … each seemed to know when the other was in special need.

Winifred Gallagher, "To the Manner Born," Rolling Stone, November 19, 1987

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Saturday, August 01, 2020

bonanza

[ buh-nan-zuh, boh- ]

noun

a source of great and sudden wealth or luck; a spectacular windfall: The play proved to be a bonanza for its lucky backers.

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What is the origin of bonanza?

Bonanza is a Mexican Spanish noun that entered American English in the early 1840s. In Spanish bonanza means “fair, calm weather (for sailing); prosperity.” Bonanza is a nasalized variant of Vulgar and Medieval Latin bonacia, bonatzia “calm sea,” which is a blend of the Latin adjective bon(us) “good” and Medieval Latin (mal)acia “calm sea,” from Greek malakía “softness.” Bonanza, with a transferred sense “rich vein of ore,” was first applied to the gold mines of Placer County, California (1844), and the silver mines of the Comstock Lode, Nevada (1859).

how is bonanza used?

After Stevie Wonder appeared in a segment, one of his greatest-hits albums jumped to the top of the U.K. iTunes charts, turning “Carpool Karaoke” into a promotional bonanza.

Michael Schulman, "James Cordon's Do-Over," The New Yorker, January 27, 2020

Over the next three weeks they picked up four new clients, a bonanza by Harvey’s standards.

Jonathan Dee, A Thousand Pardons, 2013

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Friday, July 31, 2020

obfuscate

[ ob-fuh-skeyt, ob-fuhs-keyt ]

verb (used with object)

to make obscure or unclear: to obfuscate a problem with extraneous information.

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What is the origin of obfuscate?

The verb obfuscate comes from Late Latin (especially Christian Latin) offuscāt(us), also obfuscāt(us), the past participle of offuscāre (obfuscāre), literally “to darken, obscure.” Offuscāre is a compound of the preposition and prefix ob, of– “toward, against,” also used as an intensive prefix, as here, and the verb fuscāre “to make dark, become dark.” The Latin root word is the adjective fuscus “dark, somber, dim, drab.” Fuscus is possibly related to Old English dox, dosc “dark,” source of the English noun and adjective dusk. Obfuscate entered English in the first half of the 16th century.

how is obfuscate used?

Of course all this talk of carbon emissions obfuscates the other significant dangers associated with the nuclear cycle.

Mark Dowie, "Nuclear Caribou," Orion, January/February 2009

But it will take moral clarity, which will require both editors and reporters to stop doing things like reflexively hiding behind euphemisms that obfuscate the truth, simply because we’ve always done it that way.

Wesley Lowery, "A Reckoning Over Objectivity, Led by Black Journalists," New York Times, June 23, 2020

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