Word of the Day

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

felicific

[ fee-luh-sif-ik ]

adjective

causing or tending to cause happiness.

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What is the origin of felicific?

The adjective felicific “tending to cause happiness,” is a term used in ethics, a branch of philosophy. The word is formed from the Latin adjective fēlix (stem fēlīci-) “happy, lucky” and the English combining form -fic “making, producing,” from Latin -ficus. Felicific entered English in the 19th century.

how is felicific used?

Bentham was advancing his felicific calculus (though without much actual mathematics to back it up) as the scientific solution to the problems of morality and legislation.

Bruce Mazlish, The Uncertain Sciences, 1998

The problem is that as more humans run their felicific calculations and decide to live in pleasant places, their presence changes the balance.

John Yemma, "The greening of the West," Christian Science Monitor, June 17, 2013

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Monday, March 30, 2020

transliterate

[ trans-lit-uh-reyt, tranz- ]

verb (used with object)

to change (letters, words, etc.) into corresponding characters of another alphabet or language: to transliterate the Greek Χ as ch.

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What is the origin of transliterate?

The verb transliterate is formed from the Latin preposition and prefix trans, trans- “across, on the other side of” and the noun lītera (littera) “letter.” Transliteration is only changing the letters of one alphabet into those of another, for example, from Greek δόγμα into Latin dogma. Transliteration does not provide a pronunciation or a translation. Transliterate entered English in the 19th century.

how is transliterate used?

Up on the bridge, Captain Orlova was looking thoughtfully at a dense mass of words and figures on the main display. Floyd had painfully started to transliterate them when she interrupted him.

Arthur C. Clarke, 2010: Odyssey Two, 1982

In many of the early stories Chekhov uses proper names that sound comic, carry comic allusions, or are in other ways meaningful. Simply to transliterate such names fails to convey to the English reader an element that is present in the original and sometimes extremely important.

Patrick Miles and Harvey Pitcher, "Notes," Early Stories by Anton Chekhov, 1982

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Sunday, March 29, 2020

apoplectic

[ ap-uh-plek-tik ]

adjective

extremely angry; furious: He became apoplectic at the mere mention of the subject.

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What is the origin of apoplectic?

Apoplectic, “stricken with apoplexy,” comes from Late Latin apoplēcticus (also apoplēctus), from Greek apoplēktikós “paralyzed” and apóplēktos “disabled by a stroke.” Apoplēktikós and apóplēktos are derivatives of the verb apoplēssein (also apoplēttein) “to cripple by a stroke, disable in body or mind,” a compound of the prefix apo-, here with an intensive force, and the verb plēssein, plēttein, plēgnýnai “to strike, hit, thrust at.” By the 19th century apoplectic developed the sense “furiously angry,” as in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814), “A short-necked apoplectic sort of fellow,” and Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers (1837), “A gentleman with an apoplectic countenance.” Apoplectic entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is apoplectic used?

At the White House, Washburne was apoplectic. “Of all the times to let him go, this is the worst!” Washburne marched about the room waving his arms ….

Gore Vidal, Lincoln, 1984

Lenders were apoplectic. They warned CFPB officials that such a tight restriction, however well-intentioned, could cut off access to mortgages for many home buyers and damage the housing market further.

Damian Paletta, "Federal government has dramatically expanded exposure to risky mortgages," Seattle Times, October 2, 2019

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Saturday, March 28, 2020

wont

[ wawnt, wohnt, wuhnt ]

adjective

accustomed; used (usually followed by an infinitive): He was wont to rise at dawn.

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What is the origin of wont?

The history of the adjective, noun, and verb wont is as confused as its three modern pronunciations. The Middle English adjective has many variant spellings, among them wont, woned, wonde (the root vowel is short, as in one of the modern pronunciations). Wont, woned, and wonde (and many other variants) are the past participle of the verb wonen (with many variant spellings) “to inhabit, live (somewhere); to continue to be (in a state or condition); to be accustomed.” Wonen comes from Old English (ge)wunod, past participle of (ge)wunian, (ge)wunigan “to dwell, inhabit, remain, be (in a certain condition).” Old English (ge)wunian is akin to Old High German wonēn “to dwell, remain” and German gewöhnen “to accustom.” Wont (adjective) first appeared in writing in the 9th century; the noun wont in the 14th century; and the verb wont in the first half of the 15th century.

how is wont used?

Ahab was wont to pace his quarter-deck, taking regular turns at either limit, the binnacle and mainmast ….

Herman Melville, Moby Dick, 1851

Young people are the primary drivers of language change, but even we “olds”—as the young are wont to put it—like to change things up now and then.

John McWhorter, "Why Grown-Ups Keep Talking Like Little Kids," The Atlantic, May 2019

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Friday, March 27, 2020

sciolism

[ sahy-uh-liz-uhm ]

noun

superficial knowledge.

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What is the origin of sciolism?

English sciolism “superficial knowledge, a pretension to learning,” comes from the Late Latin adjective and noun sciolus “pretending to knowledge; a person who pretends to knowledge,” and the common noun suffix -ism, originally Greek but completely naturalized in English. Sciolus comes from Latin scius “knowing, knowledgeable, cognizant,” a derivative of the verb scīre “to know (a fact), know for sure.” The obsolete English noun sciolus “one who possesses only superficial knowledge, particularly and especially an editor of a text,” comes directly from Late Latin sciolus. The uncommon English noun sciolist “a person of superficial knowledge or learning” is another derivative of sciolus. Sciolism entered English in the mid-18th century.

how is sciolism used?

Anderson faded, his showy sciolism proving as tiresome to voters as it had to his congressional colleagues.

Bill Kauffman, "I was expelled from the Electoral College before I was even admitted," The Spectator, February 22, 2020

An unseemly air of sciolism creeps into our insistence that we others know the difference between Benedict Arnold and Arnold Bennett.

"Dictated but Not Read, " New York Times, July 20, 1919

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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Cinderella

[ sin-duh-rel-uh ]

noun

a person or thing that achieves unexpected or sudden success or recognition, especially after obscurity, neglect, or misery.

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What is the origin of Cinderella?

Cinderella is a partial translation of French Cendrillon “Little ashes,” from Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon ou la petite pantoufle de verre “Cinderella or the Little Glass slipper” (1697). The story of Cinderella is ancient: The Greek geographer and historian Strabo tells the earliest recorded version of the folk tale in his Rhodopis (written between 7 b.c. and a.d. 24), the name of a Greek slave girl who married the King of Egypt. The first modern European version of the folk tale appears in Lo cunto de li cunti “The Tale of Tales” (also known as the Pentamerone), the collection of fairy tales written in Neapolitan dialect by the Neapolitan poet and fairy tale collector Giambattista Basile (1566-1632), from whom Charles Perrault and the German folklorists and philologists the Brothers Grimm later adapted material. Cinderella entered English in the 19th century.

how is Cinderella used?

The first Cinderella in the era of the 64-team bracket may be the greatest in history.

Tyler Lauletta, "The Cinderella team that busted everybody's March Madness brackets the year you were born," Business Insider, March 28, 2019

Ukraine is the new Cinderella. It could just metamorphose from bankruptcy and potential civil war to surpass elder sister Russia in reform and perhaps even consensus. 

Elizabeth Pond, "Cinderella Ukraine," Washington Post, November 20, 1994

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

moue

[ moo ]

noun

a pouting grimace.

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What is the origin of moue?

The noun moue, “a pout, grimace,” still feels very French in its spelling. Some of its Middle English spellings include moue, mouwe, mowhe “grimace, wry face, grin,” all from Middle French mouwe, moe “lip, pout,” from Old French moe “grimace, pout.” Old French moe is probably from unrecorded Frankish mauwa “pout, protruding lip,” or Middle Dutch mouwe “protruding lip.” Moue entered English in the mid-19th century.

how is moue used?

“What, your stitching wasn’t good enough?” The woman made a sympathetic moue.

Tracy Chevalier, Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1999

Disapproval either goes unexpressed or is exaggerated, with a roll of the eye and a theatrical moue and a “She never takes any notice of me, anyway.”

Julian Barnes, "Complicity," The New Yorker, October 12, 2009

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