Word of the Day

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

fizgig

[ fiz-gig ]

noun

a type of firework that makes a loud hissing sound.

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What is the origin of fizgig?

Fizgig has a very cloudy history. The first syllable, fiz (also fis), may derive from the Middle English noun fise or feist “a fart” (cf. fizzle), from the Proto-Indo-European root pezd- “fart,” source of Latin pēdere, Greek bdeîn, and Polish bździeć, all meaning “to fart,” which well fits the sound made by the firework. Gig may be imitative in origin, but the word or words are very problematic, and it is less difficult to state what gig does not mean than what it does mean: “a flighty, giddy girl (cf. giglet, giggle); a top (i.e., the toy); “odd-looking character, a fool; a joke, merriment.” Fizgig entered English in the 16th century.

how is fizgig used?

Neither powder nor pepper (you know) was adulterated in those days, and if you made a fizgig, why it blossomed and starred like a golden thistle, flashed into a myriad sparklets like a tiny fountain for Queen Mab and her troupe to dance round.

Frank Fowler, Last Gleanings, 1864

What sputters green and blue, this fizgig called Fifine!

Robert Browning, Fifine at the Fair, 1872
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Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Kafkaesque

[ kahf-kuh-esk ]

adjective

marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity: Kafkaesque bureaucracies.

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What is the origin of Kafkaesque?

Kafkaesque means “having a disorienting, confusing, nightmarish quality; feeling surreal and threatening,” as, for instance, a form letter from the IRS. Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was a German-speaking Jew born in Prague, Bohemia (now the capital of the Czech Republic). Kafka received a rigorous secular education: he wrote in both German and Czech and spoke German with a Czech accent but never thought himself fluent in Czech. He began publishing his artistic prose in 1908. Kafka’s father, Hermann Kafka (1854-1931), was a clothing retailer in Prague and employed around a dozen people in his business. Hermann Kafka used the image of a jackdaw (kavka in Czech) as the logo for his business. Kafkaesque entered English in the 20th century.

how is Kafkaesque used?

As I see it, there is still another telling Kafkaesque dimension to Watergate now that President Ford has written his version of The End. It is the enormousness of the frustration that has taken hold in America ever since Compassionate Sunday, the sense of waste, futility, and hopelessness that now attaches to the monumental efforts that had been required just to begin to get at the truth.

Philip Roth, "Our Castle," Reading Myself and Others, 1975

What makes the situation positively Kafkaesque is that under the terms of the Consent Decree, which was created in part to prevent songwriters from monopolizing the market, composers are now often compelled to license their songs to these monopolistic behemoths at absurdly low rates.

John Seabrook, "Will Streaming Music Kill Songwriting?" The New Yorker, February 8, 2016
Monday, July 02, 2018

buttery

[ buht-uh-ree ]

adjective

grossly flattering; smarmy.

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What is the origin of buttery?

The adjective buttery in the Middle Ages meant “containing butter”; by the 18th century it acquired additional meanings “having the consistency of butter; smeared with butter”; and in the mid-19th century the sense “grossly flattering, smarmy.” Butter, the noun from which buttery derives, is a borrowing of the Latin word būtȳrum “butter,” itself a borrowing from Greek boútyron “butter,” literally “cow cheese.” Būtȳrum was adopted by the West Germanic languages, e.g., Old English butere, English butter, Dutch boter, Old High German butera, and German Butter. Buttery entered English in the 14th century.

how is buttery used?

Once Maloney began speaking there seemed no end to the words that poured from his whiskered lips, buttery words, words unreliable, words from which all sincerity had been drained to be replaced by a jovial condescension.

Ralph McInerny, Celt and Pepper, 2002

His face adorned by a seraphic, buttery smile, he stood unmoved, while Miss Higglesby-Browne uttered cyclonic exhortations and reproaches …

Camilla E. L. Kenyon, "Spanish Doubloons," Sunset: The Pacific Monthly, March 1918

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