Word of the Day

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


[ fluh-jish-uhs ]


shamefully wicked, as persons, actions, or times.

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What is the origin of flagitious?

English flagitious ultimately comes from the Latin adjective flāgitiōsus, “shameful, shocking,” a derivative of the noun flāgitium, a very strong word in Latin meaning “a public demonstration of disapproval outside someone’s house, an offense against decency, disgrace, infamy,” is often applied to sexual misconduct, and even worse, to violations against military discipline. Flāgitium is related to flāgitāre “to press someone with demands, importune, dun (a debtor), summon someone to trial.” Flāgitāre in its turn is probably related to the noun flagrum “a whip, lash, flail (for punishment).” The Latin root flag– is also the source of flagellum “a whip,” flagellāre “to whip,” from which English derives flagellate, flagellant, and flagellation. Flagitious entered English in the 14th century.

how is flagitious used?

… his faith is pure, though his manners are flagitious.

Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1776–1788

He should have persisted in gloom, which would eventually earn a commercial reward that outran the avarice of his most flagitious villains.

Caleb Crain, "Something Wicked This Way Comes," New York Times, December 6, 1998
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Monday, October 14, 2019


[ ruh-shair-shey, ruh-shair-shey; French ruh-sher-shey ]


sought out with care.

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What is the origin of recherché?

The adjective recherché “carefully sought out, rare, exotic, obscure, elegant, pretentious,” comes straight from French recherché, the past participle of the verb rechercher “to look for carefully, research.” The prefix re– in rechercher indicates repetition; the verb chercher “to look for,” comes from Late Latin circāre “to go around,” a derivation of circus “circle.” (English search comes from Old French cerchier, French chercher.) Recherché entered English in the 17th century.

how is recherché used?

… a tasteful and récherché stock of frames and feathers and ribbons was chosen ….

William Dean Howells, A Woman's Reason, 1882

But, among the books which load their shelves, there is the most recherché collection of European standard works to be found in this country ….

, "Scribner & Co.," New York Times, December 12, 1874
Sunday, October 13, 2019


[ uh-plom, uh-pluhm ]


imperturbable self-possession, poise, or assurance.

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What is the origin of aplomb?

The English adjective aplomb is from the French noun aplomb “self-possession,” literally “perpendicularity,” from the Old French phrase a plomb “perpendicularly,” literally “according to the lead weight,” from Latin ad “at, to” and plumbum “lead.” Aplomb entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is aplomb used?

… I had found that in entering with aplomb, and mounting the estrade with emphasis, consisted the grand secret of ensuring immediate silence.

Charlotte Brontë, The Professor, 1857

Whether he was coached in the art of transcendental stillness by his mother, whose acting career is not long over, has yet to be revealed, but he performed his task with aplomb.

Anthony Lane, "Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Introduce Their Son, a Royal Named Archie," The New Yorker, May 8, 2019
Saturday, October 12, 2019


[ hi-stawr-ee-ey-tid, -stohr- ]


decorated with animals, flowers, or other designs that have a narrative or symbolic purpose, especially of initial letters on an illuminated manuscript.

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What is the origin of historiated?

The adjective historiated comes from Medieval Latin historiātus, the past participle of the verb historiāre “to tell a story or a narrative in pictures” (as in an illuminated manuscript or capital letter), from Latin historia “investigation, research, inquiry, a record or account of an investigation, a history,” from Greek historía, a derivation of the noun hístōr “knowing, expert.” Historiated entered English in the mid-19th century.

how is historiated used?

Historiated initials often emphasize the praiseworthiness of a certain paragraph with an elaborately illustrated letter.

Emma Green, "The Emoji Bible, Reviewed," The Atlantic, June 9, 2016

At the request of Queen Claude, he used historiated rather than purely decorative borders.

Roberta Smith, "Heaven and Earth, Sized to Grasp," New York Times, June 5, 2014
Friday, October 11, 2019


[ fi-lis-i-teyt ]

verb (used with object)

to compliment upon a happy event; congratulate.

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What is the origin of felicitate?

The verb felicitate comes from Late Latin fēlīcitātus, past participle of fēlīcitāre “to make happy,” a derivative of the Latin adjective fēlix (inflectional stem fēlīc-) “fruitful, fertile, rich, auspicious, wealthy, lucky, blessed.” Related Latin words include fēcundus “fertile, fruitful” (English fecund); fēlāre “to suckle”; fēmina “woman, female” (English feminine); and fīlius and fīlia “son, daughter” (from which English has filial). The Latin forms derive from the Proto-Indo-European root dhē-, dhēi-, dhi– “to suck, suckle.” From that root Sanskrit has dhāya– “nourishing,” dhātrī “wet nurse, mother,” and dhḗnā “milch cow.” Greek has thēlḗ “mother’s breast, nipple,” thḗnion “milk,” tithḗnē (also títhē) “wet nurse.” Among the Celtic languages, Old Irish has dīnu “lamb” and the verb dīth “(he) sucked”; Breton has denaff “(I) suck,” and Welsh dynu “(to) suck.” Felicitate entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is felicitate used?

Mrs. Smithers, you will also permit me to felicitate you upon this happy event.

John Kendrick Bangs, Coffee and Repartee, 1893

The novelists appear to felicitate themselves in all sincerity upon their success …

Thomas R. Lounsbury, "Differences in English and American Usage," Harper's Monthly Magazine, Vol. 127, June–November 1913
Thursday, October 10, 2019


[ bahy-oh-mawrf ]


a painted, drawn, or sculptured free form or design suggestive in shape of a living organism, especially an ameba or protozoan: The paintings of Joan Miró are often notable for their playful, bright-colored biomorphs.

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What is the origin of biomorph?

Biomorph is easily broken down to the combining forms bio– and –morph, both Greek in origin and both thoroughly naturalized in English. Bio– comes from Greek bíos “life, mode of life, the world we live in” (bíos does not mean “animal life,” which is zōḗ). The combining form –morph comes from the Greek combining form –morphós, a derivative of the noun morphḗ “form, shape, beauty.” Morphḗ may perhaps be related to Latin forma, perhaps via Etruscan (the usual suspect). Biomorph entered English at the end of the 19th century.

how is biomorph used?

She painted biomorphs and wonky grids within the defined parameters of the picture plane ….

Tess Thackara, "The Brief, Transformative Career of Eva Hesse," Artsy, September 3, 2019

There is nothing bitter or sweet about this antsy, unnamable biomorph; refusing to stay put in its own painterly space, it reels … into ours — willfully rude and buoyantly playful, a jolt of unalloyed energy.

Thomas Micchelli, "Elizabeth Murray, Force of Nature," Hyperallergic, January 14, 2017
Wednesday, October 09, 2019


[ lam-buhnt ]


dealing lightly and gracefully with a subject; brilliantly playful: lambent wit.

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What is the origin of lambent?

Lambent comes straight from Latin lambent-, the inflectional stem of the present participle lambēns, from the verb lambere “to lick, (of food or liquid) lick up, suck up, absorb.” Lambere has the transferred senses “(of fire) to play upon, lick,” “(of water) to wash, bathe,” and “(of creeping plants) to surround, wreathe.” The only English sense deriving from the Latin is “running or moving lightly over a surface”; the other senses, including “dealing lightly and gracefully with a subject,” developed within English. Lambent entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is lambent used?

There is the lightning wit that flashes of a short sentence or an apt reply, and there is the lambent wit that sparkles either by description or dialogue.

Walter Sydney Sichel, "The Wit and Humour of Lord Beaconsfield," Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. 44, May–October 1881

He goes to Oxford, where his lambent gift of tongues is recognized and encouraged, and then to war, where everything he values is laid waste.

Anthony Lane, "Why Make Movies About Writers," The New Yorker, May 10, 2019

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