Word of the Day

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

flimflam

[ flim-flam ]

verb

to trick, deceive, swindle, or cheat: A fortuneteller flimflammed her out of her savings.

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What is the origin of flimflam?

Flimflam “to trick, deceive, swindle,” shows the same common vowel alteration in a reduplicated word as in mishmash or pitterpatter. Flimflam may possibly be based on a Scandinavian word, e.g., Old Norse flim “a lampoon, mockery.” Flimflam entered English in the 16th century as a noun meaning “idle talk, nonsense; a cheap deception.” The verb sense “to cheat, swindle,” originally an Americanism, arose in the late 19th century.

how is flimflam used?

Slamming my fist on my writing desk I cursed the day a year before that I’d allowed by friend Eddy Dorobek to flimflam me into buying a used laptop from him and giving up my dead father’s rickety old Underwood portable.

Dan Fante,  86'd, 2009

Col. Leonard was there and he knows how they tried to flimflam us.

Charlie Mann, "Evening Session: January 21, 1913," Annual Report of the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture, 1913
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Tuesday, April 09, 2019

polysemy

[ pol-ee-see-mee, puh-lis-uh-mee ]

noun

a condition in which a single word, phrase, or concept has more than one meaning or connotation.

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What is the origin of polysemy?

Fast can mean “moving quickly” or “firmly fixed.” The word shows polysemy, which ultimately derives from Greek polýsēmos “having many meanings.” Polýsēmos joins polýs “many, much,” and sêma “sign, mark, token.” Polýs yields the combining form poly-, seen in many English words, such as polygon “many angles” or polytheism “many gods.” Sêma produces another term used, like polysemy, in linguistics: semantics “the study of meaning.” In linguistics, polysemy and semantics were modeled on French polysémie and sémantique. These words were formed in the late 19th century by French linguist Michel Bréal (1832–1915)—a man perhaps better remembered for inspiring the modern Olympic marathon in 1896. Polysemy entered English in the 1920s.

how is polysemy used?

Twenty-three alternate meanings for it are listed in English alone—it is, the editors say, a model of “polysemy,” packing multiple meanings into a single sign … .

Adam Gopnik, "Word Magic," The New Yorker, May 26, 2014

This rich polysemy of language is the basis for William Empson’s first type of poetic ambiguity: “when a detail is effective in several ways at once.”

C. Namwali Serpell, Seven Modes of Uncertainty, 2014
Monday, April 08, 2019

funemployed

[ fuhn-em-ploid ]

adjective

without a paid job but enjoying the free time: Ask one of your funemployed friends to come along with you.

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What is the origin of funemployed?

Funemployed, an informal combination of fun and (un)employed, is a neologism dating to 1995.

how is funemployed used?

So far, at least, he seems like an excellent match for this slightly wilder, funemployed new version of Jess.

Izzy Grinspan, "New Girl Recap: Off the Grid," Vulture, September 26, 2012

Buoyed by severance, savings, unemployment checks or their parents, the funemployed do not spend their days poring over job listings.

Kimi Yoshino, "For the 'funemployed,' unemployment is welcome," Los Angeles Times, June 4, 2009

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