Word of the Day

Saturday, March 13, 2021

foible

[ foi-buhl ]

noun

a minor weakness or failing of character; slight flaw or defect.

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What is the origin of foible?

Foible, “a minor weakness of character, a slight flaw or defect,” comes from the noun use of the obsolete French adjective foible “the weak point of the blade of a sword” (the strong point of a sword blade is the forte). Foible is first recorded in Old French about 1175; it derives from Vulgar Latin febilis, from Latin flēbilis “lamentable, worthy of tears, causing tears,” a derivative of the verb flēre “to weep, cry, lament.” In French, foible was replaced by faible, another derivative of febilis, and the source of English feeble. Foible, in the sense “the weak point of the blade of a sword,” entered English in the first half of the 17th century; the sense “defect in character” arose in the second half of the 17th century.

how is foible used?

Though it has its darker moments, no Bergman venture has ever been so warm, so understanding, so forgiving of human foibles.

Kenneth Turan, "Critics Choice: Rare screening of five-hour 'Fanny and Alexander' at the Wilder," Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2018

I thought of it as just evidence of a very familiar human foible. Most of us can’t later account for why our egos sometimes get the best of us.

Ken Auletta, "Brian William's Mistake," The New Yorker, February 6, 2015

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Friday, March 12, 2021

avant-garde

[ uh-vahnt-gahrd, uh-vant-, av-ahnt-, ah-vahnt- ]

adjective

of or relating to the experimental treatment of artistic, musical, or literary material.

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What is the origin of avant-garde?

Avant-garde originally meant the “advance guard” of an army or other major military force in the field (that sense is now replaced by vanguard, a shortened form of avant-garde). Avant-garde used in its military sense died out a little after 1800. Its current sense “the advance group in any field, especially in the visual, literary, or musical arts,” first appears in 1910. Avant-garde, spelled aduant garde, entered English in the second half of the 15th century.

how is avant-garde used?

He co-founded a futurist group that sought to transform Poland … through avant-garde literature.

Pasha Malla, "'I Burn Paris' and the Temptation of Newly Topical Fiction," The New Yorker, October 30, 2020

Henson’s lesser-known works are tiny avant-garde masterpieces that are infused with the same humor, character, and vision as his enduring legacy.

Alison Nastasi, "Before the Muppets:10 Surreal and Experimental Works by Jim Henson," The Atlantic, November 23, 2011

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Thursday, March 11, 2021

waesucks

[ wey-suhks ]

interjection

alas.

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What is the origin of waesucks?

Waesucks or waesuck, “alas, woe (is me),” is a Scots word composed of wae, the Scots form of woe, and suck or sucks, Scots variants of the noun sake, now used only in the expression “for the sake of X, for X’s sake.” But Robert Burns uses waesucks in The Holy Fair (1786), which makes waesucks a keeper.

how is waesucks used?

Waesucks! For him that gets nae lass, / Or lasses that hae naething!

Robert Burns, "The Holy Fair," Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, 1786

But waesucks! night cam’ on at last, / And fiercely raged the furious blast; / And, what made waur his piteous case, / The storm blew keenly in his face … 

Alexander Rodger, Peter Cornclips: a tale of real life; with other poems & songs, 1827

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