Word of the Day

Thursday, November 28, 2019


[ foi-zuhn ]



abundance; plenty.

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What is the origin of foison?

The English noun foison is archaic in standard English, but it still occurs in Scottish English. Foison is a regular French phonetic development from the Vulgar Latin noun fusiō (inflectional stem fusiōn-), equivalent to the very rare Late Latin fūsiō (stem fūsiōn-) “a pouring out, effusion, melting (in metallurgy),” a derivative of the verb fundere “to pour, pour out, shed.” Foison came into English via Old French; its doublet, the English noun fusion, entered English straight from Latin in the mid-16th century. Foison entered English in the first half of the 14th century.

how is foison used?

Then delicacies and dainties were delivered to the guests, / Fresh food in foison, such freight of full dishes …

, Sir Gaiwan and the Green Knight (c1375), translated by Brian Stone, 1959
… but nature should bring forth / Of its own kind all foison, all abundance, / To feed my innocent people.
William Shakespeare, The Tempest, 1623
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Wednesday, November 27, 2019


[ pohst-pran-dee-uhl ]


after a meal, especially after dinner: postprandial oratory; a postprandial brandy.

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What is the origin of postprandial?

The Latin noun prandium means “midday meal, lunch, luncheon”; the verb prandēre “to have breakfast or lunch” is a derivative of prandium. There is no Latin adjective prandiālis “pertaining to breakfast or lunch,” let alone the adjectives preprandiālis (praeprandiālis) or postprandiālis. There is, however, the Late Latin noun prandiculum “breakfast,” which is found only in lexicographical writings–a salutary warning! Postprandial is used in medicine in its literal meaning “done or happening after a meal.” Apart from medical usage postprandial is a jocular word, as in this example from George Bernard Shaw, “The whole thing was mere postprandial brag, war-game and club-fender gossip” (1917). Postprandial entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is postprandial used?

Most people seem to switch on the game a few minutes after having wolfed down their fifth slice of pie, but if you do that, there’s the cognitive dissonance of watching professional athletes and cheerleaders vigorously moving their bodies while your own body lies on the couch in a state of postprandial lethargy and bloat.

Jeff Gordinier, "Is It Inappropriate to Watch Football While Eating Thanksgiving With My Family?" New York Times, November 18, 2011

The postprandial conversation goes on until dawn.

Roberto Bolaño, Woes of the True Policeman, translated by Natasha Wimmer, 2012
Tuesday, November 26, 2019


[ stahr-gey-zer ]


a daydreamer.

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What is the origin of stargazer?

Stargazer originally had a very derogatory meaning. The word first appears in English in the Geneva Bible, an English translation that appeared between 1557 and 1560. In Isaiah 47:13 in the King James Version, differing only slightly from the earlier Geneva Bible, the text reads “Thou [i.e. the “virgin daughter of Babylon”] art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee.” The text is scornful of idolatrous customs. In Daniel Defoe’s A system of magick (1727), we still see the same contemptuous usage as in the Geneva Bible but somewhat qualified to mean astronomer, “The Eminent Dr. H—— may be call’d the King’s Astronomer, or as the more Eminent Mr. Flamstead usually call’d himself, the King’s Star-gazer.” It is only in the first half of the 19th century that stargazer acquires the benign sense of amateur astronomer, “The mere star-gazer who is an Astronomer simply in the respect that he is the owner of a telescope.” Stargazer in the sense “daydreamer, impractical idealist” first occurs in Emerson’s Transcendentalist, “The materialist..mocks at..star-gazers and dreamers.”

how is stargazer used?

The materialist, secure in the certainty of sensation, mocks at fine-spun theories, at star-gazers and dreamers, and believes that his life is solid,

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Transcendentalist," Lecture at Masonic Temple, January 1842

He was a stargazer in both senses. … a man who questioned givens, resisted the forces of fate and tradition, saw himself as part of the picture.

Peter Standish, Understanding Julio Cortázar, 2001
Monday, November 25, 2019


[ hawr-uh-loh-jee-uh m, hor- ]


a timepiece, as a clock or sundial, or a building supporting or containing a timepiece.

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What is the origin of horologium?

There are nearly a score—20!—spellings in Middle English for horologium, and nearly as many in Old French. Horologium comes from the Latin noun hōrologium “an instrument for showing the time, a dial, sundial, hourglass, clock, clepsydra (water clock).” Hōrologium is a Latin borrowing of Greek hōrológion with the same meaning. Greek hōrológion is a compound of hōrológos “teller of time” and the diminutive noun suffix -ion. Hōrológos is a compound of hṓra “year, season, hour, time, time of day, the right time, time of ripening or florescence,” which was taken into Latin wholesale as hōra with all its meanings (hour comes into English via Old French from Latin). The element or word logos “word, speech, account, computation, reason” is very familiar in English as the suffix –logy, as in philology, theology, paleontology. Horologium entered English in the second half of the 14th century.

how is horologium used?

In this Horologium moves the hand or arrow towards the twenty-four, and to the right of the twenty-four it was yesterday, and to the left, today.

Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before, translated by William Weaver, 1995

It appears this horologium was an elaborate piece of mechanism furnished with many painted images, which no doubt performed curious evolutions.

Willis I. Milham, Time and Timekeepers, 1923
Sunday, November 24, 2019


[ koh-puh-set-ik, -see-tik ]



fine; completely satisfactory; OK.

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What is the origin of copacetic?

Copacetic first appears in the generation before World War II, in 1919 to be exact. It is a thoroughly American piece of slang, and all the citations of the word come from American writers. Perhaps foreigners avoided copacetic because of all its variant spellings, which include copa, copasetic, copasetty, copesette(e), copissettic, copus, kopacetic, kopasetic, kopasetee…. Many slang terms have no reliable etymology, and copacetic is within that happy group. Some of the more fanciful, not to say outrageous or just plain nutty etymologies for copacetic include; 1) Chinook jargon copasenee “everything is satisfactory (along the waterways of Washington State)”; 2) the excruciating phrase “the cop is on the settee” (i.e., he’s not paying attention), which transmogrified into copacetic and was supposedly used by American gangsters; or 3) an Italian word, but unknown in standard Italian or in any of its many dialects. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson claimed to have coined copacetic (not likely), but he did popularize copacetic in his vaudeville acts, radio programs, and movies he made with Shirley Temple in the 1930s.

how is copacetic used?

The United States of the 1960s experienced many social upheavals. But in one realm, all was copacetic.

Michael Tomasky, "The Real Legacy of the 1970s," New York Times, February 2, 2019

If he signed a paper saying he wouldn’t make any speeches, everything would be copacetic.

Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days, 2001
Saturday, November 23, 2019


[ guhs-toh ]


hearty or keen enjoyment, as in eating or drinking, or in action or speech in general: to dance with gusto.

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What is the origin of gusto?

Gusto comes from the Italian noun gusto “taste, flavor,” from Latin gustus “tasting, flavor, sense of taste.” Gustus is also the source of Spanish and Portuguese gosto and French goût, all meaning “taste, flavor, relish.” The main current sense of gusto, “keen enjoyment,” first appeared in 1629 but only started to become very common in the early 19th century.

how is gusto used?

She ate with gusto, sending particles of egg flying onto the table as she spoke.

Anna Esaki-Smith, Meeting Luciano, 1999

Anna could hear her father singing with gusto.

D. H. Lawrence, The Rainbow, 1915
Friday, November 22, 2019


[ yoo-sij-as-ter ]


a self-styled authority on language usage.

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What is the origin of usageaster?

A true expert on language usage will know that using usageaster “a self-styled authority on language usage” is not meant kindly. For instance: “The reader was no more than a usageaster; he insisted on corrections that were merely a matter of style, not grammar.” Usageaster is composed of usage and the -aster, which is a “diminutive or pejorative suffix denoting something that imperfectly resembles or mimics the true thing.” This suffix, derived from Latin, can also be found in such words as poetaster “an inferior poet” and criticaster “incompetent critic.”

how is usageaster used?

We can help such people overcome their insecurity by making a clear distinction between usageasters and usage experts.

Thomas L. Clark, "The Usageasters," American Speech, Vol. 55, No. 2, 1980

… a usageaster pretends to know about questions of usage in language.

Allan Metcalf, Predicting New Words, 2002

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