Word of the Day

Word of the day

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

fomites

[ fom-i-teez, foh-mi-. ]

plural noun

surfaces, as clothing or door handles, that can become contaminated with pathogens when touched by the carrier of an infection, and can then transmit the pathogens to those who next touch the surfaces.

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What is the origin of fomites?

Fomites “surfaces that can become contaminated with and transmit pathogens” is the plural form of the noun fomes, from Latin fōmes “kindling wood.” Although fomes is the correct singular form of fomites, fomite also appears in English because of a process known as back formation; because most English nouns are pluralized by adding -s, the final -s is dropped from fomites by mistaken analogy with other English nouns. Similar back formations include primate (from Latin singular prīmās, plural prīmātēs) and termite (from Latin singular termes, plural termitēs). Other back formations of non-Latin origin include cherry (from Old English singular ċiris) and pea (from Modern English singular pease). Fomites was first recorded in English at the turn of the 19th century.

how is fomites used?

[Girolamo] Fracastoro believed that diseases were caused by imperceptible seedlike entities … which could multiply rapidly, propagate quickly, and were unique to each disease. He posited that these seeds could spread in three distinct ways. Firstly, by direct contact (including shaking hands), secondly, by indirect contact through fomites (inanimate objects such as clothing), and lastly over long distances through the air, emphasizing that the thing that binds the three modes of transmission together is that all are “contagious by direct contact.” While some of these ideas had been considered by previous scholars, Fracastoro was the first to fuse the three causes of transmission into a coherent theory of contagion.

Ewan Morgan, “The Physician Who Presaged the Germ Theory of Disease Nearly 500 Years Ago,” Scientific American, January 22, 2021

I realized that when I took a croissant barehanded I touched only the one that I was going to eat, whereas if I’d used tongs I’d have handled an implement that had been touched by every diner who came before me. Tongs are an example of what epidemiologists call fomites—objects that convey infectious agents between individuals. And fomites, if you look for them, are just about everywhere: tabletops, doorknobs, toilet seats, stethoscopes. Smooth objects, like tongs, make better fomites than porous ones, like dollar bills, because infectious agents protrude from their surfaces and can be detached more easily.

David Owen, "Hands Across America," The New Yorker, February 24, 2013

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Word of the day

Tuesday, December 07, 2021
Word of the Year

allyship

[ al-ahy-ship ]

noun

the status or role of a person who advocates and actively works for the inclusion of a marginalized or politicized group in all areas of society, not as a member of that group but in solidarity with its struggle and point of view and under its leadership.

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Why Dictionary.com chose allyship

The year 2021 has been defined by the many ongoing impacts of the pandemic and the polarization of 2020—and the various ways we continue to grapple with them. The vastness of such a year could never be fully summarized with a single word. But there is one word that’s intertwined with so many of the things we’ve experienced in 2021: allyship, our 2021 Word of the Year. As our Word of the Year for 2021, allyship carries an additional special distinction this year: It marks the first time we’ve chosen a word that’s new to our dictionary as our Word of the Year. Our addition of the word allyship to our dictionary in 2021—not to mention our decision to elevate it as our top word for the year—captures important ways the word continues to evolve in our language and reflects its increased prominence in our discourse. Allyship acts as a powerful prism through which to view the defining events and experiences of the past year—and, crucially, how the public processed them. And while we must acknowledge that efforts at allyship are all too often insufficient and imperfect, the word nonetheless stands out for its role in the path out of the continued crises of 2020 toward a better 2022. Read more about Dictionary.com's 2021 Word of the Year allyship.

What is the origin of allyship?

Allyship “the status of being an advocate for the inclusion of a marginalized group of which the advocate is not a member” is a compound of the noun ally and the combining form -ship, the latter of which denotes condition, character, or skill. Ally derives via Anglo-French and Old French from the Latin verb alligāre “to bind to,” from ligāre “to bind.” Additional descendants of ligāre include alloy, league, liable, ligament, and oblige, all of which involve a link to or merger with another person, object, or entity. Latin alligāre became alier “to unite, combine, join (in kinship)” in Old French, and its derivative noun, alliiet, gained the sense of “relative.” From there, ally shifted in English to mean “friend, associate” and then developed the additional meaning of “supporter or member of an alliance.” Today, the term has developed a specific nuance: allies are not part of the group that they support but stand in solidarity with the group nonetheless. Allyship was first recorded in English in the late 1840s in the sense “the state of being associated with another or others for a common purpose,” a definition that differs from allyship’s current meaning.

how is allyship used?

After the … nationwide outrage last summer, corporate America leaned harder into … superficial solutions. Companies were quick to promise an inclusive work environment, flooded their social media pages with Black and brown faces, extolled allyship, and put on socially distanced town halls on race.

Rita Omokha, “VR Trainings Are Not Going to Fix Corporate Racism,” Wired, May 26, 2021

Ernest Owens, a 28-year-old Black journalist, questions the concept of whites as “allies.” While many have good intentions, he said true allyship—supporting Black businesses, deeply exploring personal bias and ferreting out ways that white privilege contributes to persistent racism—must happen in order to genuinely stand in solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed.

Deepti Hajela and Leanne Italie, "Dear white people: Being an ally isn’t always what you think," AP News, June 13, 2020

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Word of the day

Monday, December 06, 2021

cockade

[ ko-keyd ]

noun

a rosette, knot of ribbon, etc., usually worn on the hat as part of a uniform, as a badge of office, or the like.

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What is the origin of cockade?

Cockade “a rosette worn on the hat as part of a uniform” is an alteration of the French term cocarde, which derives from the Middle French word cocquard “boastful, silly, cocky” (like the boastful behavior of a rooster). Cocquard is a compound of the noun coc “rooster, cock” and -ard, a noun-forming suffix. Coc derives from Late Latin coccus or a Germanic term akin to Old Norse kokkr and is of onomatopoeic origin; numerous languages worldwide independently developed similar-sounding words for “rooster” by imitating the sound of the rooster’s call. The suffix -ard is likely extracted from a Frankish element, -hart “strong, brave, hardy,” found in Germanic-origin personal names in French, such as Bernard and Richard, and in terms for people who regularly engage in a particular activity or are characterized in a certain way, such as drunkard and wizard. Cockade was first recorded in English in the 1650s.

how is cockade used?

During the immediate aftermath of the revolution and the execution of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, the Committee of Public Safety attempted to use the guillotine to shape what member Maximilien Robespierre dubbed “a republic of virtue.” … Offenses included dress: Infractions like displaying royalist insignia or colors (the fleur-­de-­lis, white, green or any indication of mourning), or refusal to sport the cockade, that symbolically ­loaded knot of tricolor ribbons, were, in some cases, enough to send someone to the tumbrils.

Alexander Fury, “When Fashion Becomes a Form of Protest,” New York Times Style Magazine, August 17, 2016

The men beside me seem so gored and emasculated by time that I look away. One has no gray in his hair, so I suppose he is rather young …. He opens his briefcase busily, but it contains nothing but a printed brochure. Will such a weary face be welcomed anywhere? The face seems incapable of any sensual provocation or response. But when it is time for him to leave he jauntily slaps on a sealskin hat with a bright feather cockade and braces his shoulders in his raincoat. He’s ready for the next round.

John Cheever, "From the Seventies and Early Eighties," The New Yorker, August 4, 1991

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