Word of the Day

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

foofaraw

[ foo-fuh-raw ]

noun

a great fuss or disturbance about something very insignificant.

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What is the origin of foofaraw?

Foofaraw, “a great fuss over something very insignificant; excessive decoration or ornamentation, as on clothing or a building,” originated on the western frontier of the U.S. in the mid-19th century. Foofaraw, spelled fofarraw, used as an adjective meaning “gaudy, tawdry” first appears in print in June 1848 in a series of articles for Blackwood’s Magazine (published in Edinburgh) by George Ruxton, an English explorer and travel writer, who wrote about the Far West. Fofarrow used as a noun meaning “gaudy apparel” appears in the same magazine by the same author two months later, in August 1848. The sense “great fuss over something insignificant” dates from the early 1930s. The many variant spellings, such as fofarraw, fofarow, foofaraw, foofoorah, and 20 others, show that foofaraw has no reliable etymology. Speculations about the etymology of foofaraw include Spanish fanfarrón, a noun and adjective meaning “braggart, boaster” (perhaps from Arabic farfār “talkative”). Foofaraw may also come from French fanfaron, a noun and adjective with the same meanings as the Spanish. The French dialect form fanfarou may also have contributed to the American word.

how is foofaraw used?

Last week, Swedish movie theaters created a media foofaraw when they announced that they would begin providing a rating based on the Bechdel test for the films they screen.

Holly L. Derr, "What Really Makes a Film Feminist?" The Atlantic, November 13, 2013

Pound for pound, City Lights is almost certainly the best bookstore in the United States. It’s not as sprawling as the Strand, in Manhattan, or Moe’s Books, in Berkeley. But it’s so dense with serious world literature of every stripe, and so absent trinkets and elaborate bookmarks and candles and other foofaraw, that it’s a Platonic ideal.

Dwight Garner, "Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Enduring San Francisco," New York Times, March 11, 2019

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

lucida

[ loo-si-duh ]

noun

the brightest star in a constellation.

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What is the origin of lucida?

Lucida is the feminine singular of the Latin adjective lūcidus meaning “bright, shining”; the Latin phrase lūcida stella simply means “bright star”; the modern sense “the brightest star in a constellation” is a New Latin usage dating from the first half of the 18th century. Lūcidus is a derivative of the verb lūcēre “to emit light, shine,” which in turn is a derivative of the noun lux, inflectional stem lūc– “light, a light.” Stella comes from an unrecorded Latin sterla, literally “little star,” from the Proto-Indo-European root ster– “star,” which appears in Proto-Germanic as sterzōn-, and in the recorded Germanic languages as staírnō in Gothic, sterno in Old High German, stjarna in Old Norse, steorra in Old English, sterre in Middle English, and star in Modern English. Greek astḗr shares an initial a with Armenian astł, both meaning “star.”

how is lucida used?

Interestingly, the old astronomy books and sky charts, which depicted the constellations as allegorical drawings, placed the lucida (brightest star) of Lynx in the tuft of its tail. From these drawings it would seem that nearby Leo Minor, the Smaller Lion, is about to provoke a cat fight by biting Lynx’s tail.

Joe Rao, "Find the Felines: Cats in the Night Sky," Space.com, April 15, 2005

At its [Scorpius’s] heart lies its lucida or brightest star, the red Antares, so named because its color makes of it a rival to Mars whenever that red planet is nearby.

Arthur Upgren, The Turtle and the Stars, 2002

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Monday, April 12, 2021

propinquity

[ proh-ping-kwi-tee ]

noun

nearness in place; proximity.

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What is the origin of propinquity?

Propinquity, “closeness in space, time, kinship,” comes via Middle English propinquite from Old French propinquite, from Latin propinquitāt-, the inflectional stem of the noun propinquitās. The English, Middle English, Old French, and Latin nouns even share the same meanings. Propinquitās is a derivative of the adjective propinquus, itself a derivative of the preposition and adverb prope “near, nearby, close.” The suffix –inquus is very rare in Latin, but it also occurs in the adjective longinquus “far, far off, remote,” the opposite of propinquus. Prope and propinquus are the positive degree whose comparative degree is the regularly formed propinquior “closer, nearer”; the superlative degree is the irregular proximus “next, next to, nearest, adjacent,” from which English derives proximate. Propinquity entered English in the first half of the 15th century.

how is propinquity used?

when he was called to New York, to become a partner in his father’s banking-house, I realized that our interests had already diverged, and that only propinquity had served to hold us together. For poor George had already allowed himself to be mastered by a fatal vice—the passion for money-making …

Edith Wharton (1862–1937), "A Granted Prayer," written between 1898 and 1911, The Atlantic, November 9, 2020

In the case of the pictures in “#nyc,” closeness involves not just a physical propinquity but also a kind of psychic insight into others’ hearts and minds.

Naomi Fry, "The Photographer Peeking at Your Phone," The New Yorker, September 3, 2020

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