Word of the Day

Word of the day

Monday, February 18, 2019

fourscore

[ fawr-skawr, fohr-skohr ]

adjective

four times twenty; eighty.

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What is the origin of fourscore?

Americans will recognize the phrase “Fourscore and seven years ago” from the Gettysburg Address (whether they will know what a score of years amounts to is another question). Most Americans will recognize the line from Psalm 90, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten” and will probably guess 70. The noun score comes from Old English scoru “a tally of 20,” from Old Norse skoru “a notch, scratch, tally of 20.” Score is one of the developments from the very complicated Proto-Indo-European root sker-, ker- “to cut.” In Latin the suffixed form ker-sna appears in cēna “dinner,” literally “a slice.” Old Latin also has the form cesnas; Oscan (an Italic language spoken in southern Italy) has the very conservative form kersnu “dinner.” Sker-, ker- in Germanic (English) appears in shear “to cut” and shears “scissors,” shard, shirt (from Old English scyrte), and skirt (from Old Norse skyrta). Fourscore entered English at the end of the 13th century.

how is fourscore used?

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

President Abraham Lincoln, "The Gettysburg Address," November 19, 1863

Of the fish, I need say nothing in this hot weather, but that it comes sixty, seventy, fourscore, and a hundred miles by land-carriage …

Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, 1771
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Word of the day

Sunday, February 17, 2019

milieu

[ mil-yoo, meel- ]

noun

surroundings, especially of a social or cultural nature: a snobbish milieu.

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What is the origin of milieu?

Milieu is still unnaturalized in English, as its several pronunciations indicate. The French word means “middle, medium, environment.” (In Old French miliu means “the middle.”) Milieu breaks down into the prefix mi- and the noun lieu. Mi- ultimately derives from the Latin adjective medius “middle, middle of, in the middle” (the same prefix occurs in French Midi “midday, the south”). The French noun lieu “place” comes from Latin locus. A lieutenant is literally “a place holder, one who holds the place of another, a substitute” (for a higher authority). Milieu entered English in the mid-19th century.

how is milieu used?

… he grew up in Dagenham, on the eastern outskirts of London, a milieu that he has recalled as “gray and grimy.”

Patrick Radden Keefe, "How Mark Burnett Resurrected Donald Trump as an Icon of American Success," The New Yorker, January 7, 2019

Most crucial, though … is a deeply informed, deeply immersive essay from Luc Sante, “Beastie Revolution,” that places the then-nascent band amidst the cultural milieu of New York City, and the world at large, in 1981, from the Walkman and Ronald Reagan and Grandmaster Flash getting booed off stage while opening up for the Clash in Times Square to Robert Mapplethorpe and WBLS radio and the Mudd Club and still-cheap rent.

Corey Seymour, "The Beastie Boys Book Tour Is as Nutty, Irreverent, and Fun as You think It Would Be," Vogue, October 31, 2018

Word of the day

Saturday, February 16, 2019

snowbird

[ snoh-burd ]

noun

Informal. a person who vacations in or moves to a warmer climate during cold weather.

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What is the origin of snowbird?

Snowbird has three distinct meanings. The original meaning, “a bird that spends winters in a cold climate,” dates from the late 17th century; the second, “a person who travels from the cold north to spend the winter in the warm, sunny south,” dates from the mid-1920s; the third sense, “a person addicted to heroin or cocaine,” dates from around 1915.

how is snowbird used?

I don’t know if I can be a snowbird every year… But I’m going to try, even if it’s only for a week or two: for more winter sunrises, for more sunlight, and even for more — why not? — joyful crying.

Jen A. Miller, "How I Became a 37-Year-Old Snowbird," New York Times, February 23, 2018

As the temperature drops and months of cold weather loom ahead, snowbirds pack up for warmer climates, anticipating sunny days free of freezing ice, snow shoveling and other winter worries.

Mary Kane, "Prep Your House for Snowbird Season," Kiplinger's Retirement Report, January 2018

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