Word of the Day

Sunday, November 15, 2020

friable

[ frahy-uh-buhl ]

adjective

easily crumbled or reduced to powder; crumbly.

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What is the origin of friable?

The English adjective friable comes from Middle French friable from Latin friābilis “easily crumbled, crumbly,” a derivative of the verb friāre “to break into small pieces, crumble.” Friāre is akin to the verb fricāre “to rub, chafe” (source of English friction) and the adjective frīvolus “worthless, trashy” (English frivolous). In the Olden Days, when studying Latin in high school was routine, some clever wag would reinvent for the millionth time the saying Sīc friat crustulum “Thus crumbles the cookie.” Friable entered English in the second half of the 16th century.

how is friable used?

In some places, the limestone was so friable that, if you brushed a finger against it, it ran like sand through an hourglass.

Lauren Collins, "On the Roof of Notre-Dame, Before It Burned," The New Yorker, April 15, 2019

In autumn, the days are pleasant, the soil friable, and there is a good choice of desired rose varieties.

Cynthia Westcott, "Tis Possible to Plant Roses This Fall," New York Times, September 13, 1970

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Saturday, November 14, 2020

triclinium

[ trahy-klin-ee-uhm ]

noun

Roman History.

a dining room, especially one containing a couch extending along three sides of a table, for reclining on at meals.

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What is the origin of triclinium?

The uncommon noun triclinium comes from Latin trīclīnium, straight from Greek triklī́nion “dining room.” A triklī́nion was more precisely an arrangement of three chaise longues in the shape of a capital Greek pi (Π) on three sides of a central table for dining (the fourth side was left open for servants or busboys). Triklī́nion is a compound made up of the Greek (and Latin) combining form tri– “three,” as in triangle (a “three-cornered” geometric figure), triathlete, and tripod (literally “three-footed”). Klī́nion is a derivative of klī́nē “couch, bed, sickbed,” source of English clinic and clinical. Lying on couches while dining was introduced into Greece in the early seventh century b.c. from Asia Minor (now western Turkey). The Romans adopted the Greek custom via the Etruscans, and the Etruscans (and Romans) scandalized the Greeks by allowing citizen women (such as wives), to participate in banquets. Triclinium entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is triclinium used?

Ancient Romans could recline on the triclinium’s long benches, discussing music, literature and other refined topics, while contemplating a vista of ecstatic abandon.

Karen Rosenberg, "Pompeii Style, B.C.E. (Before Catastrophic Eruption)," New York Times, October 23, 2008

The most elegant type of Hellenistic derivation has a curving headrest or fulcrum at one end; but a true triclinium evidently required a matching set of three fitted together …

Katherine M. D. Dunbabin, The Roman Banquet, 2003

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Friday, November 13, 2020

volte-face

[ volt-fahs, vohlt-; French vawltuh-fas ]

noun

a turnabout, especially a reversal of opinion or policy.

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What is the origin of volte-face?

Volte-face “a turnabout, reversal of opinion or policy, an about-face,” comes via French volte-face from Italian volta-faccia (also voltafaccia), a compound of volta, the imperative singular of the verb voltare “to turn” and the noun faccia “face.” Voltare comes from an unrecorded Vulgar Latin volvitāre, equivalent to Latin volvere “to turn, roll.” Faccia (and face) likewise come from the Vulgar Latin noun facia, from Latin faciēs “outward appearance, looks, face.” Volte-face entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is volte-face used?

Grubman had shocked the rest of Wall Street by upgrading A.T. & T., a company he had criticized for years, from neutral to buy. He tried to justify his volte-face by saying that the phone giant’s purchase of a big cable company, Telecommunications Inc., had transformed its prospects, but this explanation was greeted with skepticism.

John Cassidy, "The Investigation," The New Yorker, March 31, 2003

In the manner of the high school teacher he once was, Riordan begins with faint praise (“there are things I like about this adaptation”) before an abrupt volte face. “Having said that, here’s the bad news: The script as a whole is terrible,” he wrote, in a letter so beloved by his fans that it’s even been given dramatic readings.

Allison Flood, "Rick Riordan: 'I feel very protective of my fans. I am aware of my responsibility to make them feel safe,'" Guardian, October 26, 2020

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