Word of the Day

Saturday, June 15, 2019

fruitlet

[ froot-lit ]

noun

Botany.

a small fruit, especially one of those forming an aggregate fruit, as the raspberry.

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What is the origin of fruitlet?

Fruitlet is a perfectly transparent word, used as a technical term in botany. The first syllable, fruit, comes from Old French fruit, a regular development from Latin frūctus “enjoyment, produce, results.” The diminutive suffix –let comes from Middle French –elet, from Latin –āle (the neuter of the adjective suffix –ālis), or from the Latin diminutive suffix –ellus and the Old French noun suffix –et (-ette). Fruitlet entered English in the second half of the 19th century.

how is fruitlet used?

… in the raspberry the separate fruitlets are all crowded close together into a single united mass, while in the strawberry they are scattered about loosely, and embedded in the soft flesh of the receptacle.

Grant Allen, The Evolutionist at Large, 1881

… the eyes, or diamond fruitlets, on the surface have soft or smooth tips.

Mimi Sheraton, "A Guide to Choosing a Ripe Pineapple," New York Times, April 21, 1982
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Friday, June 14, 2019

undulate

[ uhn-juh-leyt, uhn-dyuh-, -duh- ]

verb (used without object)

to move with a sinuous or wavelike motion; display a smooth rising-and-falling or side-to-side alternation of movement: The flag undulates in the breeze.

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What is the origin of undulate?

Something that undulates, as a flag or rhythm, moves side to side or rises and falls like a wave. Indeed, its origin is Latin unda “wave,” via undulātus “waved, wavy,” composed of ula, a diminutive suffix, and –ātus, a past participle suffix. Unda also yields English abound, abundant, inundate, redound, redundant, and surround. Latin unda in turn comes from the Proto-Indo-European root wed– “water, wet,” ultimate source of the names of two substances that may cause some to undulate, as it were, on their feet: vodka (via Russian) and whiskey (Irish or Scots Gaelic). Best to stay hydrated, another derivative of wed-, via Greek hýdōr “water.” Undulate entered English in the 1600s.

how is undulate used?

At the end, the national anthem is played, and our flag undulates all day on its very tall mast and unfurls as it ascends majestically.

José de la Luz Sáenz (1888–1953), The World War I Diary of José de la Luz Sáenz, translated by Emilio Zamora with Ben Maya, 2014

There is a strange, dull glow to the east, from the sea; it undulates softly, rotates, like a net that has captured nothing.

Lori Baker, The Glass Ocean, 2013
Thursday, June 13, 2019

lulu

[ loo-loo ]

noun

any remarkable or outstanding person or thing.

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What is the origin of lulu?

Lulu was originally a piece of American slang. Slang terms have notoriously difficult origins, and lulu, also spelled loulou and looly, has no reliable etymology. Lulu first entered English in the mid-1850s.

how is lulu used?

… Marty loved to point out any big or little step and say to her, “Watch out. It’s a lulu.”

Bill Gaston, "A Work-in-Progress," Gargoyles, 2006

I started to work at the knot, which was a lulu.

Rex Stout, The League of Frightened Men, 1935
Wednesday, June 12, 2019

hangdog

[ hang-dawg, -dog ]

adjective

browbeaten; defeated; intimidated; abject: He always went about with a hangdog look.

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What is the origin of hangdog?

Hangdog is a compound of hang and dog, originally an expression for a person deemed so low and despicable they were considered fit only to hang a bad dog or be hanged like one, as was once the custom; hence, by extension, “browbeaten, defeated, intimidated abject.” In the American South the adjectival form doghanged also occurs, like Southern peckerwood for woodpecker. Hangdog entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is hangdog used?

For more than a year now, the desolation Lyndon Johnson felt about his position had shown in his posture … and in his face, on which all the lines ran downward, his jowls sagging, so that reporters mocked in print his “hangdog” look.

Robert A. Caro, "The Transition," The New Yorker, March 26, 2012

After his opening remarks, Cohen, with his weary, hangdog look, affected a penitent air.

Peter Marks, "The Michael Cohen hearing wasn't a hearing at all. It was cheap theatrics." Washington Post, February 27, 2019
Tuesday, June 11, 2019

esprit de l'escalier

[ es-pree duh le-skahl-yey ]

noun

French.

a perfect comeback or witty remark that one frustratingly comes up with only when the moment for doing so has passed: Writers, by nature, tend to be people in whom l' esprit de l'escalier is a recurrent experience.

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What is the origin of esprit de l'escalier?

The still very foreign phrase esprit de l’escalier first appears in English in one of the remarkable, not to say idiosyncratic, let alone cranky books by the Fowler brothers, F.W. (Francis George) and H.W. (Henry George), The King’s English (1906): “No one will know what spirit of the staircase is who is not already familiar with esprit d’escalier.” The French phrase was coined by the French philosopher and encyclopedist Denis Diderot in his Paradoxe sur le comédien (1773–77), a dramatic essay or dialogue between two actors: “l’homme sensible, comme moi, tout entier à ce qu’on lui objecte, perd la tête et ne se retrouve qu’au bas de l’escalier” (a sensitive man like me, entirely overcome by the objection made against him, loses his head and can only recover his wits at the bottom of the staircase), that is, after he has left the gathering.

how is esprit de l'escalier used?

Your esprit de l’escalier doesn’t kick in until you’re well out the door.

Lauren Collins, "Sally Rooney Gets in Your Head," The New Yorker, December 31, 2018

Later, l’esprit de l’escalier provided Mercia with: Glad you’re in agreement/I haven’t yet spoken/Is that a greeting/Yes indeed—but at the time, affronted, she grabbed at a couple of garments and announced, I’ll try these.

Zoë Wicomb, October, 2014
Monday, June 10, 2019

nebulated

[ neb-yuh-ley-tid ]

adjective

having dim or indistinct markings, as a bird or other animal.

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What is the origin of nebulated?

The adjective nebulated comes from Late Latin nebulātus, past participle of nebulāre “to cloud, obscure,” a derivative of the noun nebula “mist, cloud.” Nebula is the Latin result of the Proto-Indo-European root nebh– (with many variants) “cloud.” The neuter noun nebhos yields Greek néphos “cloud, clouds,” Slavic (Polish) niebo “sky, heaven,” Hittite nebis “heaven.” The root nebh– and the suffix –el yield Middle Welsh nyfel “cloud” and Greek nephélē “cloud, clouds,” corresponding to Latin nebula. The Germanic form of the root, neb-, and the suffix –l– form German Nebel “fog, mist” and Old Norse niflheim “the world of darkness,” ruled over by the goddess Hel. Nebulated entered English in the late 15th century.

how is nebulated used?

Immature birds are smaller, with central tail-feathers not, or scarcely, projecting, and have chiefly nebulated plumage below, with admixture of pale cinnamon, especially on under tail-coverts …

William Leon Dawson, The Birds of California,  Vol. 3, 1923

I fear that the intellectual gloom of the age is too great and nebulated by prejudice to duly appreciate your sentiments and devotion.

Henry Hatch, letter to the editor, The Republican, Vol. 1, No. 8, October 15, 1819
Sunday, June 09, 2019

Delphic

[ del-fik ]

adjective

oracular; obscure; ambiguous: She was known for her Delphic pronouncements.

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What is the origin of Delphic?

English Delphic comes via Latin Delphicus from the Greek adjective Delphikós, a derivative of the plural noun Delphoí, the name of the inhabitants of Delphi and of the historic city itself. The many dialect forms of the name, especially Aeolic Bélphoi, point to a form gwelphoi with an original labiovelar (a sound combining a velar, such as k or g, and a bilabial, such as w), as in Latin quis, quid “who, what” and English quick and Gwendolyn. Gwelphoi is a Greek derivative of the Proto-Indo-European root gwelbh– “womb” (the city was so named from its shape). Gwelbh– is also the source of the Greek noun adelpheós (Attic adelphós) “brother,” whose first letter a– is a much-reduced form of sem– “one,” related to Greek homós “same” and English “same.” Adelph(e)ós therefore means “born of the same womb.” Delphic entered English at the end of the 16th century.

how is Delphic used?

The poems of his mature career were often Delphic, haunted, and bleak.

Dan Chiasson, "The Final Prophecy of W. S. Merwin," The New Yorker, March 17, 2019

… he would certainly make a few Delphic pronouncements that next to nobody would understand, such as: “You can get many kinds of balance toward any seemingly grinding postulate of life.”

Newsweek, "About Jack," December 15, 2002

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