Word of the Day

Sunday, July 28, 2019


[ fuhl-gyer-uhnt ]


flashing like lightning.

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What is the origin of fulgurant?

Fulgurant comes straight from Latin fulgurant-, the inflectional stem of fulgurāns, the present participle of the verb fulgurāre, originally an impersonal and intransitive verb meaning “it lightens,” then becoming personal and applied to Jupiter or the sky, and finally being applied generally (such as to orators) and meaning “to shine, glitter.” There are many Latin words for lightning, e.g., the noun fulmen (from an unrecorded fulgmen), which has its own derivative verb fulmināre (like fulgurāre, originally an impersonal and intransitive verb), whose past participle fulminātus is the source of the English verb fulminate. And its present participle fulmināns (inflectional stem fulminant-) is the source of the uncommon adjective fulminant, which has largely been replaced by fulminating. Fulgurant entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is fulgurant used?

To the left the draw-bridge slowly raised its broken span, the soft edges illumined by fulgurant lights of red and green.

Henry Miller, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, 1945

The comedy has to arise from the daily disparities in which the playwright made her nest, from the way an irreverent mutter or a fulgurant non sequitur rends the conventional fabric of existence with a lightninglike tear.

John Simon, "Pathetic and Peripatetic," New York, August 16, 1993
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Saturday, July 27, 2019


[ het-uh-rog-ruh-fee ]


the use of the same letter or combination of letters to represent different sounds, as, in English, the use of s in sit and easy.

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What is the origin of heterography?

Orthodoxy “correct belief” is to heterodoxy as orthography “correct writing” is to heterography. The combining form hetero– comes from the Greek adjective héteros “one of two, the other, different.” (Even in ancient authors, words prefixed with hetero– were ambiguous: heterodoxía could mean “difference of opinion” and “error in opinion.”) Heterography originally meant “misspelling, incorrect spelling, bad spelling” (like awsome, kat, miniscule), then “irregular or inconsistent spelling,” which is usual in English: consider the value of c in call and cell, or of –ough in bough, cough, rough, though, or through. Heterography entered English in the late 18th century.

how is heterography used?

… the whole world lies in heresy or schism on the subject of orthography. All climates alike groan under heterography.

Thomas De Quincey, "Orthographic Mutineers," Tait's Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. 14, March 1847

Of course everybody recollects the great phonetic mania of some years ago,—and how Mr. Pitman and his followers denounced English spelling as heterography, and organized an orthography of their own …

"Visible Speech," Littell's Living Age, Vol. 83, October 15, 1864
Friday, July 26, 2019


[ trip-ing ]


proceeding with a light, easy movement or rhythm.

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What is the origin of tripping?

The adjective tripping “light and quick, nimble” and, by extension, “proceeding with a light, easy movement or rhythm” is a derivative of the verb trip. The verb comes via Old French treper, triper, tripper “to leap, dance, trample, hit with the feet,” from Low German, and is akin to Middle Dutch trippen “to hop, skip.” Tripping entered English in the 16th century.

how is tripping used?

The one before us has a light, tripping melody in 3/8 rhythm, the treatment of which is remarkably fanciful and delicate throughout.

The Musical Times, review of Wayside Sketches, July 1, 1872

To have the ability to seize upon some little incident of experience and by the exquisite nicety and humor of a few pithy and striking phrases elevate it to the dignity of easy and tripping conversation, that is a feat to which provincial self-complacency can never attain.

The Outlook, "The Spectator," Vol. 86, No. 16, August 17, 1907
Thursday, July 25, 2019


[ sven-gah-lee, sfen- ]


a person who completely dominates another, usually with selfish or sinister motives.

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What is the origin of Svengali?

Two terms survive from George du Maurier’s novel Trilby (1894). The first is Svengali, the evil musician who hypnotizes, controls, and exploits Trilby O’Ferrall, a young Irish girl, and makes her a great singer who is unable to perform without his help. In the stage version of the novel, the actress who played Trilby wore a sort of soft felt hat with an indented crown, now called a trilby or trilby hat. The trilby is now commonly mistaken for a different hat, the fedora. Svengali in its extended sense of “a person who completely dominates another, usually with selfish or sinister motives” is recorded by the early 1900s.

how is Svengali used?

Lou Pearlman, who died on Friday in federal prison in Miami, at the age of sixty-two, was arguably the great pop Svengali of our time.

John Seabrook, "We Live in the Pop-Culture World That Lou Pearlman Created," The New Yorker, August 22, 2016

Though he comes across in his own writings as witty and self-aware, the picture that emerges decades later is of a moody, manipulative Svengali, blinded by his ego to what was really happening on the raft.

A. O. Scott, "'The Raft' Review: A Crew of 10 Set Adrift With a Moody Svengali," New York Times, June 6, 2019
Wednesday, July 24, 2019

ben trovato

[ ben truh-vah-toh ]


appropriate and characteristic even if untrue; happily invented or discovered.

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What is the origin of ben trovato?

Ben trovato, an Italian phrase meaning “well found,” comes from the sentence Se non è vero, è molto ben trovato “If it isn’t true, it is very well found, happily invented.” The saying seems to have been common in Italy in the 16th century but is especially associated with the pantheistic philosopher (and therefore heretic) and poet Giordano Bruno (1548–1600). Ben trovato entered English in the late 18th century.

how is ben trovato used?

There is a story that Nolan met Burr once on one of our vessels, when a party of Americans came on board in the Mediterranean. But this I believe to be a lie; or rather, it is a myth, ben trovato, involving a tremendous blowing-up with which he sunk Burr …

Edward Everett Hale, "The Man Without a Country," The Atlantic Monthly, December 1863

There is, when we are willing to be deceived, but small difference between the “vero” and the ben trovato

"The Sketcher, No. X," Blackwoods' Edinburgh Magazine, February 1835
Tuesday, July 23, 2019


[ uh-byoo-sij ]


improper use of words; unidiomatic or ungrammatical language.

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What is the origin of abusage?

The noun abusage, a derivative of the verb abuse, has been in English since the mid-16th century, and originally the noun had many of the original senses of the verb: “misuse, ill-use, abuse,” and the still stronger sense “corrupt practices, immoral behavior.” New Zealand-born British lexicographer Eric Partridge (1894–1979) is credited for giving abusage its current meaning “improper use of language” in his Usage and Abusage: A Guide to Good English (1942).

how is abusage used?

As a presidential campaign approaches, great rhetorical and metaphoric strain is placed on the language. … Lest this abusage corrupt the young, this department instituted (I started) the scrupulously bipartisan 1988 Hyperbolic and Metaphoric Watch.

William Safire, "The '88 Rhetorical Watch," New York Times, March 23, 1986

Many New Yorkers and New Jerseyites persisted in referring to the agency as the “Port of Authority,” and this abusage long served as a kind of shibboleth for identifying natives of the area.

Henry Petroski, The Road Taken, 2016
Monday, July 22, 2019


[ kwey, kwah ]


as; as being; in the character or capacity of: The work of art qua art can be judged by aesthetic criteria only.

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What is the origin of qua?

The English adverb qua “in the capacity of, as being” comes from the Latin interrogative, relative, and indefinite adverb quā, one of whose many meanings is “in the manner in which, as.” In form, quā is the ablative singular feminine of the interrogative and indefinite pronoun and adjective quī, quae (qua), quod, which all but guarantees many syntactic uses. Qua entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is qua used?

There is a particular difficulty in discerning whether this book is good, not because the text qua text is somehow elusive or inscrutable but because one struggles to read it without sweeping for psychological clues.

Katy Waldman, "The Idealized, Introverted Wives of Mackenzie Bezos's Fiction," The New Yorker, January 23, 2019

… the privilege that attaches to a client’s confidences to his lawyer is limited to that which is revealed to him in secrecy, only qua lawyer, as distinguished from qua agent or qua negotiator or qua friend.

Copal Mintz, "Accountancy and Law: Should Dual Practice Be Proscribed?" ABA Journal, March 1967

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