• Word of the day
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    Friday, February 22, 2019

    futilitarian

    noun [fyoo-til-i-tair-ee-uhn]
    a person who believes that human hopes are vain, and human strivings unjustified.
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    What is the origin of futilitarian?

    Futilitarian is a humorous blend of futile and utilitarian. The word was coined in scorn for the utilitarian philosophy for the jurist and philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and the philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill (1806-73). Futilitarian entered English in the 19th century.

    How is futilitarian used?

    A lot of artists in America tend to be self-deprecating futilitarians, because we’ve grown up in a culture in which art doesn’t matter except, occasionally, as a high-end investment. Tim Kreider, "When Art Is Dangerous (or Not)," New York Times, January 10, 2015

    For it is significant that much of the work of Bierce seems to be that of what he would have called a futilitarian, that he seldom seems able to find a suitable field for his satire, a foeman worthy of such perfect steel as he brings ot he encounter ... Bertha Clark Pope, "Introduction" to The Letters of Ambrose Bierce, 1922

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  • Word of the day
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    Thursday, February 21, 2019

    tabula rasa

    noun [tab-yuh-luh rah-suh, -zuh, rey-]
    a mind not yet affected by experiences, impressions, etc.
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    What is the origin of tabula rasa?

    In Latin tabula rasa means “erased tablet, a tablet rubbed clean (of writing).” Tabula has many meanings: “flat board, plank, table, notice board, notice, game board, public document, deed, will.” For schoolchildren the schoolmaster’s command Manum dē tabulā "Hand(s) off the tablet!" meant “Pencils down!” Rasa is the past participle of radere “to scrape, scratch, shave, clip.” The inside surfaces of a folded wooden tablet were raised along the edges and filled with wax for writing. The wax could be erased by smoothing with the blunt end of a stylus (more correctly stilus) or by mild heat. The Latin phrase is a translation of Greek pinakìs ágraphos “tablet with nothing written on it, blank tablet,” from Aristotle’s De Anima (Greek Perì Psychês, “On the Soul): “What it [the mind] thinks must be in it just as characters may be said to be on a writing tablet (pinakìs) on which nothing is yet actually written (ágraphos).” Tabula rasa entered English in the 16th century.

    How is tabula rasa used?

    The notion that the brain is a tabula rasa that can be easily transformed by digital technology is, as yet, the stuff of science fiction. Richard A. Friedman, "The Big Myth About Teenage Anxiety," New York Times, September 7, 2018

    The alarm wakes him, and he opens his eyes to a new day. He feels rested, reset, a tabula rasa. Lisa Genova, Inside the O'Briens, 2015

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  • Word of the day
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    Wednesday, February 20, 2019

    behemoth

    noun [bih-hee-muhth, bee-uh-]
    any creature or thing of monstrous size or power: The army's new tank is a behemoth. The cartel is a behemoth that small business owners fear.
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    What is the origin of behemoth?

    The traditional etymology of the Hebrew noun behemoth is that it is an augmentative or intensive plural of bəhēmāh “beast,” a derivative of the West Semitic root bhm “to be dumb.” It is also possible that Hebrew bəhēmāh is an adaptation to Hebrew phonology of Egyptian p-ehe-mau “hippopotamus” (literally “ox of the water”). Behemoth entered English in the 14th century.

    How is behemoth used?

    ... in a play for the ideological high ground, Mr. de Blasio has cast Uber as a corporate behemoth with a singular goal. Matt Flegenheimer, "City Hall, in a Counterattack, Casts Uber as a Corporate Behemoth," New York Times, July 20, 2015

    Power - this one word sums up the rise in concerns on the left about tech behemoth Facebook. Tim Mak, "Congress May Soon Impose New Regulations on Facebook," All Things Considered, NPR, January 15, 2019

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, February 19, 2019

    mare

    noun [mahr-ey, mair-ee]
    Astronomy. any of the several large, dark plains on the moon and Mars: Galileo believed that the lunar features were seas when he first saw them through a telescope.
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    What is the origin of mare?

    Latin mare “sea” is obviously but irregularly derived from Proto-Indo-European mori- “body of water, lake.” The Latin word “ought” to be more (the a is unexplained). The Proto-Indo-European mori- becomes Old Church Slavonic morje “sea, ocean,” Lithuanian marė “lagoon, bay,” and, in the Germanic languages, English mere (i.e., a lake or a pond), German Meer “sea, ocean,” Gothic marei “sea.” Latin mare used to describe the lunar feature first appears in Michael van Langren’s map of the moon (1645). Mare first entered English in the 19th century.

    How is mare used?

    The wheels were large and open, and absorbed the unevenness of the mare; Malenfant felt as if he were riding across the Moon in a soap bubble. Stephen Baxter, Manifold: Space, 2000

    The craft will attempt to retrieve up to 2 kilograms of soil and rock from the Oceanus Procellarum, a vast lunar mare on the near side that has yet to be visited by any spacecraft. Dennis Normile, "Chinese spacecraft successfully lands on moon's far saide and sends pictures back home," Science, January 3, 2019

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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, February 18, 2019

    fourscore

    adjective [fawr-skawr, fohr-skohr]
    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
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    Sunday, February 17, 2019

    milieu

    noun [mil-yoo, meel-]
    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

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, February 16, 2019

    snowbird

    noun [snoh-burd]
    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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