Word of the Day

Friday, February 22, 2019

futilitarian

[ fyoo-til-i-tair-ee-uhn ]

noun

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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Thursday, February 21, 2019

tabula rasa

[ tab-yuh-luh rah-suh, -zuh, rey- ]

noun

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
Wednesday, February 20, 2019

behemoth

[ bih-hee-muhth, bee-uh- ]

noun

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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