• Word of the day
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    Monday, April 15, 2019

    gabelle

    noun [guh-bel]
    a tax; excise.
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    What is the origin of gabelle?

    The rare noun gabelle “a tax on salt” comes from Anglo-French (the variety of French used in England after the Norman Conquest) and other Romance languages and dialects from Late and Medieval Latin gabella “tax, salt tax.” Gabella derives ultimately from Arabic qabāla “tax, duty, impost.” There is an understandable confusion in form and meaning between gabelle "a tax on salt," and gavel “feudal rent, tribute to a superior.” Gavel comes from Old English gafol, a noun that dates from about 725, occurs only in Old English, and derives from the same Germanic root as the verb giveGabelle entered English in the 15th century.

    How is gabelle used?

    In 1355, the successor of Philip of Valois, John II of France, imposed a gabelle on salt, and again doubled the tax, so that it then rose to eight deniers upon the pound. Henry Morley, Palissy the Potter: The Life of Bernard Palissy, of Saintes, 1853

    They paid a gabelle in order to wear a forbidden ornament and did their best to interfere with the enforcement of the law. Susan Mosher Stuard, Gilding the Market, 2006

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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, April 14, 2019

    conlang

    noun [kon-lang]
    an artificially constructed language used by a group of speakers, as opposed to one that has naturally evolved: conlangs such as Esperanto and Klingon.
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    What is the origin of conlang?

    Conlang, a blend of con(structed) and lang(uage), dates only from around 1991, but the idea of an artificially constructed international auxiliary language has been around since at least the second half of the 19th century. The most famous of these 19th-century conlangs is Esperanto (invented in 1887); other such languages include Volapük (invented about 1879). Twentieth-century conlangs include Ido, derived from Esperanto and developed in 1907; Interlingua (developed between 1924 and 1951); and the half dozen or so languages that J.R.R. Tolkien invented for his trilogy Lord of the Rings. Speakers of conlangs range from those who would like to see them in wide use, e.g., Esperanto, to the aficionados of sci-fi conventions, who delight in the extravagances of, say, Klingon.

    How is conlang used?

    A good conlang takes time to develop, and a conlanger who works on their own has all the time in the world. David J. Peterson, The Art of Language Invention, 2015

    ... I want figurative language. I’ve been pushing for this in Klingon for 20 years. Because if you really are driving your conlang, then you should be able to use metaphors in that language and be understood. Lawrence M. Schoen, "How the Klingon and Dothraki Languages Conquered Hollywood," Wired, October 4, 2014, from Geek's Guide to the Galaxy, Episode 119, September 30, 2014

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, April 13, 2019

    tootle

    verb [toot-l]
    to move or proceed in a leisurely way.
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    What is the origin of tootle?

    Tootle, an English frequentative verb from the verb toot, means “to keep tooting.” Frequentative in grammar and linguistics means “pertaining to a verb that expresses repetition of an action.” In the Slavic languages, e.g., Polish and Russian, frequentative verbs are very common, very complex, and very vexing for the learner. Latin has cantāre “to keep singing,” the source of chant, a frequentative of canere, the “plain” verb meaning “to sing”; and visitāre “to keep seeing, call upon, visit,” a frequentative of vidēre “to see.” Frequentative verbs are no longer productive in English, which uses only -er and -le as frequentative suffixes, as in patter from pat, putter from putt, crackle from crack, and tootle from toot. Tootle entered English in the 19th century.

    How is tootle used?

    Dash responded with the message “Yay!” and a winsome shimmy, then tootled off at one and a half miles an hour—maybe in search of someone’s job. Patricia Marx, "Learning to Love Robots," The New Yorker, November 26, 2018

    Behind them, the band Kiss tootled down the street on a black float, in its trademark makeup. Sarah Maslin Nir, "At Macy's Parade, Band, Balloons and, This Thanksgiving, Protesters," New York Times, November 27, 2014

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  • Word of the day
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    Friday, April 12, 2019

    unicorn

    noun [yoo-ni-kawrn]
    a person or thing that is rare and highly valued, or is a hypothetical ideal.
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    What is the origin of unicorn?

    Unicorn comes from Old French unicorne, from the Latin adjective ūnicornis “one-horned,” which is used as a noun possibly referring to the rhinoceros in the Vulgate, the Latin version of the Bible as edited or translated by St. Jerome (c347–420). Ūnicornis is a loan translation from the Greek noun and adjective monókerōs “single-horned” (referring to a wild ox or a unicorn), a word that occurs in the book of Psalms in the Septuagint (the ancient Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures). Ūnicornis is a compound of ūni-, the stem of ūnus “one,” and cornū “horn” and the adjective suffix -is. Unicorn entered English in the 13th century.

    How is unicorn used?

    Are such politically star-crossed lovers as Mary Matalin and James Carville a relationship unicorn? Jen Doll, "The Trouble with Interpolitical Dating Is Just the Trouble with Dating," The Atlantic (Wire), October 31, 2012

    Big N.B.A. trades are always followed by a scramble to label players and teams as winners and losers, but every so often a unicorn of a deal comes together, and everyone involved seems to benefit. Benjamin Hoffman, "In the Carmelo Anthony Trade, Everyone Wins," New York Times, July 19, 2018

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  • Word of the day
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    Thursday, April 11, 2019

    alacrity

    noun [uh-lak-ri-tee]
    cheerful readiness, promptness, or willingness: We accepted the invitation with alacrity.
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    What is the origin of alacrity?

    Alacrity comes from Middle French alacrite from Latin alacritāt-, the stem of alacritās “liveliness, zeal, enthusiasm.” Alacritās is a derivative noun of the adjective alacer “nimble, brisk, enthusiastic, keen.” Latin alacer develops into Italian allegro and Spanish alegre “cheerful, happy.” Alacrity entered English in the 15th century.

    How is alacrity used?

    Mrs Tulliver was an amiable fish of this kind, and, after running her head against the same resisting medium for fourteen years, would go at it again to-day with undulled alacrity. George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, 1860

    The president has grumbled for months about what he views as Nielsen’s lackluster performance on immigration enforcement and is believed to be looking for a replacement who will implement his policy ideas with more alacrity. Nick Miroff, Josh Dawsey, and Philip Rucker, "Trump is preparing to remove Kirstjen Nielsen as Homeland Security secretary, aides say," Washington Post, November 12, 2018

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  • Word of the day
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    Wednesday, April 10, 2019

    flimflam

    verb [flim-flam]
    to trick, deceive, swindle, or cheat: A fortuneteller flimflammed her out of her savings.
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    What is the origin of flimflam?

    Flimflam “to trick, deceive, swindle,” shows the same common vowel alteration in a reduplicated word as in mish-mash or pitter-patter. Flimflam may possibly be based on a Scandinavian word, e.g., Old Norse flim “a lampoon, mockery.” Flimflam entered English in the 16th century as a noun meaning “idle talk, nonsense; a cheap deception.” The verb sense “to cheat, swindle,” originally an Americanism, arose in the late 19th century.

    How is flimflam used?

    Slamming my fist on my writing desk I cursed the day a year before that I'd allowed by friend Eddy Dorobek to flimflam me into buying a used laptop from him and giving up my dead father's rickety old Underwood portable. Dan Fante,  86'd, 2009

    Col. Leonard was there and he knows how they tried to flimflam us. Charlie Mann, "Evening Session: January 21, 1913," Annual Report of the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture, 1913

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, April 09, 2019

    polysemy

    noun [pol-ee-see-mee, puh-lis-uh-mee]
    a condition in which a single word, phrase, or concept has more than one meaning or connotation.
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    What is the origin of polysemy?

    Fast can mean "moving quickly" or "firmly fixed." The word shows polysemy, which ultimately derives from Greek polýsēmos "having many meanings." Polýsēmos joins polýs "many, much," and sêma "sign, mark, token." Polýs yields the combining form poly-, seen in many English words, such as polygon "many angles" or polytheism "many gods." Sêma produces another term used, like polysemy, in linguistics: semantics "the study of meaning." In linguistics, polysemy and semantics were modeled on French polysémie and sémantique. These words were formed in the late 19th century by French linguist Michel Bréal (1832–1915)—a man perhaps better remembered for inspiring the modern Olympic marathon in 1896. Polysemy entered English in the 1920s.

    How is polysemy used?

    Twenty-three alternate meanings for it are listed in English alone—it is, the editors say, a model of "polysemy," packing multiple meanings into a single sign ... . Adam Gopnik, "Word Magic," The New Yorker, May 26, 2014

    This rich polysemy of language is the basis for William Empson's first type of poetic ambiguity: "when a detail is effective in several ways at once." C. Namwali Serpell, Seven Modes of Uncertainty, 2014

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