Word of the Day

Thursday, February 11, 2021

galimatias

[ gal-uh-mey-shee-uhs, -mat-ee-uhs ]

noun

confused or unintelligible talk.

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What is the origin of galimatias?

Galimatias, “confused or unintelligible talk,” is a masculine singular noun in French. It first appears in 1580 in an essay of Montaigne’s; it first appears in English in 1653 in a translation of Rabelais. Galimatias has no reliable etymology: scholars suggest a connection with gallimaufry “a hodgepodge, a jumble,” but these are just guesses.

how is galimatias used?

“I have seen this letter in which you tell me there is so much galimatias, and I assure you that I have not found any at all. On the contrary, I find everything very plainly expressed …”

George Eliot, "Woman in France: Madame de Sablé," Westminster Review, October 1854

Such productions are called books, because there is no other name for them. As a matter of fact, idle talk and galimatias of the sort are in no wise literature.

George Brandes, Recollections of My Childhood and Youth, 1906

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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

parlous

[ pahr-luhs ]

adjective

perilous; dangerous.

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What is the origin of parlous?

Parlous and its variant perlous, meaning “dangerous,” are contractions of perilous, which dates from the end of the 13th century. Perilous comes from Old French perillus, perilous, perilleus (with many more spelling variants) “dangerous, hazardous,” from Latin perīculōsus. Parlous and perlous both entered English at about the same time, toward the end of the 14th century.

how is parlous used?

High school lay before me, vast and parlous, as middle school receded in the rearview mirror.

Phuc Tran, Sigh, Gone, 2020

I gave him two one-dollar bills. As I handed them over I noticed that one of them had seen parlous times. Its upper right-hand corner was missing, and it had been torn through in the middle, but joined again.

O. Henry, A Municipal Report, Maclean's Magazine, May 1911

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Tuesday, February 09, 2021

meritocracy

[ mer-i-tok-ruh-see ]

noun

a system in which a person's progress is based on ability and talent rather than class privilege and wealth.

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What is the origin of meritocracy?

Meritocracy, “a system in which a person’s progress is based on ability and talent rather than class privilege and wealth,” is a relatively recent word, dating from the mid-1950s; it’s a transparent combination of the noun merit and the common suffix –cracy “rule, government.” The term was coined by the British sociologist Michael Young in his satirical work The Rise of the Meritocracy (1958), which took aim at the British educational system. Much to Young’s dismay, meritocracy was adopted into widespread use without a hint of irony. In 2001, Young wrote in The Guardian: “The book was a satire meant to be a warning (which needless to say has not been heeded) against what might happen to Britain between 1958 and the imagined final revolt against the meritocracy in 2033.” 

how is meritocracy used?

If the educational system is reproducing existing class and status hierarchies—if most of the benefits are going to students who are privileged already—then either meritocracy isn’t working properly or it wasn’t the right approach in the first place.

Louis Menand, "Is Meritocracy Making Everyone Miserable?" The New Yorker, September 23, 2019

Most Silicon Valley leaders still see their industry as a true meritocracy, where employees are generously compensated, can easily switch jobs and don’t need a union to advocate for them. But a growing number of activists both inside and outside the companies don’t agree.

Gerrit De Vynck, Nitasha Tiku, and Jay Greene, "Six things to know about the latest efforts to bring unions to Big Tech," Washington Post, January 26, 2021

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