Word of the Day

Monday, December 23, 2019

gemütlich

[ guh-moot-lik, -moot-; German guh-myt-likh ]

adjective

comfortable and pleasant; cozy.

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What is the origin of gemütlich?

The adjective gemütlich “comfortable and pleasant; cozy” is borrowed directly from German gemütlich “homey, casual, social.” Gemütlich is composed of Gemüt “mind, mentality” and –lich, which is equivalent to English’s adverb-forming suffix –ly. The German noun Gemüt—which might be more properly translated as “the total composition of the human psyche and spirit”—is formed from ge-, a collective noun-forming prefix, and Mut “courage,” related to English mood. Gemütlich entered English in the mid-1800s.

how is gemütlich used?

[S]he … looks after their five-room apartment, with its gemütlich mélange of plump hassocks and squashy chairs and cream-colored lace window curtains.

Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, 1965

Nina exclaimed at the old walnut trimmings, gurgled over the crowded decorations in the Victorian manner, and settled down, announcing that it was so gemütlich, she would love a cup of tea.

Paul Horgan, The Fault of Angels, 1933
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Sunday, December 22, 2019

kvell

[ kvel ]

verb (used without object)

Slang.

to be extraordinarily pleased; especially, to be bursting with pride, as over one's family.

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What is the origin of kvell?

We can’t help but kvell about Yiddish words borrowed into English. Kvell “to be extraordinarily pleased, burst with pride” comes from Yiddish kveln “be delighted,” related to Middle High German and German quellen “well up, gush.” The informal verb kvell is often used to convey pride and pleasure, especially about the accomplishments of one’s own family. For example: “‘My granddaughter graduated at the top of her medical school class,’ he kvelled.” For the opposite of kvell, one might consider another borrowing from Yiddish: kvetch “to complain, especially chronically,” from the Yiddish verb kvetshn, which literally means “to squeeze, pinch.” Kvell entered English in the mid-1900s.

how is kvell used?

Sidney, more than any of the others, has kept his parents reliably supplied with … reasons to kvell: full scholarships, graduation cum laude, smart grandsons, Junior Chamber of Commerce awards.

Jane Howard, Families, 1978

Omega threw a rollicking cocktail party starring Buzz Aldrin and other astronauts, to kvell over the fortieth birthday of the first lunar landing—of both man and wristwatch.

Patricia Marx, "Face Value," The New Yorker, May 18, 2009
Saturday, December 21, 2019

halcyon

[ hal-see-uhn ]

adjective

calm; peaceful; tranquil: halcyon weather.

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What is the origin of halcyon?

The English adjective halcyon “calm; peaceful; tranquil” is rooted in ancient Greek—and classical mythology. Halcyon ultimately derives via Latin alcyōn from Greek alkyṓn “kingfisher.” In ancient myths, the halcyon named a bird, usually identified with the kingfisher, that was said to breed around the time of the winter solstice in a nest floating on the sea, and was believed to have the power to charm the winds and waves into calmness. Halcyon frequently occurs in the expression halcyon days, a period of calm weather in the winter, historically a stretch of fourteen days around the winter solstice connected with (the myth of) breeding kingfishers. Halcyon days evolved to mean, more broadly, “a time of peace and prosperity,” and the adjective halcyon evolved to mean, variously, “calm; rich; carefree.” Halcyon is recorded in English by the late 1300s.

how is halcyon used?

… the sun high and bright, the sky a preternatural robin’s-egg blue. The kind of halcyon day reserved for picture postcards.

Carmen K. Sisson, "After the tornadoes: Rebuilding a campus, piece by piece," Christian Science Monitor, February 13, 2008

This halcyon weather continued until the day a black storm arose.

Richard O'Mara, "The Sea," The Sewanee Review, Fall 2013
Friday, December 20, 2019

effervescent

[ ef-er-ves-uhnt ]

adjective

vivacious; merry; lively; sparkling.

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What is the origin of effervescent?

Effervescent is a buoyant adjective meaning “vivacious; merry; lively; sparkling,” as in “The choir delivered an effervescent performance of favorite Christmas carols.” Effervescent derives from Latin effervēscere “to boil (over); burst forth; seethe; rage.” Effervēscere is composed of ef-, a variant of the prefix ex– “out of,” and fervēscere “to start boiling,” from fervēre “to be hot,” ultimate source of English fervent “enthusiastic, ardent.” True to its Latin root, fervent originally meant “hot, glowing” in English, just as effervescent first meant “giving off bubbles of gas” before evolving to its variously “bubbly” metaphorical senses. Effervescent entered English in the late 1600s.

how is effervescent used?

Yet his spirits are so effervescent that, with only a candle for fuel and only raw turnips for supper, he is able to lose himself in illusions of grandeur.

Walter Fuller Taylor, The Story of American Letters, 1956

The book combines effervescent comedy and stinging critique, but its most arresting quality is the lively humanity of its characters.

"Briefly Noted: The Sellout," The New Yorker, April 13, 2015
Thursday, December 19, 2019

flâneur

[ flah-nœr ]

noun

idler; dawdler; loafer.

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What is the origin of flâneur?

Flâneur “idler; dawdler; loafer” is borrowed directly from French flâneur, an agent noun of the verb flâner “to stroll, saunter aimlessly; lounge.” The ultimate origin of French flâner is obscure. In 19th-century France, the flâneur was a figure for a type of wealthy, foppish man-about-town who leisurely wandered the boulevards of Paris and lounged at its cafés. In the early 1900s, German literary critic Walter Benjamin, inspired in great part by the writing of Charles Baudelaire, helped develop the flâneur into a symbol of the modern artist and writer, at once immersed in and alienated by the hustle and bustle of urban life. English borrowed another noun from French to describe the disposition of the flâneur: flânerie “idleness, dawdling.” Flâneur entered English in the mid-1800s.

how is flâneur used?

It was, after all, the age of the flaneur: a foppish, solvent young man who would roam the colonnades of Paris from dawn to dusk, idly though publicly observing the quotidian pathos of the working men around him.

Paul Llewellyn, "America's Walk of Shame," Spy, July/August 1997

Oscar Wilde is a flaneur, but not William Wordsworth. It happens in crowds, in great capital cities, in man-made environments.

Peter Bradshaw, "A walk on the Wilde side: 'The Flaneur'," Independent, October 9, 1994
Wednesday, December 18, 2019

deipnosophist

[ dahyp-nos-uh-fist ]

noun

a person who is an adept conversationalist at a meal.

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What is the origin of deipnosophist?

No dinner party is complete without a deipnosophist “a person who is an adept conversationalist at a meal.” This is the type of person who, at least as dictionary editors hope, regales fellow feasters with the origin of such an intriguing word as deipnosophist. Deipnosophist is based on Deipnosophistaí, the title of a literary work by Athenaeus, a Greek philosopher and rhetorician writing in Naucratis, Egypt, in the late 200s a.d. Deipnosophistaí is the plural of deipnosophistḗs, literally “an expert in the affairs of the kitchen,” and the work features a banquet where learned men discuss food and a wide range of other topics. Deipnosophistḗs is formed on Greek deîpnon “meal, dinner” and sophistḗs “expert, wise person.” Sophistḗs is the source of English sophist, which historically refers to a type of professional teacher in ancient Greece and later, a person who argues cleverly but speciously. Sophistḗs is related to Greek sophía “skill, wisdom,” source of the –sophy in philosophy. Deipnosophist is recorded in English by the 1600s.

how is deipnosophist used?

Mr. MacPherson, a self-described “deipnosophist” (a fancy word for an adept dinner conversationalist), said the hearth is a good place to start for putting guests at ease.

Rima Suqi, "Tending the Hearth," New York Times, March 18, 2009

Its author, one Upton Uxbridge Underwood (1881—1937), was a deipnosophist, clubman, and literary miscellanist with a special interest in tonsorial subjects.

Gilbert Alter-Gilbert, Commentary on Poets Ranked by Beard Weight: The Commemorative Edition, 2011
Tuesday, December 17, 2019

tintinnabulation

[ tin-ti-nab-yuh-ley-shuhn ]

noun

the ringing or sound of bells.

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What is the origin of tintinnabulation?

Tintinnabulation is a fittingly tuneful term meaning “the ringing or sound of bells.” This noun was notably sounded by Edgar Allan Poe in his 1849 poem “The Bells”: “Keeping time … / To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells / From the bells, bells, bells, bells …” English tintinnabulation is formed on Latin tintinnābulum “bell.” Tintinnābulum is composed of –bulum, a suffix that indicates agency, and tintinnāre “to ring,” a verb that apparently imitates the sound of jingling bells. And, if you can’t get rid of that ringing in your ears? You may have what medicine calls tinnitus “a ringing or similar sensation of sound in the ears.” Tinnitus is ultimately from a Latin verb related to tintinnāre: tinnīre “to ring, tinkle.” Tintinnabulation entered English in the early 1800s.

how is tintinnabulation used?

To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells / From the bells, bells, bells, bells / bells, bells, bells— / From the jingling and tinkling of the bells.

Edgar Allan Poe, "The Bells," Sartain's Union Magazine of Literature and Art, November 1849

I walked as fast as possible on one shoe toward the far-off tintinnabulation of the bells.

Jim Harrison, Dalva, 1988

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