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

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