Word of the Day

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

ghoulish

[ goo-lish ]

adjective

strangely diabolical or cruel; monstrous: a ghoulish and questionable sense of humor.

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What is the origin of ghoulish?

Ghoulish literally means “of, relating to, or like a ghoul.” If you know your folklore (and word origins), you won’t be surprised to learn why ghoulish evolved to mean “strangely diabolical or cruel; monstrous.” Recorded in the late 1700s, English ghoul is borrowed from the Arabic ghūl (based on a verb meaning “to seize”), a desert-dwelling demon in Arabic legend that robbed graves and preyed on human corpses. A ghūl was also believed to be able to change its shape—except for its telltale feet, which always took the form of donkey’s hooves. A “monstrous” creature, indeed. Ghoulish entered English in the 1800s.

how is ghoulish used?

… her dark humor and ghoulish sensibility are not for everyone.

Heller McAlpin, "'Rest And Relaxation' Is As Sharp As Its Heroine Is Bleary," NPR, July 10, 2018

… much of the story’s ghoulish humor derives from his habit of visualizing and communicating with murder victims, their ghosts intervening to help him solve each crime in trial-and-error fashion.

Justin Chang, "Cannes Film Review: 'Blind Detective'," Variety, May 20, 2013

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

requiescat

[ rek-wee-es-kaht, -kat ]

noun

a wish or prayer for the repose of the dead.

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What is the origin of requiescat?

Requiescat, as any high school Latin student can tell you, is the third person singular present subjunctive active of the Latin verb requiēscere “to rest, be at rest, rest in death” and means “May he/she/it rest.” If the kid wants to show off, they may volunteer that requiescat is an optative subjunctive, that is, a subjunctive that expresses a wish, as opposed to a hortatory subjunctive, a subjunctive that exhorts, as in requiēscāmus “Let’s take a rest,” or a jussive subjunctive, which expresses a command, as in requiescant “Let them rest!” (Requiēscant can also be an optative subjunctive, “May they rest.”) Requiescat usually appears in the phrase Requiescat In Pace (abbreviated R.I.P.) “May he/she/it rest in peace,” seen on tombstones. Requiescat entered English in the second half of the 1700s.

how is requiescat used?

In delivering its eulogy, perhaps I can beg a requiescat from its enemies as well.

Francesco De Sanctis, "The Ideal," From Kant to Croce: Modern Philosophy in Italy, 1800–1950, translated by Brian Copenhaver and Rebecca Copenhaver, 2012

That emotion. I bury it here by the sea … And a heart’s requiescat I write on that grave.

Robert Bulwer-Lytton, Lucile, 1860
Monday, October 28, 2019

macabre

[ muh-kah-bruh, -kahb, -kah-ber ]

adjective

gruesome and horrifying; ghastly; horrible.

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What is the origin of macabre?

The history of the adjective macabre is confusing. The word is Middle French and first occurs (in French) in 1376, Je fis de Macabré la dance “I made the Dance of Death.” In late Middle English Macabrees daunce meant “Dance of Death.” French Macabré may be an alteration of Macabé “Maccabaeus”; if so, Macabré la dance may be the same as the medieval ritual or procession chorēa Machabaeōrum “dance of the Maccabees,” honoring the martyrdom of Judas Maccabaeus and his brothers (II Maccabees). Macabre entered English in the 15th century.

how is macabre used?

Their macabre task is swabbing dead animals they find by the side of the road to get hold of their microbiomes—the communities of microorganisms that inhabit these mammals.

Jamie Durrani, "Roadkill Animals Are Surprising Sources of Drug Discovery," Scientific American, January 4, 2017

Vincent (1982) combines Burton’s burgeoning visual aesthetic with his lifelong love of the macabre and interest in stop-motion animation.

Aja Romano, "Tim Burton has built his career around an iconic visual aesthetic. Here's how it evolved." Vox, April 17, 2019
Sunday, October 27, 2019

horripilation

[ haw-rip-uh-ley-shuhn, ho- ]

noun

a bristling of the hair on the skin from cold, fear, etc.; goose bumps.

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What is the origin of horripilation?

Horripilation “bristling of the hair on the skin from cold or fear,” is a three-dollar word for goose bumps. Horripilation comes from the Late Latin noun horripilātiō (inflectional stem horripilation-), a derivative of the verb horripilāre “to become bristly or hairy.” Horripilātiō first appears in the Vulgate, the Latin version of the Bible, prepared chiefly by Saint Jerome at the end of the 4th century a.d. Horripilation entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is horripilation used?

… I have often wandered round other reputedly haunted places, especially in the vicinity of mills and local stream meets and in many have experienced that same horripilation of the flesh ….

John Hillaby, "Witchcraft and all that," New Scientist, May 8, 1975

I can’t have been the only person who spent the evening in a pretty much constant state of horripilation.

Alexis Soloski, "Review: In 'All Is Calm,' Thrilling Song in the Trenches," New York Times, November 25, 2018
Saturday, October 26, 2019

chthonian

[ thoh-nee-uhn ]

adjective

Classical Mythology.

of or relating to the deities, spirits, and other beings dwelling under the earth.

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What is the origin of chthonian?

Chthonian ultimately derives from the Greek adjective chthónios “of the earth, the underground, the underworld.” Chthónios is a derivative of the noun chthṓn, deriving from a very, very old Proto-Indo-European word meaning “earth” and surviving in most of the “daughter” languages. The original Proto-Indo-European root was dheghm, dhghem-, dhghom-, (dh)ghm– (with various suffixes). From dheghm– Hittite derives tekan (stem tagn-) “earth,” Tocharian A (spoken in central Asia and now part of Xin Jiang) tkaṃ, Sanskrit kṣam-, and Avestan zəm-. From dh(e)ghom Greek has chthṓn, from earlier chthom (Greek also reversed the order of the consonant cluster from thch– to chth-). The suffixed form (dh)ghom-os yields Latin humus (from homos) “earth,” the adjective humilis “low to the ground” (English humble), and the noun humilitās (stem humilitāt-) “lowness of height or position, low condition (English humility). The suffixed form dhgh(e)mōn “one who is on the earth, human being” becomes hemō (stem hemōn-) in Old Latin, homō (stem homin-) in Latin. Latin also derives, somewhat obscurely, from homin– the adjective humānus “of man, human, humane, gentle” (English human and humane). (Hebrew follows a similar semantic development with ādhām “man, mankind, human being, Adam” and ădhāmāh “earth, soil, ground.”) In Germanic (dh)ghm-ōn yields guma “human being, man” in Gothic and Old English. Old English has the noun brȳdguma “young man about to be married or recently married; bridegroom, husband,” which becomes brīdgome in Middle English, and bridegroom in English. The –groom in bridegroom arose in the 16th century due to the influence of groom “boy, young man.” Chthonian entered English in the mid-19th century.

how is chthonian used?

The streets throng with crowds of dapper skeletons and chthonian floats.

Christopher Orr, "Spectre: Bond Doesn't Need an Origin Story," The Atlantic, November 6, 2015

This chthonian belief—that the world’s underbelly rumbles with life—guides all the so-called Earth-based faiths.

Michael Tortorello, "If a Druid Rings the Doorbell," New York Times, October 30, 2013
Friday, October 25, 2019

psychotronic

[ sahy-kuh-tron-ik ]

adjective

of or relating to a genre of usually low-budget movies that includes horror, fantasy, science-fiction, and underground films.

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What is the origin of psychotronic?

Psychotronic is a word to make you smile. It is composed of the perfectly ordinary combining form psycho-, from the Greek noun psȳchḗ “breath, spirit, soul, mind” and the suffix –tronic, extracted from (elec)tronic. Psychotronic originally (1968) meant “pertaining to psychotronics,” a pseudoscience devoted to the interaction of matter, energy, and human consciousness, especially in parapsychological phenomena such as telepathy, clairvoyance, and telekinesis (think the movie The Men Who Stare at Goats.) In the early 1980s another meaning arose, “relating to a genre of usually low-budget movies that includes horror, fantasy, and science-fiction.”

how is psychotronic used?

American International Pictures was the most important company in the world of Psychotronic movies.

Michael J. Weldon, The Psychotronic Video Guide, 1996

Vesley asks viewers to accept that this is a world where ghosts, werewolves, and witches are real—no big deal, a baseline ask for any psychotronic film ….

Katie Rife, "It's big trouble for Lil Chano in the wacky fast-food horror comedy Slice," AV Club, September 11, 2018
Thursday, October 24, 2019

numinous

[ noo-muh-nuhs, nyoo- ]

adjective

spiritual or supernatural.

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What is the origin of numinous?

The Latin source for numinous is the noun numen (inflectional stem nūmin-), derived from the verb –nuere “to nod the head as a signal of assent or command.” The verb –nuere occurs only in compounds such as adnuere (annuere) “to beckon, nod, assent to,” formed from the preverb ad-, an-, meaning “to,” plus –nuere. The phrase annuit coeptis, “He (God) has favored our undertakings,” is the motto on the reverse of the Great Seal of the U.S. and is also printed on the reverse of a one-dollar bill. Annuit coeptis is an adaptation of a line from from Vergil’s Aeneid. The Latin neuter noun suffix -men forms concrete nouns from verbs. The meanings of numen range from “a nod of the head, inclination, bias,” to “divine or supernatural power (which also possesses poets and prophets, and offers protection),” to “the expressed will of a god, divinity.” Numinous entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is numinous used?

This confrontation becomes more dramatic if the numinous power takes a personified form—of a spirit, ghost, devil, revenant, nightmare, witch or some other human or non-human entity.

Ülo Valk and Daniel Sävborg, "Place-Lore, Liminal Storyworld and Ontology of the Supernatural," Storied and Supernatural, 2018

The Periodic Table, by contrast, was a Jacob’s ladder, a numinous spiral, going up to, coming down from a Pythagorean heaven.

Oliver Sacks, "Brilliant Light," The New Yorker, December 20, 1999

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