Word of the Day

Thursday, August 15, 2019

golden

[ gohl-duhn ]

adjective

indicating the fiftieth event of a series: a golden wedding anniversary.

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What is the origin of golden?

The adjective golden is obviously a compound of the noun gold and the suffix –en, which is used to form adjectives of source or material from nouns. The odd thing about golden is that it is first recorded only about 1300. Golden is a Middle English re-formation of gold and –en that replaced earlier Middle English gulden, gilden, gelden, gylden “made of or consisting of gold,” from Old English gylden, gilden “golden.”

Golden age occurs in The Works and Days of the Greek didactic poet Hesiod (c700 b.c.) and has persisted throughout Western literature. Golden mean “the perfect moderate course or position that avoids extremes” entered English in the 1540s. Golden mean was also formerly called the golden mediocrity, a literal translation of Horace’s aurea mediocritās (Odes 2.10). The golden mean as an ethical principle is usually associated with Aristotelian ethics, it being a virtue, the midpoint between two opposite extremes, as, for example, the virtue of courage being the golden mean between the two opposite vices of cowardice and foolhardiness.

The Americanism golden handcuffs “a series of raises, bonuses, etc., given at intervals or tied to length of employment in order to keep an executive from leaving the company,” dates to the mid-1960s; golden handshake “a special incentive, such as generous severance pay, given to an older employee as an inducement to elect early retirement,” dates to the late 1950s; and golden parachute “an employment contract guaranteeing an executive of a company substantial severance pay and other perquisites in the event of job loss caused by the company’s being sold or merged,” dates to the early 1980s.

how is golden used?

Museums and towns across the country geared up for their own golden anniversary celebrations, including Wapakoneta, Ohio, Armstrong’s hometown that was serving up “cinnamoon pancakes” and “buckeye on the moon sundaes.”

Marcia Dunn, "Apollo 11 Astronauts Reunite on 50th Anniversary of Moonshot," Associated Press, July 19, 2019

Kurt and Verena Kuster will be celebrating their golden wedding anniversary.

Fleur Jaeggy, Last Vanities, translated by Tim Parks, 1998
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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

plebeian

[ pli-bee-uhn ]

adjective

common, commonplace, or vulgar: a plebeian joke.

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What is the origin of plebeian?

English plebeian, adjective and noun, ultimately derives from the Latin adjective and noun plēbēius “pertaining to the common people, a commoner.” The adjective also meant “common, ordinary, everyday” and was usually disparaging. Plēbēius derives from the noun plebs (also plēbēs, stem plēb-) “the general citizenry (as opposed to the patricians).” Plebs (plēbēs) is akin to Greek plêthos “great number, multitude, the majority of people, the commons”; the Latin and Greek nouns derive from a Proto-Indo-European plēdhwo-, ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root pele-, plē– “to fill.” Plebeian entered English in the 16th century.

how is plebeian used?

It outfitted all the high-touch areas of the penthouse (like the bannister on the staircase) in an antimicrobial coating, so you don’t have to deal with such plebeian concerns as germs.

Elizabeth Segran, "This $26 million penthouse is the Goop of luxury real estate," Fast Company, July 17, 2019

The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, dons bifocals when she appears before the House of Commons, as if to advertise her sympathetic connection to the plebeian indignities of embodiment.

Katy Waldman, "Kyrsten Sinema and Statement Glasses in the Senate," The New Yorker, November 15, 2018
Tuesday, August 13, 2019

donnybrook

[ don-ee-brook ]

noun

(often initial capital letter)

an inordinately wild fight or contentious dispute; brawl; free-for-all.

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What is the origin of donnybrook?

Donnybrook is the English spelling of the English pronunciation of Irish Domhnach Broc “Church of (St.) Broc.” Domhnach also means “Sunday” in Irish and comes from Latin (Diēs) Dominica “Lord’s (Day).” Little is known of St. Broc, who founded a church in the 8th century at the location of Donnybrook Cemetery in Dublin, Ireland.

In 1204 the English King John (“famous” for the Magna Carta) granted a charter for an annual fair, at first like an American county fair, featuring livestock and produce, but later developing into a carnival, a medieval Irish Coney Island, beset with drunks and brawlers. During the 1790s campaigns against the fair began; prominent citizens purchased the royal charter, and they had the fair shut down in 1866. The Donnybrook Fair grounds are now the Donnybrook Rugby Ground.

Donnybrook entered English in the mid-19th century.

how is donnybrook used?

Now the New York hotel and restaurant workers’ local is threatening a “donnybrook” if it doesn’t get a contract at the Portman.

, "Portman's New Headache," New York, March 22, 1982

On Monday, when the panel conducted a hearing about the Mueller report, there was a partisan donnybrook.

Jeffrey Toobin, "The House Judiciary Committee Considers Antitrust Law, the Tech Giants, and the Future of News," The New Yorker, June 14, 2019

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