• Word of the day
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    Thursday, August 15, 2019

    golden

    adjective [gohl-duhn]
    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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  • Word of the day
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    Wednesday, August 14, 2019

    plebeian

    adjective [pli-bee-uhn]
    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

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, August 13, 2019

    donnybrook

    noun [don-ee-brook] (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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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, August 12, 2019

    subitize

    verb (used without object) [soo-bi-tahyz] Psychology.
    to make an immediate and accurate reckoning of the number of items in a group or sample without needing to pause and actually count them.
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    What is the origin of subitize?

    Subitize is a useful word in psychology regardless of the awkwardness of its formation. The first part of the word, subit-, comes from the Late Latin verb subitāre “to come suddenly and unexpectedly upon” (a derivative of the adjective subitus “sudden, abrupt”). The familiar, completely naturalized suffix -ize ("to render, make; convert into; subject to; etc.") comes via Late Latin -izāre from Greek -ízein.

    How is subitize used?

    Below five, we’re able to subitize, or rapidly judge numbers of items without counting. Steph Yin, "Do You Know What Lightning Really Looks Like?" New York Times, June 11, 2018

    Getting the computer model to subitize the way humans and animals did was possible, he found, only if he built in “number neurons” tuned to fire with maximum intensity in response to a specific number of objects. Jim Holt, "Numbers Guy," The New Yorker, February 24, 2008

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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, August 11, 2019

    utopian

    adjective [yoo-toh-pee-uhn]
    founded upon or involving idealized perfection.
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    What is the origin of utopian?

    The English adjective and noun utopian comes from New Latin Ūtopiānus, an adjective derived from the noun Ūtopia, a quasi-Greek noun meaning “no place,” formed from the negative adverb and particle ou “not” ("quasi-Greek" because in Greek ou cannot be used as a prefix for nouns), top-, the stem of the noun tópos “a place,” and the noun suffix -ia (the adjective suffix -ānus is purely Latin). Ūtopia is a coinage of Sir Thomas More’s in his 1516 satire Dē optimō reīpublicae statū dēque novā insulā Ūtopiā ("Concerning the Best State of a Republic [Commonwealth] and Concerning the New Island Utopia"). In English, but not in other languages, the first syllable of Ūtopia rhymes with the prefix eu- (as in Euclid or Eucharist); thus in English there is a confusion between Ūtopia “no place” and Eutopia “good place, a place of happiness and felicity.”

    How is utopian used?

    For its proponents, it offered a utopian vision of an art world in which color and class barriers were finally dismantled. Holland Cotter, "Beyond Multiculturalism, Freedom?" New York Times, July 29, 2001

    At a time of such social, political and ecological upheaval, it’s natural to dream of a utopian world in which these problems are no more—in fact, people have been doing it for centuries. Heather Alberro, "Utopia isn't just idealistic fantasy—it inspires people to change the world," The Conversation, June 21, 2019

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, August 10, 2019

    shivaree

    noun [shiv-uh-ree]
    a mock serenade with kettles, pans, horns, and other noisemakers given for a newly married couple; charivari.
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    What is the origin of shivaree?

    The etymology of shivaree is obscure. Most authorities consider it to be a Mississippi Valley French alteration (or a vulgar corruption) of French charivari, a noun of obscure origin, said to be from Late Latin carībaria “headache,” from Greek karēbaría, equivalent to karē-, a combining form of kárā, kárē “head,” and the noun suffix -baría “heaviness” (from barýs “heavy” and the abstract noun suffix -ía). Supposedly such a racket would give someone a headache. Other authorities claim that shivaree comes from French chez vous “at your home” and list many variants in spelling (and presumably in pronunciation): chevaux, cheveaux, chev-ho, chivoo, shavoo, sheave-o, sheavo, sheevo, shevoo, shivaree, shivaroo, shiveree, shiverree, shivoe. Vulgar or not, shivaree was noble enough for Mark Twain to use it (in that spelling) in A Tramp Abroad (1880): "... she turned on all the horrors of the ‘Battle of Prague,’ that venerable shivaree, and waded chin deep in the blood of the slain.” Charivari entered English in the first half of the 19th century. Shivaree seems to have entered English in 1875.

    How is shivaree used?

    "Let's give the governor and his lady a real shivaree!" Nearly a hundred drunks assembled outside the tavern with horns and drums and washboards and bugles and tin pots. James A. Michener, Texas, 1985

    Encouraging cake mashing, like a host of other awful wedding customs, from shivaree (a noisy mock serenade on the wedding night) to tying a tin can to the newlyweds’ getaway car, is one last chance for the couple’s friends to indulge in the game of “X and Y, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” Charles Perry, "Cake Smashing," Los Angeles Times, February 26, 1997

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  • Word of the day
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    Friday, August 09, 2019

    fascicle

    noun [fas-i-kuhl]
    a section of a book or set of books being published in installments as separate pamphlets or volumes.
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    What is the origin of fascicle?

    The noun fascicle “a bunch, bundle” has always been a technical term, restricted to botany and anatomy. Even in its publishing sense, “a section of a book or set of books published in installments as separate pamphlets or volumes,” fascicle is a technical term. Fascicle comes from Latin fasciculus (also the source of fascicule) “a small bundle, packet, parcel,” a diminutive of the noun fascis “a bundle (e.g., of sticks, wood, books). The fascēs, the plural of fascis, were the bundle of rods about five feet long, bound by red leather bands around an ax that in Republican times was used as an instrument of execution. The fascēs were the primary visible symbol of a higher Roman magistrate’s power and authority. They were carried by lictors: twelve fascēs for consuls and proconsuls (and for kings in the regal period); six fascēs for praetors and Masters of the Horse; and twenty-four fascēs for dictators. Fascis or fascēs becomes fascio in Italian, meaning “bundle of sticks.” The Roman fascēs were adopted as the symbol of the Partito Nazionale Fascista (“National Fascist Party”) organized by Benito Mussolini in 1919, the same year as the appearance of the English noun fascists. Fascicle entered English in the 17th century.

    How is fascicle used?

    ... she gathered her poems into forty homemade books, known as “fascicles,” by folding single sheets of blank paper in half to form four consecutive pages .... Dan Chiasson, "Emily Dickinson's Singular Scrap Poetry," The New Yorker, November 27, 2016

    ... he knew what he sought, and found exactly that, the fascicles dwindling like melting ice-shards, verso words showing through .... William T. Vollmann, "The Cemetery of the World," Last Stories and Other Stories, 2014

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