Word of the Day

Word of the day

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

gorgonize

[ gawr-guh-nahyz ]

verb (used with object)

hypnotize; petrify.

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What is the origin of gorgonize?

Gorgonize is ultimately derived, via Latin, from Ancient Greek Gorgṓ, which comes from the adjective gorgós “dreadful” and is the original Greek name for each of the Gorgons, the triumvirate of mythic sisters with snakes for hair and whose appearance was so frightful that anyone who looked at them directly would turn to stone. The Gorgons were named Euryale, Medusa, and Stheno, and Medusa is the most famous of the three because of her mortality, which allowed for Perseus to behead her by using her reflection in his shield to guide his sword.

how is gorgonize used?

Offensively democratic exhibitions of free manners occur every once in a while. Churlish fellows will obtrude themselves with their hats on, lighted segars [sic] and their pantaloons tucked into their boots. Dropping into chairs, they will sit puffing away and trying to gorgonize the President with their silent stares, until their boorish curiosity is fully satisfied.

Henry Villard, as quoted in Lincoln on the Eve of '61, 1940

Athena smiled, then turned to Po. “Not a word out of you, Poseidon, or I’ll freeze you so fast you won’t know what hit you. Now watch while I gorgonize your little girlfriend.”

Kate McMullan, Say Cheese, Medusa, 2002

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Word of the day

Monday, August 30, 2021

nostrum

[ nos-truhm ]

noun

a pet scheme or remedy, especially for social or political ills; panacea.

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What is the origin of nostrum?

Nostrum is a direct borrowing from Latin and is the neuter form of the singular possessive adjective noster “our”; this neuter version is often found today in the Latin phrase mare nostrum “our sea,” which the Romans used in reference to the Mediterranean Sea. The shift from a possessive adjective to a noun that means “remedy” happened by way of the unattested phrase nostrum remedium “our medicine,” with the latter half chopped off. Nostrum’s primary meaning in English is “​​a medicine sold with false or exaggerated claims,” and it gained the additional sense of “a remedy for all problems” when applied to non-medical topics such as politics.

how is nostrum used?

Federalism encourages variation by creating incentives for political leaders [in each state] to craft innovative solutions to important problems. Governors who, for example, succeed in reforming education will win reelection. They may then parlay this success into approval at the national level, propounding their signature policies as nostrums for what ails the nation.

Virginia Gray, Russell L. Hanson, and Thad Kousser, “Preface,” foreword to Politics in the American States: A Comparative Analysis, 1990

I hold to journalistic nostrums about avoiding redundant adjectives and adverbs, and rationing abstract nouns and passive verbs. Ambiguity and hyperbole may sometimes light up fiction, but they are lethal when trying to convey literal truth.

Fred Pearce, "Notes on Craft," Granta, August 2018

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Word of the day

Sunday, August 29, 2021

memoriter

[ muh-mawr-i-ter, -ter, -mohr- ]

adverb

by heart; by memory.

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What is the origin of memoriter?

Memoriter is a direct borrowing from Latin, in which the word has the same meaning, formed from the adjective memor “remembering” and the adverbial suffix –ter. Memor is the source of English commemorate, memorize, memorial, and many other words related to recollection. While English uses –ly to create adverbs from other parts of speech, Latin uses suffixes such as –ter, as we can see in other Latin-derived adverbs such as instanter “immediately.” Another such suffix is –ātim, as in verbatim “word for word” and literatim “letter for letter.”

how is memoriter used?

My uncle had been a great admirer of Doctor Mather and was said to affect an imitation of his voice, pronunciation, and manner in the pulpit. His sermons, though delivered in a powerful and musical voice, consisted of texts of scripture, quoting chapter and verse, delivered memoriter, and without notes.

John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Vol. 2, 1850

I was fond of poetry. By far the greater part of Dr. Watts’s Psalms and Hymns I could repeat memoriter, at ten or twelve years of age. I am sure that no other sacred poetry will ever appear to me so affecting and devout.

Daniel Webster, Autobiography of Daniel Webster, 1829

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