• Word of the day
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    Monday, September 23, 2019

    gossamer

    noun [gos-uh-mer]
    a fine, filmy cobweb seen on grass or bushes or floating in the air in calm weather, especially in autumn.
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    What is the origin of gossamer?

    The etymology of English gossamer is a little clearer in the alternative Middle English spellings gossomer, gosesomer, gossummer “goose summer,” that is, a late, mild fall when roast goose was a favorite dish (German has the noun Gänsemonat “November,” literally “goose month”). But the etymology of gossamer does not fit its meaning, “a fine, filmy cobweb seen on grass or bushes or floating in the air in calm weather, especially in the fall.” It may be that the cobwebs resembled goose down, or that the cobwebs appeared in “goose summer,” and the name of the season was transferred to the spider webs. Gossamer entered English in the 14th century.

    How is gossamer used?

    Small, viewless aeronaut, that by the line / Of Gossamer suspended, in mid air / Float'st on a sun beam ... Charlotte Smith, "To the insect of the gossamer," Conversations Introducing Poetry, 1804

    When the early morning sun glints off droplets of dew on the gossamer strands of a spider web, it creates a visual masterpiece. Carrie Arnold, "Spiders Listen to Their Webs," National Geographic, June 5, 2014

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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, September 22, 2019

    Roscian

    adjective [rosh-ee-uhn, rosh-uhn]
    of, relating to, or involving acting.
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    What is the origin of Roscian?

    The English adjective Roscian comes straight from the Latin proper adjective Rosciānus, coined by and used exclusively by Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 b.c.) in honor of his older contemporary, mentor, friend, and client, the actor Quintus Roscius Gallus (ca. 126–62 b.c.). Acting was not a respected profession in Rome, but Roscius dignified it and devoted himself to elocution, gesture, and characterization. The Roman general, reactionary politician, and dictator Sulla (138–79 b.c.) even presented Roscius with a gold ring, a symbol of equestrian rank. Roscius instructed the young Cicero in elocution and delivery; Cicero successfully pleaded Roscius’ cause in a civil suit around 76 b.c. (Cicero’s speech Pro Quinto Roscio Comoedo survives); he and Roscius used to engage in friendly contests to see who could express emotion and character better, the actor or the orator. Roscian entered English in the early 17th century.

    How is Roscian used?

    Because you grace the roscian sphere, / As great in Chalkstone as in Lear .... Samuel Boyce, "The Animal Comedians, A Fable," Poems on Several Occasions, 1757

    I ... found it to be a crumpled play-bill of a small metropolitan theatre, announcing the first appearance, in that very week, of "the celebrated Provincial Amateur of Roscian renown, whose unique performance in the highest tragic walk of our National Bard has lately occasioned so great a sensation in local dramatic circles." Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, 1861

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, September 21, 2019

    prévenance

    noun [prey-vuh-nahns] French.
    special care in anticipating or catering to the needs and pleasures of others.
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    What is the origin of prévenance?

    Every breakroom in every restaurant in the U.S. should have prominently displayed a great big poster in bold sans serif caps: “prévenance, special care in anticipating or catering to the needs and pleasures of others.” Prévenance is a French noun meaning “thoughtfulness." Prévenance is a derivative of the verb prévenir, one of whose meanings is “to anticipate.” Prévenir comes from Latin praevenīre "to come before, anticipate," a compound of the preposition and prefix prae, prae- “before, in advance” and venīre “to come.” Praevenīre does mean “to anticipate,” but in the sense “to forestall, prevent.” Prévenance entered English in the 18th century.

    How is prévenance used?

    A much older and far wiser woman would have been persuaded to believe, as she believed, that in all this delicate prévenance for her pleasures and her preferences the tenderest love had spoken. Ouida (Maria Louise Ramé), Princess Napraxine, 1884

    My father I fear, was not remarkable in general for his tenderness or his prévenance for the poor girl whom fortune had given him to protect; but from time to time he would wake up to a downright sense of kinship and duty .... Henry James, "Gabrielle de Bergerac," 1869

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  • Word of the day
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    Friday, September 20, 2019

    galvanize

    verb (used with object) [gal-vuh-nahyz]
    to startle into sudden activity; stimulate.
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    What is the origin of galvanize?

    The English verb galvanize comes from the French verb galvaniser “to make muscles contract by application of electrical current,” a discovery made by the Italian physiologist Luigi Galvani in 1780, when an assistant touched the exposed sciatic nerve of a dead frog with a metal scalpel that had picked up a charge, which made the dead frog's leg kick as if alive. Galvanize in its physiological sense entered English in the early 19th century; the figurative sense “to startle into sudden activity” dates to the mid-19th century.

    How is galvanize used?

    The presence of the enemy seemed to galvanize the growers, underscoring the subtext of Elliot's message: that their industry was under attack, and they needed D&W's crisis-management services. Ruth Ozeki, All Over Creation, 2003

    ... [Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis] looms as just barely premodern, even though she presided over the start of (and maybe even helped galvanize) the most turbulent social transformation in recent history. Roger D. Friedman, Michael Hirschorn, Belinda Luscombe, Rebecca Mead, Melissa Morgan, Nancy Jo Sales, and Whitney Scott, "Her Friends Remember Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis," New York, May 30, 1994

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  • Word of the day
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    Thursday, September 19, 2019

    swashbuckler

    noun [swosh-buhk-ler, swawsh-]
    a swaggering swordsman, soldier, or adventurer; daredevil.
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    What is the origin of swashbuckler?

    If one is old enough, the word swashbuckler will call to mind Errol Flynn, the baddest, most romantic swashbuckler of them all during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Others may think of the dueling swordsmen from The Princess Bride. Swashbuckler is a compound whose first element is swash, a verb of imitative origin meaning “to splash loudly or violently, dash about.” A buckler is a small round shield held by a handgrip and having straps through which one’s arm is passed. A swashbuckler is a swaggering hero who makes a racket by striking the bad guy’s shield with his own or with his sword. Swashbuckler entered English in the mid-16th century.

    How is swashbuckler used?

    Even Johnny Depp, the linchpin of the series as the swishy swashbuckler Captain Jack Sparrow, knew that the last film, directed by Gore Verbinski (as were the first two), had lost its way. Brooks Barnes, "New Captain for a Series Becalmed," New York Times, May 11, 2011

    The fairy tale is about a swashbuckler named Westley (Elwes) who has to rescue his true love, Buttercup (Robin Wright), before she is forced to marry the evil Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). Reed Tucker, "Inside the hilarious making of 'The Princess Bride'," New York Post, October 12, 2014

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  • Word of the day
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    Wednesday, September 18, 2019

    à gogo

    adverb [uh goh-goh]
    as much as you like; to your heart's content; galore: food and drink à gogo.
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    What is the origin of à gogo?

    The colloquial phrase à gogo comes from the name of a Parisian nightclub and discotheque Whisky à Go-Go “Whisky Galore,” which opened in 1947 and quickly became very hip (or hep). A similar club, Whisky a Go Go, opened in Chicago in 1958, and a third Whisky a Go Go opened in Los Angeles in 1964. The French phrase à gogo means “aplenty, galore”; it derives from a Middle French adverb sense “joyfully, uninhibitedly, extravagantly,” from the preposition à “to” and gogo, probably a reduplicated form of gogue “witticism, fun, amusement.” À gogo first appears in print in 1960.

    How is à gogo used?

    ... go up and out onto the Boulevard St.-Germain with its cafes a gogo for unlikely‐seeming students and unpublished poets. William A. Krauss, "If You Go See Paris by Metro for $1.50," New York Times, November 5, 1972

    I was at my local park the other day, watching my sons playing tennis, and spotted the Mayor of London on another court—blond hair flying, Hawaiian shorts a go-go. Rosie Millard, "Shame on those who have driven Alec Baldwin from public life," The Independent, February 24, 2014

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, September 17, 2019

    Preamble

    noun [pree-am-buhl, pree-am-]
    the introductory statement of the U.S. Constitution, setting forth the general principles of American government and beginning with the words, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union. …”
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    What is the origin of Preamble?

    English preamble, “introductory statement or paragraph,” which has the variant spellings preambel, preambile, preambul in Middle English, comes from Old French preamble, preambule, from Medieval Latin preambulum, praeambulum “preliminary statement, preface (in legal documents).” Praeambulum is a neuter adjective used as a noun from the Late Latin adjective praeambulus “walking before,” a compound of the Latin preposition and prefix prae, prae- “before, in advance” (usually spelled pre- in English and completely naturalized), and the verb ambulāre “to walk, walk for health or pleasure, stroll.” Preamble first appears in English in Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath’s Tale” (from The Canterbury Tales, after 1387). The legal sense “introductory paragraph of a treaty, deed, will (or other legal document)” dates to the second half of the 16th century. Preamble, with a capital P, specifically refers to the opening statement of the U.S. Constitution, signed on September 17, 1787. Beginning with the momentous phrase "We the people," the Preamble lays out the principles and purpose of the Constitution and the government it establishes.

    How is Preamble used?

    Is not the preamble the foundation of our Constitution; does it not contain the basic principles, and is not the accomplishment of these principles the aim, the end and the essence of our government and Americanism? George M. B. Hawley, "Function of the Preamble," New York Times, July 16, 1933

    ... the Preamble is a declaration of purposes and the underlying spirit of the grand game, if such it may be called, of self-government and liberty to be played by the people of the United States. Charles A. Beard, "A More Perfect Union and Justice," The Republic, 1944

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