Word of the Day

Thursday, December 17, 2020

gravitas

[ grav-i-tahs, ‐tas ]

noun

seriousness or sobriety, as of conduct or speech.

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What is the origin of gravitas?

Gravitas comes straight from the Latin noun gravitās, which has many meanings: “seriousness of conduct, temperament, or speech; solemnity or majesty (of a speaker or writer); authority, influence or importance (of a person or institution).” (The inflectional stem of gravitās is gravitāt-, which by regular phonetic change becomes gravité in French and gravity in English.) Gravitas became necessary in English because during the first half of the 17th century, gravity acquired its physical meanings “force of attraction, heaviness, gravitation,” and a sentence like “The Prime Minister displayed an unusual lack of gravity” would be unintentionally humorous today. Gravitas entered English in the 1920s.

how is gravitas used?

Dad was gearing up to say something, a gradual process that involved shifting around in his chair, some throat-clearing, lifting his tea halfway to his mouth and putting it down again, so Paul and Grandma broke off their staring contest and waited for him to speak. Grief had lent him a certain gravitas.

Emily St. John Mandel, The Glass Hotel, 2020

… a growing number of independent research-oriented institutions like his own, Mr. Coogan said, have brought gravitas to a field that once seemed lighter than Spider-Man’s touch.

Michael Cieply, "Even at Comic-Con, You Can't Defy Gravitas," New York Times, July 13, 2012

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Wednesday, December 16, 2020

scintillating

[ sin-tl-ey-ting ]

adjective

witty; brilliantly clever.

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What is the origin of scintillating?

Scintillating “witty, brilliantly clever” ultimately derives from the Latin noun scintilla “glittering speck, spark.” Scintilla and its few derivatives refer generally only to physical phenomena; the only metaphorical sense that scintilla has is of eyes flashing in anger or passion, not the sense of sparkling or flashing wit. Scintilla comes from the Proto-Indo-European root skai– (and its variants) “to glow dully, reflect,” as in Greek skiā́ “shadow,” Gothic skeinan “to light, shine,” and Old English scīnan (English shine). Finally, Tocharian B skiyo “shadow, shade,” is exactly equivalent to Greek skiā́. Scintillating entered English in the second half of the 17th century in its literal sense; the sense “witty, clever” dates from the end of the 18th century.

how is scintillating used?

Across the crowded living room, where all the clever, scintillating talk and noise of a cocktail party seem nervous and inane, a boy and a girl suddenly see each other.

Thomas Williams, The Hair of Harold Roux, 1974

What had once seemed perhaps a bit flat next to the scintillating wit and effervescent sparkle of our mother came to seem the most valuable quality in the world one person could give another, infinite patience and attention ….

Corby Kummer, "About My Father," The Atlantic, December 17, 2009

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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

plotz

[ plots ]

verb (used without object)

to collapse or faint, as from surprise, excitement, or exhaustion.

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What is the origin of plotz?

Plotz “to collapse or faint, as from surprise, excitement, or exhaustion,” is one of those Yiddish words that make you smile just from its sound. Many Americans learned plotz in the early 1950s from Mad magazine (originally a comic book). Plotz is an American slang term that comes from Yiddish platsn “to crack, split, burst,” from Middle High German platzen “to burst.” Plotz entered English about 1920.

how is plotz used?

Simmel was worried about street lamps, murals, the occasional honk of a horn. Had he lived to see a smartphone, or modern Tokyo, he would have plotzed.

Andrew Marantz, "Can Smart Wood Help You Log Off?" The New Yorker, October 7, 2019

Make an effort to include your parents in this milestone, let them decide whether to take part somehow, and if they decline, then invite your mother-in-law to take a bigger role. If/when your mom plotzes … you can simply and kindly remind your mother that she was invited to take part and chose not to.

Carolyn Hax, "Q. Uninterested parents vs. engaged in-laws," Washington Post, April 29, 2016

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