Word of the Day

Word of the day

Sunday, October 31, 2021

grisly

[ griz-lee ]

adjective

causing a shudder or feeling of horror; horrible; gruesome.

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What is the origin of grisly?

Grisly “causing a shudder or feeling of horror” is of Germanic origin, from Old English grislīc “horrible.” A widespread assumption is that grisly is related to grizzly or to French gris “gray,” but for the second time this week, we have a common misconception on our hands. Grizzly and gris are in fact related to one another but not to grisly; grizzly is a derivative of gris, which is a borrowing from Frankish, if not another Germanic source, that was also borrowed into Italian as grigio, as in the white wine Pinot Grigio, which is made from grapes with grayish-blue skin. Gris is not, in fact, likely related to English gray, which derives from a similar-sounding yet distinct root with the same meaning. Grisly was first recorded in English before the 12th century.

how is grisly used?

Any insect unlucky enough to land on the mouth-like leaves of an Australian pitcher plant will meet a grisly end. The plant’s prey is drawn into a vessel-like ‘pitcher’ organ where a specialized cocktail of enzymes digests the victim.

Ewen Callaway and Nature magazine, “How Plants Evolved into Carnivores,” Scientific American , February 6, 2017

If I’m murdered as part of a grisly conspiracy that demands a ten-part true-crime podcast, don’t let them advertise underwear on it. If a secret will appears after my demise, ignore it. I’m leaving everything to the dog.

Ryan Chapman, "My Murder Mystery," The New Yorker, July 15, 2021

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Word of the day

Saturday, October 30, 2021

sepulchral

[ suh-puhl-kruhl ]

adjective

proper to or suggestive of a tomb; funereal or dismal.

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What is the origin of sepulchral?

Sepulchral “proper to or suggestive of a tomb,” the adjectival counterpart of the noun sepulcher, spelled sepulchre in British English, derives from Latin sepulcrālis “relating to a tomb,” from sepulcrum “tomb.” There is no clear reason for the addition of the h to these two Latin terms as they passed via Old French into English, though it is possible that influence from the similar-sounding adjective pulcher “beautiful” may have been the culprit. Alternatively, because spelling rules became lax in Medieval Latin (which was roughly contemporaneous with Old French) and the letter h had become silent, h started cropping up in words where it had no reason to appear, and the change of Middle English sepulcre to sepulchre in the 1200s could have followed this trend. A similar phenomenon occurred with cāritās “dearness, charity,” which was often misspelled in Medieval Latin as charitas by conflation with Ancient Greek kháris “grace, charm.” Sepulchral first appeared in English in the early 1600s.

how is sepulchral used?

Hermione came down to dinner strange and sepulchral, her eyes heavy and full of sepulchral darkness, strength. She had put on a dress of stiff old greenish brocade, that fitted tight and made her look tall and rather terrible, ghastly. In the gay light of the drawing-room she was uncanny and oppressive. But seated in the half-light of the dining-room, sitting stiffly before the shaded candles on the table, she seemed a power, a presence.

D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love, 1920
[Oscar Wilde] began to speak in a voice that might have come from the tomb. It grew monotonous, and was fast becoming painful, when, to the evident surprise of everybody, he smiled as he uttered something in reference to the various definitions of aestheticism. The audience was at once relieved from the sepulchral atmosphere and broke into a hearty laugh which did everybody good.

"Oscar Wilde's Lecture", New York Times, January 10, 1882

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Word of the day

Friday, October 29, 2021

nyctophobia

[ nik-tuh-foh-bee-uh ]

noun

an irrational or disproportionate fear of night or nighttime darkness.

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What is the origin of nyctophobia?

Nyctophobia “fear of night or nighttime darkness” is a compound of the combining forms nycto- “night” and -phobia “fear.” Nycto- derives from Ancient Greek nýx, of the same meaning, and comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root, nekwt-, found in English night, German nacht, and the Latin-derived terms equinox and nocturnal. In Greek mythology, Nyx was the primordial goddess and personification of nighttime who mated with Erebus, the god of darkness, to create Aether, the god of the upper air, and Hemera, the goddess of daytime. The ending -phobia is commonly used to indicate fear, and the opposite is -philia; while nyctophobia is fear of darkness, nyctophilia is love of darkness. The ending –phobia derives from Ancient Greek phóbos “fear” (but originally “flight”), which is related to Latin fugere “to flee,” as in fugitive.  Nyctophobia was first recorded in English in the early 1890s.

how is nyctophobia used?

[F]rightening words and concepts repeated over a period of time during childhood will have long-lasting neurological and emotional consequences. Nyctophobia, a pathological fear of night and darkness, might be an extreme example of such a consequence. Yet even the most protected children sometimes believe that there’s a monster under the bed at night or a ghost outside the window in the darkness. Nor do adults stop being afraid of venturing into Central Park at night, even when they’re presented with rational and incontrovertible facts about its relative safety after dark.

Marie Winn, Central Park in the Dark, 2008

“But wasn’t it dark inside the trunk?” Nora asked. “If Ashley had nyctophobia she wouldn’t have climbed in there” …. He shook his head. “I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t recognize the Ashley I knew in any of this, this witch we’ve been tracking. Curses on the floor? Nyctophobia? Ashley wasn’t afraid of the dark. She wasn’t afraid of anything.”

Marisha Pessl, Night Film, 2014

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