Word of the Day

Saturday, November 03, 2018

grumphie

[ gruhm-fee, groom-pee ]

noun

Chiefly Scot. a familiar name for a pig.

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What is the origin of grumphie?

Grumphie is an exclusively Scottish word, first used by Robert Burns (1759-96). Grumphie is formed from the verb grumph “to grunt” and is imitative of the typical sound pigs and some humans make. The suffix -ie is a spelling variant of -y, one of whose functions is to form endearing or familiar names like Billy, doggy (doggie), and sweetie. Grumphie entered English in the late 18th century.

how is grumphie used?

Grumphie smells the weather, / An’ grumphie sees the wun’; / He kens when clouds will gather, / An’ smoor the blinikin’ sun.” This extravagant tribute to the pig as a weather prophet is typical of a large number of proverbs, though, perhaps no other animal has been credited with actually seeing the wind.

W. J. Humphreys, "Some Weather Proverbs and Their Justification," The Popular Science Monthly, January 1911

If ye’re proud to be a grumphie clap yer trotters!

Alastair D. McIver, Glasgow Fairytale, 2010
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Friday, November 02, 2018

univocal

[ yoo-niv-uh-kuhl, yoo-nuh-voh- ]

adjective

having only one meaning; unambiguous.

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What is the origin of univocal?

Like its cousin equivocal, univocal derives from the Latin vōx meaning “voice.” Whereas the prefix equi- means “equal,” uni- means “one.” Univocal dates to 1535–45.

how is univocal used?

When then-Fox News chief Roger Ailes was presented with allegations of sexual harassment — first in a bombshell lawsuit, later in published reports — his response was univocal: Deny, deny, deny.

Erik Wemple, "Harvey Weinstein's puzzling legal threat against the New York Times," Washington Post, October 6, 2017

For any given element–event, character, development–is never simply univocal or one-sided but generally has two or more valences: it is serious and ironic, pathos-charged and parodic, apocalyptic and farcical, critical and self-critical.

Dominick LaCapra, History, Politics, and the Novel, 1987
Thursday, November 01, 2018

penumbra

[ pi-nuhm-bruh ]

noun

a shadowy, indefinite, or marginal area.

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What is the origin of penumbra?

The noun penumbra is composed of the Latin adverb paene “almost” and the Latin noun umbra “shadow.” Paene is not usual in Latin compounds, the most frequent being paeninsula (paeneinsula) “peninsula” and paenultimus (pēnultimus) “almost last, second last,” especially the “second last syllable” (penultimate is often misused in English to mean “ultimate, last”). Penumbra (paenumbra) does not occur in Classical or Medieval Latin; it is a New Latin coinage by the German mathematician and astronomer Johann Kepler (1571-1630). Penumbra entered English in the 17th century.

how is penumbra used?

… I couldn’t figure out why I was hearing it in the penumbra of an old-growth floodplain forest in South Carolina, a forest that once stretched as far north as Upper Virginia and as far west as East Texas.

Rosalind Bentley, "Among the Majestic Trees in Congaree, Slipping Into Silence," New York Times, July 16, 2018

It’s a daring move, an attempt to trace the penumbra of abuse across a shattered psyche.

Ron Charles, "Roddy Doyle was determined to write a novel that shocked--and succeeded," Washington Post, October 17, 2017

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