Word of the Day

Sunday, January 10, 2021

guileless

[ gahyl-lis ]

adjective

sincere; honest; straightforward; frank.

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What is the origin of guileless?

Guileless means “without guile, sincere, honest, frank.” Guile comes from Middle English gile, guile “a crafty or fraudulent trick, double-dealing,” from Old French guile “lie, trick, deception,” most likely from a Germanic source. The problem is: Which Germanic language or languages? From the point of view of phonetics, Old French guile could very well come from Germanic wīl, but sources are lacking: Old English wīl “device, trick” may itself be a borrowing from Old French. Old Norse vél “artifice, device, trick” is wrong for phonetic reasons. Guileless entered English in the first half of the 18th century.

how is guileless used?

Looking at them is an exercise in nostalgia not only for the languid California of the early seventies, or the looseness offered by working in a medium that had little respect from the art world and therefore no money, but for a moment when, even if only in the world of these images, the encounter between self and stranger could be guileless.

Emma Cline, "Mike Mandel's Selfies from the Seventies," The New Yorker, October 12, 2020

Guileless? Guess again, sister. There is nothing remotely guileless about this guy, and nowhere is that more evident than in his land deals.

Elizabeth Gilbert, The Last American Man, 2002

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Saturday, January 09, 2021

whithersoever

[ hwith-er-soh-ev-er, with- ]

conjunction

to whatever place.

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What is the origin of whithersoever?

Whithersoever, now archaic, meaning “to whatever place,” comes from Middle English whider-so-evere, whidersere, whidursever, an adverb phrase that could be spelled as two or three words; the one-word spelling first appears in the first half of the 17th century. Etymologists break down whithersoever in several ways: whitherso (by itself meaning “whithersoever”) + ever; whither + so + ever; whider + so-ever; and whiderso + ever. Old English has the adverb phrase swā hwider swā, which means the same thing as the Middle English forms but is not their direct ancestor. Whithersoever entered English in the first half of the 13th century.

how is whithersoever used?

Though you may cross vast spaces of sea … your faults will follow you whithersoever you travel.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c4 b.c.–a.d. 65), "On Travel as a Cure for Discontent," Seneca: Ad Lucilium epistulae morales, translated by Richard M. Gummere, 1917

From wheresoever they come and whithersoever they afterward go, all ships that use the canal will pass through the Caribbean.

Alfred Thayer Mahan, "The United States Looking Outward," The Atlantic, December 1890

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Friday, January 08, 2021

bel-esprit

[ bel-es-pree ]

noun

a person of great wit or intellect.

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What is the origin of bel-esprit?

Bel-esprit “a person of great wit or intellect” is a French term. It means literally “beautiful mind, fine mind, wit,” and by extension “person of wit and intelligence.” Bel is the regular French development of Latin bellus “nice, pretty, handsome, charming,” a diminutive adjective formed from bonus “good, good at (something), morally good.” The French noun esprit “spirit, mind” comes from Latin spiritus “breath, breathing, vital principle, soul.” Bel-esprit entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is bel-esprit used?

She was a bel esprit, and a dreadful Radical for those days.

William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair, 1847–48

Though I would prefer to be dubbed an aristophren, someone of superior intelligence, or a bel-esprit, a person of refined intellect and graceful wit, the proper term for me is lexiphanes (lek-SIF-uh-neez), a showoff with words.

Charles Harrington Elster, "Naming Names," New York Times, August 4, 1996

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Thursday, January 07, 2021

prolixity

[ proh-lik-si-tee ]

noun

a tendency to speak or write at great or tedious length.

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What is the origin of prolixity?

Prolixity “a tendency to speak or write at great or tedious length, long-windedness” ultimately comes from Latin prōlixitās (inflectional stem prōlixitāt-) “extension in space or time,” a derivative of the adjective prōlixus “having extensive growth, luxuriant; tall, big; (of time) extended; (of people) generous, warm-hearted, liberal; (of writing) lengthy, detailed.” In classical Latin none of the terms mean long-windedness, which is a meaning that first appears in Late Latin. Old French prolixité kept and passed along the negative meaning “verbosity, long-windedness” (in addition to the original Latin meanings) to Middle English. Prolixity first appears in English in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (ca. 1395): For fulsomnesse of his prolixitee “Because of the excess of its long-windedness.”

how is prolixity used?

First Barack Obama gave a very long opening answer; then when the consecutive interpreter started in, Obama acted surprised, apologized for his prolixity, and said he would have broken the answer into shorter chunks if he had understood that the interpreter was going to wait until he was done.

James Fallows, "Language Screwup at the Hu-Obama Presser? Maybe Not," The Atlantic, January 19, 2011

Because of its customers’ social-media prolixity, the brand has gathered a wealth of data about their preferences and, Brett hopes, their brand loyalty will extend to staying in West Elm Hotels.

Amy Merrick, "West Elm Gets Into Hotels and Gender Politics," The New Yorker, September 27, 2016

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Wednesday, January 06, 2021

procellous

[ proh-sel-uhs ]

adjective

stormy, as the sea.

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What is the origin of procellous?

The rare English adjective procellous “turbulent, stormy (as the sea)” comes via Middle French procelleux from Latin procellōsus “stormy, squally,” a derivative of the noun procella “violent wind, gale.” Procella is related to or is a derivative of the verb procellere “to throw forward with violence,” a compound of the preposition and prefix pro, pro-, here meaning “forward, outward,” and the verb –cellere (occurring only in compounds) “to rush, drive, set in rapid motion.” Procellous entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is procellous used?

I likened myself to a sailor navigating shoals and … besought her to anoint me with her glance and so hearten me to brave the dangers of that procellous sea.

Rafael Sabatini, The Strolling Saint, 1906

A cloud of adversity so gloomy and procellous, has rarely overshadowed a military leader.

Charles Caldwell, Memoirs of the Life and Campaigns of the Hon. Nathaniel Greene, 1819

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Tuesday, January 05, 2021

shenanigans

[ shuh-nan-i-guhnz ]

plural noun

mischief; prankishness.

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What is the origin of shenanigans?

The informal plural noun shenanigans “mischief, pranks” is more common than the singular shenanigan. Shenanigan was originally an Americanism, first appearing in print in two California newspapers, Town Talk (San Francisco) and Spirit of the Age (Sacramento), in the mid-1850s, toward the end of the California Gold Rush. The fact that shenanigan first appeared in newspapers with no explanation demonstrates that it had already been around in conversation for a while. There are at least 11 recorded spellings for the singular noun (but only one for the plural); there are at least five suggested etymologies: French, Spanish, Erse (Irish Gaelic), a Rhenish Franconian dialect of German, and East Anglian (modern Norfolk and Suffolk in the U.K.). As the lawyers say, non liquet “it isn’t clear.”

how is shenanigans used?

One of the “new” old books I recently took out was “The Cat in the Hat,” by Dr. Seuss, the 1957 classic about two siblings stuck at home and the shenanigans that they get up to.

Ruth Margalit, "Quarantine Culture Recommendations: 'The Cat in the Hat,' Ambient Electronica, and Tolstoy," The New Yorker, April 10, 2020

An odd episode, this. The first half contrasts Captain Scott’s ill-fated exploration with modern Antarctic research, while the second is essentially cameraperson shenanigans.

Ed Yong, "Every Episode of David Attenborough’s Life Series, Ranked," The Atlantic, May 6, 2016

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Monday, January 04, 2021

nimiety

[ ni-mahy-i-tee ]

noun,

excess; overabundance.

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What is the origin of nimiety?

Nimiety is a bit much, literally. It comes from the Late Latin noun nimietās (inflectional stem nimietāt-) “excess, overabundance,” a derivative of the adjective nimius “excessive, immoderate.” Nimius in its turn is a derivative of the adverb and noun nimis “too much, unduly; an excessive amount or degree.” Nimietās first appears in the Metamorphōsēs (“Transformations”) of Lucius Apuleius, who may have coined the word. Apuleius was a Roman satirist and Epicurean philosopher who was born in Madaurus in North Africa and lived in the 2nd century a.d. His Metamorphōsēs is a bawdy, picaresque novel, the only ancient Roman novel to survive intact. St. Augustine of Hippo (a.d. 354-420), also from North Africa, disliked Epicureanism (most ancients did because of its atheism) and derisively renamed Apuleius’ Metamorphōsēs the Asinus Aureus (“Golden Ass”), an alternative title that has persisted till this day. Nimiety entered English in the first half of the 16th century.

how is nimiety used?

But of course there were problems of upkeep, and an oppressive feeling of nimiety, or too‐muchness. I have suffered from it all my life—too many possessions, too many books, too much to eat and drink.

Kenneth Clark, The Other Half, 1977

The additions to the template may be broadly inconsequential … but the execution is unrivalled—the humorous animations, the high-contrast vistas, the nimiety of customization options. Video games have been this detailed before, but rarely to such unwaveringly joyous effect.

Simon Parkin, "The Best Video Games of 2014," The New Yorker, December 15, 2014

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