Word of the Day

Sunday, February 24, 2019


[ hal-i-duhm ]


a holy place, as a church or sanctuary.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of halidom?

Halidom is a rare word meaning “holy place, sanctuary.” Its Old English form, hāligdōm, is a compound formed of the adjective hālig “holy” and the abstract noun suffix -dōm (English -dom). Hāligdōm originally meant “holiness, sanctity” in Old English, but this sense was obsolete by the 17th century. The concrete senses of hāligdōm, “chapel, sanctuary” and “relic,” are as old as the abstract sense. Halidom entered English before 1000.

how is halidom used?

Most nations would reckon it a village, but it had its halidom, assembly hall, market, and busy little industries.

Poul and Karen Anderson, "Faith," After the King: Stories in Honor of J. R. R. Tolkien, 1992

There are few more interesting spots in Great Britain than “Dewisland,” or the “halidom” of St. David.

W. A. B. Coolidge, "St. David's," The Cathedral Churches of England and Wales, 1884
quiz icon
Think you're a word wizard? Try our word quiz, and prove it!
arrows pointing up and down
Double your word knowledge with the Synonym of the Day!

Get A Vocabulary Boost In Your Inbox

Get the Word of the Day every day!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Saturday, February 23, 2019


[ prod-i-guhl ]


wastefully or recklessly extravagant: prodigal expenditure.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of prodigal?

Prodigal ultimately derives from the Late Latin adjective prōdigālis “wasteful,” from the Latin adjective prōdigus (with the same meaning), a derivative of the verb prōdigere “to drive forth or away; to waste, squander.” Prōdigere is a compound of the preposition and combining form pro, pro- “forth, forward” and agere “to drive (cattle), ride (a horse).” Aristotle in Book IV of the Nicomachean Ethics defines the virtue of liberality (with respect to wealth) as the mean between the opposite vices of prodigality and stinginess, the prodigal man being one who wastes money on self-indulgent pleasures. The most famous case of prodigality is from Luke’s gospel (15:11-32), the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” Prodigal entered English in the 15th century.

how is prodigal used?

… Kubrick a planned and prodigal expenditure of resources.

Annette Michelson, "Bodies in Space: Film as 'Carnal Knowledge'," Artforum, February 1969

She feels she can never truly write well because she lacks Lila’s wild, prodigal spirit. Lila, she thinks, “possessed intelligence and didn’t put it to use but, rather, wasted it, like a great lady for whom all the riches in the world are merely a sign of vulgarity.”

Joan Acocella, "Elena Ferrante's New Book: Art Wins," The New Yorker, September 1, 2015
Friday, February 22, 2019


[ fyoo-til-i-tair-ee-uhn ]


a person who believes that human hopes are vain, and human strivings unjustified.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of futilitarian?

Futilitarian is a humorous blend of futile and utilitarian. The word was coined in scorn for the utilitarian philosophy for the jurist and philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and the philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill (1806-73). Futilitarian entered English in the 19th century.

how is futilitarian used?

A lot of artists in America tend to be self-deprecating futilitarians, because we’ve grown up in a culture in which art doesn’t matter except, occasionally, as a high-end investment.

Tim Kreider, "When Art Is Dangerous (or Not)," New York Times, January 10, 2015

For it is significant that much of the work of Bierce seems to be that of what he would have called a futilitarian, that he seldom seems able to find a suitable field for his satire, a foeman worthy of such perfect steel as he brings ot he encounter …

Bertha Clark Pope, "Introduction" to The Letters of Ambrose Bierce, 1922
Thursday, February 21, 2019

tabula rasa

[ tab-yuh-luh rah-suh, -zuh, rey- ]


a mind not yet affected by experiences, impressions, etc.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of tabula rasa?

In Latin tabula rasa means “erased tablet, a tablet rubbed clean (of writing).” Tabula has many meanings: “flat board, plank, table, notice board, notice, game board, public document, deed, will.” For schoolchildren the schoolmaster’s command Manum dē tabulā “Hand(s) off the tablet!” meant “Pencils down!” Rasa is the past participle of radere “to scrape, scratch, shave, clip.” The inside surfaces of a folded wooden tablet were raised along the edges and filled with wax for writing. The wax could be erased by smoothing with the blunt end of a stylus (more correctly stilus) or by mild heat. The Latin phrase is a translation of Greek pinakìs ágraphos “tablet with nothing written on it, blank tablet,” from Aristotle’s De Anima (Greek Perì Psychês, “On the Soul): “What it [the mind] thinks must be in it just as characters may be said to be on a writing tablet (pinakìs) on which nothing is yet actually written (ágraphos).” Tabula rasa entered English in the 16th century.

how is tabula rasa used?

The notion that the brain is a tabula rasa that can be easily transformed by digital technology is, as yet, the stuff of science fiction.

Richard A. Friedman, "The Big Myth About Teenage Anxiety," New York Times, September 7, 2018

The alarm wakes him, and he opens his eyes to a new day. He feels rested, reset, a tabula rasa.

Lisa Genova, Inside the O'Briens, 2015
Wednesday, February 20, 2019


[ bih-hee-muhth, bee-uh- ]


any creature or thing of monstrous size or power: The army's new tank is a behemoth. The cartel is a behemoth that small business owners fear.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of behemoth?

The traditional etymology of the Hebrew noun behemoth is that it is an augmentative or intensive plural of bəhēmāh “beast,” a derivative of the West Semitic root bhm “to be dumb.” It is also possible that Hebrew bəhēmāh is an adaptation to Hebrew phonology of Egyptian p-ehe-mau “hippopotamus” (literally “ox of the water”). Behemoth entered English in the 14th century.

how is behemoth used?

… in a play for the ideological high ground, Mr. de Blasio has cast Uber as a corporate behemoth with a singular goal.

Matt Flegenheimer, "City Hall, in a Counterattack, Casts Uber as a Corporate Behemoth," New York Times, July 20, 2015

Power – this one word sums up the rise in concerns on the left about tech behemoth Facebook.

Tim Mak, "Congress May Soon Impose New Regulations on Facebook," All Things Considered, NPR, January 15, 2019
Tuesday, February 19, 2019


[ mahr-ey, mair-ee ]


Astronomy. any of the several large, dark plains on the moon and Mars: Galileo believed that the lunar features were seas when he first saw them through a telescope.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of mare?

Latin mare “sea” is obviously but irregularly derived from Proto-Indo-European mori- “body of water, lake.” The Latin word “ought” to be more (the a is unexplained). The Proto-Indo-European mori- becomes Old Church Slavonic morje “sea, ocean,” Lithuanian marė “lagoon, bay,” and, in the Germanic languages, English mere (i.e., a lake or a pond), German Meer “sea, ocean,” Gothic marei “sea.” Latin mare used to describe the lunar feature first appears in Michael van Langren’s map of the moon (1645). Mare first entered English in the 19th century.

how is mare used?

The wheels were large and open, and absorbed the unevenness of the mare; Malenfant felt as if he were riding across the Moon in a soap bubble.

Stephen Baxter, Manifold: Space, 2000

The craft will attempt to retrieve up to 2 kilograms of soil and rock from the Oceanus Procellarum, a vast lunar mare on the near side that has yet to be visited by any spacecraft.

Dennis Normile, "Chinese spacecraft successfully lands on moon's far saide and sends pictures back home," Science, January 3, 2019
Monday, February 18, 2019


[ fawr-skawr, fohr-skohr ]


four times twenty; eighty.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of fourscore?

Americans will recognize the phrase “Fourscore and seven years ago” from the Gettysburg Address (whether they will know what a score of years amounts to is another question). Most Americans will recognize the line from Psalm 90, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten” and will probably guess 70. The noun score comes from Old English scoru “a tally of 20,” from Old Norse skoru “a notch, scratch, tally of 20.” Score is one of the developments from the very complicated Proto-Indo-European root sker-, ker- “to cut.” In Latin the suffixed form ker-sna appears in cēna “dinner,” literally “a slice.” Old Latin also has the form cesnas; Oscan (an Italic language spoken in southern Italy) has the very conservative form kersnu “dinner.” Sker-, ker- in Germanic (English) appears in shear “to cut” and shears “scissors,” shard, shirt (from Old English scyrte), and skirt (from Old Norse skyrta). Fourscore entered English at the end of the 13th century.

how is fourscore used?

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

President Abraham Lincoln, "The Gettysburg Address," November 19, 1863

Of the fish, I need say nothing in this hot weather, but that it comes sixty, seventy, fourscore, and a hundred miles by land-carriage …

Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, 1771

Get A Vocabulary Boost In Your Inbox

Get the Word of the Day every day!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.