• Word of the day
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    Wednesday, April 03, 2019

    hamartia

    noun [hah-mahr-tee-uh]
    the character defect that causes the downfall of the protagonist of a tragedy; tragic flaw.
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    What is the origin of hamartia?

    In Greek the noun hamartíā means “failure, fault, error (of judgment), guilt, sin.” Hamartia, if familiar at all, will be familiar as the term that the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 b.c.) uses in his Poetics for the personal defect or frailty—the tragic flaw—that brings about the ruin of a prosperous or eminent man who is neither utterly villainous nor totally good, like, for instance, Oedipus. Hamartíā is a derivative of the verb hamartánein “(of a spear) to miss the mark, (in general) to fail in one’s purpose, fall short, go wrong.” Hamartánein with its derivatives and related words, like about 60 percent of Greek vocabulary, has no known etymology. Hamartia entered English in the late 19th century.

    How is hamartia used?

    Every person was felt to have his or her hamartia—a tragic flaw, or potential for error in judgment that would frequently destroy an otherwise promising career. The most common among these flaws was hubris .... James P. Atwater, "Letter to the Editor: The President's Men," New York Times, August 29, 1982

    ... his hamartia ("error") leads to the loss of all that matters to him, as well as to a puncturing of his former worldview. Mark Buchan, "Sophocles with Lacan," A Companion to Sophocles, 2012

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, April 02, 2019

    versify

    verb [vur-suh-fahy]
    to relate, describe, or treat (something) in the form of poetry.
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    What is the origin of versify?

    Versify comes via Old French versifier from Latin versificāre “to write or compose verse.” Versificāre is partly composed of the noun versus “a line of writing, a line of poetry, a sequence of notes.” The basic meaning of versus is “a circular movement (in a dance), twirl” and is a derivative of the verb vertere “to turn, revolve, pass through a cycle.” The combining form -ficāre means “doing, making, causing” and ultimately derives from the verb facere “to make, build, construct.” Versify entered English in the 14th century.

    How is versify used?

    ... the energetic singer who cannot repress the impromptu urge to versify the mundane things going on around him. Franklin D. Lewis, "Introduction," Rumi: Swallowing the Sun, 2008

    He served in Africa, southern France and Italy during World War II, a period that he said led him to "versify in earnest." Harrison Smith, "Richard Wilbur, American poet who twice won the Pulitzer Prize, dies at 96," Washington Post, October 15, 2017

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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, April 01, 2019

    fool

    noun [fool] British Cookery.
    a dish made of fruit, scalded or stewed, crushed and mixed with cream or the like: gooseberry fool.
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    What is the origin of fool?

    Fool, "a dessert made of scalded or stewed fruit, crushed and mixed with cream," is just the sort of word to cause an etymological food fight. Fool is probably a specialized sense of fool “a silly or stupid person.” In the late 16th century, trifle, now meaning “something of little value, consequence, or importance,” was a synonym for fool (the dessert), though the dessert we call trifle is now something different. Another (discredited) etymology derives fool from Old French foulex, fole, “a pressing, treading,” from fouler, foler “to press, tread.” Fool (the dessert) entered English in the 16th century.

    How is fool used?

    The fool, one of the oldest English desserts, is basically nothing more than a mixture of puréed fruit, sugar, and thick cream, the simplest thing in the world. James Beard, Beard on Food, 1974

    One of the simplest ways to prepare strawberries when you want a departure from serving them plain is to chop them into a Fool. Moira Hodgson, "Desserts Made from the Fresh Berries of Summer," New York Times, July 14, 1985

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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, March 31, 2019

    velutinous

    adjective [vuh-loot-n-uhs]
    having a soft, velvety surface, as certain plants.
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    What is the origin of velutinous?

    Velutinous, “having a soft, velvety surface or hairs,” is a very rare adjective, a technical term used in botany and entomology. Velutinous comes directly from the New Latin adjective velūtīnus “velvety,” from Medieval Latin velūtum “velvet.” Velūtum possibly comes from assumed Vulgar Latin villūtus, from Latin villus “shaggy nap.” Velutinous entered English in the 19th century.

    How is velutinous used?

    He picked up his bread, pulled open the crust so the soft velutinous white inside was exposed, pushed it into a piece of omelet, then lifted the dripping morsel to his lips and bit upon it. M. J. Carter, The Devil's Feast, 2016

    The deep shag of a plush carpet was beneath our feet and velutinous purple flocked wallpaper covered the walls. Cavan Scott, Sherlock Holmes: Cry of the Innocents, 2017

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, March 30, 2019

    nadir

    noun [ney-der, ney-deer]
    the lowest point; point of greatest adversity or despair.
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    What is the origin of nadir?

    Nadir comes via Middle French and Late Latin nadir “point opposite the sun, point opposite the zenith” from Arabic naẓīr (as-samt) “opposite (the zenith).” Arabic samt is the source of zenith. Nadir (and zenith) entered English in the late 14th century.

    How is nadir used?

    At the nadir of the global stock market crash in March 2009, the kronor hit a low of 8.48 euro cents per kronor .... Heather Farmbrough, "After Sweden's Election, What Next for the Kronor?" Forbes, September 8, 2018

    ... [the] fragment was hurled from what had seemed the nadir of horror to black, clutching pits of a horror still more profound. H. P. Lovecraft and E. Hoffmann Price, "Through the Gates of the Silver Key," Weird Tales, July 1934

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  • Word of the day
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    Friday, March 29, 2019

    metathesis

    noun [muh-tath-uh-sis]
    the transposition of letters, syllables, or sounds in a word, as in the pronunciation aks for ask.
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    What is the origin of metathesis?

    In linguistics, metathesis is the transposition of two consecutive letters or sounds of a word, as in the now nonstandard pronunciation aks for ask (Old English has the verbs áscian and axian, and Middle English has asken and axen). Every well-disciplined schoolboy knows that in Greek quantitative metathesis is the change of long vowel + short vowel, e.g., ēo, to short vowel + long vowel, . Metathesis comes via Late Latin metathesis "transposition of the letters of a word," from Greek metáthesis “change, change of position, transposition,” a compound formed of the common Greek preposition and prefix metá, meta- “with, in the middle of, among” (metá is related to German mit and Old English mid “with,” as in the first syllable of midwife). Thésis “placing, location, setting” is a derivative of the verb tithénai “to put, place,” from the very common Proto-Indo-European root dhē- “to place, put,” and the source of Latin facere “to do” and English do. Metathesis entered English in the 16th century.

    How is metathesis used?

    ''NOO-kyuh-luhr''-sayers, who number in the many millions, in fact, move the l in nuclear to the final syllable and thus avoid the unusual pattern. (Linguists refer to this sound-switching process as metathesis.) Frank Abate, "On Language: Nuclear," New York Times Magazine, January 12, 2003

    Remember this when the next time you hear someone complaining about aks for ask or nucular for nuclear, or even perscription. It's called metathesis, and it's a very common, perfectly natural process. David Shariatmadari, "8 pronunciation errors that made the English language what it is today," The Guardian, March 11, 2014

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  • Word of the day
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    Thursday, March 28, 2019

    knackered

    adjective [nak-erd] British Slang.
    exhausted; very tired: He is really knackered after work.
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    What is the origin of knackered?

    The verb knacker originally meant “to tire, kill, castrate,” a verb derived either from the noun knacker “a tradesman who buys animal carcasses or slaughters useless livestock” or from the plural noun knackers, a slang word for “testicles, courage.” Knackered in the sense “exhausted” entered English in 19th century.

    How is knackered used?

    She was completely knackered. All she wanted was a shower and twelve hours of sleep. Elizabeth George, Playing for the Ashes, 1994

    When they're knackered like that they start crying. Patrick O'Keeffe, The Visitors, 2014

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