Word of the Day

Word of the day

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

hamartia

[ hah-mahr-tee-uh ]

noun

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

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

versify

[ vur-suh-fahy ]

verb

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

Word of the day

Monday, April 01, 2019

fool

[ fool ]

noun

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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