Word of the Day

Word of the day

Saturday, January 02, 2021

handsel

[ han-suhl ]

noun

a gift or token for good luck or as an expression of good wishes, as at the beginning of the new year or when entering upon a new situation or enterprise.

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What is the origin of handsel?

The noun handsel “a token given at New Year’s for good luck; a payment or reward,” is used mostly in Scotland, Ireland, and Northern England. Handsel comes via Middle English hansel(l)e, hancel, handsell (and several other variant spellings). The Middle English forms come from Old English handselen “manumission,” which literally means “hand-gift” (the Old English noun selen “gift” is akin to the verb sell). The Middle English forms were influenced by Old Norse handsal “handshake, handclasp (for sealing a purchase or a promise).” Handsel entered English before 1000.

how is handsel used?

A handsel is a gift made to celebrate a new beginning, as a coin might be placed in the pocket of a freshly-tailored coat.

Brian Stableford, "Chanterelle," Black Heart, Ivory Bones, 2000

It was the principal day of the whole year for making trials and forecasts of the future. Every visitor to the house received a “handsel,” i.e. a gift.

W. W. Tullock, D. D., "The Celtic Year," The Living Age, January–March, 1907

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Friday, January 01, 2021

carpe diem

[ kahr-pe -dee-em; English kahr-pey -dee-uhm ]

seize the day; enjoy the present, as opposed to placing all hope in the future.

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What is the origin of carpe diem?

The Latin sentence carpe diem is usually translated “seize the day,” which is a concise but inadequate translation. The sentence comes from the 1st-century b.c. Roman poet Horace in the first book of his Odes, published in 23 b.c. Carpe is the 2nd person singular present imperative of the verb carpere “to pluck, gather, pull (fruit, flowers, etc.); diem “day,” is the accusative singular of diēs, and the direct object of carpe. A more accurate but tedious translation is “pluck the fruit of the day (while it is still ripe),” which completely demolishes Horace’s conciseness. Carpere comes from the very complicated Proto-Indo-European root (s)kerp-, (s)karp– (and other variants) “to cut, pluck,” the source also of Greek karpós “(cut or plucked) fruit.” The Germanic noun harbistaz, from the Proto-Indo-European superlative adjective karp-ist-os “best suited for plucking or reaping,” yields hærfest “autumn” in Old English (English harvest) and Herbst “autumn” in German. Diēs comes from the very, very widespread Proto-Indo-European root dyeu-, dyu-, diw– “to shine,” and by extension “sky, heaven, god,” source of Latin Juppiter “Jupiter,” actually an old vocative formula meaning “Father Jove,” and the exact equivalent to Greek Zeû páter “Father Zeus,” and Sanskrit dyā́uṣpitā́ “Father Heaven.” Carpe diem entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is carpe diem used?

I asked the now-66-year-old Valerie Carpenter what she would say to the 18-year-old Valerie Glines. “Carpe diem,” she said. “Seize the day. Don’t mess around. Follow your heart.”

John Kelly, "They Dated in High School, Broke Up, Lost Touch: A Valentine's Day Love Story," Washington Post, February 13, 2019

More than anything, the pandemic has shown how quickly things can change if they must. Carpe diem.

Timothy Egan, "After the Pandemic, the Big Reset," New York Times, April 10, 2020

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Thursday, December 31, 2020

sayonara

[ sahy-uh-nahr-uh; Japanese sah-yaw-nah-rah ]

interjection, noun

farewell; goodbye.

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What is the origin of sayonara?

Sayonara comes from Japanese sayōnara, a shortening of sayōnaraba, which means literally “if it be so (that the time for parting has come).” Sayonara consists of sayō “thus” and naraba “if it be.” Sayonara entered English in the second half of the 19th century.

how is sayonara used?

First of all, Joey is terrible at Nintendo. As little brothers go, he’s probably the worst. If he gets to play Zelda, you can say sayonara to your rupees.

Benjamin Flores, "On the Peaceful Transfer of the Nintendo Controller," The New Yorker, October 23, 2020

Turchin published one final monograph … then broke the news to his UConn colleagues that he would be saying a permanent sayonara to the field, although he would continue to draw a salary as a tenured professor in their department.

Graeme Wood, "The Next Decade Could Be Even Worse," The Atlantic, December 2020

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