Word of the Day

Thursday, July 19, 2018

hoity-toity

[ hoi-tee-toi-tee ]

adjective

assuming airs; pretentious; haughty.

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What is the origin of hoity-toity?

The adjective hoity-toity now means “pretentious, haughty”; formerly it meant “frivolous, giddy.” The phrase is probably an alteration and reduplication of hoit, an obsolete verb of obscure origin meaning “to romp, play the fool.” Hoit may also be the source of or akin to hoyden “boisterous, carefree girl, tomboy,” possibly a borrowing from Dutch heiden “rustic, uncivilized person.” Hoity-toity entered English in the 17th century.

how is hoity-toity used?

Always crowing about their kid with the straight A’s at that hoity-toity school.

Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex, 2002

The typeface used for the credits is the kind of hoity-toity cursive writing—in hot pink, no less—one might see on a Tiffany & Co. shower invitation.

Laura Jacobs, "The Devil Inside: Watching Rosemary's Baby in the Age of #MeToo," Vanity Fair, Summer 2018
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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

cheville

[ shuh-vee ]

noun

Prosody. a word or expression whose only function is to fill a metrical gap in a verse or to balance a sentence.

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What is the origin of cheville?

Cheville represents the normal northern French phonetic development of Latin clāvīcula “key, tendril, pivot,” a diminutive of clāvis “key, bar, hook.” In French cheville means “ankle, peg, dowel, pin, plug.” It is this latter sense “plug” that gave rise to the English meaning of a filler word or phrase in a sentence or line of verse. Clāvis derives from the Proto-Indo-European root klēu-, klāu- “hook, peg,” the same source of the very many Greek forms, e.g., kleís, klēī́s, klāī́s (all from assumed klāwis, identical to the Latin noun), Celtic (Old Irish) clō “nail,” Baltic (Lithuanian) kliū́ti “to hang, hang on,” and Slavic (Polish) klucz “key.” Cheville entered English in the 19th century.

how is cheville used?

The languages were by this time close enough to each other to make this easy, and when there was any difficulty it scarce required the wit of a Chaucer to supply such a cheville as “An emperesse or crowned queen” … (though it may be observed that “crowned” is a distinct improvement to the sound, if not to the sense of the line) …

George Saintsbury, A History of English Prosody, Volume I, 1906

But when we discover that … the word “Sparte” has been dragged in at any cost for the rhyme’s sake, we feel that a cheville, like some other concessions to the intractable nature of things, is least offensive when it asks for no admiration.

Frederic William Henry Myers, "Victor Hugo," Essays, Modern, 1883
Tuesday, July 17, 2018

magisterial

[ maj-uh-steer-ee-uhl ]

adjective

authoritative; weighty; of importance or consequence; of, relating to, or befitting a master: a magisterial pronouncement by the director of the board.

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What is the origin of magisterial?

Magisterial comes directly from Late Latin magisteriālis “pertaining to a teacher or magistrate,” a development of Latin magistrālis, a derivative of Latin magister “magistrate, master, teacher.” Magister is formed from the adverb magis “more” and the Proto-Indo-European suffix -ter, used to form natural or opposing pairs, e.g., dexter “right-hand” and sinister “left-hand,” noster “our” and vester “your,” and magister “master,” literally “the bigger guy,” and minister “servant, assistant,” literally “the smaller guy” (from the adverb minus “less”). Magisterial entered English in the 17th century.

how is magisterial used?

This is an impressive, magisterial book whose steady, earnest gaze also encompasses the lives of pickpockets and poets.

Robert McCrum, "Nightwalking review – an enthralling study of London after dark," Guardian, March 29, 2015

They heard a magisterial speech from A. Lawrence Lowell: “As wave after wave rolls landward from the ocean, breaks and fades away sighing down the shingle of the beach, so the generations of men follow one another, sometimes quietly, sometimes, after a storm, with noisy turbulence.”

William Martin, Harvard Yard, 2003

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