Word of the Day

Word of the day

Sunday, January 07, 2018


[ hawrs-feth-erz ]


Slang. rubbish; nonsense; bunk (used to express contemptuous rejection).

learn about the english language

What is the origin of horsefeathers?

Horsefeathers is a polite euphemism, originally American, for the impolite horseshit. The cartoonist William “Billie” De Beck (1890–1942) claimed credit for coining the word in 1928.

how is horsefeathers used?

At the risk of seeming disrespectful, I rise to cry: “Horsefeathers!”

John R. Tunis, "Are Fraternities Worthwhile? No!" The Rotarian, September 1937

Horsefeathers!” Gus snorted. “Why, that’s the dumbest–“

Arnold Bateman, "Gus," Boys' Life, April 1949


Get the Word of the Day delivered daily
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Word of the day

Saturday, January 06, 2018


[ boo-struh-feed-n, -fee-don, bou- ]


an ancient method of writing in which the lines run alternately from right to left and from left to right.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of boustrophedon?

Only students of ancient scripts, especially (but not exclusively) of ancient Greek, will know the meaning and etymology of boustrophedon “like the ox turns (in plowing).” The major components of the Greek adverb boustrophēdón are the nouns boûs (stem, bou-) “bull, cow, ox,” and strophḗ “a turn, twist.” In the earliest Greek writing (mid-8th century b.c.), the first line was written from right to left (“retrograde,” as always in Phoenician and Hebrew); the second line from left to right; the third line retrograde, etc. Boustrophedonic writing was obsolete in Athens and most other parts of Greece by the mid-5th century b.c. Boustrophedon entered English in the 18th century.

how is boustrophedon used?

Many of the old Greek inscriptions were written alternately from right to left and from left to right, turning the direction as one turns a plow in the field, and this style was called “boustrophedon” (turning like oxen).

Carl Vogt, "Writing Physiologically Considered," The Popular Science Monthly, September 1881

And although the zigzag boustrophedon style of writing had long since been replaced with lines running uniformly left to right, a brief, unrelated Roman experiment of SEPARATING∙WORDS∙WITH∙DOTS had by the end of the second century been abandoned in favor of the Greeks’ monotonous, unspaced scriptio continua.

Keith Houston, Shady Characters, 2013

Word of the day

Friday, January 05, 2018


[ turn-koht ]


a person who changes to the opposite party or faction, reverses principles, etc.; renegade.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of turncoat?

There are several possibilities for the origin of turncoat. One is that two English barons in the early 13th century changed fealty to King John (c1167–1216), literally changing their coats of arms from one lord to another. Another is that during the siege of Corfe Castle (1645) during the English Civil Wars (1642–51), Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers turned their coats inside out to match the colors of the Royalist army. A similar expression “to wear the King’s coat,” dating from the mid-19th century, means “serve in the King’s army.” The now obsolete idiom “to be in someone else’s coat,” dating from the mid-16th century, meant the modern “to be in someone else’s shoes.” Turncoat entered English in the 16th century.

how is turncoat used?

A turncoat is the angry name for a convert, but you are no converts; how then can you be turncoats?

George Lyttelton, 1st Baron Lyttelton, A Letter to the Tories, 1747

With Roy comes big trouble, and aging sheriff Bill McNue (Scott McNairy) does his best to protect his people. But Frank and his gang are tearing up nearby towns hunting the turncoat, and a showdown looms.

Kelly Woo, "6 things to know about 'Godless,' Netflix's star-packed limited-series western," Yahoo! News, November 21, 2017

Word of the day

Thursday, January 04, 2018


[ moi-ruh ]


(among ancient Greeks) a person's fate or destiny.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of moira?

Moira comes straight from Greek moȋra “part, portion of booty, one’s portion in life, division (of land, people), political party.” The Greek noun comes from a widespread Proto-Indo-European root (s)mer- to remember,” the source of Latin memoria “memory,” and Germanic (Old English) murnan “to be anxious, care,” English mourn. In Greek mythology there were three Moirai (Moerae), the “Fates” that controlled human life: Clotho (Klōthṓ) “the Spinner (of the thread of human life”), who determined when a person was to be born and was in charge of the present; Lachesis (Láchesis) “the Disposer (of lots or portions),” who was in charge of the past and measured the length of human life; and Atropos (átropos) “the Unturnable, Inflexible,” who was in charge of the future and cut the thread of human life, causing death.

how is moira used?

Everyone has a moira that “spins the thread” of one’s fate, the day of death.

Barry B. Powell, "Introduction" The Iliad by Homer, 2014

Hermes tells Calypso that ‘it is not his [Odysseus’] aisa to perish far away from his loved ones, but it is still his moira to see his loved ones and reach his high-roofed house and fatherland’ …

Ahuvia Kahane, Homer: A Guide for the Perplexed, 2012

Word of the day

Wednesday, January 03, 2018


[ puh-trish-uh n ]


a person of noble or high rank; aristocrat.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of patrician?

The Latin adjective and noun patricius, patritius dates to the comedies of the Roman dramatist Plautus (c254-c184 b.c.). The word means having the rank and dignity of the patrēs (Roman senators), or a person with that dignity, a noble. According to the Roman historian Livy (59 b.c.–17 a.d.), Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, appointed the first 100 senators and named them patrēs (fathers). From the time of the reign of the emperor Constantine (288?–337 a.d.) onward, patricius was a high honorary title that entailed no specified duties and was only occasionally awarded. Patrician entered English in the 15th century.

how is patrician used?

His books became real for everyone who read them, whether the humble labourer in the Strand or the patrician in Mayfair.

Matthew Pearl, The Last Dickens, 2009

When he began the book in November or December 1821, James Cooper was, nominally at least, a man of substance–patrician, gentleman farmer, owner of a whaling ship, and (as the only surviving son of the late Judge William Cooper of Cooperstown) heir to numerous farms and some thousands of acres of undeveloped land in New York State.

James Franklin Beard, "Historical Introduction," The Pioneers (1823) by James Fenimore Cooper, 1980

Word of the day

Tuesday, January 02, 2018


[ waw-ter-shed, wot-er- ]


an important point of division or transition between two phases, conditions, etc.: The treaty to ban war in space may prove to be one of history's great watersheds.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of watershed?

Watershed may be an ordinary English compound, the element shed having the rare sense “a part made in one’s hair.” Watershed may also be a loan translation from the German compound Wasserscheide (Scheide in German means “boundary, border, limit, divide”). Watershed entered English in the 18th century.

how is watershed used?

For we stand, although the nation is unaware of the fact, upon a watershed of history; unless due care is taken we shall cross it blindfold and march on to a destination which is hidden from our gaze.

Ronald Clark, Queen Victoria's Bomb, 1967

Goethe’s time in Italy marked a watershed in his life.

Adam Kirsch, "Design for Living: What's great about Goethe?" The New Yorker, February 1, 2016

Word of the day

Monday, January 01, 2018


[ in-staw-rey-shuh n ]


renewal; restoration; renovation; repair.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of instauration?

English instauration comes directly from the Latin noun instaurātiōn- (stem of instaurātiō) “renewal, repetition,” a derivative of instaurāre “to renew, repeat,” originally “to set up stakes or poles (in building),” from the obsolete noun staurus. The Latin root of the verb and noun is stau-, an uncommon extension of the Proto-Indo-European root stā-. The same rare variant also appears in Greek staurόs “upright stake, pile (for a foundation).” Staurόs is also the word used in the gospels, e.g., Matthew 27:40, for the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Instauration entered English in the early 17th century.

how is instauration used?

In the period of strongest social division (before the instauration of democratic cultures), reading and writing were equally class privileges …

Roland Barthes, "From Work to Text," The Rustle of Language, translated by Richard Howard, 1986

Warm friendship, indeed, he felt for her; but whatever that might have done towards the instauration of a former dream was now hopelessly barred by the rivalry of the thing itself in the guise of a lineal successor.

Thomas Hardy, The Well-Beloved, 1897


Get the Word of the Day delivered daily
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.