Word of the Day

Thursday, April 15, 2021

hydra

[ hahy-druh ]

noun

a persistent or many-sided problem that presents new obstacles as soon as one aspect is solved.

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What is the origin of hydra?

Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1340-1400) was the first English writer to use ydre, the nine-headed serpent. Middle French ydre derives from Latin hydra, itself a borrowing of Greek hýdra “water-serpent.” Hýdra is closely related to Greek hýdōr “water,” and both words come from the Proto-Indo-European root wed-, wod-, ud– “wet, water.” This same root is the source of wet, water, and wash in Germanic (English); of voda “water” and vodka “vodka” in Slavic (Czech), of Hittite wātar “water.” Ud– is the variant of the root for both Greek hýdōr and Old Irish uisce “water” (from unattested ud-skio-) and the immediate source of English whisky/whiskey.

how is hydra used?

At every turn, Lutie confronts that many-headed hydra of racism, sexism and classism.

Tayari Jones, "In Praise of Ann Petry," New York Times, November 10, 2018

Partially or fully wiping out federal student loan debt would be a godsend to many Americans but not be enough to slay the fund-eating dragon that has become a many-headed hydra.

Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, "Even forgiving student loans won't solve the higher education funding crisis," Washington Post, January 22, 2021

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

foofaraw

[ foo-fuh-raw ]

noun

a great fuss or disturbance about something very insignificant.

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What is the origin of foofaraw?

Foofaraw, “a great fuss over something very insignificant; excessive decoration or ornamentation, as on clothing or a building,” originated on the western frontier of the U.S. in the mid-19th century. Foofaraw, spelled fofarraw, used as an adjective meaning “gaudy, tawdry” first appears in print in June 1848 in a series of articles for Blackwood’s Magazine (published in Edinburgh) by George Ruxton, an English explorer and travel writer, who wrote about the Far West. Fofarrow used as a noun meaning “gaudy apparel” appears in the same magazine by the same author two months later, in August 1848. The sense “great fuss over something insignificant” dates from the early 1930s. The many variant spellings, such as fofarraw, fofarow, foofaraw, foofoorah, and 20 others, show that foofaraw has no reliable etymology. Speculations about the etymology of foofaraw include Spanish fanfarrón, a noun and adjective meaning “braggart, boaster” (perhaps from Arabic farfār “talkative”). Foofaraw may also come from French fanfaron, a noun and adjective with the same meanings as the Spanish. The French dialect form fanfarou may also have contributed to the American word.

how is foofaraw used?

Last week, Swedish movie theaters created a media foofaraw when they announced that they would begin providing a rating based on the Bechdel test for the films they screen.

Holly L. Derr, "What Really Makes a Film Feminist?" The Atlantic, November 13, 2013

Pound for pound, City Lights is almost certainly the best bookstore in the United States. It’s not as sprawling as the Strand, in Manhattan, or Moe’s Books, in Berkeley. But it’s so dense with serious world literature of every stripe, and so absent trinkets and elaborate bookmarks and candles and other foofaraw, that it’s a Platonic ideal.

Dwight Garner, "Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Enduring San Francisco," New York Times, March 11, 2019

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

lucida

[ loo-si-duh ]

noun

the brightest star in a constellation.

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What is the origin of lucida?

Lucida is the feminine singular of the Latin adjective lūcidus meaning “bright, shining”; the Latin phrase lūcida stella simply means “bright star”; the modern sense “the brightest star in a constellation” is a New Latin usage dating from the first half of the 18th century. Lūcidus is a derivative of the verb lūcēre “to emit light, shine,” which in turn is a derivative of the noun lux, inflectional stem lūc– “light, a light.” Stella comes from an unrecorded Latin sterla, literally “little star,” from the Proto-Indo-European root ster– “star,” which appears in Proto-Germanic as sterzōn-, and in the recorded Germanic languages as staírnō in Gothic, sterno in Old High German, stjarna in Old Norse, steorra in Old English, sterre in Middle English, and star in Modern English. Greek astḗr shares an initial a with Armenian astł, both meaning “star.”

how is lucida used?

Interestingly, the old astronomy books and sky charts, which depicted the constellations as allegorical drawings, placed the lucida (brightest star) of Lynx in the tuft of its tail. From these drawings it would seem that nearby Leo Minor, the Smaller Lion, is about to provoke a cat fight by biting Lynx’s tail.

Joe Rao, "Find the Felines: Cats in the Night Sky," Space.com, April 15, 2005

At its [Scorpius’s] heart lies its lucida or brightest star, the red Antares, so named because its color makes of it a rival to Mars whenever that red planet is nearby.

Arthur Upgren, The Turtle and the Stars, 2002

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