• Word of the day
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    Thursday, August 22, 2019

    hyperbolic

    adjective [hahy-per-bol-ik]
    exaggerated.
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    What is the origin of hyperbolic?

    The adjective hyerbolic has two distinct senses, both of them from the same Greek word hyperbolḗ “superiority, excess (in geometry), extravagance (in rhetoric),” literally “a throwing beyond.” In rhetoric hyperbolḗ means “an overstrained word or expression, a strong statement,” as in "I could eat a horse!" The geometric sense of hyperbolḗ (via New Latin hyperbola) is the curve formed by the intersection of a plane with a right circular cone when the plane makes a greater angle (that is, the plane makes a hyperbolḗ) with the base than does the generator of the cone. Hyperbolic in the rhetorical sense entered English about 1646; the geometry sense entered English about 1676.

    How is hyperbolic used?

    ... his hyperbolic rhetoric and his lack of attention to the concrete realities of reform will make it harder for even his sensible ideas to work. James Surowieki, "Morales's Mistake," The New Yorker, January 15, 2006

    “Ignore the sound of people retching and sobbing and remember to keep your pace constant and very slow,” is the slightly hyperbolic description from Henry Stedman’s guide to climbing the mountain. Nadia Drake, "The Gear That Got Me to the Top of Kilimanjaro," Wired, September 21, 2015

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  • Word of the day
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    Wednesday, August 21, 2019

    omphaloskepsis

    noun [om-fuh-loh-skep-sis]
    contemplation of one's navel as part of a mystical exercise; navel-gazing.
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    What is the origin of omphaloskepsis?

    It is not surprising that omphaloskepsis, a noun meaning “contemplating one’s navel” and implying contempt, first occurs in Aldous Huxley’s satirical novel Those Barren Leaves (1925). (The equally dismissive adjective omphaloskeptical is first recorded in 1978). It is easy to deconstruct omphaloskepsis: omphalós in Greek means “navel, bellybutton, a boss on a shield,” which comes from the very common Proto-Indo-European root enebh- with variants embh-, ombh-, nobh-, nōbh-, nebh- “bellybutton, boss of a shield, hub of a wheel.” Enebh- is the source of Latin umbilīcus "bellybutton" (from ombh-) and umbō “the boss of a shield” (also from ombh-); Sanskrit nābhīlam "bellybutton” (from nōbh-); Old Irish imblin, imbliu “bellybutton” (from embh-); Old High German naba and Old English nafu, both meaning “hub” (from nobh-); Old High German nabalo and Old English nafela, both meaning “bellybutton” (English navel). The Greek noun and combining form sképsis, -skepsis “viewing, perception, examination, speculation” is a derivative of the verb sképtesthai “to look around, look back, consider, survey, spy on.” Sképtesthai comes from much earlier Greek skepjesthai, from the Greek root skep- and the present tense suffix -j- (representing the same sound as in yet). Latin has the verb specere "to look at, see, observe,” whose present tense form speciō shows the same suffix -j-. The Latin root is spec- (i.e., spek-) and the Greek is skep-: which one is “correct”? The answer comes from other languages: Germanic has spehōn “to watch, spy on” (from Proto-Indo-European spek-), Sanskrit has spáśati “he sees” (from the Sanskrit root spaś-, from earlier speś-, from an even earlier spek-). Greek “loses.”

    How is omphaloskepsis used?

    Finally the flesh dies and putrefies; and the spirit presumably putrefies too. And there's an end of your omphaloskepsis, with all its by-products, God and justice and salvation and all the rest of them. Aldous Huxley, Those Barren Leaves, 1925

    The court understands that many a writer is writing high-mindedly only for himself. Or herself. Fine! But such an exercise in omphaloskepsis will buy no brioches for breakfast. James J. Kilpatrick, "You Should Write to Be Understood," The Free-Lance Star, January 14, 2006

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, August 20, 2019

    punditocracy

    noun [puhn-di-tok-ruh-see]
    influential media pundits collectively.
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    What is the origin of punditocracy?

    Punditocracy, originally an American term, composed of pundit “learned person, authority, maven” and the thoroughly naturalized suffix -cracy "rule, government," is a snarky noun used to refer to the elite members of the news media (also known as the commentariat—another snarky noun). Pundit comes from Sanskrit paṇḍita, an adjective and noun meaning “learned, learned man” (in Sanskrit language and literature, Hindu religion, philosophy, and law), also used as a title like Doctor. Punditocracy entered English in the mid-1980s.

    How is punditocracy used?

    Meanwhile, imagination is in short supply among the energy punditocracy. Mark P. Mills, "Imagining How Technology Will Disrupt Future Energy Markets," Forbes, May 28, 2019

    Max was the forehead of today's mass punditocracy, presaging Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, and the rest of today's flesh-and-blood bloviators. Scott Brown, "Scott Brown on How Max Headroom Predicted the Demise of TV Journalism," Wired, July 28, 2010

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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, August 19, 2019

    xeric

    adjective [zeer-ik]
    of, relating to, or adapted to a dry environment.
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    What is the origin of xeric?

    Xeric is an adjective used in ecology, botany, and biology in general to characterize a very dry environment or an organism that can grow in such an environment. Xeric comes from Greek xērós “dry, withered,” and it appears to be obviously related to the Greek noun xerón “dry land, mainland,” but the long ē and the short e are problematic. If xērós and xerón are related, they will come from the Proto-Indo-European root kser- (also ksēr-) “dry,” source of Latin serescere “to become dry,” serēnitās “dry, bright, clear weather or sky” (English serenity), and serēnus “clear, cloudless, fine” (English serene). Xeric entered English in the first half of the 20th century.

    How is xeric used?

    At the island's opposite end is the Southeast Peninsula, a wilderness of salt ponds and xeric vegetation. Kenneth Brower, "Legacy Isles of the Caribbean," Islands, March 2003

    These increasingly xeric (hot and dry) conditions restricted the range of large game animals and this, coupled with human predation and environmental stress, drove many game species ... to extinction. W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear, "Foreword," People of the Earth, 1992

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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, August 18, 2019

    luminary

    noun [loo-muh-ner-ee]
    a person who has attained eminence in his or her field or is an inspiration to others: one of the luminaries in the field of medical science.
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    What is the origin of luminary?

    English luminary comes from Middle English luminari(e) “light (especially of the sun or moon), lamp, source of spiritual light, shining example of holiness, earthly glory,” from Old French luminarie, luminaire, from Medieval Latin lūmināria (plural of lūmināre), from Late Latin lūmināria “lights, lamps,” used in the Vulgate for the lights in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and in Christian churches. (The Vulgate is the Latin version of the Bible, prepared chiefly by St. Jerome at the end of the 4th century a.d.). In Latin of the classical period, lūmināre meant merely “window, window shutter.” Luminary entered English in the late 15th century.

    How is luminary used?

    I have been accustomed to consider him a luminary too dazzling for the darkness which surrounds him .... Percy Bysshe to William Godwin, January 3, 1812, in The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Vol. 1, 1912

    She had been a luminary of the British folk revival in the nineteen-fifties and sixties—a ballad singer with a steady, almost austere approach to melody, a demure presence, and a true, heartbreaking voice. "What We're Reading This Summer," The New Yorker, June 20, 2018

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, August 17, 2019

    redoubtable

    adjective [ri-dou-tuh-buhl]
    that is to be feared; formidable.
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    What is the origin of redoubtable?

    English redoubtable comes from Middle English redoutable “terrible, frightening, worthy of honor, venerable,” ultimately from Old French redotable, redoubtable, a derivative of the verb redouter “to fear, dread.” Redouter is formed from a French use of the prefix re- as an intensive (for instance, in refine), a use that Latin re- does not have, and from Latin dubitāre “to doubt, hesitate, waver” (but not “to fear”). Redoubtable entered English in the first half of the 15th century.

    How is redoubtable used?

    Isabelle may not realize it for a while, but she's become a redoubtable opponent, Vincent. Jonathan Carroll, Glass Soup, 2005

    "They are as redoubtable a gang of pirates as ever sailed the Spanish Main," Cannon said in introduction to his remarks about the Florida delegation. Keith Wheeler, Henry Suydam, Norman Ritter, Bill Wise, and Howard Sochurek, "Now—See the Innards of a Fat Pig," Life, August 16, 1963

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  • Word of the day
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    Friday, August 16, 2019

    beadledom

    noun [beed-l-duhm]
    a gratuitous or officious display or exercise of authority, as by petty officials.
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    What is the origin of beadledom?

    Beadledom, “a gratuitous or officious display or exercise of authority, as by petty officials,” is a compound of beadle and the noun suffix -dom. In Old English a býdel meant “a herald, proclaimer, preacher,” from an original Germanic budilaz “a herald,” akin to Old High German butyl and German Büttel “bailiff, beadle.” The Germanic word was adopted into Romance, becoming bidello in Italian, bedel in Spanish and Old French, and bidellus or bedellus in Medieval Latin. Nowadays a beadle is a minor officer in a parish who acts as an usher and maintains order during services, a sense the word has had since the late 16th century. The Middle English forms, such as budel, beodel, bidell (deriving from Old English býdel), were gradually replaced by French bedel beginning in the early 14th century; the modern spelling beadle dates from the early 17th century. The abstract noun suffix -dom, indicating a state or condition, as in wisdóm “wisdom” and cyningdóm “kingdom,” is akin to Old English and Old Saxon -dóm, German -tum (as in Heiligtum “sanctuary, shrine, relic”), and was originally an independent noun meaning “putting, position, stature, judgment," a derivative of the verb do. Beadledom entered English in the 1840s.

    How is beadledom used?

    ... I shall endeavor to limit the occupation of the Beadle of Golden Square to pure beadledom, by prohibiting him from waiting at the evening parties of the trustees, and beating the door-mats of the inhabitants. Editors, "Punch for Parliament," Punch, Vol. 13, 1847

    The music of beadledom has an attire uniformly officious, sublimely unmeaning. "The Decadence of Church Music," The Musical Standard, No. 428, Vol. 3, October 12, 1872

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