Word of the Day

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

ideogram

[ id-ee-uh-gram, ahy-dee- ]

noun

a written symbol that represents an idea or object directly rather than a particular word or speech sound, as a Chinese character.

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What is the origin of ideogram?

An ideogram or ideograph is “a written symbol that represents an idea or object directly rather than a word or speech sound, as a Chinese character.” Ideogram and ideograph literally mean “a written idea,” from Greek idéa “idea” and the noun grámma or the Greek combining form –graphos, both meaning “something written,” which are derivatives of the verb gráphein “to write.” Because ideograms convey meaning, not words or sounds, 5 can be pronounced five, fünf, pięć, pĕt, pénte, pémpe, or in several thousand other ways. Ideogram and ideograph both entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is ideogram used?

Ideograms are symbols that represent ideas or concepts rather than objects themselves—a circle with a line through it (🚫) to indicate prohibition, for example. Many emoji are hybrids of ideograms and pictograms.

Ian Bogost, "Emoji Don't Mean What They Used To," The Atlantic, February 11, 2019

Chinese characters are based on the simplified outlines of concrete elements in the visible world. Reduced to abstract lines and combined together, these yield the thousands of characters called ideograms, i.e.: idea transcribers.

Souren Melikian, "Separating East from West with a calligrapher's touch," New York Times, June 20, 2008
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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Barmecidal

[ bahr-muh-sahyd-l ]

adjective

giving only the illusion of plenty; illusory: a Barmecidal banquet.

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What is the origin of Barmecidal?

It is forgivable, even rational—but nevertheless incorrect—to think that Barmecidal means something like “killing Barm or a Barm or a barm or barms,” just as the adjective homicidal is formed from the noun homicide. Analyzing Barmecidal from back to front, we see the familiar adjectival suffix –al. The element –id or –ide is the not so familiar Greek noun suffix –id, a feminine patronymic suffix having the general sense “offspring of, descendant of,” and used especially with the names of dynasties (such as Pisistratid, Abbasid, Attalid). The first two syllables, Barmec-, come from Persian Barmak, the name of a wealthy Iranian family that was very influential in Baghdad under the Abassid dynasty, and famous for its patronage of the arts and sciences. A Barmecidal banquet (or feast) refers to a story from the The Arabian Nights Entertainments; its “hero” is Ja’far ibn Yahya Barmaki (Ja’far al-Barmaki, also Giafar), who served a beggar a series of empty platters, pretending the empty platters were a sumptuous feast, a fiction or nasty joke that the beggar cheerfully accepted.

how is Barmecidal used?

The men employed by Mr. Hackley, the Street Contractor, assembled yesterday, the regular pay-day, at the office, in the Park, to receive their semi-monthly wages, but they were met by the assurance that there was no money, and that it was only a Barmecidal pay-day.

"The Street Contractor's Pay-Day, but no Money," New York Times, January 22, 1862

Why … did I leave the Great Gatsby bemoaning not the Barmecidal mousetrap of the American dream, but rather the director’s Liza-Minnelli-performing-“All-the-Single-Ladies”-in-Sex-and-the-City-2 style of adapting epic tragedies?

Moze Halperin, "How '#Rich Kids of Beverly Hills' Makes 'The Wolf of Wall Street,' 'Gatsby,' and 'The Bling Ring' Obsolete," Flavorwire, January 29, 2014
Monday, July 15, 2019

remora

[ rem-er-uh ]

noun

an obstacle, hindrance, or obstruction.

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What is the origin of remora?

Remora comes directly from Latin remora “hindrance, delay,” composed of the prefix re– “back, backward, again” and the noun mora “delay, obstacle, pause.” Other English words ultimately derived from mora include moratorium and demur. Remora is first recorded in English in the early 16th century as a name for the suckerfish, which has sucking disks on its head by which it can attach to the likes of sharks, turtles, and ships. This name is found in Late Latin in the 4th century a.d., so called because the fish was believed to slow the progress of ships. In Book 32, Chapter 1 of his Natural History, Pliny the Elder (a.d. 23–79 ) gives mora as a classical Latin gloss of Greek echenēis, literally meaning “holding (back) a ship,” and marvels at the supposed power of these fish: “But alas for human vanity!—when their prows, beaked as they are with brass and with iron, and armed for the onset, can thus be arrested and rivetted to the spot by a little fish, no more than some half foot in length!” (translated by John Bostock and Henry T. Riley, 1855). Remora in the archaic sense “obstacle, hindrance, obstruction” entered English by the early 1600s.

how is remora used?

… notwithstanding the remora of their dismasted ship, and the disadvantage of repairing damages at sea, the French fleet arrived in safety ….

David Price, Memoirs of the Early Life and Service of a Field Officer, 1839

The great remora to any improvement in our civil code, is the reduction that such reform must produce in the revenue.

Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon; or, Many Things in Few Words, Vol. 1, 1820

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