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
Sunday, July 14, 2019

raison d'être

[ rey-zohn de-truh ]

noun

reason or justification for being or existence: Art is the artist's raison d'être.

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What is the origin of raison d'être?

The quasi-English phrase raison d’être “reason of being” is still unnaturalized, retaining a French pronunciation of sorts. The English noun reason comes from Middle English reason, raisoun, raison (with still more spelling variants), from Old French reason, reason, raison, etc., from Latin ratiō (inflectional stem ratiōn-), whose many meanings include “a count, calculation, reckoning (as in business or accounts), theory (as opposed to practice), faculty or exercise of reason.”

The French preposition de “of, for” becomes d’ before a vowel. De comes from the Latin preposition “away, away from, down, down from.” The development from to Romance de, di “of” can be seen over the centuries in graffiti, epitaphs, and personal letters. St. Augustine of Hippo defended vulgarisms (which after all became standard in Romance): “Better that grammarians condemn us than that the common people not understand.”

Être is the French infinitive “to be,” and as is typical in French, it is much worn down from its original. In Old French the infinitive was estre, a regular development of Vulgar Latin essere “to be,” from Latin esse. Esse in Latin is an archaism, and the infinitives of nearly all other verbs end in –ere or –āre, or –īre. In Vulgar Latin, however, esse is an anomaly, and the Vulgus “the common people” simple regularized esse to essere. (Essere is even today the infinitive of the verb “to be” in standard Italian.) French loses a vowel after a stressed syllable; thus essere becomes essre (esre), and esre develops an excrescent consonant t between s and r for ease of pronunciation. Raison d’être first appears in English in a letter written in 1864 by John Stuart Mill.

how is raison d'être used?

He would have no raison d’être if there were no lugubrious miseries in the world, as an undertaker would have no meaning if there were no funerals.

D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love, 1920

After all, measuring risk, and setting prices accordingly, is the raison d’être of a health-insurance company.

James Surowiecki, "Fifth Wheel," The New Yorker, December 27, 2009
Saturday, July 13, 2019

infare

[ in-fair ]

noun

Older Use.

a party or reception for a newly married couple.

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What is the origin of infare?

Infare comes from the Old English noun infǣr “a going in, entrance.” In Scots and Ulster English, infare also meant “a party or reception for a newly married couple,” a sense that the Scotch-Irish brought to the U.S. by the late 18th century.

how is infare used?

There could be no wedding in a Hoosier village thirty or forty years ago without an infare on the following day.

Edward Eggleston, Roxy, 1878

Dr. Graham, an entertaining Kentucky centenarian now living, describes the wedding of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks, and also the “infare” that followed it—a Homeric marriage feast to which everybody was bidden ….

E. G. J., "New Light on Lincoln's Life," The Dial, March 16, 1900
Friday, July 12, 2019

federalese

[ fed-er-uh-leez, -lees ]

noun

awkward, evasive, or pretentious prose said to characterize the publications and correspondence of U.S. federal bureaus.

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What is the origin of federalese?

Federalese is the youngest of an unlovely trio, dates to 1944, and has the narrowest reference, being restricted to the federal government. The equally ugly bureaucratese also dates to World War II (1942) and is broader in scope, including state and municipal government. The oldest and most comprehensive term, officialese, dates to 1884. In English the suffix -ese forms derivative adjectives and nouns from names of countries, their inhabitants, and their languages (such as Chinese, Faroese, Portuguese, Japanese, and Brooklynese, too). By analogy with this usage, –ese is used jocularly or disparagingly to form words designating the diction of people or institutions accused of writing in a dialect of their own invention (such as journalese, officialese, bureaucratese, and federalese).

how is federalese used?

The C.D. program echoes the 1950s mania for bomb shelters, but the 1982 version incorporates a new idea. In federalese, it’s called “crisis relocation,” and, like bomb shelters, a lot of it is laughable.

Michael Kramer, "The Fate of the Freeze," New York, June 14, 1982

The language used is bureaucratic gobbledygook, jargon, double talk, a form of officialese, federalese and insurancese, and doublespeak.

Jack Weinstein, as quoted in "Gobbledygook," ABA Journal, November 1984
Thursday, July 11, 2019

peccable

[ pek-uh-buhl ]

adjective

liable to sin or error.

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What is the origin of peccable?

Peccable comes from Old French from the Medieval Latin adjective peccābilis “capable of sin, susceptible to sin,” formed from the Latin verb peccāre “to go wrong, make a mistake, act incorrectly, commit a moral or sexual offense.” Peccable was formed on the model of impeccable, which dates from the first half of the 16th century. Peccable entered English in the early 1600s.

how is peccable used?

In his thought at that sharp moment he blasphemed even against all that had been left of his faith in the peccable Master.

Henry James, The Lesson of the Master, 1888

And Mrs. Hancock delivers Mrs. Malaprop’s peccable usages with impeccable aplomb. Nothing offends this lady so much as having someone cast ”an aspersion upon my parts of speech.”

Walter Goodman, "A Comedy of Manners by Sheridan," New York Times, August 10, 1989

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