Word of the Day

Word of the day

Sunday, December 05, 2021

imp

[ imp ]

noun

a little devil or demon; an evil spirit.

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What is the origin of imp?

Imp “a little devil or demon” derives from Old English impa “shoot, graft,” via Latin impotus from Ancient Greek émphytos “planted, implanted.” This Ancient Greek source is related to the noun phytón “plant,” which is the source of the English combining forms phyto- (as in phytochemical, a compound found in plants) and -phyte (as in neophyte “a beginner or novice,” literally “a new plant”). The story of how a word for “plant” became a word for “little devil” is less complicated than one might think; from “plant,” the definition shifted to “offshoot of a plant,” and from there, it broadened to include any offspring, plant or animal. The phrase imp of the devil, meaning “offspring of the devil,” gave imp the additional sense of “demon,” which the word has preserved to the present day though it no longer appears in that phrase. Imp was first recorded in English before the 8th century.

how is imp used?

Experts can say that something is safe, but if we don’t feel that it’s safe, our inner voice can win out over reason. (Likewise, when experts say something is bad for us, we often dispose of that advice in favor of listening to the little imp on our shoulder telling us that it’s something we want to do, so it can’t be all that bad.) The best experts help us find the sweet spot between our gut and our brain by explaining processes, risks, and benefits in ways that we can understand.

Tom Nichols, “Following Your Gut Isn’t the Right Way to Go,” The Atlantic, March 22, 2021

The entire day passed, but Ivan kept on braiding the cord. Suddenly an imp jumped out of the water. “Hired man, what are you doing?” “Why, you can see for yourself. I’m braiding a rope.” “And what do you need the rope for?” “What for? I want to cinch up the lake and squeeze out you devils.”

A. N. Afanas’ev (1826-1871), "The Block-Headed Priest," The Complete Folktales of A. N. Anafas'ev, translated by Jack V. Haney, 2021

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Saturday, December 04, 2021

ransack

[ ran-sak ]

verb (used with object)

to search through for plunder; pillage.

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What is the origin of ransack?

Ransack “to search thoroughly through” derives via Middle English from Old Norse rannsaka “to search, examine (a house for stolen goods), pillage,” a compound of rann “house” and saka “to search.” Rann is a close relative of the English word barn, which was originally a compound of bere “barley” and ern or ǣrn “house.” Saka, a variant of sœkja, is a cognate of the English verbs seek and beseech; in combination with rann, the resulting verb rannsaka originally entailed searching through a house. This definition broadened over time to refer to searching through any building and then shifted to include violence and theft. Ransack was first recorded in English in the early 1200s.

how is ransack used?

Regarded as a symbol of the power and aggression of church and monarchy, the building was ransacked during the French Revolution. The heads of the 28 statues in the Gallery of Kings on the main doorway were struck from their bodies, … Lead from the roof was pillaged for bullets. The bronze bells were melted down to make cannon. Only the enormous Emmanuel bell … was spared.

José Luís Corral Fuentes, “An 800-year history of Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral,” National Geographic, April 15, 2019

A self-described Michigan “soccer mom” who had “every belonging” taken from her family in a 2014 drug raid has been cleared of all criminal charges, 19 months after heavily armed drug task force members ransacked her home and her business. But in many ways, her ordeal is only beginning.

Christopher Ingraham, "What life is like after police ransack your house and take ‘every belonging’—then the charges are dropped," Washington Post, March 30, 2016

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Friday, December 03, 2021

stewardship

[ stoo-erd-ship, styoo- ]

noun

the responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving.

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What is the origin of stewardship?

Stewardship is a compound of the common noun steward “a manager of someone’s property or finances” and the native English suffix –ship, which denotes condition, office, or skill. From about the beginning of the 20th century, stewardship in many Christian denominations has acquired the sense “obligation for the responsible use of time, money, and talents in the service of God and of one’s neighbor.” Stewardship entered English in the 15th century.

how is stewardship used?

Stewardship means, for most of us, find your place on the planet, dig in, and take responsibility from there—the tiresome but tangible work of school boards, county supervisors, local foresters—local politics. … Get a sense of workable territory, learn about it, and start acting point by point.

Gary Snyder, Turtle Island, 1974

On the campaign trail, [Michelle Wu] put forward bold policy proposals and vowed to use the bully pulpit of the mayorship to push for change in arenas outside the purview of City Hall, such as rent control and a fare-free T system …. Wu laid out an agenda to take on inequality and “uneven opportunity” in Boston under her stewardship.

Christopher Gavin, "7 things to know about Michelle Wu," Boston.com, November 2, 2021

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