• Word of the day
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    Wednesday, March 27, 2019

    impedimenta

    plural noun [im-ped-uh-men-tuh]
    baggage or other things that retard one's progress, as supplies carried by an army: the impedimenta of the weekend skier.
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    What is the origin of impedimenta?

    Scores of millions of Americans will smile (or moan) at the recollection of reading (with the assistance of a pony or trot) Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War in their sophomore year high school Latin class, and seeing their old friend (or nemesis) impedīmenta “baggage train, traveling equipment” loaded with ablatives absolute and subjunctives in indirect discourse. Impedīmenta is a neuter plural noun formed from the verb impedīre “to restrict, hobble, impede” and -mentum, a neuter noun suffix for concrete objects. Impedīre is a compound of the preposition and prefix in, in- “in, into” and ped-, the inflectional stem of the noun pēs “foot”; impedīmenta therefore being the things that get caught in your feet, weigh you down. Impedimenta entered English at the end of the 16th century.

    How is impedimenta used?

    Games impedimenta--hockey sticks, boxing gloves, a burst football, a pair of sweaty shorts turned inside out--lay all over the floor ... George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949

    Every man was piled up with impedimenta--broken, torn, soiled and cobbled impedimenta. Arnold Bennett, Over There, 1915

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, March 26, 2019

    skimble-scamble

    adjective [skim-buhl-skam-buhl; skim-uhl-skam-uhl]
    rambling; confused; nonsensical: a skimble-scamble explanation.
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    What is the origin of skimble-scamble?

    The rare adjective skimble-scamble shows the same, common vowel alteration in a reduplicated word as in mish-mash or pitter-patter. The reduplicated word is the verb scamble, of unknown etymology, and now obsolete or dialectal, meaning “to struggle or scramble with others for food or money tossed to a crowd,” now replaced by scramble. The lexicographer Samuel Johnson was not keen on skimble-scamble, calling it a “cant word,” one of his favorite terms of abuse. Skimble-scamble entered English at the end of the 16th century.

    How is skimble-scamble used?

    He complained bitterly of his reporters, saying that the skimblescamble stuff which they published would "make posterity think ill of his understanding, and that of his brethren on the bench." John Campbell, The Lives of the Chief Justices of England,  Vol. III, 1873

    And such a deal of skimble-skamble stuff, / As puts me from my faith. William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1, 1623

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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, March 25, 2019

    optics

    noun [op-tiks]
    the way a situation, action, event, etc., is perceived by the public or by a particular group of people.
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    What is the origin of optics?

    The noun optics originally referred to that branch of physics dealing with light or other electromagnetic radiation and with the sense of sight. The now common sense “the way a situation, action, or event is perceived by the public or in a particular context, especially a political one,” was originally an Americanism first recorded in 1973. Optics entered English in the 16th century.

    How is optics used?

    The sentence has to be in double figures. The optics are lousy if it's anything less. Robert Rotenberg,  The Guilty Plea, 2011

    For Romney, there is little value in trying to compete with the optics of Obama’s trip. Dan Balz, "Romney slams Obama on eve of foreign trip," Washington Post, July 24, 2012

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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, March 24, 2019

    isolato

    noun [ahy-suh-ley-toh]
    a person who is physically or spiritually isolated from their times or society.
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    What is the origin of isolato?

    The rare English noun isolato comes directly from the Italian adjective and noun isolato “isolated; an isolated person.” The Italian word is the past participle of the verb isolare “to shut off, cut off, isolate,” a derivative of the noun isola “isle, island” (there is no Latin verb īnsulāre). Isola is a regular Italian development of Latin īnsula, a noun of unknown etymology, meaning “island, an island as a place of exile, tenement house,” all of which can be pretty bleak. Isolato entered English in the mid-19th century.

    How is isolato used?

    ... my life has been that of an isolato, a shepherd on a mountaintop, situated as far from so-called civilization as possible, and it has made me unnaturally brusque and awkward. Russell Banks, Cloudsplitter, 1998

    I’m an isolato now and there’s no going back. Viv Albertine, "Viv Albertine: 'I set out to write about an unpleasant woman who fantasised about murder. It turned out to be me,'" The Guardian, April 13, 2018

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, March 23, 2019

    plumbeous

    adjective [pluhm-bee-uhs]
    resembling or containing lead; leaden.
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    What is the origin of plumbeous?

    Plumbeous comes straight from the Latin adjective plumbeus “made of lead, leaden, (of coins) base,” a derivative of the noun plumbum. Plumbum is a noun of unknown etymology, and linguists have speculated on the connection between plumbum and Greek mólybdos with its variants mólibos and bólimos, which also have no reliable etymology. In ancient times lead was mined in Attica (i.e., the territory whose capital was Athens), Macedonia, Asia Minor (Anatolia), Etruria, Sardinia, Gaul (France), Britain, and Spain. Many scholars think that the Greek and Latin words derive from an Iberian (Spanish) language, and the Basque word for lead, berun, supports this. Plumbeous entered English in the 16th century.

    How is plumbeous used?

    ... a headachy dawn was breaking, with small rain sifting down out of clouds that were the same plumbeous colour as the shadows under Baby's eyes. John Banville, The Untouchable, 1997

    ... the pencil has been worn down to two-thirds of its original length. The bare wood of its tapered end has darkened to a plumbeous plum, thus merging in tint with the blunt tip of graphite whose blind gloss alone distinguishes it from the wood. Vladimir Nabokov,  Transparent Things, 1972

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  • Word of the day
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    Friday, March 22, 2019

    earthshaking

    adjective [urth-shey-king]
    imperiling, challenging, or affecting basic beliefs, attitudes, relationships, etc.
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    What is the origin of earthshaking?

    Earthshaking in its literal sense was modeled on epithets for the Greek god Poseidon (he caused earthquakes) and the Latin god Neptune. Ennosígaios and Ennosíchthōn, both meaning "earthshaker," were epithets for Poseidon in the Iliad and Odyssey. Latin Ennosigaeus is a pretty unimaginative borrowing. Earthshaking entered English toward the end of the 16th century; its usual sense "of great consequence or importance" dates from the 19th century.

    How is earthshaking used?

    ... not everything true is universally comprehensible. And that, small as it is, is an earthshaking insight. Jesse Green, "Review: 'An Ordinary Muslim' Gets Caught Between Cultures and Genres," New York Times, February 26, 2018

    Divorce is hardly an earthshaking event in politics these days. Hank Phillippi Ryan, The Other Woman, 2012

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  • Word of the day
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    Thursday, March 21, 2019

    palimpsest

    noun [pal-imp-sest]
    a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text.
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    What is the origin of palimpsest?

    English palimpsest comes via Latin palimpsēstus from Greek palímpsēstos “rubbed again, scraped again,” i.e., in reference to durable parchment (not papyrus) “erased (so as to be able to be written upon) again.” Palimpsests are important in recovering the texts of ancient manuscripts. At least two unique ancient texts have been recovered through modern techniques of decipherment: the first text is Cicero’s dialogue De Re Publica (“On the Republic, On the Commonwealth”), which was discovered in the Vatican Library in 1819 and published definitively in 1908. The second major find is the Archimedes Palimpsest, containing seven treatises by the Greek scientist and mathematician Archimedes (c287-212 b.c.), which was made legible after decipherment performed between 1998 and 2008. Palimpsest entered English in the 17th century.

    How is palimpsest used?

    All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary. George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949

    Holmes and I sat together in silence all the evening, he engaged with a powerful lens deciphering the remains of the original inscription upon a palimpsest, I deep in a recent treatise upon surgery. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez," The Return of Sherlock Holmes, 1905

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