Word of the Day

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

improbity

[ im-proh-bi-tee ]

noun

lack of honesty or moral scruples.

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What is the origin of improbity?

The English noun improbity comes from Latin improbitās (stem improbitāt-) “dishonesty, unscrupulousness,” a derivative of improbus “inferior, improper.” The parts of improbus break down fairly easily: the prefix im- is a variant of the Latin negative prefix in- used before labial consonants (e.g., b, p) from the same Proto-Indo-European source as Germanic (English) un-, Greek a-, an-, and Sanskrit a-, an-. The element pro- is from the very common (and complicated) Proto-Indo-European prefix and preposition per “forward, through, in front of, early, first.” The -bus is the same ending as in the Latin adjective superbus “proud, haughty” (the ultimate source of English superb) from the Proto-Indo-European root bheu- “to be, exist, grow,” source of Germanic (English) be, Latin fuï “I was, have been” (the perfect of esse “to be”), and Slavic (Polish) być “to be.” The original sense of probus would be “going well, growing well,” and improbus “not going well.” Improbity entered English in the late 16th century.

how is improbity used?

But apart from these hurtful factors, the Ring itself radiated improbity. It had but recently been said by Henry Ward Beecher that perhaps the government of the City of New York did more harm to its people than all the churches together did good.

Edgar Fawcett, A New York Family, 1891

“Beelzebub” had been floundering in the sea of improbity, holding by a slender life-line to the respectable world that had cast him overboard.

O. Henry, "The Remnants of the Code," Cabbages and Kings, 1904
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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

hagridden

[ hag-rid-n ]

adjective

worried or tormented, as by a witch.

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What is the origin of hagridden?

The hag in hagridden has always meant “evil spirit (in female form), ghost, woman who deals with the Devil, a witch; an ugly, repellent, malicious old woman.” The noun is very rare in Middle English (hegge appears once in the 13th century, and hagge once in the 14th) and becomes common only in the 16th century as heg, hegge. Hag is generally believed to descend from Old English hægtesse, hægtis “a fury, witch,” akin to Old High German hagazissa, German Hexe (cf. hex signs on barns, especially in Amish country), from West Germanic hagatusjōn-. Hagridden entered English in the 17th century.

how is hagridden used?

We are a simple people, but we are hagridden by our fear of darkness.

Jack Whyte, The Saxon Shore, 1995

Alas, poor devil! spectres are appointed to haunt him: one age he is hag-ridden, bewitched; the next priestridden, befooled; in all ages, bedevilled.

Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, 1836
Monday, July 30, 2018

contextomy

[ kon-teks-tuh-mee ]

noun

the practice of misquoting someone by shortening the quotation or by leaving out surrounding words or sentences that would place the quotation in context.

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What is the origin of contextomy?

Contextomy is a blend of the words context and -tomy, a Greek suffix meaning “cutting.” In was first recorded in English in 1965–70.

how is contextomy used?

Contextomy can be used to create a false impression of a source’s attitudes in the service of motives as harmless as selling movie tickets or as harmful as character assassination, which is typical of its employment in political advertising.

Joseph McGlynn III, Matthew S. McGlone, "Language," Encyclopedia of Deception, Volume 2, 2014

They engage in what writer Milton Mayer once called “contextomy“: cutting a statement out of context (e.g. John Adams on religion) in order to give a completely misleading impression what what some famous person believes.

Paul. F. Boller, Jr., John H. George, "Preface," They Never Said It, 1989
Sunday, July 29, 2018

causerie

[ koh-zuh-ree ]

noun

an informal talk or chat.

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What is the origin of causerie?

In French the noun causerie means “a chat; a talk (as at a conference).” As a literary style a causerie is a short, topical essay, personal and humorous (there is no one precise English translation for causerie). Causerie is a derivative of the verb causer “to chat, talk, gossip.” The French verb comes from Latin causārī “to plead a case, bring a (legal) action; to plead as an excuse or reason,” a derivative of the noun causa “legal case or proceeding, trial.” Causerie entered English in the 19th century.

how is causerie used?

I was once booked by my manager to give a causerie in the drawing-room of a New York millionaire.

Mark Twain, "A Little Note to M. Paul Bourget," How to Tell a Story and Other Essays, 1897

It hardly seemed a speech when he was at the tribune, more like a causerie, though he told very plain truths sometimes to the peuple souverain.

Mary Alsop King Waddington, My First Years as a Frenchwoman, 1914
Saturday, July 28, 2018

hypnopedia

[ hip-nuh-pee-dee-uh ]

noun

sleep learning.

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What is the origin of hypnopedia?

Hypnopedia is first recorded in Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World (1932), and the word may well be a coinage of his. Hypnopedia is a compound word formed from the Greek nouns hýpnos “sleep” and paideía “child-rearing, education.” Hýpnos is a regular Greek development of the Proto-Indo-European noun sup-nos, from the root swep, swop-, sup- “to sleep.” In preclassical Latin the noun swep-nos becomes swop-nos and finally somnus in classical Latin. The Germanic equivalent root, swef-no-, becomes swefen “sleep, dream” in Old English and sweven in Middle English, e.g., in Piers Plowman and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Paideía is a derivative of the noun país (stem paid-) “child.”

how is hypnopedia used?

Years of intensive hypnopaedia and, from twelve to seventeen, Malthusian drill three times a week had made the taking of these precautions almost as automatic and inevitable as blinking.

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, 1932

The idea that humans can learn while asleep, a concept sometimes called hypnopedia, has a long and odd history. It hit a particularly strange note in 1927, when New York inventor A. B. Saliger debuted the Psycho-phone. He billed the device as an “automatic suggestion machine.”

Ben Guarino, "Your brain can form new memories while you are asleep, neuroscientists show," Washington Post, August 8, 2017
Friday, July 27, 2018

punnet

[ puhn-it ]

noun

British, Australian. a small container or basket for strawberries or other fruit.

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What is the origin of punnet?

In the “Cyclops” episode (chapter 12) of Ulysses, there are 33 parodies in exaggerated, sentimental, or pompous styles. The first of these parodies begins “In Inisfail the fair,” a parody of a poem by the Irish poet James Mangin (1803-49), and contains, among other things, an extravagant list of Irish products: “… pearls of the earth, and punnets of mushrooms and custard marrows….” A punnet is a light, shallow container for fruits or other produce. The word is used in Ireland, England, and Australia but not in America. Its origin is uncertain. Punnet entered English in the 19th century.

how is punnet used?

Next time you buy strawberries take a look a good look in the punnet. Do the berries still have the stem attached or has it been plucked off leaving only the green hat of leaves called the calyx?

Lucy Hooker, "The strawberry-picking robots doing a job humans won't," BBC, May 25, 2018

We’ve each got a cardboard tray with twenty-five punnets in, and our job’s to fill each punnet with ripe strawberries, or nearly ripe.

David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks, 2014
Thursday, July 26, 2018

isopolity

[ ahy-suh-pol-i-tee ]

noun

equal rights of citizenship, as in different communities; mutual political rights.

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What is the origin of isopolity?

The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 b.c.) was the first author to use isopolīteía “equality of civic rights.” Isopolīteía applied to individuals and communities; it also meant reciprocity of such rights between states (as by treaty). Polīteía “citizenship, daily life of a citizen, body of citizens; government, polity, constitution” is a derivative of the noun pólis “citadel (of a city), city, one’s city or country.” Pólis comes the very complicated Proto-Indo-European root pel-, pelǝ-, plē- “citadel, fortified elevation, city.” The same root yields the Sanskrit noun pū́r “citadel, city” (Singapur “Singapore” means “Lion City”), and Lithuanian pilìs “citadel, castle.” Isopolity entered English in the 19th century.

how is isopolity used?

Isopolity agreements offered states and their citizens a way to share most fully in each other’s judicial systems, political processes, religious and cultural life, without giving up their prized mutual autonomy.

Richard Billows, "International Relations," The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare, Volume I, 2007

In the nineteenth century, the British lawyer and legal theorist A. V. Dicey proposed the creation of a common citizenship, or “isopolity,” between the United States and the United Kingdom.

Linda Kinstler, "A New Way for the Wealthy to Shop for Citizenships," The New Yorker, June 11, 2016

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