Word of the Day

Saturday, October 24, 2020

indelible

[ in-del-uh-buhl ]

adjective

impossible to eliminate, forget, or change.

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What is the origin of indelible?

Most people probably learn the word indelible in grammar school (a.k.a. primary school, elementary school, lower school) specifically and only referring to permanent ink, which cannot be easily erased or removed. The modern spelling, indelible, arose in the second half of the 17th century, replacing the earlier, more etymologically correct indeleble. Indelible comes from Medieval Latin indēlibilis and is equivalent to Latin indēlēbilis “indestructible, imperishable.” Indēlēbilis is a compound of the Latin negative prefix in– (from the same Proto-Indo-European source as English un-) and the adjective dēlēbilis “that can be defaced or obliterated,” a derivative of the verb dēlēre “to destroy, annihilate.” Cato the Elder fought in the Second Punic War as a private soldier, and many Americans will remember the sentence with which Cato ended every speech in the Senate: Carthāgō dēlenda est “Carthage must be destroyed.” Indeleble entered English in the second half of the 16th century, indelible in the second half of the 17th century.

how is indelible used?

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made an indelible mark on the law as an advocate for gender equality long before she became an icon on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Robert Iafolla, "Ginsburg championed gender equality before joining Supreme Court," Tampa Bay Times, September 19, 2020

There in a classroom, amid a cohort of presumed losers and layabouts, I took my lessons in the great sin of idleness. The venue at least felt appropriate: the classroom had always been the site of my most indelible failures and losses.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, "Notes from the First Year," We Were Eight Years in Power, 2017

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Friday, October 23, 2020

supercilious

[ soo-per-sil-ee-uhs ]

adjective

haughtily disdainful or contemptuous, as a person or a facial expression.

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What is the origin of supercilious?

Supercilious comes from the Latin adjective superciliōsus, which has only one meaning, “full of stern or disapproving looks.” Superciliōsus is a derivative of the noun supercilium “eyebrow; the eyebrow and its underlying ridge; the eyebrow as used in expressing haughtiness, disapproval, sternness.” Supercilium is a compound of the preposition and prefix super, super– “above, beyond,” and cilium “eyelid” (unless cilium is a back formation from supercilium). At any rate, cilium is a derivative of the verb cēlāre “to hide,” that is, the eyelid hides the eye. Supercilious entered English at the end of the 14th century.

how is supercilious used?

Culkin inhabits space with a squalid sort of entitlement, and he employs a supercilious side-eye as if twirling a mustache.

Troy Patterson, "'Success,' Reviewed: An Irresistible Family Power Struggle, Told Through Soap and Satire," The New Yorker, June 1, 2018

For, though elated by his rank, it did not render him supercilious; on the contrary, he was all attention to everybody.

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, 1813

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Thursday, October 22, 2020

psephology

[ see-fol-uh-jee ]

noun

the study of elections.

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What is the origin of psephology?

Psephology, “the study of elections,” comes from Greek psêphos “small stone, pebble.” (The Greeks used pebbles in counting and arithmetic functions; the ancient Athenians also used pebbles to cast votes in elections and trials.) The element –logy is the completely naturalized combining form used in the names of sciences (geology, biology) and bodies of knowledge (theology, astrology). The 20th-century British historian R.B. McCallum wrote in a personal letter that while with C.S. Lewis and other heavy-hitting philologists, he proposed the term electionology, which so offended the sensibilities of Lewis and the others that they proposed the etymologically correct psephology, avoiding the dreadful Latin-Greek hybrid. Psephology entered English in the mid-20th century.

how is psephology used?

You don’t need a degree in psephology from the Kennedy School of Government to figure out that without the female vote and the male vote it’s hard to be elected President.

John Cassidy, "Romney Needs More Than Money—A Lot More," The New Yorker, August 6, 2012

Well, for one thing, we’re inveterate psephology addicts—but also, the more special elections that occur, the more data we have to identify patterns not only across special elections, but within them.

Nathaniel Rakich, "Be Skeptical of Anyone Who Tells You They Know How Democrats Can Win In November," FiveThirtyEight, April 2, 2018

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