Word of the Day

Friday, July 09, 2021

infinitesimal

[ in-fin-i-tes-uh-muhl ]

adjective

immeasurably small; less than an assignable quantity.

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What is the origin of infinitesimal?

Infinitesimal comes from New Latin infīnītēsimālis, infīnītēsimus, a compound of Latin infīnītus “unspecified, indefinite, unrestricted, unlimited, infinite” and the adjective suffix –ēsimus, which was extracted from vīcēsimus “twentieth” (where the suffix is original) and applied to form ordinal numbers from 20 to 1,000; thus infinitesimal literally means “infinitieth.” Infinitesimal entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is infinitesimal used?

The story is both pleasantly seamy and inconsequential, as pat and flimsy as a mad-science soap opera. Its psychological dimensions are infinitesimal; its social context is nonexistent.

Richard Brody, "A Lost Orson Welles TV Pilot That's As Groundbreaking as 'Citizen Kane'," The New Yorker, December 11, 2020

The problem with the intentional walk isn’t just that it robs baseball’s best players of a chance to hit. The issue is that it’s a waste of time in an already plodding game. … But major leaguers keeping going through the motions on the almost infinitesimal chance that the pitcher might get the yips and throw it away.

Eric Levenson, "Is There a More Pointless Play in Sports Than the Extra Point?" The Atlantic, January 21, 2014

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Thursday, July 08, 2021

omnium-gatherum

[ om-nee-uhm-gath-er-uhm ]

noun

a miscellaneous collection.

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What is the origin of omnium-gatherum?

Omnium-gatherum, “a miscellaneous collection,” has a pretty long history, considering its awkward etymology. A similar word, omnegadrium, occurs about 1430 in Middle English with the meaning “a miscellaneous collection of items in a manuscript.” Omnegadrium is a compound of the familiar Latin combining form omni– “all,” the Middle English verb gaderen “to assemble” (English gather), and the familiar Latin noun suffix –ium. Omnegadrium was re-formed to modern omnium-gatherum, which is a compound of Latin omnium “of all” (the genitive plural of omnis) and the pseudo-Latin word gatherum “a gathering,” formed from gather and the Latin noun suffix –um. Omnium-gatherum entered English in the first half of the 16th century.

how is omnium-gatherum used?

This person wore a large cocked-hat, set rather jauntily on one side, and a black coat, which seemed an omnium-gatherum of all abominations that had come in its way for the last ten years, and which appeared to advance equal claims … to the several dignities of the art military and civil, the arma and the toga ….

Edward Bulwer Lytton, Pelham; or, Adventures of a Gentleman, 1828

She is best known for collecting dictionaries that represent the very living and breathing edge of the English language: the ragged and ill-defined omnium-gatherum of informal, witty, clever, newborn, and usually impermanent words that constitute what for the past two centuries has been known as slang.

Simon Winchester, "The Mongrel Speech of the Streets," New York Review of Books, March 8, 2012

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Wednesday, July 07, 2021

fantast

[ fan-tast ]

noun

a visionary or dreamer.

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What is the origin of fantast?

Fantast, “a visionary or dreamer,” comes via German Fantast, Phantast (with the same meaning), via Medieval Latin phantasta, from Greek phantastḗs “an ostentatious person, boaster” (that is, someone who talks about their exaggerated fantasies). Phantastḗs ultimately derives from the verb phantázein “to make visible, present to the eye or mind” and phantázesthai “to become visible, appear.” Fantast entered English in the second half of the 16th century.

how is fantast used?

It would be difficult to describe Browne adequately; exuberant in conception and conceit, dignified, hyper-latinistic, a quiet and sublime enthusiast; yet a fantast, a humourist, a brain with a twist ….

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Style," from "Fragments and Notes, Mainly from the Lectures of 1818," in Miscellanies, Aesthetic and Literary, 1885

The fantast cannot be taken seriously; he does not even take himself seriously. He kicks his good through all the conventions of all the schools, and invokes “a plague on both your houses” whether of idealism or realism.

"Chemicoscapes: The Fantast," The Chemist and the Druggist, December 22, 1894

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