Word of the Day

Friday, June 19, 2020

inflection point

[ in-flek-shuhn point ]

noun

a point at which a major or decisive change takes place; critical point.

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What is the origin of inflection point?

Inflection point, also point of inflection and flex point, originally, in the first half of the 18th century, was and still is today, was a mathematical term used in geometry and calculus, meaning “a point on a curve at which the curvature changes from convex to concave or vice versa.” This mathematical term gradually spread to other disciplines, such as engineering and economics, that use mathematics extensively. The second meaning of inflection point, “a critical point at which a major or decisive change takes place,” dates from about 2006 and appears to be the coinage of Andrew Grove (1936–2016), a Hungarian-born American businessman, engineer, and author, and a pioneer in the semiconductor industry (Time magazine named him Man of the Year in 1997). Inflection is the usual American spelling, inflexion the usual British one. The Latin noun is inflexiō (inflectional stem inflexiōn-) “bending, curving,” a derivative of the verb inflectere “to bend, curve inward.”

how is inflection point used?

We can either confront it for what it is and make it an inflection point in the arc of our nation’s history, or we can become complicit in the perpetuation of our disease because we refuse to admit we are ill. This time may be different. I pray that it is different.

I think we are at huge inflection point. We need not charitable solutions to structural problems but we need the type of change—and I believe that means that we change the rules.

Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of Color Of Change, "Bear Witness, Take Action," YouTube, June 13, 2020

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

risibility

[ riz-uh-bil-i-tee ]

noun

the ability or disposition to laugh; humorous awareness of the ridiculous and absurd.

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What is the origin of risibility?

Risibility comes via Middle French risibilité “something or someone that provokes laughter,” from Late Latin rīsibilitās (inflectional stem rīsibilitāt-) “a disposition to laugh,” a very rare noun first occurring in the works of Boethius, the most important philosopher and statesman of the late Western Roman Empire, who Dante described in his Paradiso as “the last of the Romans and first of the Scholastics.” (The Scholastics were followers of a system of theology and philosophy predominant in the Middle Ages, based chiefly upon the church fathers, Aristotle, and Aristotle’s commentators). Boethius’ most important work Dē Consōlātiōne Philosophiae “The Consolation of Philosophy,” which he wrote in prison while awaiting execution, was important enough to be translated (into English) by King Alfred the Great, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Queen Elizabeth I. Perhaps the most enduring contemporary image of the Consolation is the Wheel of Fortune, now the name of a TV show. Risibility entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is risibility used?

He shocked the company by maintaining that the attributes of God were two,—power and risibility; and that it was the duty of every pious man to keep up the comedy.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Illusions," The Atlantic, November 1857

In this high-humored sendup of arty photography, the photographer Duane Michals shoots for risibility and against pretension. 

Grace Glueck, "Art in Review: 'Who Is Sidney Sherman?'" New York Times, November 16, 2001

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

antepenultimate

[ an-tee-pi-nuhl-tuh-mit ]

adjective

third from the end.

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What is the origin of antepenultimate?

In its most general sense, antepenultimate means “third from the end.” In discussions of grammar and prosody, antepenultimate more often describes the third from last syllable in a word, as te in antepenult. Working backward on antepenultimate, ultimate means “the last, final” (as in ultimatum “the final, last-chance demand)”; pen– is from Latin paene “almost” (as in English peninsula “an almost island)”; ante– is the familiar English prefix meaning “before” (from the Latin preposition, adverb, and prefix ante, ante-). Antepenultimate entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is antepenultimate used?

Theresa May, in her antepenultimate day as the Conservative Party leader, had read an emotional passage from a letter …

Rebecca Mead, "A D Day Journey in the Spirit of A. J. Liebling," The New Yorker, June 7, 2019

this antepenultimate episode takes a softer tack, suggesting that cruel and horrible people can change if they really want to.

Allie Pape, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Recap: Nevada Pizza," Vulture, January 28, 2019

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Augean

[ aw-jee-uhn ]

adjective

difficult and unpleasant: an Augean chore.

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What is the origin of Augean?

The English adjective Augean comes via Latin Augēus “of Augeas” (an adjective used only of King Augeas’ stables), from the proper name Augēās (mentioned in Latin only for the dung in his stables), from Greek Augeíās. Augeíās, whose name may be related to the adjective augḗeis “bright-eyed, clear-sighted,” a derivative of augḗ “light of the sun, ray, beam,” was the king of Elis (in the western Peloponnesus); his stables, filled with 3,000 immortal cattle, had not been cleaned for over 30 years. The cattle, moreover, were not only immortal but also divinely robust and healthy and therefore produced a prodigious amount of dung. Hercules’ fifth task was to clean the dung in Augeas’ stables, a task that was deliberately meant to be humiliating and impossible. Hercules cleansed the stables by diverting the river Alpheus through them. Augean entered English at the end of the 16th century.

how is Augean used?

Now, after an accumulation of filth for three months, the Spring thaw comes and an Augean task presents itself.

"Street-Cleaning and Common Sense," New York Times, March 23, 1881

Augean jobs were deliberately assigned to him, tasks of almost unhearable tedium—immense bales of spinach to trim alone—in the expectation that he would muster a chef’s endurance or quit.

John McPhee, "A Philosopher in the Kitchen," The New Yorker, February 12, 1979

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Monday, June 15, 2020

dilly

[ dil-ee ]

noun

Informal.

something or someone regarded as remarkable, unusual, etc.: a dilly of a movie.

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What is the origin of dilly?

The noun and adjective dilly, like many slang terms, has an obscure etymology. One etymology is that dilly is an alteration of delightful or delicious; the suffix –y is either the native English adjective suffix –y (as in juicy), or the originally Scottish noun suffix –y (as in granny). Dilly was originally an Americanism, first appearing in print in the early 20th century.

how is dilly used?

It would be a dilly of a painting.

Susan Vreeland, The Forest Lover, 2004

The two big numbers, and they were dillies, were “La Toilette de la Cour” by Anthony Philip Heinrich, and Albert Gehring’s “The Soul of Chopin.”

Harold C. Schonberg, "Tidbits of Forgotten Music Evoke an American Past," New York Times, May 25, 1973

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Sunday, June 14, 2020

Samaritan

[ suh-mar-i-tn ]

noun

one who is compassionate and helpful to a person in distress.

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What is the origin of Samaritan?

Samaritan as an adjective means “pertaining to Samaria or the Samaritans”; as a noun, it means “a native or inhabitant of Samaria.” Most commonly, however, Samaritan is short for Good Samaritan, after Jesus’ parable in Luke 10:30-37. Samaritan comes from the Late Latin adjective Samarītānus “Samaritan” (used as a noun in the masculine plural), from the Greek noun Samarī́tēs “a Samaritan,” a derivative of Samareía, the name of a city and region in Palestine. Greek Samareía comes from Aramaic Shamerayin, from Hebrew Shōmərôn, of uncertain meaning, but possibly from Shemer, the owner who sold Shōmərôn to Omri, king of Israel, in 1 Kings 16:24. Samaritan entered English before 1000.

how is Samaritan used?

That night, they slept in a good Samaritan‘s home, washed dirty laundry, and showered for the first time since leaving home.

Lourdes Medrano, "Border Crisis from the other side: One Guatemalan mother's journey," Christian Science Monitor, October 5, 2014

Kids want to counteract inequality, to be good samaritans and help the little guy.

Alia Wong, "The Preschooler's Empathy Void," The Atlantic, November 2, 2016

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Saturday, June 13, 2020

stridulate

[ strij-uh-leyt ]

verb (used without object)

to produce a shrill, grating sound, as a cricket does, by rubbing together certain parts of the body.

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What is the origin of stridulate?

The English verb stridulate, “to produce a shrill, grating sound like that of a cricket,” is an English derivative of the English noun stridulation, which comes from French stridulation. The French noun is a derivative of the New Latin verb strīdulāre “to produce a shrill, grating sound,” a derivation of the classical Latin adjective strīdulus, itself a derivation of the noun strīdor “a high-pitched sound.” Strīdere, the classical Latin equivalent of New Latin strīdulāre, is related to Greek trízein “to buzz, squeak,” and a little farther out of town, to Tocharian A trisk– “to drone” (Tocharian is the group name for two or three related Indo-European languages, now extinct, spoken in what is now Chinese Turkestan). The Latin, Greek, and Tocharian forms derive from the onomatopoeic Proto-Indo-European root (s)trei– “to buzz, hiss.” Strīdere and trízein are related to Greek strínx, stríx (stem stríng-, stríg-) “owl, night raven,” and to Latin strix (stem strig-) “an owl, bird of ill omen, evil spirit, vampire.” Either Latin strig– or Greek stríg– was the source of Vulgar Latin striga “evil spirit, witch, hag,” which becomes strega “witch” in modern Italian, as in the late Tomie DePaola’s series of wonderful children’s books “starring” Strega Nona, “Granny Witch.” Stridulate entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is stridulate used?

To stridulate, or chirr, one of the minor achievements of the cricket, your species is dependent on the intestines of the sheep and the hair of the horse.

James Thurber, "Interview with a Lemming," My World—And Welcome To It, 1942

Even so most often does the singing insect stridulate: it is celebrating life.

J. Henri Fabre, The Life of the Grasshopper, translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos, 1917

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