Word of the Day

Word of the day

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

irenic

[ ahy-ren-ik, ahy-ree-nik ]

adjective

tending to promote peace or reconciliation; peaceful or conciliatory.

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What is the origin of irenic?

Irenic “peaceful, conciliatory” comes straight from Greek eirēnikós “belonging to peace,” a derivative of the noun eirḗnē. Eirḗnē was also the name of the Greek goddess of Peace, the name of an 8th-century Byzantine empress, and the name of several Christian saints, whence the English female name Irene. The bewildering number of dialect forms (irā́nā, irḗnā, ireinā, etc.) point to a non-Greek origin. Irenic entered English in the second half of the 19th century.

how is irenic used?

When casual readers of poetry think about Heaney, his Irishness, his charisma, his connection to thousands of years of poetic tradition …, and his irenic political attitudes first come to mind.

Stephanie Burt, "How Seamus Heaney Became a Poet of Happiness," The New Yorker, October 3, 2019

After a presidential election that deserves the word it was given in headlines—historic—welcome to the newly irenic but still newsworthy period in American politics that goes by the ancient Latin name of interregnum, “between reigns.”

William Safire, "Interregnum," New York Times, November 14, 2008

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Word of the day

Monday, November 16, 2020

zeitgeber

[ tsahyt-gey-ber ]

noun

an environmental cue, as the length of daylight or the degree of temperature, that helps to regulate the cycles of an organism's biological clock.

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What is the origin of zeitgeber?

Zeitgeber “an environmental cue, such as the length of daylight, that helps regulate the biological clock of an organism,” comes from German Zeitgeber, literally “time giver,” a compound of Zeit “time” (cognate with English tide) and Geber, an agent noun from the verb geben “to give” (cognate with English give). The German term is formed on the analogy of Taktgeber “electronic synchronization device, timer, metronome.” Takt and Zeit are near synonyms except that Takt is more narrowly applied to music and rhythm. Zeitgeber entered English in the late 1950s.

how is zeitgeber used?

Natural light is the best-known, though not the only, zeitgeber that syncs human sleep patterns up with the Earth’s 24-hour day. 

Julie Beck, "The Caves of Forgotten Time," The Atlantic, November 9, 2015

Night-shift workers also struggle, he says, because they don’t get the environmental and social cues that help adjust the circadian clock. The most important of these cues, called zeitgebers (German for ”time givers”) is sunlight.

Tara Parker-Pope, "Before Sunrise," New York Times, November 20, 2011 

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Word of the day

Sunday, November 15, 2020

friable

[ frahy-uh-buhl ]

adjective

easily crumbled or reduced to powder; crumbly.

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What is the origin of friable?

The English adjective friable comes from Middle French friable from Latin friābilis “easily crumbled, crumbly,” a derivative of the verb friāre “to break into small pieces, crumble.” Friāre is akin to the verb fricāre “to rub, chafe” (source of English friction) and the adjective frīvolus “worthless, trashy” (English frivolous). In the Olden Days, when studying Latin in high school was routine, some clever wag would reinvent for the millionth time the saying Sīc friat crustulum “Thus crumbles the cookie.” Friable entered English in the second half of the 16th century.

how is friable used?

In some places, the limestone was so friable that, if you brushed a finger against it, it ran like sand through an hourglass.

Lauren Collins, "On the Roof of Notre-Dame, Before It Burned," The New Yorker, April 15, 2019

In autumn, the days are pleasant, the soil friable, and there is a good choice of desired rose varieties.

Cynthia Westcott, "Tis Possible to Plant Roses This Fall," New York Times, September 13, 1970

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