Word of the Day

Sunday, March 24, 2019

isolato

[ ahy-suh-ley-toh ]

noun

a person who is physically or spiritually isolated from their times or society.

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What is the origin of isolato?

The rare English noun isolato comes directly from the Italian adjective and noun isolato “isolated; an isolated person.” The Italian word is the past participle of the verb isolare “to shut off, cut off, isolate,” a derivative of the noun isola “isle, island” (there is no Latin verb īnsulāre). Isola is a regular Italian development of Latin īnsula, a noun of unknown etymology, meaning “island, an island as a place of exile, tenement house,” all of which can be pretty bleak. Isolato entered English in the mid-19th century.

how is isolato used?

… my life has been that of an isolato, a shepherd on a mountaintop, situated as far from so-called civilization as possible, and it has made me unnaturally brusque and awkward.

Russell Banks, Cloudsplitter, 1998

I’m an isolato now and there’s no going back.

Viv Albertine, "Viv Albertine: 'I set out to write about an unpleasant woman who fantasised about murder. It turned out to be me,'" The Guardian, April 13, 2018
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Saturday, March 23, 2019

plumbeous

[ pluhm-bee-uhs ]

adjective

resembling or containing lead; leaden.

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What is the origin of plumbeous?

Plumbeous comes straight from the Latin adjective plumbeus “made of lead, leaden, (of coins) base,” a derivative of the noun plumbum. Plumbum is a noun of unknown etymology, and linguists have speculated on the connection between plumbum and Greek mólybdos with its variants mólibos and bólimos, which also have no reliable etymology. In ancient times lead was mined in Attica (i.e., the territory whose capital was Athens), Macedonia, Asia Minor (Anatolia), Etruria, Sardinia, Gaul (France), Britain, and Spain. Many scholars think that the Greek and Latin words derive from an Iberian (Spanish) language, and the Basque word for lead, berun, supports this. Plumbeous entered English in the 16th century.

how is plumbeous used?

… a headachy dawn was breaking, with small rain sifting down out of clouds that were the same plumbeous colour as the shadows under Baby’s eyes.

John Banville, The Untouchable, 1997

… the pencil has been worn down to two-thirds of its original length. The bare wood of its tapered end has darkened to a plumbeous plum, thus merging in tint with the blunt tip of graphite whose blind gloss alone distinguishes it from the wood.

Vladimir Nabokov,  Transparent Things, 1972
Friday, March 22, 2019

earthshaking

[ urth-shey-king ]

adjective

imperiling, challenging, or affecting basic beliefs, attitudes, relationships, etc.

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What is the origin of earthshaking?

Earthshaking in its literal sense was modeled on epithets for the Greek god Poseidon (he caused earthquakes) and the Latin god Neptune. Ennosígaios and Ennosíchthōn, both meaning “earthshaker,” were epithets for Poseidon in the Iliad and Odyssey. Latin Ennosigaeus is a pretty unimaginative borrowing. Earthshaking entered English toward the end of the 16th century; its usual sense “of great consequence or importance” dates from the 19th century.

how is earthshaking used?

… not everything true is universally comprehensible. And that, small as it is, is an earthshaking insight.

Jesse Green, "Review: 'An Ordinary Muslim' Gets Caught Between Cultures and Genres," New York Times, February 26, 2018

Divorce is hardly an earthshaking event in politics these days.

Hank Phillippi Ryan, The Other Woman, 2012

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