Word of the Day

Monday, April 06, 2020

Jabberwocky

[ jab-er-wok-ee ]

noun,

an example of writing or speech consisting of or containing meaningless words.

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What is the origin of Jabberwocky?

Jabberwocky, “speech consisting of or containing meaningless words,” is a derivative of the name Jabberwock, a monster generally depicted as a dragon in a nonsense poem in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass (1871). Concerning the etymology of Jabberwocky, Carroll himself wrote in a letter to students at Girls’ Latin School in Boston, Massachusetts (now Boston Latin Academy), “The Anglo-Saxon word wocer or wocor signifies ‘offspring or fruit.’ Taking jabber in its ordinary acceptation of ‘excited and voluble discussion,’ this would give the meaning of ‘the result of much excited and voluble discussion.’”

how is Jabberwocky used?

his face melts into a mask of sadness and despair, then sparkles with wit as he tells in a stream of jabberwocky the loopy story of a fop named Pongo Twistleton …

Rex Reed, "John Lithgow's 'Stories by Heart' Breathes New Life Into the One-Man Show," Observer, January 16, 2018

Of course all the White House’s latest jabberwocky about “benchmarks” and “milestones” and “timetables'”…  is nothing more than an election-year P.R. strategy …

Frank Rich, "Dying to Save the G.O.P. Congress," New York Times, October 29, 2006

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Sunday, April 05, 2020

erstwhile

[ urst-hwahyl, -wahyl ]

adjective

former; of times past: erstwhile friends.

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What is the origin of erstwhile?

Erstwhile is a compound of the Middle English adjective and adverb erest “first in time, rank, order, excellence, etc.,” from the similar Old English adjective and adverb ǣrest “first, at first.” (The –est ending indicates that Old English ǣrest is the superlative degree of ǣr “early,” which functions as an adjective, adverb, preposition, and conjunction.) While comes from the Old English noun hwīl “a space of time, a while, an indefinite space of time,” which in Middle English develops senses as an adverb and conjunction. Erstwhile as an adverb entered English in the second half of the 16th century, and as an adjective, in the early 20th.

how is erstwhile used?

Many of Biden’s erstwhile opponents have found roles for themselves.

Eric Lach, "What's Joe Biden's Role in the Response to the Coronavirus Crisis?" The New Yorker, March 27, 2020

When the the 75-year-old ruler … refused to step down, some of his erstwhile allies from the military and security forces pushed him out.

Mohammed Alamin, "Why Sudan's Pain Endures After a Brutal Leader's Ouster," Washington Post, June 11, 2019

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Saturday, April 04, 2020

assiduity

[ as-i-doo-i-tee, -dyoo- ]

noun

constant or close application or effort; diligence; industry.

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What is the origin of assiduity?

Assiduity ultimately comes from the Latin noun assiduitās (inflectional stem assiduitāt-) “constant presence or attendance, constant practice,” a derivative of the adjective assiduus “settled, continued, persistent.” Assiduus derives from the compound verb assidēre “to sit near, sit next to, pay attention to,” formed from the preposition and prefix ad, ad– “to, at, near” and the simple verb sedēre “to sit.” The semantics of sitting and therefore paying close attention fits perfectly with the German noun Sitzfleisch (borrowed into English in the 19th century), which means “the buttocks, (literally) sit-flesh,” and by extension, the ability to sit for a long period of time and persevere in an activity. Assiduity entered English in the early 17th century.

how is assiduity used?

“I really believe in working with youth, and particularly this age group — middle school — with respect and kindness and patience,” Palla said. It’s an approach that takes assiduity, especially considering the volume of students that Cook and Palla oversee.

Kathryn Bowen, "Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard Project changed how Berkeley students eat. Its next goal: to fight climate change," Berkeleyside, February 4, 2020

These disloyal thoughts came seldom, and she put them resolutely away, devoting herself with all the greater assiduity to her muslin curtains and ruffled pillow-shams.

Kate Douglas Wiggin, Rose o' the River, 1905

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