Word of the Day

Word of the day

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Johnsonese

[ jon-suh-neez, -nees ]

noun

a literary style characterized by rhetorically balanced, often pompous phraseology and an excessively Latinate vocabulary: so called from the style of writing practiced by Samuel Johnson.

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What is the origin of Johnsonese?

Samuel Johnson (1709–84) is indeed guilty of Johnsonese, as in his (1755) dictionary definition for network “Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections,” which is incomprehensible (and unforgivable in a dictionary). But far more often Dr. Johnson is direct and pungent (and sometimes amusing), as in his definition for lexicographer “A writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge…” Johnsonese entered English in the 19th century.

how is Johnsonese used?

Though I, too, admired his Dictionary, his delightfully wrong-headed “Lives of the Poets” and his countless celebrated apothegms, I agree with Macaulay that he translated the English language into a “Johnsonese” dialect whose now deflated orotundities still disfigure public speaking and other such pious utterances.

Anatole Broyard, "Books of the Times: The Man Behind the Myth," New York Times, February 8, 1973

He valued its uncluttered prose – its freedom from the Johnsonese and Gallicisms that had marred Burney’s late style.

Thomas Keymer, "Too Many Pears," London Review of Books, August 27, 2015
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Word of the day

Monday, September 17, 2018

aspersion

[ uh-spur-zhuhn, -shuhn ]

noun

a damaging or derogatory remark or criticism; slander: casting aspersions on a campaign rival.

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What is the origin of aspersion?

Aspersion comes from aspersion-, the stem of the Latin noun aspersiō “a sprinkling.” In classical Latin the noun is restricted to literal sprinkling. In the Vulgate (the Latin version of the Bible prepared by Saint Jerome at the end of the 4th century a.d.), aspersiō also refers to the sprinkling of blood (as for a sacrifice). Aspersiō in the sense “sprinkling with holy water” has always been practiced in the Roman Catholic Church, e.g., in baptisms. The metaphorical sense “sprinkling calumnies; slander” is a development within English. Aspersion entered English in the 16th century.

how is aspersion used?

The full enormity of this remark then dawned on me; it was at once a lie and a cruel aspersion on my mother, who would certainly have got me some lighter clothes had I not discouraged her.

L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between, 1953

A notorious New York magazine profile this fall, which cast aspersions on Kaur’s reading habits and penchant for gold rings, showed its cards in the first paragraph …

Carl Wilson, "Why Rupi Kaur and Her Peers Are the Most Popular Poets in the World," New York Times, December 15, 2017

Word of the day

Sunday, September 16, 2018

tunesmith

[ toon-smith, tyoon- ]

noun

Informal. a person who composes popular music or songs.

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What is the origin of tunesmith?

Tunesmith was originally an Americanism, dating from the Jazz Age (roughly from the 1918 Armistice to the stock-market crash of 1929). Fittingly enough, an early citation for tunesmith (1923) is attributed to the American bandleader Paul Whiteman (1890–1967), who debuted George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (1924).

how is tunesmith used?

The monthly pay Walnut Records offered me as a tunesmith would barely amount to enough for rent and groceries, but held the promise of royalties should one of my songs get recorded.

Kenny Rogers with Mike Blakely, What Are the Chances, 2013

Granted, the limited palette of film scores sometimes results from the limited abilities of the practitioners, but almost any Hollywood tunesmith could achieve more distinctive results if the iron fist of cliché were to relax just a little.

Alex Ross, "Composing for Hollywood," The New Yorker, February 27, 2015

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