Word of the Day

Saturday, March 10, 2018

krummholz

[ kroom-hohlts ]

noun

a forest of stunted trees near the timber line on a mountain.

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What is the origin of krummholz?

The German noun Krummholz, literally “crooked wood,” means “a forest of stunted trees near the timber line; elfinwood.” The German adjective krumm “bent, crooked, warped, stooping, devious” is related to British dialectal words crump “bent, crooked” and crumpback (also crump-back) “hunchback.” The German noun Holz “wood” is related to English holt and Old Norse holt. The Germanic nouns derive from Proto-Germanic hulto-, from keld-, an extended form of the Proto-Indo-European root kel- “to cut, hit.” Keld- is the source of Greek kládos “twig, branch, shoot” (and the English taxonomic term clade), and Slavic (Polish) kłoda “log.” Krummholz entered English in the early 20th century.

how is krummholz used?

A few miles away bare scree-covered slopes protruded from the gnarled krummholz, marking the trail’s maximum height.

Annie Proulx, "Testimony of the Donkey," Fine Just the Way It Is, 2008

I should point out that nowhere are the wabi and sabi palettes of time acting on nature more visible than in the krummholz–the “elfin timber,” gnarled and twisted little trees at treeline that might be a thousand years old …

Dan Simmons, “Introduction to ‘Looking for Kelly Dahl,’” Worlds Enough & Time, 2002
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Friday, March 09, 2018

demonym

[ dem-uh-nim ]

noun

the name used for the people who live in a particular country, state, or other locality: Two demonyms for the residents of Michigan are Michigander and Michiganian.

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What is the origin of demonym?

The noun demonym is clearly from Greek dêmos “people, common people, common soldiery (as opposed to officers), popular government, democracy, district, country, land.” The second part of the word comes from Greek dialect (Doric, Aeolic) ónyma, a variant of ónoma “name” (the Attic and Ionic dialectal form) and is very common in compounds like antonym and pseudonym. Demonym entered English in the late 20th century.

how is demonym used?

The word “Hoosier,” which today is the demonym used to describe people from the state of Indiana, is a mystery nearing its second century. It is one of the best-known irregular demonyms for American states, along with “Yankee,” referring to someone from New York (and sometimes expanded from that into the entire Northeast), and “Buckeye,” which refers to someone from Ohio.

Dan Nosowitz, "The Unsolvable Mystery of the Word 'Hoosier'," Atlas Obscura, August 22, 2017

Shafik turns his thoughts back to the archaic demonym, Shawam, singular Shami, which is what the native Egyptians called people from a certain part of the Fertile Crescent.

Alain Farah, "Life of the Father," Granta, 141: Canada, November 9, 2017
Thursday, March 08, 2018

Minerva

[ mi-nur-vuh ]

noun

a woman of great wisdom.

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What is the origin of Minerva?

The Roman goddess Minerva is so completely identified with the Greek goddess Athena that it is difficult to discern what is “native” to Minerva. Minerva (earlier Latin spelling Menerva) was a native Italian goddess of handicrafts (hence easily identified with Athena in that respect). The name Minerva (Menerva) may be of Indo-European origin, from the root men- “to think, bear in mind,” source of English mind, Latin meminī “I remember,” and Greek Méntōr, a proper name meaning “adviser.” The original Latin name will have been Meneswā “intelligent, wise (woman),” related to Sanskrit manasvin “wise” and Manasvinī, the name of the mother of the moon. Alternatively, Meneswā may mean “woman who measures (the phases of the moon),” from the Proto-Indo-European root mē- “to measure,” source of English meal (a Germanic word), as in piecemeal, measure (from Latin), and Greek metron “measure,” the source of the English suffix -meter, among other words. Minerva as the name of the goddess entered English in the Old English period; the sense “wise woman” dates from the late 18th century.

how is Minerva used?

God, it seems like I’ll always have a Minerva by my side being a better person than I am.

Julia Alvarez, In the Time of the Butterflies, 1994

The notion of such a Minerva as this, whom I saw in public places now and then, surrounded by swarms of needy abbés and schoolmasters, who flattered her, frightened me for some time, and I had not the least desire to make her acquaintance.

William Makepeace Thackeray, "The Luck of Barry Lyndon: A Romance of the Last Century," Fraser's Magazine for Town and Country, Volume XXX, July to December, 1844
Wednesday, March 07, 2018

benighted

[ bih-nahy-tid ]

adjective

intellectually or morally ignorant; unenlightened: benighted ages of barbarism and superstition.

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What is the origin of benighted?

Benighted originally meant, in the 16th century, “overtaken by darkness before one has reached home, lodging, or safety.” Its only modern sense, “intellectually or morally ignorant,” dates from the 17th century.

how is benighted used?

Beyond that, the continued association of pregnancy with sickness perpetuates the benighted notion of childbearing as a threat to ordinary human experience when many would argue that it is the singular manifestation of it.

Ginia Bellafante, "Paid Parental Leave, Except for Most Who Need It," New York Times, December 1, 2017

… it is difficult to have a reasonable conversation with someone who makes no secret about the fact that he thinks you are both benighted and stupid.

Bruce Franzese, "The Conversation," The Atlantic, November 2017
Tuesday, March 06, 2018

ergophobia

[ ur-guh-foh-bee-uh ]

noun

an abnormal fear of work; an aversion to work.

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What is the origin of ergophobia?

Ergophobia, “abnormal fear of or aversion to work,” is formed from two Greek nouns commonly used to form words in English: érgon “work” and the combining form -phobía “fear.” Greek dialects preserve the original form wérgon, which comes directly from Proto-Indo-European wérgom, the source of Germanic werkam (English work). The combining form -phobía is a derivative of phóbos “flight, fear, panic fear,” from Proto-Indo-European bhógwos, a derivative of the root bhegw- “to run,” which appears in Slavic (Polish) biegać “to run.” Ergophobia entered English in the early 20th century.

how is ergophobia used?

He was examined by Dr. Wilson, who diagnosed the disease which had attacked him as ergophobia, (fear of work.)

, "Bad Case of Ergophobia," New York Times, October 13, 1907

Doctor, I thank thee for the name / That dignifies my soul’s complaint, / That silences the voice of blame, / That frees me from the toiler’s taint, / That lets me loaf the livelong day– / Thrice blessed ergophobia!

Ross Ellis, "Ergophobia," Munsey's Magazine, Volume LV, June to September, 1915
Monday, March 05, 2018

peculate

[ pek-yuh-leyt ]

verb

to steal or take dishonestly (money, especially public funds, or property entrusted to one's care); embezzle.

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What is the origin of peculate?

Peculate derives from the Latin past participle and noun pecūlātus “embezzled, embezzlement,” derivative of the verb pecūlārī “to embezzle,” and itself a derivative of pecūlium “wealth in cattle, private property.” Latin suffers from an embarras de richesses of terms relating to misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement, and peculation. The Latin root noun behind all the corruption is pecu “cattle, large cattle,” the source of pecūnia “movable property, riches, wealth, money.” Latin pecu comes all but unchanged from Proto-Indo-European pek-, peku- “wealth, livestock, movable property.” Peku- becomes fehu- in Germanic, feoh “cattle, goods, money” in Old English, and fee in English. Peculate entered English in the 18th century.

how is peculate used?

The neglect of the Treasurer and the supineness of the President gave him the opportunity to peculate.

, "A Defaulting Secretary," New York Times, October 14, 1884

Right off the top of his head, James Madison could think of a lot of good reasons to impeach a President. He ticked off this list: “He might lose his capacity after his appointment. He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers.” (To peculate is to embezzle.) It’s a very good list. Members of Congress might want to consult it.

Jill Lepore, “How Impeachment Ended Up in the Constitution,” The New Yorker, May 18, 2017
Sunday, March 04, 2018

seriocomic

[ seer-ee-oh-kom-ik ]

adjective

partly serious and partly comic: a seriocomic play.

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What is the origin of seriocomic?

Seriocomic was first recorded in 1775-85. It links the words serious and comic with -o-, the typical ending of the first element of compounds of Greek origin, often used in English as a connective irrespective of etymology.

how is seriocomic used?

Suddenly, here toward the year’s end, when the new films are plunging toward the wire and the prospects of an Oscar-worthy long shot coming through get progressively more dim, there sweeps ahead a film that is not only one of the best of the year, but also one of the best seriocomic social satires we’ve had from Hollywood since Preston Sturges was making them.

Bosley Crowther, "The Graduate," New York Times, December 22, 1967

Jonesy had seen representations of him on a hundred “weird mysteries” TV shows, on the front pages of a thousand tabloid newspapers (the kind that shouted their serio-comic horrors at you as you stood prisoner in the supermarket checkout lanes) …

Stephen King, Dreamcatcher, 2001

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