Word of the Day

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

lambent

[ lam-buhnt ]

adjective

dealing lightly and gracefully with a subject; brilliantly playful: lambent wit.

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What is the origin of lambent?

Lambent comes straight from Latin lambent-, the inflectional stem of the present participle lambēns, from the verb lambere “to lick, (of food or liquid) lick up, suck up, absorb.” Lambere has the transferred senses “(of fire) to play upon, lick,” “(of water) to wash, bathe,” and “(of creeping plants) to surround, wreathe.” The only English sense deriving from the Latin is “running or moving lightly over a surface”; the other senses, including “dealing lightly and gracefully with a subject,” developed within English. Lambent entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is lambent used?

There is the lightning wit that flashes of a short sentence or an apt reply, and there is the lambent wit that sparkles either by description or dialogue.

Walter Sydney Sichel, "The Wit and Humour of Lord Beaconsfield," Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. 44, May–October 1881

He goes to Oxford, where his lambent gift of tongues is recognized and encouraged, and then to war, where everything he values is laid waste.

Anthony Lane, "Why Make Movies About Writers," The New Yorker, May 10, 2019
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Tuesday, October 08, 2019

expiate

[ ek-spee-eyt ]

verb (used with object)

to atone for; make amends or reparation for.

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What is the origin of expiate?

The verb expiate, “to atone for, make amends for, make reparation for,” comes from Latin expiātus, the past participle of expiāre “to make atonement to the gods for, appease, propitiate (deities, spirits),” a compound formed by the intensive prefix ex– and the simple verb piāre “to propitiate (a deity, spirit),” a derivative of the very important Roman adjective pius “dutiful, faithful (to the gods, one’s country, family, kindred, and friends).” Aeneas is called pius Aeneas 20 times in the Aeneid. Expiate entered English in the early 17th century.

how is expiate used?

Ridding oneself of guilt is often easier than overcoming shame, in part because our society offers many ways to expiate guilt-inducing offenses, including apologizing, paying fines, and serving jail time.

Annette Kämmerer, "The Scientific Underpinnings and Impacts of Shame," Scientific American, August 9, 2019

Carbon offsets do seem to offer the most direct way to assuage traveler’s guilt. In theory, they magically expiate your sins.

Andy Newman, "If Seeing the World Helps Ruin It, Should We Stay Home?" New York Times, June 3, 2019
Monday, October 07, 2019

tellurian

[ te-loor-ee-uhn ]

adjective

of or characteristic of the earth or its inhabitants; terrestrial.

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What is the origin of tellurian?

The adjective and noun tellurian ultimately derive from the Latin noun tellūs (inflectional stem tellūr-) “ground, dry land, earth, the earth.” In English the adjective tellurian, meaning pretty much the same as terrestrial, was a technical term used in astronomy. Tellurian used as a noun, “an inhabitant of earth, earthling,” appears in the first half of the 19th century. Throughout much of the 20th century, tellurian, adjective and noun, occurs especially in science fiction. Tellūs comes from a Proto-Indo-European root tel– “flat, level, floor, ground,” the root of Sanskrit tala– “flat surface, flat of the hand”; Old Irish talam “earth”; Old Prussian (an extinct Baltic language) talus “floor (of a room)”; and Greek tēlía “board for rolling dice on, kitchen board.” Tellurian entered English in the second half of the 18th century.

how is tellurian used?

That … I should feel in touch with something that I am, or was, and yet seems to go beyond the rational either bespeaks the power of self-delusion in even those with trained minds, or reveals that tellurian force still present and available to us …

Catharine Savage Brosman, "Turn My Face Out to the West," The Shimmering Maya and Other Essays, 1994

Her [the moon’s] antiquity in preceding and surviving successive tellurian generations …

James Joyce, Ulysses, 1922

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