Word of the Day

Monday, June 22, 2020

lassitude

[ las-i-tood, -tyood ]

noun

weariness of body or mind from strain, oppressive climate, etc.; lack of energy; listlessness.

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What is the origin of lassitude?

The primary meaning of lassitude is “weariness of mind or body, listlessness,” but lassitude has a second meaning, “indolent indifference.” The immediate source of the English word is Middle French lassitude, which, as in English, may be pleasant or unpleasant fatigue. French lassitude comes from Latin lassitūdō, which in Latin always has an unpleasant sense. Lassitūdō is a derivative of the adjective lassus “tired, weary, exhausted,” a derivative of the Proto-Indo-European root -, – “to let go, go slack,” extended with –d (lēd-, ləd-). The same root yields Greek lēdeîn “to be tired,” Albanian lodhem “to become tired,” and Germanic lētan, which in Old English becomes lǣtan “to allow, permit, suffer” and let in English. Lassitude entered English in the 16th century.

how is lassitude used?

it occurred to me, as I ate another astringent chip, that this lassitude, the trouble focusing, the sleep difficulties, my exhaustion: Oh yes, I thought, I remember this. I was grieving.

R. O. Kwon, "Trouble Focusing? Not Sleeping? You May Be Grieving," New York Times, April 9, 2020

Heavy lassitude settled upon me as I walked away from Peter Kanarjian. There had been too much excitement in the past eighteen hours, and I had had little sleep.

Walter A. Roberts, The Mind Reader, 1929

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Sunday, June 21, 2020

agnate

[ ag-neyt ]

adjective

related or akin through males or on the father's side.

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What is the origin of agnate?

The English adjective and noun agnate comes straight from Latin agnātus, adgnātus, past participle (also used as a noun) of the verb agnascī (also adnascī and adgnascī) “to be born in addition to; (of a human being) to be born after the father makes his will.” (The noun agnātus, adgnātus is a male blood relative on the father’s side; agnāta, adgnāta is a female blood relative on the father’s side.) Agnascī (adnascī, adgnascī) is a compound verb formed from the preposition and prefix ad, ad– “to, toward, in addition” and the simple verb (g)nascī “to be born” (Romans of the classical age had the same difficulty with initial gn– as modern English speakers do with, say, gnat, gnarly, and Gnostic). The much rarer Latin terms for “a blood relative on the mother’s side” are ēnātus for a male relative and ēnāta for a female, formed from the preposition and prefix ē, ē– (from ex “out of”) and nascī. Agnate entered English in the second half of the 15th century.

how is agnate used?

Rather than writing that one thing is like another, she suggested, pupils might use “commensurate” or “agnate,” which means related through male descent or on the father’s side.

James R. Hagerty, "'Use More Expressive Words!' Teachers Bark, Beseech, Implore,"  Wall Street Journal, November 29, 2015

As office-holding tended to become hereditary, however, in the tenth and eleventh centuries, greater emphasis was placed upon agnate descent.

John B. Freed, The Counts of Falkenstein: Noble Self-Consciousness in Twelfth-Century Germany, 1984

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Saturday, June 20, 2020

tête-à-tête

[ teyt-uh-teyt, tet-uh-tet; French te-ta-tet ]

noun,

a private conversation or interview, usually between two people.

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What is the origin of tête-à-tête?

Tête-à-tête, “a private conversation, usually between two people,” in French literally means “head to head.” The tête in tête-à-tête comes from Old French teste, from testa “head” in Vulgar Latin, from Latin testa “terracotta pot, brick.” Tête-à-tête first occurs in French in a comédie-ballet by Molière entitled La comtesse d’Escarbagnas “The Countess of Escarbagnas” (1671). Testa is the Italian word for head, too, but if you use testa a testa in Italian, you will get only a lot of laughs. Tête-à-tête entered English in the early 18th century.

how is tête-à-tête used?

While she and Osborne were having their delightful tête-à-tête above stairs, old Mrs. Sedley and Captain Dobbin were conversing below upon the state of the affairs ….

William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero, 1848

It’s a meeting that promises awkward handshakes, a “family photo” against a scenic backdrop and tense tête-à-têtes on the sidelines.

Claire Parker, "The G-7 summit kicks off on Saturday. Here are some key relationships to watch." Washington Post, August 23, 2019

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Friday, June 19, 2020

inflection point

[ in-flek-shuhn point ]

noun

a point at which a major or decisive change takes place; critical point.

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What is the origin of inflection point?

Inflection point, also point of inflection and flex point, originally, in the first half of the 18th century, was and still is today, was a mathematical term used in geometry and calculus, meaning “a point on a curve at which the curvature changes from convex to concave or vice versa.” This mathematical term gradually spread to other disciplines, such as engineering and economics, that use mathematics extensively. The second meaning of inflection point, “a critical point at which a major or decisive change takes place,” dates from about 2006 and appears to be the coinage of Andrew Grove (1936–2016), a Hungarian-born American businessman, engineer, and author, and a pioneer in the semiconductor industry (Time magazine named him Man of the Year in 1997). Inflection is the usual American spelling, inflexion the usual British one. The Latin noun is inflexiō (inflectional stem inflexiōn-) “bending, curving,” a derivative of the verb inflectere “to bend, curve inward.”

how is inflection point used?

We can either confront it for what it is and make it an inflection point in the arc of our nation’s history, or we can become complicit in the perpetuation of our disease because we refuse to admit we are ill. This time may be different. I pray that it is different.

I think we are at huge inflection point. We need not charitable solutions to structural problems but we need the type of change—and I believe that means that we change the rules.

Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of Color Of Change, "Bear Witness, Take Action," YouTube, June 13, 2020

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

risibility

[ riz-uh-bil-i-tee ]

noun

the ability or disposition to laugh; humorous awareness of the ridiculous and absurd.

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What is the origin of risibility?

Risibility comes via Middle French risibilité “something or someone that provokes laughter,” from Late Latin rīsibilitās (inflectional stem rīsibilitāt-) “a disposition to laugh,” a very rare noun first occurring in the works of Boethius, the most important philosopher and statesman of the late Western Roman Empire, who Dante described in his Paradiso as “the last of the Romans and first of the Scholastics.” (The Scholastics were followers of a system of theology and philosophy predominant in the Middle Ages, based chiefly upon the church fathers, Aristotle, and Aristotle’s commentators). Boethius’ most important work Dē Consōlātiōne Philosophiae “The Consolation of Philosophy,” which he wrote in prison while awaiting execution, was important enough to be translated (into English) by King Alfred the Great, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Queen Elizabeth I. Perhaps the most enduring contemporary image of the Consolation is the Wheel of Fortune, now the name of a TV show. Risibility entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is risibility used?

He shocked the company by maintaining that the attributes of God were two,—power and risibility; and that it was the duty of every pious man to keep up the comedy.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Illusions," The Atlantic, November 1857

In this high-humored sendup of arty photography, the photographer Duane Michals shoots for risibility and against pretension. 

Grace Glueck, "Art in Review: 'Who Is Sidney Sherman?'" New York Times, November 16, 2001

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

antepenultimate

[ an-tee-pi-nuhl-tuh-mit ]

adjective

third from the end.

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What is the origin of antepenultimate?

In its most general sense, antepenultimate means “third from the end.” In discussions of grammar and prosody, antepenultimate more often describes the third from last syllable in a word, as te in antepenult. Working backward on antepenultimate, ultimate means “the last, final” (as in ultimatum “the final, last-chance demand)”; pen– is from Latin paene “almost” (as in English peninsula “an almost island)”; ante– is the familiar English prefix meaning “before” (from the Latin preposition, adverb, and prefix ante, ante-). Antepenultimate entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is antepenultimate used?

Theresa May, in her antepenultimate day as the Conservative Party leader, had read an emotional passage from a letter …

Rebecca Mead, "A D Day Journey in the Spirit of A. J. Liebling," The New Yorker, June 7, 2019

this antepenultimate episode takes a softer tack, suggesting that cruel and horrible people can change if they really want to.

Allie Pape, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Recap: Nevada Pizza," Vulture, January 28, 2019

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Augean

[ aw-jee-uhn ]

adjective

difficult and unpleasant: an Augean chore.

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What is the origin of Augean?

The English adjective Augean comes via Latin Augēus “of Augeas” (an adjective used only of King Augeas’ stables), from the proper name Augēās (mentioned in Latin only for the dung in his stables), from Greek Augeíās. Augeíās, whose name may be related to the adjective augḗeis “bright-eyed, clear-sighted,” a derivative of augḗ “light of the sun, ray, beam,” was the king of Elis (in the western Peloponnesus); his stables, filled with 3,000 immortal cattle, had not been cleaned for over 30 years. The cattle, moreover, were not only immortal but also divinely robust and healthy and therefore produced a prodigious amount of dung. Hercules’ fifth task was to clean the dung in Augeas’ stables, a task that was deliberately meant to be humiliating and impossible. Hercules cleansed the stables by diverting the river Alpheus through them. Augean entered English at the end of the 16th century.

how is Augean used?

Now, after an accumulation of filth for three months, the Spring thaw comes and an Augean task presents itself.

"Street-Cleaning and Common Sense," New York Times, March 23, 1881

Augean jobs were deliberately assigned to him, tasks of almost unhearable tedium—immense bales of spinach to trim alone—in the expectation that he would muster a chef’s endurance or quit.

John McPhee, "A Philosopher in the Kitchen," The New Yorker, February 12, 1979

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