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    Sunday, September 23, 2018

    legerdemain

    noun [lej-er-duh-meyn]
    trickery; deception.
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    What is the origin of legerdemain?

    There are about 50 spellings in Middle English for (modern) legerdemain. The English word most likely comes from a Middle French phrase leger de main “light of hand,” which is unfortunately unrecorded. Middle French has two similar idioms meaning “to be dexterous”: estre ligier de sa main, literally “to be light of his hand” and avoir la main legiere, literally “to have the light hand.” In English, legerdemain first meant “skill in conjuring, sleight of hand” and acquired the sense “trickery, artful deception” in the 16th century. Legerdemain entered English in the 15th century.

    How is legerdemain used?

    ... it was precisely that sort of legerdemain—tapping a dicey loan with the magic wand of financialization—which built the mortgage-securitization industry to begin with. Tad Friend, "Home Economics," The New Yorker, February 4, 2013

    The city today stretches out along the flatlands by the Fyris River, then ripples up a glacial ridge, culminating in a massive sixteenth-century castle painted the color of a poached salmon—a bit of legerdemain by pigment that leavens the bulky fortress considerably. Emily Hiestand, "The Constant Gardener," The Atlantic, March 2007

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, September 22, 2018

    polychromatic

    adjective [pol-ee-kroh-mat-ik, -kruh-]
    having or exhibiting a variety of colors.
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    What is the origin of polychromatic?

    English polychromatic is a borrowing from French polychromatique, which comes from Greek polychrṓmatos “many-colored, variegated” and the suffix -ique, from the Greek suffix -ikos or the Latin suffix -icus. Polychromatic is used mostly, but not exclusively, in the physical sciences, e.g., hematology, physics, and formerly in chemistry. Polychromatic entered English in the 19th century.

    How is polychromatic used?

    ... the degreening of leaves is a widely appreciated natural phenomenon, especially in autumn, when the foliage of deciduous trees turns into polychromatic beauty. S. Hörtensteiner and P. Matile, "How Leaves Turn Yellow: Catabolism of Chlorophyll," Plant Cell Death Processes, 2004

    Throughout, Suzy Lee’s polychromatic illustrations astonish. Each page bursts with color. Carmela Ciuraru, "'A Dog Day,' 'Ask Me' and 'Sidewalk Flowers'," New York Times, July 10, 2015

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  • Word of the day
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    Friday, September 21, 2018

    coup de foudre

    noun [kooduh foo-druh]
    love at first sight.
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    What is the origin of coup de foudre?

    In French coup de foudre, literally “a clap of thunder,” means “love at first sight.” Modern French coup is a development of Old French coup, colp “a blow, strike,” from Late Latin colpus, from Latin colaphus, from Greek kólaphos “a slap.” French foudre “lightning” comes from Latin fulgura, the plural of the neuter noun fulgur “lightning.” Coup de foudre entered English in the 18th century.

    How is coup de foudre used?

    Do you believe in love at first sight? The coup de foudre, the heart falling into the stomach, the moment when Cupid's arrow breaches the iron armor of even the hardest of hearts? Sally Christie, The Sisters of Versailles, 2015

    I mean, the coup de foudre is wonderful--seeing someone for the first time across a room and just feeling this huge surge of necessity, the knowledge that you want to be with them. But it's not the only way. Increasingly I'm coming around to the view that the other kind is better. Simon Brett, Penultimate Chance Saloon, 2005

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  • Word of the day
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    Thursday, September 20, 2018

    dandle

    verb [dan-dl]
    to move (a baby, child, etc.) lightly up and down, as on one's knee or in one's arms.
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    What is the origin of dandle?

    The English verb dandle has no clear etymology. It looks akin to the Italian noun dandola, dondola “a (child’s) doll” and the verb dandolare “to rock, swing, dangle, dandle,” but there is no recorded evidence associating the Italian dandolare with English dandle. Dandle entered English in the 16th century.

    How is dandle used?

    ... Paul would want me to dandle his baby on my knee. There is a time to dandle, and a time to watch a limited amount of dandling from the comfort and security of a dry easy chair across the room. Gregory Mcdonald, Exits and Entrances, 1988

    ... I would like quiet, books to read, a wife to love me, and some children to dandle on my knee. William Makepeace Thackeray, The Virginians, 1858–59

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  • Word of the day
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    Wednesday, September 19, 2018

    psittacine

    adjective [sit-uh-sahyn, -sin]
    of or relating to parrots.
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    What is the origin of psittacine?

    The English adjective psittacine comes straight from Latin psittacinus, which comes straight from the Greek adjective psittákinos, a derivative of the noun psittakós “parrot” and the common adjective suffix -inos. Sittakós and bittakós, variant spellings of psittakós, confirm what one would expect, that psittakós is not a native Greek word. Psittacine entered English in the 19th century.

    How is psittacine used?

    In 1930, the U.S. Health Service clamped down on the importation of psittacine birds, other than a few permitted to research institutions, zoos, and private parrot fanciers returning from Europe with uninfected birds they had owned for at least six months. "New Deal for Parrots," The New Yorker, February 2, 1952

    Now the psittacine tribe can claim another brainy feat: tool use. Researchers at the University of York and the University of St. Andrews observed captive greater vasa parrots ... using date pits and pebbles to pulverize cockle shells. Michelle Z. Donahue, "14 Fun Facts About Parrots," Smithsonian, January 5, 2016

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, September 18, 2018

    Johnsonese

    noun [jon-suh-neez, -nees]
    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
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    Monday, September 17, 2018

    aspersion

    noun [uh-spur-zhuhn, -shuhn]
    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

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