Word of the Day

Monday, March 15, 2021

lickety-split

[ lik-i-tee-split ]

adverb

at great speed; rapidly.

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What is the origin of lickety-split?

The adverb lickety-split, “at great speed; rapidly,” was originally and remains mostly a colloquialism. The origin of lickety is fanciful—an extension of lick “to move quickly, run at full speed.” And split means “fraction,” as in split second. Lickety-split entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is lickety-split used?

Well, pretty soon, after we had got down to level country and were making the speedometer earn its board, I happened to look around and, good night, there was an automobile coming along lickety-split, about a quarter of a mile behind us.

Percy Keese Fitzhugh, Roy Blakeley's Silver Fox Patrol, 1920

You will pay very little, and your coffee, pancakes or waffles will arrive lickety-split on your red-checked tablecloth. At the next table may be a tug crew, a film company or even the First Lady.

Jeannete Belliveau, "Outer Storm, Inner Harbor," Washington Post, July 20, 1994

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Sunday, March 14, 2021

flummoxed

[ fluhm-uhkst ]

adjective

utterly bewildered, confused, or puzzled.

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What is the origin of flummoxed?

Flummoxed, “utterly bewildered or confused,” ought to leave you flummoxed. The word is a colloquialism, the past participle or adjective of the verb flummox, where the trail turns cold. Flummox has no firm etymology, but it may come from or be akin to British dialect (Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Cheshire, all of which border on Wales) flummox, flummocks “to hack, to mangle,” or the noun flummock “a sloven,” or the verb flummock “to confuse, bewilder.” The verb, spelled flummux’d, first appears in 1833 in England with the meaning “backed down, backed out of a promise, disappointed.”

how is flummoxed used?

The lost hour of morning light meant they had to rush to get their crops to market. Dairy farmers were particularly flummoxed: Cows adjust to schedule shifts rather poorly, apparently.

Rachel Feltman, "5 myths about daylight saving time," Washington Post, March 6, 2015

But scientists here are flummoxed. While they presume green turtle numbers are declining, they have no idea how quickly, or where, or how best to protect them.

Craig Welch, "Searching for Elusive Green Sea Turtles in the Persian Gulf," National Geographic, June 16, 2018

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Saturday, March 13, 2021

foible

[ foi-buhl ]

noun

a minor weakness or failing of character; slight flaw or defect.

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What is the origin of foible?

Foible, “a minor weakness of character, a slight flaw or defect,” comes from the noun use of the obsolete French adjective foible “the weak point of the blade of a sword” (the strong point of a sword blade is the forte). Foible is first recorded in Old French about 1175; it derives from Vulgar Latin febilis, from Latin flēbilis “lamentable, worthy of tears, causing tears,” a derivative of the verb flēre “to weep, cry, lament.” In French, foible was replaced by faible, another derivative of febilis, and the source of English feeble. Foible, in the sense “the weak point of the blade of a sword,” entered English in the first half of the 17th century; the sense “defect in character” arose in the second half of the 17th century.

how is foible used?

Though it has its darker moments, no Bergman venture has ever been so warm, so understanding, so forgiving of human foibles.

Kenneth Turan, "Critics Choice: Rare screening of five-hour 'Fanny and Alexander' at the Wilder," Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2018

I thought of it as just evidence of a very familiar human foible. Most of us can’t later account for why our egos sometimes get the best of us.

Ken Auletta, "Brian William's Mistake," The New Yorker, February 6, 2015

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