Word of the Day

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

lucida

[ loo-si-duh ]

noun

the brightest star in a constellation.

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What is the origin of lucida?

Lucida is the feminine singular of the Latin adjective lūcidus meaning “bright, shining”; the Latin phrase lūcida stella simply means “bright star”; the modern sense “the brightest star in a constellation” is a New Latin usage dating from the first half of the 18th century. Lūcidus is a derivative of the verb lūcēre “to emit light, shine,” which in turn is a derivative of the noun lux, inflectional stem lūc– “light, a light.” Stella comes from an unrecorded Latin sterla, literally “little star,” from the Proto-Indo-European root ster– “star,” which appears in Proto-Germanic as sterzōn-, and in the recorded Germanic languages as staírnō in Gothic, sterno in Old High German, stjarna in Old Norse, steorra in Old English, sterre in Middle English, and star in Modern English. Greek astḗr shares an initial a with Armenian astł, both meaning “star.”

how is lucida used?

Interestingly, the old astronomy books and sky charts, which depicted the constellations as allegorical drawings, placed the lucida (brightest star) of Lynx in the tuft of its tail. From these drawings it would seem that nearby Leo Minor, the Smaller Lion, is about to provoke a cat fight by biting Lynx’s tail.

Joe Rao, "Find the Felines: Cats in the Night Sky," Space.com, April 15, 2005

At its [Scorpius’s] heart lies its lucida or brightest star, the red Antares, so named because its color makes of it a rival to Mars whenever that red planet is nearby.

Arthur Upgren, The Turtle and the Stars, 2002

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Monday, April 12, 2021

propinquity

[ proh-ping-kwi-tee ]

noun

nearness in place; proximity.

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What is the origin of propinquity?

Propinquity, “closeness in space, time, kinship,” comes via Middle English propinquite from Old French propinquite, from Latin propinquitāt-, the inflectional stem of the noun propinquitās. The English, Middle English, Old French, and Latin nouns even share the same meanings. Propinquitās is a derivative of the adjective propinquus, itself a derivative of the preposition and adverb prope “near, nearby, close.” The suffix –inquus is very rare in Latin, but it also occurs in the adjective longinquus “far, far off, remote,” the opposite of propinquus. Prope and propinquus are the positive degree whose comparative degree is the regularly formed propinquior “closer, nearer”; the superlative degree is the irregular proximus “next, next to, nearest, adjacent,” from which English derives proximate. Propinquity entered English in the first half of the 15th century.

how is propinquity used?

when he was called to New York, to become a partner in his father’s banking-house, I realized that our interests had already diverged, and that only propinquity had served to hold us together. For poor George had already allowed himself to be mastered by a fatal vice—the passion for money-making …

Edith Wharton (1862–1937), "A Granted Prayer," written between 1898 and 1911, The Atlantic, November 9, 2020

In the case of the pictures in “#nyc,” closeness involves not just a physical propinquity but also a kind of psychic insight into others’ hearts and minds.

Naomi Fry, "The Photographer Peeking at Your Phone," The New Yorker, September 3, 2020

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Sunday, April 11, 2021

vibrissa

[ vahy-bris-uh ]

noun

one of the stiff, bristly hairs growing about the mouth of certain animals, as a whisker of a cat.

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What is the origin of vibrissa?

Vibrissa, “one of the stiff hairs growing about the mouth of an animal, such as a cat’s whisker,” is restricted pretty much to (human) anatomy, ornithology, and zoology. Vibrissa is the singular of the Late Latin plural noun vibrissae, a word that occurs only once, in a work by Sextus Pompeius Festus, a Roman grammarian and lexicographer who flourished in the late 2nd century a.d. Festus defines vibrissae as “the nose hairs of a human being, so called because when they are pulled out, the head shakes (caput vibrātur)” (vibrissae does in fact derive from the Latin verb vibrāre “to shake”). This “human” sense is the original meaning in English in the late 17th century, but it is no longer common; the more general zoological and ornithological meaning arose in the first half of the 19th century. The singular form vibrissa first appears in English in the first quarter of the 19th century.

how is vibrissa used?

I stroked his splendid vibrissae, the stiff, sensitive whiskers that a walrus uses to search for bivalves through the seabed’s dark murk, and that feel like slender tubes of bamboo.

Natalie Angier, "The Walrus: Smart, sophisticated and ever closer to the edge," New York Times, May 20, 2008

Whiskers – technically called vibrissae in mammals – are an important part of my cats’ sensory arrays. When Margarita abruptly tears across the apartment for reasons I can only speculate about, her whiskers can tell her if she’s cutting to[o] close to a wall so that she doesn’t run headlong into the doorway.

Riley Black, "Dinosaur Whiskers?" National Geographic, March 27, 2015

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