Word of the Day

Word of the day

Saturday, December 12, 2020

lyceum

[ lahy-see-uhm ]

noun

an institution for popular education providing discussions, lectures, concerts, etc.

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What is the origin of lyceum?

The English noun lyceum comes from Latin Lycīum, Lycēum, from Greek Lýkeion, the name of a gymnasium in southeast Athens with a neighboring sanctuary of Apóllōn Lýkios / Lýkeios. The area was one of the places where Socrates used to ask his good-humored but troublesome questions, and where Aristotle used to lecture. The sanctuary also gave its name to Aristotle’s school, the Lýkeion. It is unclear what exactly lýkeios means: It may mean “belonging to a wolf” (lýkos) because of the Athenian military and athletic cult of Apóllōn Lýkios “Wolf-Apollo.” Lýkeios is also an epithet of Apollo meaning “Lycian (Apollo),” i.e., Apollo was born in Lycia (his mother Leto was Lycian). Finally, because of Apollo’s association with the sun, lýkeios may be from the same root as Greek lýchnos “lantern, lamp” and Latin lux (stem luc-) “light.” Modern authorities consider the connection with Lycia and Leto to be the most probable one. Lyceum entered English in the second half of the 16th century.

how is lyceum used?

At a lyceum, not long since, I felt that the lecturer had chosen a theme too foreign to himself, and so failed to interest me as much as he might have done.

Henry David Thoreau, "Life Without Principle," The Atlantic, October 1863

On the lyceum circuit, they travelled from town to town, an adult-education campaign offering lectures on everything from physical exercise to the moral crisis of slavery.

Evan Osnos, "Bringing Our Politics Back from the Brink," The New Yorker, November 9, 2020

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Word of the day

Friday, December 11, 2020

avuncular

[ uh-vuhng-kyuh-ler ]

adjective

acting like an uncle, as in being kind, patient, generous, etc., especially to younger people.

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What is the origin of avuncular?

Avuncular typically means “acting in a kindly, benevolent manner towards one’s nieces and nephews.” Avuncular comes from the Latin noun avunculus “mother’s brother, uncle,” a derivative of the noun avus “grandfather, forefather, ancestor.” (English uncle comes via Old French and Anglo-French oncle, uncle from avunculus.) Latin avus comes from Proto-Indo-European awos “grandfather, maternal grandfather.” Awo– is also the source for Armenian hav “grandfather,” Old Irish áue, Middle Irish ó(a), úa, both meaning “grandson, descendant,” and the source of O’ in Gaelic surnames, such as O’Connor “descendant of Connor.” Variants of the stem appear in Lithuanian avýnas “maternal uncle,” Old Prussian awis, and Old Church Slavonic ujĭ, both meaning “uncle.” The Latin term for father’s brother, paternal uncle is patruus (a derivative of patr– father), for maternal aunt matertera (a derivative of mātr-), and for paternal aunt amita. Latin is interesting to anthropologists because of its unusually full and exact kinship terms, every possible kinship relation having its own term and not a descriptive compound noun, for example, “father’s brother, mother’s mother, sister’s son.” (The Latin system of kinship terms is an excellent example of the so-called Sudanese pattern.) Indeed, anthropologists use Latin kinship terms as the basis of a general terminology for cross-cultural use. Avuncular entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is avuncular used?

Immersed in bubbles, fully suited, he [Stephen Colbert] provided his signature mix of acid critique and avuncular reassurance.

Doreen St. Félix, "What We're Watching Under Quarantine," The New Yorker, March 23, 2020

He also, later on, has a consoling, avuncular chat with his frightened boy-self.

James Parker, "The New David Copperfield Movie Might Be Better Than the Book," The Atlantic, September 2020

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Word of the day

Thursday, December 10, 2020

mitzvah

[ meets-vah, mits-; mits-vuh ]

noun

any good or praiseworthy deed.

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What is the origin of mitzvah?

Mitzvah “law, divine law, commandment” is probably most familiar to Americans in the phrases bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah “son / daughter of the Law / commandment,” the ceremony making the young person responsible for observing the Law. Mitzvah represents a modern pronunciation of Hebrew mișwāh “command, commandment.” There also exists the developed meaning of mișwāh “good deed performed in fulfillment of a commandment,” such as the obligation to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Mitzvah entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is mitzvah used?

Wearing something new for a festive occasion is a mitzvah, a commandment and good deed in Jewish law.

Elizabeth Hayt, "Sprucing Up For Holidays: It's a Mitzvah," New York Times, September 20, 1998

Here’s what I learned: it’s a mitzvah for humanity that I didn’t take my parents’ advice about becoming a doctor.

Patricia Marx, "Taking Virtual Reality for a Test Drive," The New Yorker, December 9, 2019

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