Word of the Day

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

mare

[ mahr-ey, mair-ee ]

noun

Astronomy. any of the several large, dark plains on the moon and Mars: Galileo believed that the lunar features were seas when he first saw them through a telescope.

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What is the origin of mare?

Latin mare “sea” is obviously but irregularly derived from Proto-Indo-European mori- “body of water, lake.” The Latin word “ought” to be more (the a is unexplained). The Proto-Indo-European mori- becomes Old Church Slavonic morje “sea, ocean,” Lithuanian marė “lagoon, bay,” and, in the Germanic languages, English mere (i.e., a lake or a pond), German Meer “sea, ocean,” Gothic marei “sea.” Latin mare used to describe the lunar feature first appears in Michael van Langren’s map of the moon (1645). Mare first entered English in the 19th century.

how is mare used?

The wheels were large and open, and absorbed the unevenness of the mare; Malenfant felt as if he were riding across the Moon in a soap bubble.

Stephen Baxter, Manifold: Space, 2000

The craft will attempt to retrieve up to 2 kilograms of soil and rock from the Oceanus Procellarum, a vast lunar mare on the near side that has yet to be visited by any spacecraft.

Dennis Normile, "Chinese spacecraft successfully lands on moon's far saide and sends pictures back home," Science, January 3, 2019
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Monday, February 18, 2019

fourscore

[ fawr-skawr, fohr-skohr ]

adjective

four times twenty; eighty.

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What is the origin of fourscore?

Americans will recognize the phrase “Fourscore and seven years ago” from the Gettysburg Address (whether they will know what a score of years amounts to is another question). Most Americans will recognize the line from Psalm 90, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten” and will probably guess 70. The noun score comes from Old English scoru “a tally of 20,” from Old Norse skoru “a notch, scratch, tally of 20.” Score is one of the developments from the very complicated Proto-Indo-European root sker-, ker- “to cut.” In Latin the suffixed form ker-sna appears in cēna “dinner,” literally “a slice.” Old Latin also has the form cesnas; Oscan (an Italic language spoken in southern Italy) has the very conservative form kersnu “dinner.” Sker-, ker- in Germanic (English) appears in shear “to cut” and shears “scissors,” shard, shirt (from Old English scyrte), and skirt (from Old Norse skyrta). Fourscore entered English at the end of the 13th century.

how is fourscore used?

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

President Abraham Lincoln, "The Gettysburg Address," November 19, 1863

Of the fish, I need say nothing in this hot weather, but that it comes sixty, seventy, fourscore, and a hundred miles by land-carriage …

Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, 1771
Sunday, February 17, 2019

milieu

[ mil-yoo, meel- ]

noun

surroundings, especially of a social or cultural nature: a snobbish milieu.

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What is the origin of milieu?

Milieu is still unnaturalized in English, as its several pronunciations indicate. The French word means “middle, medium, environment.” (In Old French miliu means “the middle.”) Milieu breaks down into the prefix mi- and the noun lieu. Mi- ultimately derives from the Latin adjective medius “middle, middle of, in the middle” (the same prefix occurs in French Midi “midday, the south”). The French noun lieu “place” comes from Latin locus. A lieutenant is literally “a place holder, one who holds the place of another, a substitute” (for a higher authority). Milieu entered English in the mid-19th century.

how is milieu used?

… he grew up in Dagenham, on the eastern outskirts of London, a milieu that he has recalled as “gray and grimy.”

Patrick Radden Keefe, "How Mark Burnett Resurrected Donald Trump as an Icon of American Success," The New Yorker, January 7, 2019

Most crucial, though … is a deeply informed, deeply immersive essay from Luc Sante, “Beastie Revolution,” that places the then-nascent band amidst the cultural milieu of New York City, and the world at large, in 1981, from the Walkman and Ronald Reagan and Grandmaster Flash getting booed off stage while opening up for the Clash in Times Square to Robert Mapplethorpe and WBLS radio and the Mudd Club and still-cheap rent.

Corey Seymour, "The Beastie Boys Book Tour Is as Nutty, Irreverent, and Fun as You think It Would Be," Vogue, October 31, 2018

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