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[ uhm-beer-uh ] [ əmˈbɪər ə ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling


a musical instrument of what is now Zimbabwe and Malawi that serves as a resonating box, to which vibrating metal or wooden strips are attached for plucking.

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More about mbira

Mbira “a musical instrument made from a gourd” is a borrowing from the Shona language. Though Shona mbira is of unclear origin, some linguists hypothesize connections to ambira, kalimba, and marimba, which are all xylophone-like instruments originating in southern Africa. The Shona language is spoken in what is now Zimbabwe, and it belongs to the huge Bantu group of languages, which is found throughout western southern Africa and also includes Wolof, Xhosa, Yoruba, and Zulu. Mbira was first recorded in English circa 1910.

how is mbira used?

The mbira, or Zimbabwean thumb piano, is a revered ceremonial instrument from Southern Africa with two rows of metal keys mounted on a wooden soundboard. Players use thumb and forefinger to pluck the keys up or down, creating percussive, often haunting tones. Traditional mbira song lyrics are evocative and impassioned, often accompanied by call and response singing and guitar.

“Stella Chiweshe, Live in Studio 4A,” NPR, October 19, 2003

Materials such as bottle caps or beads can be attached to the instrument to create its signature buzzing sound. The mbira remains a vital cultural emblem of the community as it is often played in a variety of Shona ceremonies … The music of the mbira the Shona people have been able to pass down over hundreds of years and generations.

Louise Hall, “Mbira: What is the musical instrument featured in today’s Google Doodle?” Independent, May 21, 2020
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[ hee-lee-uh-trop-ik, -troh-pik ] [ ˌhi li əˈtrɒp ɪk, -ˈtroʊ pɪk ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling


turning or growing toward the light.

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More about heliotropic

Heliotropic “turning toward the light” is a compound of the forms helio- “sun” and -tropic “turned toward.” Helio- comes from Ancient Greek hḗlios “sun,” which is also the source of the word helium, named for its presence in the chemical composition of the Sun. Meanwhile, -tropic is based on Ancient Greek tropikós “pertaining to a turn,” from trópos “turn.” This same root word is behind English tropical, which we tend to associate today with hot weather and the naming of storms, but the literal sense of tropical describes the zone in which the Sun travels directly overhead in the sky. Heliotropic was first recorded in English in the early 1870s.

how is heliotropic used?

But they have designed [solar panel technology] that they say can be about 30 to 40 percent more effective. They were inspired by the idea that flowers and plants naturally turn to face the sun. They call it, let’s say it’s something called a heliotropic effect, and it’s just because of the direction that the sun strikes and they move.

Cynthia Graber, as quoted in “Clean Energy Contest; and Counting Crickets and Katydids,” Scientific American, September 28, 2009

Most seedling plants are strongly heliotropic, and it is no doubt a great advantage to them in their struggle for life to expose their cotyledons to the light as quickly and as fully as possible, for the sake of obtaining carbon.

Charles Darwin, The Power of Movement in Plants, 1880
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[ uh-prok-suh-meyt ] [ əˈprɒk səˌmeɪt ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling

verb (used with object)

to estimate.

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More about approximate

Approximate “to estimate” is based on Late Latin approximātus “drawn near to, approached,” which is based on the verb proximāre “to near, approach,” combined with the prefix ad- “to, toward.” Proximāre ultimately comes from the Latin adjective proximus “next,” which is the superlative of prope “near.” Prope is the source of the verb propiāre “to draw near,” which combined with ad- and passed through a couple of sound changes in French, such as -pi- to -ch- because of a phenomenon called palatalization, eventually becoming English approach. Approximate was first recorded in English in the early 15th century.

how is approximate used?

How can we possibly weigh [dinosaurs], and how can we be sure our assumptions aren’t wildly off the mark? Our research, published in Biological Reviews, offers a way to check. We found that two rival ways to estimate dinosaurs’ body size–long thought to be fundamentally at odds–actually offer consistent and complementary ways to approximate the weight of these prehistoric titans.

Nicolas Campione, “How do you weigh a dinosaur? There are two ways, and it turns out they’re both right,” Conversation, September 1, 2020

Researchers have long known that the Babylonians, who lived in what is now Iraq, had considerable mathematical skill: They successfully approximated the square root of 2 and understood the Pythagorean theorem nearly 4,000 years ago—more than a millennium before Pythagoras was born.

Michael Greshko, “Babylonians Tracked Jupiter With Advanced Tools: Trapezoids,” National Geographic, January 28, 2016
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