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[ meel-yuh-riz-uhm, mee-lee-uh- ] [ ˈmil yəˌrɪz əm, ˈmi li ə- ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling


the doctrine that the world tends to become better or may be made better by human effort.

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More about meliorism

Meliorism “the doctrine that the world becomes better by human effort” is based on the Latin adjective melior “better,” which is also the source of the English verb ameliorate “to make or become better” as well as French meilleur, Italian migliore, Portuguese melhor, and Spanish mejor, all meaning “better” or “best,” depending on context. Just as better and best are the comparative and superlative of good even though good is not related to them, Latin melior and optimus “best” correspond to bonus “good.” This use of unrelated words as forms of one another is known as suppletion, as we learned from the recent Words of the Day laisser-aller and jovial. Meliorism was first recorded in English in the late 1850s.

how is meliorism used?

The novelist George Eliot (she who fashioned ‘frustrating’ for us) is also credited with formulating, in a letter she wrote in 1885, something rather less negative in its outlook and attitude: the term ‘meliorism,’ or the belief that the world’s suffering is healable if we all work together for that end …. We can meet together in a great disco of the mind, fuelled by the conviction that one day, in the not-too-distant future, that beautiful, fragile, craved-for togetherism we all so desperately miss, will resume again for real.

Kelly Grovier, “The women who created a new language,” BBC, May 7, 2020

The cheerful meliorism that has guided past accomplishments–a fundamental belief that life does and will get better–has been replaced by a gloomy cynicism, or at best a respectful ritualisation of our decline: dressing up in sombre outfits to watch sombrely dressed orchestras play the complicated soundtracks of our golden age; queuing round the block to study the tortured brushstrokes of bygone eras, and finding genius in their pain.

Peter Aspden, “iPod therefore I am,” Financial Times, January 23, 2009
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[ ahr-keyn ] [ ɑrˈkeɪn ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling


known or understood by very few; mysterious; secret.

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More about arcane

Arcane “known by very few” comes by way of Middle French from Latin arcānus “secret, concealed,” from the verb arcēre “to shut up, keep.” Arcēre (stems arc- and erc-) is also the source of coerce and exercise, and it derives from arca “chest, box,” which is the source of ark. Despite the resemblance, arca is not related to arcus “bow, curve,” the latter of which is the ancestor of arc, arcade, arch, and archer. Thanks to Grimm’s law, Latin c tends to correspond to Old English h, and Latin arcus is therefore a distant relative of arrow (from Old English earh). Arcane was first recorded in English in the 1540s.

how is arcane used?

Dubbed the worst problem no one has heard of, an obscure land rights law is winning attention as lawmakers overhaul arcane U.S. inheritance rules that are exploited by predators. At the root of the problem is so-called heirs’ property–a type of enforced communal ownership–which can arise when land or a home is passed on without a clear will.

Cary L. Biron, “Arcane U.S. land law gets slow makeover to help poor,” Reuters, June 19, 2018

Federal officials contend that wolves are resilient enough to bounce back even if their numbers drop sharply due to intensive hunting …. Friday’s hearing focused on a much more arcane, legal issue: Were wolves properly classified under the endangered act prior to losing their protected status last year? A U.S. Justice Department attorney said they were not, because of changes to the act by Congress in 1978.

Matthew Brown, “Fight over US wolf protections goes before judge,” Indian Country Today, November 15, 2021
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[ zoh-fer-uhs ] [ ˈzoʊ fər əs ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling


an architectural band on an outside wall decorated with sculptural representations of people or animals.

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More about zophorus

Zophorus “an architectural band decorated with animals,” also often spelled zoophorus, comes by way of Latin from Ancient Greek zōiophóros “bearing animals,” a compound of zôion “animal” and -phoros “bearing.” For more on zôion, compare the recent Word of the Day zooid. The element -phoros is the present participle of the verb phérein “to bear,” which is also the source of dysphoria, pheromone, the names Berenice and Christopher, and—far more distantly—the recent Word of the Day auriferous. Zophorus was first recorded in English circa 1560.

how is zophorus used?

[T]he external face of the zophorus, being coated with a very fine cement, had assimilated in colour with the marble of the building, so as to be deceptive, except upon minute inspection.

William Wilkins, Prolusiones Architectonicae, 1837

The architrave in both the Ionic and the Corinthian orders consists of plain slabs, but the frieze … is in nearly every case enriched with a series of beautiful figure subjects, and is therefore known as the Zoophorus or figure-bearer.

Nancy Meugens Bell, Architecture, 1914
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