Word of the Day

Thursday, April 12, 2018

mercurial

[ mer-kyoor-ee-uh l ]

adjective

changeable; volatile; fickle; flighty; erratic: a mercurial nature.

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What is the origin of mercurial?

The English adjective mercurial ultimately comes from the Latin adjective mercuriālis “of or pertaining to Mercurius“ (i.e., the god Mercury), whose original function was as god of commerce, transporters of goods (especially of grain), and shopkeepers. Latin also has the plural noun, derived from the adjective, Mercuriālēs, the name of a guild of merchants. Mercurius is related to merx (stem merc-) “goods, wares, commodities” (and the ultimate source of English merchant and merchandise). By classical times Mercury was completely identified with the Greek god Hermes—the messenger of the gods because he was fast-moving, and always on the move, negotiating, fast-talking, making deals, flimflamming, playing tricks. Mercurius also acquired the meaning “pertaining to the planet Mercury” (Stella Mercuriī, “Star of Mercury,” a translation of Greek astḕr toû Hermoû), the fastest moving of the planets. Mercurial entered English in the 14th century in the sense “pertaining to the planet Mercury.”

how is mercurial used?

A mercurial woman, elusive in her lifetime, Anne is still changing centuries after her death, carrying the projections of those who read and write about her.

Hilary Mantel, "Author's Note," Bring Up the Bodies, 2012

Agriculture, which was most of all to have profited from inflation, on the theory that the mercurial crop-prices would rise faster than anything else, actually suffered the most of all …

Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here, 1935
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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

astroturfing

[ as-truh-turf-ing ]

noun

the deceptive tactic of simulating grassroots support for a product, cause, etc., undertaken by people or organizations with an interest in shaping public opinion: In some countries astroturfing is banned, and this includes sponsored blog posts.

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What is the origin of astroturfing?

Astroturfing was originally an Americanism, coined in 1974, meaning “to cover an area with Astroturf (a carpetlike covering made of vinyl and nylon to resemble turf, used for athletic fields, patios, etc.).” Twenty years later (1993) the current sense of Astroturfing “the deceptive tactic of simulating grassroots support for a product or cause, undertaken to influence public opinion” first appeared in Canadian and Australian newspapers.

how is astroturfing used?

An aide said Mr. Markey hoped to combat the tactic of astroturfing in which a professional lobbying effort is made to seem like a grass-roots movement.

Stephanie Strom, "Coal Group Is Linked to Fake Letters on Climate Bill," New York Times, August 4, 2009

This isn’t usually the sort of behavior we think of when we talk about political “astroturfing”—that much-loathed, much-feared practice of faking grass-roots support online—but as more and more political discourse has moved to the Internet, the techniques have multiplied.

Caitlin Dewey, "The three types of political astroturfing you'll see in 2016," Washington Post, September 26, 2016
Tuesday, April 10, 2018

balladmonger

[ bal-uhd-muhng-ger, -mong- ]

noun

an inferior poet.

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What is the origin of balladmonger?

Shakespeare (1564-1616) is the first recorded author to use balladmonger, a compound noun that has nearly always had a belittling or depreciatory sense. Monger is a common Germanic word derived from Latin mangō, “a slave trader; a merchant who adorns or decorates inferior wares to make them look more attractive.” From the Old English period even until the 20th century, monger has had positive connotations, but beginning in the mid-16th century monger and its derivative compounds frequently have had a negative connotation. For example, ironmonger “a merchant or dealer in iron and hardware,” first recorded in the 12th century, is neutral, but Mark Twain’s coinage superstition-monger is certainly depreciatory. Balladmonger entered English in the late 16th century.

how is balladmonger used?

I had rather be a kitten, and cry mew, Than one of these same metre ballad-mongers

William Shakespeare, King Henry IV, Part 1, 1598

That sounds like a cheap balladmonger‘s gibe, Richard.

Norah Lofts, The Lute Player, 1951

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