Word of the Day

Friday, March 29, 2019

metathesis

[ muh-tath-uh-sis ]

noun

the transposition of letters, syllables, or sounds in a word, as in the pronunciation aks for ask.

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What is the origin of metathesis?

In linguistics, metathesis is the transposition of two consecutive letters or sounds of a word, as in the now nonstandard pronunciation aks for ask (Old English has the verbs áscian and axian, and Middle English has asken and axen). Every well-disciplined schoolboy knows that in Greek quantitative metathesis is the change of long vowel + short vowel, e.g., ēo, to short vowel + long vowel, . Metathesis comes via Late Latin metathesis “transposition of the letters of a word,” from Greek metáthesis “change, change of position, transposition,” a compound formed of the common Greek preposition and prefix metá, meta– “with, in the middle of, among” (metá is related to German mit and Old English mid “with,” as in the first syllable of midwife). Thésis “placing, location, setting” is a derivative of the verb tithénai “to put, place,” from the very common Proto-Indo-European root dhē– “to place, put,” and the source of Latin facere “to do” and English do. Metathesis entered English in the 16th century.

how is metathesis used?

”NOO-kyuh-luhr”-sayers, who number in the many millions, in fact, move the l in nuclear to the final syllable and thus avoid the unusual pattern. (Linguists refer to this sound-switching process as metathesis.)

Frank Abate, "On Language: Nuclear," New York Times Magazine, January 12, 2003

Remember this when the next time you hear someone complaining about aks for ask or nucular for nuclear, or even perscription. It’s called metathesis, and it’s a very common, perfectly natural process.

David Shariatmadari, "8 pronunciation errors that made the English language what it is today," The Guardian, March 11, 2014
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Thursday, March 28, 2019

knackered

[ nak-erd ]

adjective

British Slang.

exhausted; very tired: He is really knackered after work.

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What is the origin of knackered?

The verb knacker originally meant “to tire, kill, castrate,” a verb derived either from the noun knacker “a tradesman who buys animal carcasses or slaughters useless livestock” or from the plural noun knackers, a slang word for “testicles, courage.” Knackered in the sense “exhausted” entered English in 19th century.

how is knackered used?

She was completely knackered. All she wanted was a shower and twelve hours of sleep.

Elizabeth George, Playing for the Ashes, 1994

When they’re knackered like that they start crying.

Patrick O'Keeffe, The Visitors, 2014
Wednesday, March 27, 2019

impedimenta

[ im-ped-uh-men-tuh ]

plural noun

baggage or other things that retard one's progress, as supplies carried by an army: the impedimenta of the weekend skier.

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What is the origin of impedimenta?

Scores of millions of Americans will smile (or moan) at the recollection of reading (with the assistance of a pony or trot) Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War in their sophomore year high school Latin class, and seeing their old friend (or nemesis) impedīmenta “baggage train, traveling equipment” loaded with ablatives absolute and subjunctives in indirect discourse. Impedīmenta is a neuter plural noun formed from the verb impedīre “to restrict, hobble, impede” and –mentum, a neuter noun suffix for concrete objects. Impedīre is a compound of the preposition and prefix in, in– “in, into” and ped-, the inflectional stem of the noun pēs “foot”; impedīmenta therefore being the things that get caught in your feet, weigh you down. Impedimenta entered English at the end of the 16th century.

how is impedimenta used?

Games impedimenta–hockey sticks, boxing gloves, a burst football, a pair of sweaty shorts turned inside out–lay all over the floor …

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949

Every man was piled up with impedimenta–broken, torn, soiled and cobbled impedimenta.

Arnold Bennett, Over There, 1915

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