Word of the Day

Saturday, August 29, 2020

metrophobia

[ me-truh-foh-bee-uh ]

noun

an irrational or disproportionate fear of poetry: Being forced to read John Donne's sonnets aloud in front of my English class gave me such bad metrophobia that I can't even look at greeting card poetry without getting sweaty palms and a dry mouth.

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What is the origin of metrophobia?

You may think that metrophobia means “fear of big cities” based on the word metropolis. In fact, metrophobia means “fear of poetry,” a compound of Greek métron (inflectional stem metr-) “measure, length, size, meter (of music or poetry)” and –phobia. Metrophobia entered English in the late 20th century.

how is metrophobia used?

“Gross in summer. Cold in winter. Jack-o-lanterns in fall. Bees in spring.” / “That’s like a poem,” she says. / I shiver. I think I might possibly have metrophobia.

Paul Mosier, Summer and July, 2020

This emphasis on the performance of poetry and using whatever medium might suit is surely also a step in the right direction in the fight to cure metrophobia and pull readers back in to the poetry itself.

Shona M. Allan, "The Pull of the Poetry: Juan, Juxtapositions and Alluring Alliteration," Byron's Poetry, 2012

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Friday, August 28, 2020

schmaltz

[ shmahlts, shmawlts ]

noun

exaggerated sentimentalism, as in music or soap operas.

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What is the origin of schmaltz?

Schmaltz comes from Yiddish shmalts and German Schmaltz, with two meanings: “liquid animal fat, especially chicken fat,” and by extension “exaggerated sentimentalism.” (The adjective schmaltzy, however, means only “exaggeratedly sentimental.”) Before Americans became concerned about their diets, one could go to a Jewish restaurant and find on the table a bottle or cruet filled with schmaltz to make sure diners maintained a proper level of cholesterol in their blood. Schmaltz in its dietary sense entered English at the end of the 18th century; in its critical sense, in the mid-1930s.

how is schmaltz used?

At first it sounded like normal holiday schmaltz: the softest of soft-rock pianos, punched up with a twist of synth. This was joined by the softest of soft-rock voices, which intoned the immortal lyric: “Met my old lover in the grocery store.”

Sam Anderson, "Letter of Recommendation: Dan Fogelberg, 'Same Old Lang Syne,'" New York Times, December 14, 2016

It was a blatant ploy to serve fans … but it’s also a comic-book movie. I say, bring on the schmaltz!

Angela Watercutter, "A Spoiler-Packed Review of Avengers: Endgame's Highlights," Wired, April 27, 2019

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Thursday, August 27, 2020

vituperate

[ vahy-too-puh-reyt, -tyoo-, vi- ]

verb (used with or without object)

to use or address with harsh or abusive language; revile.

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What is the origin of vituperate?

Vituperate, “to address with harsh language, revile,” comes straight from Latin vituperātus, the past participle of the verb vituperāre “to spoil, blame, criticize adversely, find fault with.” The formation of vituperāre is a little irregular: The first element of this compound appears to be noun vitium “fault, defect, shortcoming” (and via Old French, the source of English vice). Viti– is the combining form of vitium before labial consonants (p, b, m). But the element –perāre is problematic, sometimes explained as a combining form of parāre “to prepare,” sometimes as a verb derivative of the adjective pār “matching, equal” (as in the verb aequiperāre, aequiparāre “to equalize, compare”). Vituperate entered English in the first half of the 16th century.

how is vituperate used?

He refused to join the “anti-disco crusade,” making the valid point that it isn’t necessary to vituperate the other fellow’s music in order to defend the kind you like.

Phillip Lopate, "Mr. Rotten, Mr. Vicious and Mr. Wagner," New York Times, December 24, 2006

There are moments in life when true invective is called for, when there comes an absolute necessity, out of a deep sense of justice, to denounce, mock, vituperate, lash out, rail at in the strongest possible language.

Charles Simic, "In Praise of Invective," Thumbscrew, Autumn/Winter 1995

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