Word of the Day

Word of the day

Friday, August 20, 2021

mickle

[ mik-uhl ]

adjective

great; large; much.

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What is the origin of mickle?

Mickle is often found in the expression “many a little makes a mickle,” which sometimes appears instead as “many a pickle makes a mickle” or “many a mickle makes a muckle” and points to how a vast number of small quantities can form a great quantity. Mickle has many cognates in other Indo-European languages that pertain to greatness, whether literal size or figurative influence—from mickle’s Latin cognate, we have magnify and magnitude; from its Greek cognate, we have megabyte and megalomania; and from its Sanskrit cognate, we have maharajah “a ruling prince,” and maharishi “a respected teacher of mystical knowledge.” The adjective much originated as a shortened form of mickle likely in the 12th century and is not related to Spanish mucho, which derives instead from the Latin word for “many”—the same word that gives us multiple and multitude.

how is mickle used?

[M]ight never any man bethink of bliss that were greater in any country than in this; might never man know any so mickle joy, as was with Arthur, and with his folk here!

Layamon (12th century), Brut, translated by Eugene Mason, 2020

God’s help! my lady fair the conjuror plays This very night: good angels her deceive! But let me laugh awhile, I’ve mickle time to grieve.

John Keats, "The Eve of St. Agnes," 1820

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Word of the day

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Phlegethon

[ fleg-uh-thon, flej- ]

noun

a stream of fire or fiery light.

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What is the origin of Phlegethon?

In addition to referring to “a stream of fire or fiery light,” Phlegethon retains its original meaning as the river of fire that surrounded Hades, the underworld, in Greek mythology. Its name literally means “burning” or “flaming” in Ancient Greek. The Phlegethon was one of five rivers in Hades; the others were the Acheron, Cocytus, Lethe, and Styx. While the Phlegethon was known as the river of fire, the Acheron was the river of sadness, the Cocytus was the river of weeping, the Lethe was the river of forgetfulness, and the Styx was the river of hatred. All five rivers coalesced at the center of Hades, and Charon ferried the souls of the dead either along the Acheron or the Styx, depending on the author.

how is Phlegethon used?

[T]he Baptistery shone with ice, and the porch-lions of the Cathedral looked as though some eighteenth-century Farnese had fitted powdered wigs upon them. The Torrente from its bridges seemed a Phlegethon, a river of whirling smoke, but felt like what it really was: a reservoir of benumbing vapor.

Edwin Howland Blashfield and Evangeline Wilbour Blashfield, Italian Cities, Vol. 1, 1900

The buckets dropped; the water sizzed and steamed on the sand. The boy barely missed stumbling into a Phlegethon of molten iron as he dodged the murderous missile.

Isaac K. Friedman, By Bread Alone, 1901

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Word of the day

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

vamoose

[ va-moos ]

verb (used without object)

to leave hurriedly or quickly; decamp.

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What is the origin of vamoose?

Vamoose is an adaptation of the Spanish phrase vamos, and unlike the majority of recent borrowings from Spanish, which preserve the original spelling and approximate the original pronunciation, vamoose is one of a small family of terms borrowed over 100 years ago that changed so much in both letters and sound that their connection to Spanish is almost unrecognizable. Alligator is one of these words; it comes from a Spanish phrase that means “the lizard.” So are buckaroo, an alteration of the Spanish word for “cowboy,” and cockroach, from Spanish cucaracha. The closest relative of vamoose is savvy, which derives from Spanish sabe (usted), meaning “(you, formal) know,” and is still sometimes used as a verb in English.

how is vamoose used?

Sitting beside Russo in the passenger seat of his wheezing Ford Galaxy, all throughout that long cross-country drive, was his mother. She’d decided it was time to vamoose, too, and who better to escape with than the son whom she always called her “rock.”

Maureen Corrigan, "Caring For Mom, Dreaming Of 'Elsewhere,'" NPR, November 5, 2012

“The Brazilians prefer to make xixi in the streets,” he said. “We don’t have enough bathrooms for everyone.” Nearby, a woman was making her own bathroom right next to the entrance of a residential building, vamoosing only when the doorman, Clever Santos Chavez, chased her away.

Terrence McCoy, "At Brazil’s Carnival, Rio declares war on a daunting foe: Public urination," Washington Post, February 24, 2020

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