Word of the Day

Word of the day

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

minatory

[ min-uh-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee ]

adjective

menacing; threatening.

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What is the origin of minatory?

Despite the similar sound, minatory isn’t related to the name of the Minotaur, a human-bull hybrid in Greek mythology. Though the Minotaur was certainly a minatory creature, Minotaur is a compound of Minos, a king of Crete, and the Ancient Greek word for “bull,” while minatory ultimately derives from a Latin verb meaning “to threaten” and that was used in terms related to driving cattle with threats. This same Latin verb is the ultimate source of menace “a threat” and promenade “a stroll or walk,” both derived ultimately from the “cattle driving” sense.

how is minatory used?

When I woke up in the sleeping balcony and looked out the small casement window beside the bed at the bare branches nodding outside in the grey morning, tapping on the walls in an indecipherable but all too obviously minatory code, … I found it impossible to imagine how, in a month or so, they’d be green again, covered in the lushness of leaves and lifted by warmer breezes.

Rafi Zabor, I, Wabenzi, 2005

Since her father’s imprisonment, Minou handles the business, and she is in the shop when a mysterious envelope appears, addressed to her and bearing a terse, minatory message: “She knows that you live.”

Elizabeth Hand, "‘Burning Chambers’ is a sweeping historical novel that puts current events in perspective," Washington Post, June 19, 2019

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Word of the day

Monday, August 16, 2021

zugzwang

[ tsook-tsvahng ]

noun

in chess, a situation in which a player is limited to moves that cost pieces or have a damaging positional effect.

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What is the origin of zugzwang?

Zugzwang means “compulsion to move” in German, and the first element of the word is cognate to the English word tug “a forceful pull.” Zugzwang is one of several terms that we Anglophones have borrowed to describe moves, people, and actions related to chess. Also from German, we’ve adopted patzer, a casual, amateurish chess player. Meanwhile, Italian gives us fianchetto, a move that involves developing the bishop by moving a pawn out of the way, and French gives us en prise, which describes when a piece is likely to be captured. With a game as universally beloved as chess is, it’s not surprising that terms related to the game have crossed, recrossed, and criss-crossed linguistic divides.

how is zugzwang used?

In chess, there’s a position called zugzwang, like being forced to hurt yourself. Being put in zugzwang means a player is obliged to move even though moving means losing a piece. If the player didn’t have to move, the situation wouldn’t be so dire. It always takes place at the endgame; it’s a position that seals the truth, which is that losing is inevitable.

Zoé Valdés, The Weeping Woman, 2016

As in debates over the budget at the federal level, there is an element of what chess players call zugzwang: since any specific solution over deficit reduction is likely to be fairly unpopular, the first mover or perceived aggressor is often at a disadvantage.

Nate Silver, “Decoding the Wisconsin Polls,” New York Times, February 23, 2011

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Word of the day

Sunday, August 15, 2021

saltigrade

[ sal-ti-greyd, sawl- ]

adjective

moving by leaping.

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What is the origin of saltigrade?

Saltigrade means “moving by leaping” and refers to a family of jumping spiders. The first element, salti-, derives from Latin saltāre “to jump about; dance,” frequentative of salīre “to jump.” The second element, –grade, meaning “walking; moving,” derives from Latin gradī “to walk, step, go.” Saltigrade first appears in English in the early part of the 19th century.

how is saltigrade used?

It paused momentarily for one final examination of its surroundings. It felt no signals and sensed no activity within its range of perception. It felt secure in moving. It moved its saltigrade legs slowly at first, being very alert to possible detection. […] It was fully aware of each movement of its legs. It had the flexibility to move easily over the jagged landscape, and it could balance its entire body on any leg.

Gary L. Bennett, The Star Sailors, 1980

Manic existence is at the mercy of a sequence of jumps over reality, constituting a saltigrade present marked by flitting restlessness.

Guilherme Messas, The Existential Structure of Substance Misuse: A Psychopathological Study, 2021

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