Word of the Day

Sunday, December 13, 2020

misbegotten

[ mis-bi-got-n ]

adjective

badly conceived, made, or carried out.

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What is the origin of misbegotten?

Misbegotten “badly conceived, made, or carried out,” is hard to figure out from its component parts. Misbegotten is made up of the prefix mis– “wrongly, incorrectly,” from the Germanic prefix missa– “astray, wrong” (from the same root as the verb miss “to fail to hit or strike”), as in Gothic missadeths “transgression, offense,” which occurs in Old English as misdǽd and in English as misdeed. Begotten is the past participle of beget, which comes from the Old English verb begietan “to get, acquire,” which since the second half of the 14th century has meant “to generate offspring; produce as an effect.” Beget is a compound of the prefix be-, a Germanic prefix originally meaning “about, around, on all sides,” with many other meanings, but here having a figurative sense (as also with befall, begin, behave). The verb get is from Old Norse geta “to get, be able to, beget, engender.” Misbegotten entered English in the first half of the 16th century in the sense “illegitimate child.”

how is misbegotten used?

It is long past time to end U.S. support for this misbegotten and unwinnable war.

Editorial Board, "End U.S. support for this misbegotten and unwinnable war," Washington Post, August 18, 2018

Does our respect for companion creatures herald a new way of relating to non-humans, rejecting centuries of misbegotten thinking about animals as unfeeling biological machines?

Brandon Keim, "Dogs and Cats Are Blurring the Lines Between Pets and People," Wired, April 8, 2014

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Saturday, December 12, 2020

lyceum

[ lahy-see-uhm ]

noun

an institution for popular education providing discussions, lectures, concerts, etc.

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What is the origin of lyceum?

The English noun lyceum comes from Latin Lycīum, Lycēum, from Greek Lýkeion, the name of a gymnasium in southeast Athens with a neighboring sanctuary of Apóllōn Lýkios / Lýkeios. The area was one of the places where Socrates used to ask his good-humored but troublesome questions, and where Aristotle used to lecture. The sanctuary also gave its name to Aristotle’s school, the Lýkeion. It is unclear what exactly lýkeios means: It may mean “belonging to a wolf” (lýkos) because of the Athenian military and athletic cult of Apóllōn Lýkios “Wolf-Apollo.” Lýkeios is also an epithet of Apollo meaning “Lycian (Apollo),” i.e., Apollo was born in Lycia (his mother Leto was Lycian). Finally, because of Apollo’s association with the sun, lýkeios may be from the same root as Greek lýchnos “lantern, lamp” and Latin lux (stem luc-) “light.” Modern authorities consider the connection with Lycia and Leto to be the most probable one. Lyceum entered English in the second half of the 16th century.

how is lyceum used?

At a lyceum, not long since, I felt that the lecturer had chosen a theme too foreign to himself, and so failed to interest me as much as he might have done.

Henry David Thoreau, "Life Without Principle," The Atlantic, October 1863

On the lyceum circuit, they travelled from town to town, an adult-education campaign offering lectures on everything from physical exercise to the moral crisis of slavery.

Evan Osnos, "Bringing Our Politics Back from the Brink," The New Yorker, November 9, 2020

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Friday, December 11, 2020

avuncular

[ uh-vuhng-kyuh-ler ]

adjective

acting like an uncle, as in being kind, patient, generous, etc., especially to younger people.

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What is the origin of avuncular?

Avuncular typically means “acting in a kindly, benevolent manner towards one’s nieces and nephews.” Avuncular comes from the Latin noun avunculus “mother’s brother, uncle,” a derivative of the noun avus “grandfather, forefather, ancestor.” (English uncle comes via Old French and Anglo-French oncle, uncle from avunculus.) Latin avus comes from Proto-Indo-European awos “grandfather, maternal grandfather.” Awo– is also the source for Armenian hav “grandfather,” Old Irish áue, Middle Irish ó(a), úa, both meaning “grandson, descendant,” and the source of O’ in Gaelic surnames, such as O’Connor “descendant of Connor.” Variants of the stem appear in Lithuanian avýnas “maternal uncle,” Old Prussian awis, and Old Church Slavonic ujĭ, both meaning “uncle.” The Latin term for father’s brother, paternal uncle is patruus (a derivative of patr– father), for maternal aunt matertera (a derivative of mātr-), and for paternal aunt amita. Latin is interesting to anthropologists because of its unusually full and exact kinship terms, every possible kinship relation having its own term and not a descriptive compound noun, for example, “father’s brother, mother’s mother, sister’s son.” (The Latin system of kinship terms is an excellent example of the so-called Sudanese pattern.) Indeed, anthropologists use Latin kinship terms as the basis of a general terminology for cross-cultural use. Avuncular entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is avuncular used?

Immersed in bubbles, fully suited, he [Stephen Colbert] provided his signature mix of acid critique and avuncular reassurance.

Doreen St. Félix, "What We're Watching Under Quarantine," The New Yorker, March 23, 2020

He also, later on, has a consoling, avuncular chat with his frightened boy-self.

James Parker, "The New David Copperfield Movie Might Be Better Than the Book," The Atlantic, September 2020

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Thursday, December 10, 2020

mitzvah

[ meets-vah, mits-; mits-vuh ]

noun

any good or praiseworthy deed.

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What is the origin of mitzvah?

Mitzvah “law, divine law, commandment” is probably most familiar to Americans in the phrases bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah “son / daughter of the Law / commandment,” the ceremony making the young person responsible for observing the Law. Mitzvah represents a modern pronunciation of Hebrew mișwāh “command, commandment.” There also exists the developed meaning of mișwāh “good deed performed in fulfillment of a commandment,” such as the obligation to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Mitzvah entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is mitzvah used?

Wearing something new for a festive occasion is a mitzvah, a commandment and good deed in Jewish law.

Elizabeth Hayt, "Sprucing Up For Holidays: It's a Mitzvah," New York Times, September 20, 1998

Here’s what I learned: it’s a mitzvah for humanity that I didn’t take my parents’ advice about becoming a doctor.

Patricia Marx, "Taking Virtual Reality for a Test Drive," The New Yorker, December 9, 2019

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Wednesday, December 09, 2020

abscond

[ ab-skond ]

verb (used without object)

to depart in a sudden and secret manner, especially to avoid capture and legal prosecution.

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What is the origin of abscond?

Abscond ultimately comes from Latin abscondere, “to hide away, stow away, store away,” a double compound verb formed from the preposition and prefix abs, abs-, a variant of ab, ab– “away, away from,” and the compound verb condere “to put in or into, store away, put away” (formed from the familiar prefix con-, here used with intensive force “thoroughly, completely,” and –dere “to put,” a verb used only in compounds). The usual modern meaning of abscond “to depart in a sudden and secret manner, so as to avoid capture and prosecution,” does not occur in Latin but developed in English during the 17th century. It is a reflexive or passive use of the verb: “to hide oneself, hide oneself away (from), flee, flee from prosecution.” Abscond entered English in the second half of the 16th century in the sense “to conceal, obscure.”

how is abscond used?

Mr. Angiolillo’s descendants say that their stepbrother absconded with the diamond after his mother died in 2009, but the stepbrother, Marco Milella, has insisted that he inherited the stone from his mother and that it was his to sell, according to court records.

Julia Jacobs, "Appeals Court Sends the Case of a Pink $40 Million Diamond to Trial," New York Times, July 10, 2020

In a complaint filed in the Central District of California, the three principals were charged not only with running the site but also with planning an “exit scam,” in which they intended to abscond with some eleven million dollars being held in users’ accounts.

Ed Caesar, "The Cold War Bunker That Became Home to a Dark-Web Empire," The New Yorker, July 27, 2020

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Tuesday, December 08, 2020

infodemic

[ in-foh-dem-ik ]

noun

a massive amount of widely and rapidly circulating information about a particular crisis or controversial issue, consisting of a confusing combination of fact, falsehood, rumor, and opinion.

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What is the origin of infodemic?

Infodemic, a transparent blend of info(rmation) and (epi)demic, was coined in 2003 by David J. Rothkopf, an American political scientist and journalist. Prof. Rothkopf was referring specifically to the profusion of information, misinformation, rumor, and outright falsehoods during the SARS epidemic of 2003.

how is infodemic used?

Yet if information is the disease, knowledge is also a cure. We should react to infodemics just as we do to diseases.

David J. Rothkopf, "When the Buzz Bites Back," Washington Post, May 11, 2003

Her aim was to assess and stop a global spread—not of the dangerous virus but of hazardous false information. She wanted to halt what her colleagues at the health agency are calling an “infodemic.”

Matt Richtel, "W.H.O. Fights a Pandemic Besides Coronavirus: An ‘Infodemic,’" New York Times, February 6, 2020

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Monday, December 07, 2020

ambit

[ am-bit ]

noun

a sphere of operation or influence; range; scope.

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What is the origin of ambit?

Ambit comes straight from the Latin noun ambitus, a noun of many meanings associated with or derived from circular motion, e.g., “circuit, revolution; a ring, periphery, or circuit; a strip of ground around a building“ but not the English sense “sphere of operation or influence; range; scope,” a sense that developed in English in the mid-17th century. In Cicero’s speeches, ambitus was the common crime of bribery, graft, or corruption in electioneering committed by a candidate or his associates. Ambitus is a derivative of the verb ambīre “to visit in rotation, solicit or canvass for votes,” a compound of the prefix ambi– “both, on both sides, around” and the verb īre “to go.” Ambit entered English in one of its original Latin senses “strip of ground around a house or other building” in the second half of the 15th century.

how is ambit used?

The EPA’s ambit is too narrow, and climate change too sprawling, for Inslee’s time and talents.

Robinson Meyer, "For Voters, Does Climate ... Actually Even Matter?" The Atlantic, August 22, 2019

The Oversight and Reform Committee has a broad ambit that allows it to scrutinize seemingly everything done by the executive branch.

Jon Healey, "Care about balance of power? Root for Trump's legal team in financial records fight," Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2019

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