Word of the Day

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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Sunday, December 06, 2020

verbum sap

[ vur-buhm -sap ]

phrase

a word to the wise is sufficient; no more need be said.

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What is the origin of verbum sap?

Verbum sap is short for Latin Verbum sapientī sat(is) est “a word to the wise is sufficient.” Verbum comes from the Proto-Indo-European root wer– (with variants) “to speak,” the same source as English word, German Wort, Old Prussian wirds “word,” and Lithuanian vardas “name.” Sapientī is the dative singular of sapiēns “rational, sane, understanding,” the present participle of sapere “to taste, taste of, have good taste; to be intelligent, know, understand.” Sapere is the source of the Romance verbs savoir (French), saber (Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan), and Italian sapere, all meaning “to know.” The participle sapiēns is also the specific epithet for the genus Homo “human being.” Sat or satis “enough, sufficient” is by origin an indeclinable noun, i.e., the noun has no inflections. Satis comes from the Proto-Indo-European root -, – “to satisfy, fill,” and its derivative noun sātis “satiety, fullness” (also the source of Old Irish sāith “satiety”). The variant – is the source of Gothic saths “full,” German satt, Old English sæd “grave, heavy, full,” originally “sated, full” (English sad), and Greek hádēn “enough” (in Greek, original initial s before a vowel becomes h). Est is related to Old English and English is, German and Gothic ist, Greek estí, Sanskrit ásti, Old Irish is, Old Lithuanian esti, Old Church Slavonic jestĭ, and Hittite eszi, all meaning “is,” from Proto-Indo-European esti. Verbum sapienti entered English in the second half of the 16th century, verbum sap in the first half of the 19th century.

how is verbum sap used?

Never yet, my dear girl, did I long to administer a productive pecuniary Squeeze to any human creature as I long to administer it to Mr. Novel Vanstone. I say no more. Verbum sap.

Wilkie Collins, No Name, 1862

P.S. I have mentioned to your mother that I am thinking of buying you a small car. Verbum sap.

Mary Roberts Rinehart, Bab: A Sub-Deb, 1917

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Saturday, December 05, 2020

tirrivee

[ tur-uh-vee ]

noun

Scot.

a tantrum.

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What is the origin of tirrivee?

Tirrivee “a tantrum, a display of bad temper” is another perplexing Scots word with no secure etymology. It may be a variant or corruption of the verb tailyevey “to move from side to side, rock” another Scots word of no known etymology. Sir Walter Scott used tirrivee in his Waverley novels, enough to ensure the word’s survival. Tirrivee entered English in the early 19th century.

how is tirrivee used?

Say that you forgive me, that you love me not a whit the less for my yesterday’s tirrivee

Jane Baillie Welsh to Thomas Carlyle, 1824, in Carlyle Till Marriage, 1923

What a tirrivee Dominie was in!

John Innes, Till A' the Seas Gang Dry, 1924

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Friday, December 04, 2020

antediluvian

[ an-tee-di-loo-vee-uhn ]

adjective

very old, old-fashioned, or out of date; antiquated.

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What is the origin of antediluvian?

Antediluvian “occurring before the biblical Flood (in Genesis); very old, old-fashioned, or out of date,” comes from the Latin preposition and prefix ante, ante– “before” (naturalized in English) and the noun dīluvium “flood, deluge, inundation,” a derivative of the verb dīluere “to dissolve and wash away” (dīlūtus, the past participle of dīluere, is the source of English dilute). The original meaning of antediluvian was to biblical events or people before the Flood, such as the patriarchs between Adam and Noah; the exaggerated sense “very old, old-fashioned, out of date” developed in the first half of the 18th century. Antediluvian entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is antediluvian used?

How can it be that in a country that landed men on the moon, antediluvian locomotives are pushing and pulling dirty, smelly, 50-year-old cars perforated by rust, past crumbling stations, over track that looks like spilled overcooked spaghetti?

Serge Nedeltscheff, "A Conspiracy at the L.I.R.R.?" New York Times, December 8, 1996

So my on-the-job training in science writing started in the antediluvian age when magazines and newspapers held a near-monopolistic control over science writing.

Carl Zimmer, "A Note to Beginning Science Writers," National Geographic, June 24, 2013

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