Word of the Day

Thursday, November 12, 2020

modicum

[ mod-i-kuhm, moh-di- ]

noun

a moderate or small amount.

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What is the origin of modicum?

Modicum in Latin means “a small, modest amount,” specifically of money, if we may be so crass. Modicum is a noun use of the neuter singular of the adjective modicus “(used for) measuring, moderate, restrained, slight,” a derivative of the noun modus “measured amount or quantity, limit, measure, time, melody.” Modus is a derivative of the verb meditārī “to think about, ponder, meditate,” from the Proto-Indo-European root med-, mēd-, mod-, mōd– “to measure, take proper measures, judge, cure.” Further Latin derivatives from this set of roots include medērī “to heal, cure,” medicus “physician,” medicīna “the art of medicine, the practice of medicine, the administration of medicines,” remediāre “to treat (successfully), cure,” and its derivative noun remediātiō (stem remediātiōn-), source of English remediate and remediation. The variant mod– also yields Latin modestus “restrained, temperate,” and its opposite immodestus “unrestrained, licentious,” English modest and immodest. Modicum entered English in the second half of the 14th century.

how is modicum used?

But by relieving himself of his secret he discovers at least a modicum of peace.

Paul Morton, "The March of Progress Is Never Neat: Merle Miller's On Being Different," The Millions, November 15, 2012

Anxiety and depression naturally arise when we perceive we have no power over a situation. Doing something, such as documenting seasonal changes, is a way to restore a modicum of control and a sense of well-being.

Theresa Crimmins, "To Ease Climate Anxiety, Reconnect with the Rhythms of the Seasons," Scientific American, January 5, 2020

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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

fidelity

[ fi-del-i-tee, fahy- ]

noun

loyalty.

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What is the origin of fidelity?

Fidelity “loyalty, faithfulness” comes via Middle English and Old French from the Latin noun fidēlitās (inflectional stem fidēlitāt-), a derivative of the adjective fidēlis (familiar to Americans from the Marine Corps motto, Semper Fidelis “Always Faithful”). Fidēlis is a derivative of the noun fidēs “trust, assurance, guarantee.” The Latin forms come from the Proto-Indo-European root bheidh-, bhoidh-, bhidh– “to trust.” The variant bheidh– is the source of Latin fīdus “faithful, loyal,” fīdere “to trust, have confidence in,” Greek peísesthai “to trust, rely on, obey, be persuaded,” and Greek Peithṓ “(the goddess of) persuasion.” Bhoidh– is the source of Latin foedus “formal agreement, league, treaty” (source of English federal, federate, and confederate); the variant bhidh– forms Latin fidēs and Greek pístis “faith, trust, authentication,” and pistós “faithful, reliable, credible.” The English noun faith comes from Middle English feith, faith, from Old French feid, feit, fei, from Latin fidem, the accusative singular of fidēs. (The English pronunciation of faith is all but identical to that implied by the Old French forms, quite different from the modern French pronunciation.) Fidelity entered English in the early 16th century.

how is fidelity used?

Through it all he’s shown a deep and abiding fidelity to one of our cherished ideals as a people and that is equal justice under the law.

Barack Obama, "Remarks on the Resignation of Eric H. Holder, Jr., as Attorney General," speech, Washington D.C., September 25, 2014, The American Presidency Project.

The chiefs of staff of the Army, Navy and Air Force issued similar messages, reinforcing their fidelity to the Constitution and pledging to battle racism in their ranks.

Doyle McManus, "Trump finds an unexpected center of resistance: the Pentagon," Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2020

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Tuesday, November 10, 2020

lagniappe

[ lan-yap, lan-yap ]

noun

a small gift given with a purchase to a customer, by way of compliment or for good measure; bonus.

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What is the origin of lagniappe?

The word lagniappe “a gratuity, a tip” has wandered a very long way, indeed, from its original home. People rightly associate lagniappe with New Orleans, The Big Easy, renowned for its wonderful food, jazz, etc.; Mark Twain discusses lagniappe in his Life on the Mississippi (1883, chapter 44). Most Americans would think that lagniappe is a French word, which it is, but Louisiana French, not standard French (lagniappe is not a headword in the online Trésor de la Langue Française). Lagniappe comes from Spanish la ñapa, la yapa, la llapa with the same meaning. Ñapa, yapa, llapa in turn comes from Quechua yápa “something a little extra, a bonus,” in Irish English “a tilly” (from Irish Gaelic tuilleadh “an additional item or amount”). Yápa a derivative of the verb yapay “to give more.” Quechua is the language of the Incas, still vigorous and flourishing in the Andes of South America. Lagniappe entered English in the middle of the 19th century.

how is lagniappe used?

During the holidays, New Orleans diners discover a lagniappe (little something extra) at their favorite fine-dining restaurants.

Wanda McKinney, "Where the Good Times Roll," Southern Living, December 2006

Certainly the goody bag is essentially worthless—a few candies and a set of earplugs make up the typical lagniappe.

Damon Darlin, "Flying With Shrieking Children? Give Your Neighbors a Goody Bag," New York Times, August 5, 2016

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