Word of the Day

Sunday, May 12, 2019

mother wit

[ muhth-er wit ]

noun

natural or practical intelligence, wit, or sense.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of mother wit?

Mother knows best, as they say. In mother wit, the word mother means “innate, inborn.” Wit comes from a very widespread Proto-Indo-European root weid-, woid-, wid– “to see, know.” This root appears in Latin vidēre “to see,” Sanskrit veda “knowledge,” Greek ideîn (and dialect wideîn) “to know” (literally “to have seen”), Slavic (Czech) vědět “to know” and vidět “to see.” From wid– Germanic (Old English) has the verb witan “to know.” In Old English the first and third person singular form was wāt “I know; he/she/it knows,” which survives today as the obsolete word wot (“God wot”). Mother wit entered English in the 15th century.

how is mother wit used?

… not one of the rest of us had the guts, the gumption, or the mother wit to recognize where all four of us were headed and drag the fool to a stop.

David Weber, How Firm a Foundation, 2011

One’s mother wit was a precious sort of necromancy, which could pierce every mystery at first sight ….

Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Devereux, 1829

SIGN UP FOR A VOCABULARY BOOST IN YOUR EMAIL

Get the Word of the Day delivered daily
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Saturday, May 11, 2019

motte

[ mot ]

noun

Chiefly Southwestern U.S.

a grove or clump of trees in prairie land or open country.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of motte?

Motte is a word that may cause food fights in reference libraries among etymologists. Motte, “a grove or stand of trees in prairie land or open country,” is a regionalism in the American Southwest, especially in Texas. The origin of motte may be from Mexican Spanish mata, from European Spanish mata “grove, plantation,” and perhaps from Late Latin matta, source of English mat. Other authorities say that motte is not a borrowing from Spanish but from French motte “hillock, mound” (English moat), related to Medieval Latin mota “hill, mound, fortified height” (further etymology is speculative). Motte entered English in the 19th century.

how is motte used?

We came up finally to a place where the road made a bend around a motte of trees, and I thought I ought to be able to find it again.

Elmer Kelton, Joe Pepper, 1975

They’d camped at the edge of a motte, a thick grove of oak trees, not too far from the Arroyo Colorado …

Larry D. Sweazy, The Gila Wars, 2013
Friday, May 10, 2019

popinjay

[ pop-in-jey ]

noun

a person given to vain, pretentious displays and empty chatter.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of popinjay?

The many spellings of popinjay, e.g., papejay, popingay, papinjai in Middle English, in medieval Romance languages, and in medieval Germanic languages, demonstrate the foreign, exotic origin of the term, let alone the bird. The English change of the final syllable from –gay to –jay may be by folk etymology, through association with the jay, the name of several kinds of raucous, lively birds of the crow family. Medieval Latin has papagallus, whose first half, papa-, may be imitative of the bird’s cry; the second half, gallus, is the ordinary Latin noun for “rooster, cock.” Papagallus comes from medieval Greek papagállos, itself a derivative of papagás, from Arabic babghā’, babbaghā’, which is imitative of the bird’s cry. Popinjay entered English in the 13th century in the now obsolete sense of a picture or representation of a parrot (as on a tapestry).

how is popinjay used?

… Matt Damon brings preening fun to a popinjay in spurs and suede fringe; his throwaway lines and sidelong glances finally realize the comic promise the character always possessed.

Ann Hornaday, "Cohen brothers' 'True Grit' is polished and entertaining," Washington Post, December 22, 2010

The Prince of Wales (Rupert Everett) is a nasty popinjay, and George’s prime minister, Pitt the Younger … a manipulative cold fish.

David Denby, "It's a Mad Mad Mad George," New York, January 2, 1995
Thursday, May 09, 2019

perspicacity

[ pur-spi-kas-i-tee ]

noun

keenness of mental perception and understanding; discernment; penetration.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of perspicacity?

Perspicacity ultimately comes from the Late Latin noun perspicācitās (inflectional stem perspicācitāt-) “sharp-sightedness, discernment,” a derivative of the Latin adjective perspicāx (inflectional stem perspicāc-) “sharp-sighted, penetrating, acute.” Perspicāx is a derivative of the verb perspicere “to inspect thoroughly, examine, look through, see through.” The prefix per– here is both literal (“to see or look through”) and intensive (“to examine thoroughly”). The combining form –spicere comes from specere “to see, observe, keep an eye on,” a Latin derivative of the Proto-Indo-European root spek-, spok– “look at closely, examine.” Greek metathesizes the root to skep– and skop– (as in the English derivatives skeptic and horoscope). The Germanic form of the root, speh-, is the source of English spy and espionage. Perspicacity entered English in the 16th century.

how is perspicacity used?

How well she deceived her father we shall have occasion to learn; but her innocent arts were of little avail before a person of the rare perspicacity of Mrs. Penniman.

Henry James, Washington Square, 1880

This early work shows that Saramago had yet to achieve his radical style, but his perspicacity and wit were already fully formed.

Carmela Ciuraru, "Newly Released Books; Skylight," New York Times, December 24, 2014
Wednesday, May 08, 2019

blossom

[ blos-uhm ]

verb

to flourish; develop: a writer of commercial jingles who blossomed out into an important composer.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of blossom?

Blossom in both the noun and the verb senses dates back to Old English. The Old English verb blōstmian “to bloom, blossom, effloresce” is a derivative of the noun blōstm, blōstma, blōsma “blossom, flower.” The English words blossom, bloom, and blow (“a yield or display of blossoms”) are all Germanic derivatives of the Proto-Indo-European root bhel-, bhlē-, bhlō– (and other variants) “to thrive, bloom.” In Latin the root appears in flōs (inflectional stem flōr-) “flower“ (which via Old French yields English flower, flour, and flourish). English florescent comes straight from Latin flōrescent-, the inflectional stem of flōrescēns, the present participle of flōrescere “to come into bloom.” Other English derivatives from Latin include floral and folium “leaf,” which becomes, again through Old French, English foil. Greek has the noun phýllon “leaf,” whose most common English derivative is probably chlorophyll.

how is blossom used?

… the beauty of their island only blossomed the further through time they moved away from it.

Roxane Gay, An Untamed State, 2014

This bit of utilitarian Web ephemera [the hashtag], invented with functionality squarely in mind, has blossomed into a marvelous and underappreciated literary device.

Julia Turner, "#InPriaseOfTheHashtag," New York Times Magazine, November 2, 2012
Tuesday, May 07, 2019

camp

[ kamp ]

noun

something that provides sophisticated, knowing amusement, as by virtue of its being artlessly mannered or stylized, or self-consciously artificial and extravagant.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of camp?

Many explanations have been offered, but the etymology of camp “something that provides sophisticated, knowing amusement, as by virtue of its being artlessly mannered or stylized, or self-consciously artificial and extravagant” remains obscure. The term entered English in the early 1900s.

how is camp used?

Indeed the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration.

Susan Sontag, "Notes on 'Camp'," Partisan Review, Vol. 31, No. 4, 1964

From “RuPaul’s Drag Race” to the current celebration of all things Warhol and Banksy’s self-destructing painting, Mr. Bolton sees the explosion of camp as a partial riposte to the corresponding rise of extreme conservatism and populism.

Vanessa Friedman, "Met Costume Institute Embraces 'Camp' for 2019 Blockbuster Show," New York Times, October 9, 2018
Monday, May 06, 2019

wilder

[ wil-der ]

verb

to cause to lose one's way.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of wilder?

The rare, archaic verb wilder “to lead astray” is pronounced with a short –i– as in children, not a long –i– as in child. The etymology of wilder is difficult: it looks like a frequentative verb formed from the adjective wild, or an irregular derivative from wilderness that was influenced by wander. Wilder entered English in the early 17th century.

how is wilder used?

Many an older head than his has been wildered by that fatal uniformity, that endless wilderness of green, those seeming tracks, which only lead deeper and deeper into the heart of the deadly scrub.

Harriet M. Davidson, "The Hamiltons," Chapter VII, Chambers's Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, No. 771, October 5, 1878

… in such a manner as to wilder the soul into vast and unthought-of horrors.

Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680), The Works of Thomas Goodwin, Vol. 3, 1861

SIGN UP FOR A VOCABULARY BOOST IN YOUR EMAIL

Get the Word of the Day delivered daily
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.