Word of the Day

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
quiz icon
WHAT'S YOUR WORD IQ?
Think you're a word wizard? Try our word quiz, and prove it!
TAKE THE QUIZ
arrows pointing up and down
SYNONYM OF THE DAY
Double your word knowledge with the Synonym of the Day!
SEE TODAY'S SYNONYM

Get A Vocabulary Boost In Your Inbox

Get the Word of the Day every day!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
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

Get A Vocabulary Boost In Your Inbox

Get the Word of the Day every day!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.