Word of the Day

Saturday, January 25, 2020

murine

[ myoor-ahyn, -in ]

adjective

belonging or pertaining to the rodent subfamily Murinae, which includes more than 500 species of mice and rats.

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What is the origin of murine?

Murine is an uncommon adjective pretty much restricted in zoology to mice and rats and the diseases they cause or transmit. Murine comes straight from the Latin adjective mūrīnus “of mice, mouse-colored,” a derivative of the noun mūs (inflectional stem mūr-). During the 4th century b.c., original intervocalic s in Latin became r; thus the Roman gens name Papīsius became Papīrius, and mūsīnus (if the word already existed) became mūrīnus. Mūs remains unchanged in the Latin derivative noun mūsculus “muscle.” Mūs is identical with the very common Proto-Indo-European noun mūs, which remains mūs also in Germanic (English mouse); mūs becomes mŷs in Greek, mū́ṣ– in Sanskrit, and mysz in Polish. Murine entered English in the early 17th century.

how is murine used?

His estimate of just over two million rats in the city would have been horrifying but for the long-held belief that New York housed equal numbers of rats and humans, as if a municipal sponsor program had assigned each of the eight million New Yorkers a muck-dwelling murine counterpart.

Jelani Cobb, "Donald Trump, Elijah Cummings, and the Definition of a Rodent," The New Yorker, July 29, 2019

But in order to study how that activity affects human brains at the cellular level, researchers at the University of Oregon managed to put murine brains into a somewhat equivalent state.

, "Of Mice and Mindfulness," New York Times, May 18, 2017
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Friday, January 24, 2020

hobnob

[ hob-nob ]

verb (used without object)

to associate on very friendly terms (usually followed by with): She often hobnobs with royalty.

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What is the origin of hobnob?

The verb hobnob, originally meaning “to drink together, toast one another in turn,” is a rhyming phrase (like willy-nilly). Hobnob is an alteration of hab nab, hab or nab “whether or not, haphazardly,” literally “(whether) I/you/he/she have or not have,” formed from habbe and nabbe, the present subjunctive of the Middle English verbs haven, habben and nabben (Old English habban, nabban) “to have, not to have.” Hobnob was used as a toast when clinking goblets. Willy-nilly comes from will I/you/he/she, nill I/you/he/she “(whether) I/you/he/she want to or not.” Hobnob in the sense “to drink together, toast one another” entered English in the second half of the 18th century; the sense “to associate on friendly terms” entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is hobnob used?

… they were to hobnob with nobility and hold friendly converse with kings and princes, grand moguls, and the anointed lords of mighty empires!

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, 1869

Didn’t I want to get out there, hobnob, curry favor, court support, mix it up, do battle, become a gladiator? I did not.

Jill Lepore, "The Lingering of Loss," The New Yorker, July 1, 2019
Thursday, January 23, 2020

autodidact

[ aw-toh-dahy-dakt, -dahy-dakt ]

noun

a person who has learned a subject without the benefit of a teacher or formal education; a self-taught person.

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What is the origin of autodidact?

Leonardo da Vinci was an autodidact; so were Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison. Autodidact ultimately comes from the Greek adjective autodídaktos “self-taught,” a clear compound of the combining form auto– “self, same” (as in autograph), from the Greek pronoun and adjective autós “self, same,” and the adjective didaktikós “good at teaching, instructive.” Autodidact entered English in the first half of the 16th century.

how is autodidact used?

[He] started reading in the barracks for his own edification, becoming an autodidact with thousands of books in storage over a lifetime.

Kenneth Lincoln, Cormac McCarthy: American Canticles, 2009

He’s had a rich life as a blogger, and one of the ways he’s learned—he’s not shy about noting he’s an autodidact—has been through his many followers.

Jennifer Senior, "Through the Lens of the Obama Years, Ta-Nehisi Coates Reckons with Race, Identity and Trump," New York Times, October 1, 2017
Wednesday, January 22, 2020

caprice

[ kuh-prees ]

noun

a sudden, unpredictable change, as of one's mind or the weather.

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What is the origin of caprice?

Caprice is capricious. It certainly comes from French, from Italian capriccio; the problem is where does Italian capriccio come from? In Italian, capriccio originally meant “sudden startle, shiver,” now “whim, fancy, fad.” The Italian word may come from an unattested Vulgar Latin capriceus “goat,” the image being of a kid skipping or frisking. Capriccio may also derive from the Italian noun capo “head, leader” (from Vulgar Latin capum, from Latin caput) and riccio (from Latin ēricius “hedgehog”), which as an adjective means “curly, frizzy” and as a noun means “hedgehog,” the image now being of the hair standing on end in fright. Caprice entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is caprice used?

This is only a caprice—and it would be the worst thing in the world to give in to her.

Rachel Crothers, He and She, 1920

The only difference between a caprice and a lifelong passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891
Tuesday, January 21, 2020

quorum

[ kwawr-uhm, kwohr- ]

noun

the number of members of a group or organization required to be present to transact business legally, usually a majority.

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What is the origin of quorum?

Quorum comes from Latin quōrum “of whom.” (To get into the grammatical weeds, quōrum is the masculine genitive plural of the relative and interrogative pronoun and adjective quī, quae, quod “who, which, what.”) In medieval England, the Latin formula for commissioning justices of the peace would mention certain prominent local persons in general, known for their learning, experience, and prudence, and then specify one or more such persons as definitely to be included: Quōrum ūnum N esse volumus “Of whom we want N to be one.” Such commissioned justices were necessary to constitute a bench and were known as justices of the quorum. The current sense, “the number of members of a group or organization required to be present to transact business legally, usually a majority,” dates from the early 17th century. Quorum entered English in the first half of the 15th century.

how is quorum used?

… new members can only be approved by a twelve-member quorum, and the shrunken Academy now has ten active members instead of its usual eighteen: a Catch-22 if there ever was one.

Alexandra Schwartz, "The Swedish Academy and the Illusions of the Nobel Prize in Literature," The New Yorker, May 5, 2018

Along with two pre-existing vacancies, this will shrink what should be a six-member board to three members—one short of the quorum required to hold meetings and perform many basic functions.

The New York Times Editorial Board, "The Election Watchdog That Can't Bark," New York Times, August 29, 2019
Monday, January 20, 2020

beacon

[ bee-kuhn ]

noun

a person or thing that illuminates or inspires: The Bible has been our beacon during this trouble.

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What is the origin of beacon?

Beacon comes from Old English bēacen, bēcen, bēcn “a sign, portent; a standard, banner; a signal, signal fire, signal hill or tower, watchtower; lighthouse.” (Most of these senses appear in Beowulf.) Bēacen comes from Germanic baukna– “beacon, signal,” the source of Old Frisian bāken, Old Saxon bōkan, Old High German bouhhan. The derivative Germanic verb bauknjan “to make a sign, signal” becomes bēcnan in Old English and beckon in English.

how is beacon used?

As is often the case with those who die young, Martin Luther King Jr. has become more symbol than man: pacifist, beacon of nonviolent racial reform.

, "Remembering Martin Luther King Jr." New York Times, January 20, 2019

At first sight we had not rated the American town favorably, but now it seemed a beacon of civilization.

James A. Michener, Texas, 1985
Sunday, January 19, 2020

langlauf

[ lahng-louf ]

noun

the sport of cross-country skiing.

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What is the origin of langlauf?

Langlauf, “cross-country skiing, cross-country skiing race,” is a German compound noun formed from the adjective lang, cognate with English long, and the noun Lauf “run,” related to English leap (from the Old English noun hlȳp) and lope. Langlauf entered English in the 1920s.

how is langlauf used?

“Haven’t you got a boat that’ll cut through the ice?” … “It’s too thick to get through. Langlauf is the easiest way by far.”

Michael Smith, No Man Dies Twice, 2018

Pontresina, a picture-book village tucked just around the mountain from imperious St. Moritz, turns out to be one of the best places in the world to do cross-country skiing—or langlauf as it’s known.

Allison Pearson, "Skiing in Switzerland: Allison Pearson learns to cross-country ski in Pontresina," Telegraph, March 2, 2012

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