Word of the Day

Monday, March 16, 2020

muzz

[ muhz ]

verb (used with object)

to confuse (someone); make (someone) muzzy.

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What is the origin of muzz?

It is only fitting that the etymology of the verb muzz “to confuse,” is itself obscure. Most authorities connect muzz with the adjective muzzy “confused, lazy, mentally dull,” but muzzy itself has no reliable etymology. Other authorities connect muzz with the verb muse “to think or meditate in silence.” Muzz entered English in the 18th century.

how is muzz used?

I must have sufficiently muzzed you with my singular critique upon poor, injured, honest John.

Mary Morgan, A Tour to Milford Haven, 1795

With a very heavy cold on me, which muzzed my head, and a mass of work by day … I have been very far from comfortable.

Henry Bradshaw, A Memoir of Henry Bradshaw by George Walter Prothero, 1888

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Sunday, March 15, 2020

scordatura

[ skawr-duh-toor-uh; Italian skawr-dah-too-rah ]

noun,

Music.

the tuning of a stringed instrument in other than the usual way to facilitate the playing of certain compositions.

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What is the origin of scordatura?

The musical term scordatura comes, as many musical terms do, from Italian. In English and Italian, scordatura is the tuning of a stringed instrument in an unusual way to facilitate the playing of certain compositions. Italian scordatura is a derivative of scordato “out of tune,” past participle of the verb scordare “to be out of tune.” Scordare is a somewhat reduced form of Latin discordāre “to be at variance, quarrel, disagree,” formed from the prefix dis- “apart, asunder” and cord-, the stem of the noun cor “heart.” Scordatura entered English in the second half of the 19th century.

how is scordatura used?

The alternative tuning, known as scordatura, is not some minor technical detail. Each new configuration is a secret key to an invisible door, unlocking a different set of chordal possibilities on the instrument, opening up alternative worlds of resonance and vibration.

Jeremy Eichler, "Reciting a Rosary, but in Sonata Form," New York Times, November 14, 2004

Scordatura in some violin concertos provides additional evidence for Vivaldi’s tendency to extend the advantages of playing on open strings to additional keys.

Bella Brover-Lubovsky, Tonal Space in the Music of Antonio Vivaldi, 2008

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Saturday, March 14, 2020

à la mode

[ ah luh mohd, al-uh-; French a la mawd ]

adjective

(of pie or other dessert) served with a portion of ice cream, often as a topping: apple pie à la mode.

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What is the origin of à la mode?

In French the phrase à la mode “in the current fashion” is a shortening of à la mode de “in the style of (X),” a meaning extant in U.S. English. But to most Americans à la mode means a dessert, typically a wedge of pie, topped with ice cream, a meaning that has been current in U.S. English since the early 1890s but not in British English. À la mode entered English in the 17th century.

how is à la mode used?

If your server mentions apple-and-caramel pie a la mode, don’t hesitate.

Tom Snyder, The Two-Lane Gourmet, 2007

You can find a hotel, convenience store, and pay-per-use showers there; more important, though, you can find blueberry pie a la mode.

Rebecca Flint Marx, "10 Pies to Eat on a Cross-Country Road Trip from New York to San Francisco," Bon Appétit, June 12, 2013

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Friday, March 13, 2020

hobgoblin

[ hob-gob-lin ]

noun

something causing superstitious fear; a bogy.

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What is the origin of hobgoblin?

Hobgoblin is a compound of the nouns hob and goblin. Hob (also Hobbe), a pet form or nickname of Robin or Robert, was used as early as the 15th century as a shortened form of Robin Goodfellow, a.k.a. Puck (as in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and a.k.a. Hobgoblin (i.e., the common noun used as a personal name). Goblin comes from Middle English gobelin goblin, gobolin “a devil, incubus, fairy,” from Middle French gobellin. Further etymology is uncertain and speculative: The French forms may come from Medieval Latin gobelīnus, from an unrecorded Late Latin gobalus, cabalus “domestic sprite,” from Greek kóbalos “malicious knave, mischievous genie.” The Latin suffix –īnus and French suffix –in complete the word. Hobgoblin entered English in the first half of the 16th century.

how is hobgoblin used?

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self-Reliance," Essays, 1841

The enemy was very real, literally an existential foe … not just the hobgoblin of alleged McCarthyite paranoia.

Jonah Goldberg, "How Politics Destroyed a Great TV Show," Commentary, October 2009

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Thursday, March 12, 2020

punctilio

[ puhngk-til-ee-oh ]

noun

a fine point, particular, or detail, as of conduct, ceremony, or procedure.

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What is the origin of punctilio?

The English noun punctilio comes via Italian puntiglio “minor point (of detail or behavior),” from Spanish puntillo “a dot, minute point, point of honor” a diminutive of punto “point, spot, dot.” The Spanish and Italian noun punto comes from Latin punctum “small hole, puncture,” a noun use of the past participle punctus from the verb pungere “to pierce, prick, sting (of insects).” The c in Latin punctum is the source of c in English punctilio. Punctilio entered English in the late 16th century.

how is punctilio used?

I omitted not the least punctilio, and was surprised that in these matters I should know without ever having learned. I arranged all my papers, and regulated all my affairs, without the least assistance from any one.

Lydia Maria Francis Child, The Biographies of Lady Russell, and Madame Guyon, 1832

This version of the dance gets a shortened title, “Errand” — a punctilio that the deviations from the original seem too minor to justify.

Brian Seibert, "After the Flood, Drying Off the Classics and Letting Them Fly," New York Times, February 26, 2013

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

stownlins

[ stoun-linz ]

adverb

Scot.

secretly; stealthily.

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What is the origin of stownlins?

Scots English has many interesting words, and stownlins is one of them. Stownlins is an adverb meaning “secretly, stealthily.” Stownlins is formed from stown, Scots for English stolen, and the compound adverb suffix -lins, formed from the now rare and dialectal suffix -ling and the adverb suffix -s (as in English always, unawares). Stownlins appears in print in 1786 in a poem by Robert Burns, which guarantees its immortality.

how is stownlins used?

But she my fairest faithfu’ lass / And stownlins we sall meet again.

Robert Burns, "I'll ay ca' in by yon Town," The Scots Musical Museum, Vol. 5, song 458, 1797

An’ stownlins I tak o’ her charms a survey, / For my courage aye fails when to speak to’r I try.

David Anderson, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, 1826

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

moil

[ moil ]

verb (used without object)

to work hard; drudge.

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What is the origin of moil?

English moil has a number of odd relatives. Middle English mollen “to moisten, soften by wetting” comes from Anglo-French moiller, muiller (Old French moiler “to soak, wet, stain”), from Vulgar Latin molliāre (from Latin mollīre “to soften, relax”), a derivative of mollis “soft, yielding to the touch.” From mollīre Latin derives ēmollīre “to soften, relax, soothe, enervate” (source of English emollient). Late Latin has mollificāre “to soften,” which via Middle French mollifier becomes English mollify. Students of French will recognize the French phonetics term mouillé “palatalized,” literally “wet, moistened.” In Spanish molliāre becomes mojar “to wet, moisten,” whose past participle mojado “wet, moistened” is familiar to many people from the phrase piso mojado “wet floor.” One of the senses of moil “to work hard” dates from the 16th century and is most likely a development of the sense “to make oneself wet, wallow in mire.” The Middle English verb mollen, mullen is the source of the uncommon verb mull, a metallurgical term meaning “to mix clay with sand (to make a mold).” Have we toiled and moiled on the topic enough for today? Moil entered English in the 15th century.

how is moil used?

I shall have to toil and moil all my days, with only little bits of fun now and then, and get old and ugly and sour, because I’m poor, and can’t enjoy my life as other girls do.

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, 1868

Why should he toil and moil, and be at so much trouble to pick himself up out of the mud, when, in a little while hence, the strong arm of his Uncle will raise and support him?

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, 1850

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