• Word of the day
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    Saturday, March 30, 2019

    nadir

    noun [ney-der, ney-deer]
    the lowest point; point of greatest adversity or despair.
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    What is the origin of nadir?

    Nadir comes via Middle French and Late Latin nadir “point opposite the sun, point opposite the zenith” from Arabic naẓīr (as-samt) “opposite (the zenith).” Arabic samt is the source of zenith. Nadir (and zenith) entered English in the late 14th century.

    How is nadir used?

    At the nadir of the global stock market crash in March 2009, the kronor hit a low of 8.48 euro cents per kronor .... Heather Farmbrough, "After Sweden's Election, What Next for the Kronor?" Forbes, September 8, 2018

    ... [the] fragment was hurled from what had seemed the nadir of horror to black, clutching pits of a horror still more profound. H. P. Lovecraft and E. Hoffmann Price, "Through the Gates of the Silver Key," Weird Tales, July 1934

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  • Word of the day
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    Friday, March 29, 2019

    metathesis

    noun [muh-tath-uh-sis]
    the transposition of letters, syllables, or sounds in a word, as in the pronunciation aks for ask.
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    What is the origin of metathesis?

    In linguistics, metathesis is the transposition of two consecutive letters or sounds of a word, as in the now nonstandard pronunciation aks for ask (Old English has the verbs áscian and axian, and Middle English has asken and axen). Every well-disciplined schoolboy knows that in Greek quantitative metathesis is the change of long vowel + short vowel, e.g., ēo, to short vowel + long vowel, . Metathesis comes via Late Latin metathesis "transposition of the letters of a word," from Greek metáthesis “change, change of position, transposition,” a compound formed of the common Greek preposition and prefix metá, meta- “with, in the middle of, among” (metá is related to German mit and Old English mid “with,” as in the first syllable of midwife). Thésis “placing, location, setting” is a derivative of the verb tithénai “to put, place,” from the very common Proto-Indo-European root dhē- “to place, put,” and the source of Latin facere “to do” and English do. Metathesis entered English in the 16th century.

    How is metathesis used?

    ''NOO-kyuh-luhr''-sayers, who number in the many millions, in fact, move the l in nuclear to the final syllable and thus avoid the unusual pattern. (Linguists refer to this sound-switching process as metathesis.) Frank Abate, "On Language: Nuclear," New York Times Magazine, January 12, 2003

    Remember this when the next time you hear someone complaining about aks for ask or nucular for nuclear, or even perscription. It's called metathesis, and it's a very common, perfectly natural process. David Shariatmadari, "8 pronunciation errors that made the English language what it is today," The Guardian, March 11, 2014

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  • Word of the day
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    Thursday, March 28, 2019

    knackered

    adjective [nak-erd] British Slang.
    exhausted; very tired: He is really knackered after work.
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    What is the origin of knackered?

    The verb knacker originally meant “to tire, kill, castrate,” a verb derived either from the noun knacker “a tradesman who buys animal carcasses or slaughters useless livestock” or from the plural noun knackers, a slang word for “testicles, courage.” Knackered in the sense “exhausted” entered English in 19th century.

    How is knackered used?

    She was completely knackered. All she wanted was a shower and twelve hours of sleep. Elizabeth George, Playing for the Ashes, 1994

    When they're knackered like that they start crying. Patrick O'Keeffe, The Visitors, 2014

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  • Word of the day
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    Wednesday, March 27, 2019

    impedimenta

    plural noun [im-ped-uh-men-tuh]
    baggage or other things that retard one's progress, as supplies carried by an army: the impedimenta of the weekend skier.
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    What is the origin of impedimenta?

    Scores of millions of Americans will smile (or moan) at the recollection of reading (with the assistance of a pony or trot) Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War in their sophomore year high school Latin class, and seeing their old friend (or nemesis) impedīmenta “baggage train, traveling equipment” loaded with ablatives absolute and subjunctives in indirect discourse. Impedīmenta is a neuter plural noun formed from the verb impedīre “to restrict, hobble, impede” and -mentum, a neuter noun suffix for concrete objects. Impedīre is a compound of the preposition and prefix in, in- “in, into” and ped-, the inflectional stem of the noun pēs “foot”; impedīmenta therefore being the things that get caught in your feet, weigh you down. Impedimenta entered English at the end of the 16th century.

    How is impedimenta used?

    Games impedimenta--hockey sticks, boxing gloves, a burst football, a pair of sweaty shorts turned inside out--lay all over the floor ... George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949

    Every man was piled up with impedimenta--broken, torn, soiled and cobbled impedimenta. Arnold Bennett, Over There, 1915

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, March 26, 2019

    skimble-scamble

    adjective [skim-buhl-skam-buhl; skim-uhl-skam-uhl]
    rambling; confused; nonsensical: a skimble-scamble explanation.
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    What is the origin of skimble-scamble?

    The rare adjective skimble-scamble shows the same, common vowel alteration in a reduplicated word as in mish-mash or pitter-patter. The reduplicated word is the verb scamble, of unknown etymology, and now obsolete or dialectal, meaning “to struggle or scramble with others for food or money tossed to a crowd,” now replaced by scramble. The lexicographer Samuel Johnson was not keen on skimble-scamble, calling it a “cant word,” one of his favorite terms of abuse. Skimble-scamble entered English at the end of the 16th century.

    How is skimble-scamble used?

    He complained bitterly of his reporters, saying that the skimblescamble stuff which they published would "make posterity think ill of his understanding, and that of his brethren on the bench." John Campbell, The Lives of the Chief Justices of England,  Vol. III, 1873

    And such a deal of skimble-skamble stuff, / As puts me from my faith. William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1, 1623

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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, March 25, 2019

    optics

    noun [op-tiks]
    the way a situation, action, event, etc., is perceived by the public or by a particular group of people.
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    What is the origin of optics?

    The noun optics originally referred to that branch of physics dealing with light or other electromagnetic radiation and with the sense of sight. The now common sense “the way a situation, action, or event is perceived by the public or in a particular context, especially a political one,” was originally an Americanism first recorded in 1973. Optics entered English in the 16th century.

    How is optics used?

    The sentence has to be in double figures. The optics are lousy if it's anything less. Robert Rotenberg,  The Guilty Plea, 2011

    For Romney, there is little value in trying to compete with the optics of Obama’s trip. Dan Balz, "Romney slams Obama on eve of foreign trip," Washington Post, July 24, 2012

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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, March 24, 2019

    isolato

    noun [ahy-suh-ley-toh]
    a person who is physically or spiritually isolated from their times or society.
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    What is the origin of isolato?

    The rare English noun isolato comes directly from the Italian adjective and noun isolato “isolated; an isolated person.” The Italian word is the past participle of the verb isolare “to shut off, cut off, isolate,” a derivative of the noun isola “isle, island” (there is no Latin verb īnsulāre). Isola is a regular Italian development of Latin īnsula, a noun of unknown etymology, meaning “island, an island as a place of exile, tenement house,” all of which can be pretty bleak. Isolato entered English in the mid-19th century.

    How is isolato used?

    ... my life has been that of an isolato, a shepherd on a mountaintop, situated as far from so-called civilization as possible, and it has made me unnaturally brusque and awkward. Russell Banks, Cloudsplitter, 1998

    I’m an isolato now and there’s no going back. Viv Albertine, "Viv Albertine: 'I set out to write about an unpleasant woman who fantasised about murder. It turned out to be me,'" The Guardian, April 13, 2018

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