Word of the Day

Word of the day

Monday, November 29, 2021

nebbish

[ neb-ish ]

noun

a pitifully ineffectual, luckless, and timid person.

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What is the origin of nebbish?

Nebbish “a pitifully ineffectual person” is a variant of the Yiddish term nebekh “poor, unfortunate.” Unlike the majority of words in Yiddish, which are of Germanic extraction, nebekh is most likely from a Slavic source such as Czech nebohý “poor.” The original meaning of this Slavic source was “unendowed,” and it derived from a negative prefix (compare English not and non-) and the Proto-Indo-European root bhag- “to share, apportion.” This same root is also found in Ancient Greek phagein “to eat,” as in esophagus. Nebbish was first recorded in English in the early 1890s.

how is nebbish used?

The ability to make a nebbish of ourselves is given to all of us. Some exist with this condition on a permanent basis; others can just turn it on at will. … Of course, being on the fortunate, effectual side of the nebbish equation is always preferable to being on the “wrong” side of nebbishness. But I daresay that all of us have, at one time or another, felt the discomfort and humiliation of acting like a nebbish, wishing that the earth would open up and swallow us, whole.

Allen Unger, The Nebbish Principle, 2002

On Nov. 19, Skylight opens “Little Shop of Horrors,” the Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical that blends comedy and horror through a score that draws on pre-Beatles rock, doo-wop and Motownish sounds. Sievert plays Seymour, the lovestruck florist-shop nebbish who unexpectedly becomes the caretaker of a carnivorous and increasingly hungry hunk of vegetation.

Jim Higgins, "Kevin James Sievert brings a sweet voice to Skylight Music Theatre's 'Little Shop of Horrors,'" Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 15, 2021

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Word of the day

Sunday, November 28, 2021

unguinous

[ uhng-gwi-nuhs ]

adjective

resembling, containing, or consisting of fat or oil; greasy; oily.

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What is the origin of unguinous?

Unguinous “containing fat or oil” derives from Latin unguen “fat, grease,” plus the suffix -ōsus “full of.” Unguen, in turn, comes from the verb unguere “to smear” (stem unct-), which is also the source of English terms such as unction “an act of anointing,” unctuous “having an oily feel,” and unguent “a salve applied to wounds.” The stem unct- regularly became oint in French, leading to words such as anoint and ointment. Unguinous was first recorded in English at the turn of the 17th century.

how is unguinous used?

She was sitting in the tent, languidly waiting for the women to come and prepare her for the wedding ceremony. Anointed from head to toe with an unguinous, aromatic oil, her pomaded hair suffused with a sharp scent, she sat vacantly on a pile of sacks, her embroidered gown and jewelry in a corner, chafing her oiled arms as if to dry them.

Shulamith Hareven, Thirst: The Desert Trilogy, translated by Hillel Halkin, 1996

The suit and vest were of an old style, obviously not clean, an unguinous stain down the vest front, and the jacket ashen-white along the lapels and cuff edges where it was worn, but she could see that it had once been a good proper suit, and something about its tidy narrow cut and the way the man fit inside it, comfortably and with a cute sort of pride, reminded her of Poppy and the suit he kept for special occasions and in which he had been buried.

Lynn Stegner, Because a Fire Was in My Head, 2007

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Word of the day

Saturday, November 27, 2021

ankh

[ ahngk ]

noun

a tau (T-shaped) cross with a loop at the top, used as a symbol of generation or enduring life.

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What is the origin of ankh?

Ankh “a tau (T-shaped) cross with a loop at the top” is a borrowing from Egyptian ʿnh̬ “live; life, soul.” In this word, ʿ represents a voiced throaty sound that does not exist in English, and represents the sound spelled as ch in German Buch, Hebrew Chanukah, and Scottish loch. While Arabic is the official language of Egypt today, the Egyptian language was spoken in the country for thousands of years until its latest form, Coptic, became largely extinct in the 1700s. Although the Egyptian source of ankh is transliterated today as ʿnh̬, while its spelling remained consistent in Egyptian hieroglyphics, its pronunciation during the several stages of the Egyptian language varied greatly. Ankh was first recorded in English in the late 1880s.

how is ankh used?

In a period when paganism and Christianity coexisted, there was cross-pollination between the two. The ancient Egyptian symbol for life, the ankh—a cross shape with an oval loop—influenced the development of the cross known as the crux ansata, used extensively in Coptic symbolism.

José Pérez-Accino, “Ancient Egypt gave rise to one of the world's oldest Christian faiths,” National Geographic, April 19, 2019
[King] Hezekiah faced an all-but-certain death from something that … may have been anthrax. Hezekiah prayed to God, recovered and went on to live another 15 years, biblical accounts state. His brush with death may have made the ankh symbols, which represented life, even more significant to the Judean king…

Tia Ghose, "Seal of a biblical king is found in a trash heap in Jerusalem," Washington Post, December 7, 2015

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