Word of the Day

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

nice-nellyism

[ nahys-nel-ee-iz-uhm ]

noun

a euphemism: an evasive style of writing, full of circumlocutions and nice-nellyisms.

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What is the origin of nice-nellyism?

Nice-nellyism is an Americanism dating from the early 1930s. It is a contemptuous derivative of the contemptuous noun and adjective nice nelly (also nice Nelly) “prudish; prudish person,” which dates from the nearly 1920s.

how is nice-nellyism used?

This denial was at least partly a nice-Nellyism from the past, I think.

Kurt Vonnegut, Slapstick; or, Lonesome No More!, 1976

… it had been one of the running jokes of the campus, an exercise in innuendo, misinformation and Victorian nice-nellyism.

T. C. Boyle,  The Inner Circle, 2004
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Tuesday, March 05, 2019

voluble

[ vol-yuh-buhl ]

adjective

characterized by a ready and continuous flow of words; fluent; glib; talkative: a voluble spokesman for the cause.

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What is the origin of voluble?

Voluble ultimately comes from the Latin adjective volūbilis “rolling, rotating, spinning (on an axis); (of speech or speakers) fluent.” Volūbilis is a derivative of the verb volvere “to roll, roll over, roll around, grovel; to bring around (seasons, events).” Compounds of volvere are common in Latin and English: ēvolvere “to unroll, open” (English evolve), dēvolvere “to roll down, roll off, sink back” (English devolve), involvere “to roll up, roll in” (English involve), and revolvere “to roll back (something to its source), unroll (a scroll for reading” (English revolve). Other Latin derivatives from the same root include volūmen “roll, papyrus roll” (English volume), volūta “scroll (on a column) (English volute),” vulva, volva “womb, vulva” (English vulva). Voluble entered English in the 16th century.

how is voluble used?

But Wolf Larsen seemed voluble, prone to speech as I had never seen him before.

Jack London, The Sea-Wolf, 1904

And he aged into a voluble and distinctive public character, a roguish charmer in a kufi, operating out of a packed storefront studio, tooling around Memphis in a plush old sedan.

Christopher Bonanos, "The Civil Rights Movement Photographer Who Was Also an F.B.I. Informant," New York Times, January 18, 2019
Monday, March 04, 2019

pettifog

[ pet-ee-fog, -fawg ]

verb

to bicker or quibble over trifles or unimportant matters.

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What is the origin of pettifog?

The verb pettifog is a back formation from the noun pettifogger, originally “ambulance chaser, shyster, fixer.” Pettifogger is a compound of the adjective petty “of minor importance” and fogger “a middleman.” Fogger itself probably derives ultimately from Fugger, the name of a prominent family of German bankers of the 15th and 16th centuries. The family name became a common noun in German and Dutch, meaning “rich man, monopolist, usurer.” Pettifog entered English in the 17th century.

how is pettifog used?

Marius, my boy, you are a baron, you are rich, don’t pettifog—I beg of you.

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, translated by Charles Edwin Wilbour, 1862

The way for the President to protect his prerogatives of office is not to pettifog about war powers but to go to the nation with his case.

William Safire, "In Harm's Way," New York Times, May 25, 1987
Sunday, March 03, 2019

melic

[ mel-ik ]

adjective

intended to be sung.

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What is the origin of melic?

Melic comes from the Greek adjective melikós “lyric (poetry, poet),” a derivative of the noun mélos “limb (of a body), member, musical member, musical phrase, music, song.” Melic is not a common word, unlike its cousin melody, from mélos and ōidḗ “song” (the source of English ode). Melic entered English at the end of the 17th century.

how is melic used?

… anapaests are commonly used either as a sung form, “melic anapaests”, or chanted, a form sometimes called “marching anapaests.”

Simon Goldhill,  Sophocles and the Language of Tragedy, 2012

The earliest discussions call this kind of verse ‘melic’ (the Greek melos means ‘song’), and roughly distinguish sung poems from epic and tragedy.

Colin Burrow, "Ohs and Ahs, Zeros and Ones," London Review of Books, Vol. 39 No. 17, September 7, 2017
Saturday, March 02, 2019

animus

[ an-uh-muhs ]

noun

strong dislike or enmity; hostile attitude; animosity.

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What is the origin of animus?

In Latin the noun animus has many meanings: “the mind (as opposed to the body), the mind (or soul) that with the body constitutes a person, the mind as the seat of consciousness, the immortal part of a person (the soul)….” Animus comes from the same Proto-Indo-European source (anә– “to breathe”) as Greek ánemos “the wind.” The modern sense “strong dislike, enmity” is a development within English, appearing only at the end of the 18th century.

how is animus used?

This time, it’s not a border wall or a health care proposal driving the animus, but an online ad for a men’s razor, because, of course.

Emily Dreyfuss, "Gillette's Ad Proves the Definition of a Good Man Has Changed," Wired, January 16, 2019

Second, people should not let their animus toward him—and his animus toward the truth—trick them into trafficking in conspiracy theories.

David Leonhardt, "How to Cut Child Poverty," New York Times, October 27, 2017
Friday, March 01, 2019

tergiversate

[ tur-ji-ver-seyt ]

verb

to change repeatedly one's attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc.; equivocate.

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What is the origin of tergiversate?

Tergiversate comes from the Latin verb tergiversārī “to keep turning one’s back on a task, show reluctance.” The Latin noun tergum means “back (of a human or animal),” and the verb versārī “to keep moving about” is a derivative of vertere “to turn.” Tergiversate entered English in the 17th century.

how is tergiversate used?

The nominees will equivocate and tergiversate. They will never engage.

Stephen L. Carter, "What We Think About Supreme Court Hearings Is Wrong," Bloomberg, July 17, 2018

I can sense a growing concentricity in my manner of thinking, a desire to circle back on my own thoughts, to tergiversate, to animadvert, to extemporise.

Will Self, "Inclusion," Grey Area, 1994
Thursday, February 28, 2019

petrichor

[ pe-tri-kawr, ‐trahy- ]

noun

a distinctive scent, usually described as earthy, pleasant, or sweet, produced by rainfall on very dry ground.

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What is the origin of petrichor?

Petrichor is an uncommon word used in mineral chemistry or geochemistry to describe the pleasant scent of rain falling on very dry ground. Petrichor is a compound of the Greek nouns pétrā “rock, stone” (as in petroleum “rock oil”) and īchṓr, the juice or liquid—not blood!—that flows in the veins of the Olympian gods. About 60 percent of ancient Greek words have no satisfactory etymology; īchṓr is one of them. Petrichor was coined by two Australian chemists, Isabel “Joy” Bear and Richard Grenfell Thomas, in 1964.

how is petrichor used?

I surfaced from the tunnel in a shack, where the air was close and smelled of petrichor.

Samantha Shannon, The Mime Order, 2015

So whether rainfall reminds you of summer soccer games, puddle-splashing with siblings or a terrifying storm, thank (or blame) the planets [sic], microbes and minerals that give petrichor such a distinctive odor.

Marissa Fessenden, "High-Speed Video Shows When The Smell of Rain Begins," Smithsonian.com, January 20, 2015

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