Word of the Day

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

nimbus

[ nim-buhs ]

noun

a cloud, aura, atmosphere, etc., surrounding a person or thing.

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What is the origin of nimbus?

Nimbus, “shining cloud surrounding a deity; dense clouds with ragged edges,” comes straight from Latin nimbus, “rainstorm, rain cloud, cloud (of smoke), cloudburst.” Nimbus comes from a complicated Proto-Indo-European root (e)nebh-, (n)embh– “damp, vapor, cloud,” as in Sanskrit nábhas– “fog, vapor, cloud, heaven,” Latin nebula, Greek nephélē, néphos “cloud,” Old Irish nem and Welsh nef, both meaning “heaven,” Polish niebo “sky, heaven,” Hittite nebis “heaven,” German Nebel “fog, mist,” and Old Norse niflheimr “home of fog, abode of the dead, Niflheim.” Nimbus entered English in the early 17th century.

how is nimbus used?

She had a capacity for excess, and a nimbus of exhausted hedonism trailed along with her.

Dwight Garner, "A New Biography of Janis Joplin Captures the Pain and Soul of an Adventurous Life," New York Times, October 25, 2019

It is curious how certain words accumulate a nimbus of positive associations, while others, semantically just as innocuous, wind up shrouded in bad feelings.

Roger Kimball, "If We Love Democracy, Why Does 'Populism' Get Such a Bad Rap?" Wall Street Journal, November 29, 2017

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

desideratum

[ dih-sid-uh-rey-tuhm, -rah-, -zid- ]

noun

something wanted or needed.

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What is the origin of desideratum?

The noun desideratum (plural desiderata) means “something wanted or needed.” It is a noun use of the Latin neuter past participle dēsīderātum, from the verb dēsīderāre “to long for, desire.” According to the Roman grammarian Festus, dēsīderāre and its close relative cōnsīderāre “to observe attentively, contemplate,” were compound verbs formed from sīdus (stem sīder-) “heavenly body, star, planet,” that is, dēsīderāre and cōnsīderāre were originally terms used in astrology in general or Roman augury in particular, but aside from Festus there isn’t much evidence for the sidereal connection. Desideratum entered English in the 17th century.

how is desideratum used?

Power becomes its own desideratum. The search for it can trump economic well being, stability and safety.

Michael Gonzalez, "Selling the Atlantic," Wall Street Journal, May 7, 2003

Sitzfleisch, or “sitting still,” became the ultimate desideratum for showing one’s understanding of the new language of classical music.

Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding, "How Beethoven’s 5th Symphony put the classism in classical music," Vox, updated September 16, 2020

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Monday, October 19, 2020

clement

[ klem-uhnt ]

adjective

mild or merciful in disposition or character; lenient; compassionate.

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What is the origin of clement?

Clement, “mild in disposition, merciful,” comes from Latin clēmēns (inflectional stem clēment-) “merciful, lenient, mild (of weather), calm (of water).” Clēmēns has no reliable etymology; its most common derivative is the noun clēmentia “clemency, leniency.” The phrase “clemency of Caesar” is not much used nowadays: It comes from Latin Clēmentia Caesaris, which first appears as part of an inscription on a Roman coin dating to 44 b.c., therefore shortly before Caesar’s assassination, and a nice bit of propaganda in his honor. Clement entered English in the late 15th century.

how is clement used?

I know you are more clement than vile men Who of their broken debtors take a third …

William Shakespeare, Cymbeline, 1623

And the spirit of the times is happily growing more clement toward a greater fulness and variety of life.

Richard Le Gallienne, "The Last Call," Vanishing Roads and Other Essays, 1915

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