Word of the Day

Sunday, May 16, 2021

nudnik

[ nood-nik ]

noun

a persistently dull, boring pest.

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What is the origin of nudnik?

Everyone, unfortunately, has had experience with a nudnik, “a persistently dull, boring pest.” Nudnik is plainly a Yiddishism, a derivative of the Yiddish verb nudyen “to bore, pester.” Nudyen may come from Polish nudzić “to weary, bore,” or Russian nudit’ “to wear out (with complaints, pestering).” The Yiddish suffix –nik, adopted into English as a noun suffix that refers to persons, usually derogatorily, involved in a political cause or group (such as beatnik, peacenik), is also of Slavic origin. The personal suffix –nik appears in English as early as 1905, but the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik, literally “traveling companion,” popularized –nik ad nauseam. Nudnik entered English in the first half of the 20th century.

how is nudnik used?

Mr. Daniels is one of those quintessential New York characters: a confessed nudnik. Dozens of times a year, he telephones city officials about local irritants, from the lack of sidewalk curb cuts to accommodate wheelchairs to a mound of asphalt left on a sidewalk after a repaving job.

Elizabeth Wurtzel, "How Long to Fix a Streetlight? 12 Months, if You're Persistent," New York Times, February 6, 2009

We lie to protect our privacy (“No, I don’t live around here”); to avoid hurt feelings (“Friday is my study night”) … to escape a nudnik (“My mother’s on the other line”) …

Chief Judge Kozinski, United States v. Alvarez, 638 F.3d  666, 674 (9th Cir, 2011)

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Saturday, May 15, 2021

derring-do

[ der-ing-doo ]

noun

daring deeds; heroic daring.

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What is the origin of derring-do?

The noun derring-do, “daring deeds; heroic daring,” has a curious history. In Middle English the phrase durring don, durring do meant “daring to do,” durring being the present participle of durren “to have the courage (to do something),” modern English dare, and don, do being a present infinitive verb, modern English do. Chaucer uses the phrase “correctly” is his Troilus and Criseyde: Troilus was nevere… secounde / In durryng don that longeth to a knight (“Troilus was never… second in daring to do what was fitting for a knight”). Derrynge do, one of the later spellings of durring don, was misinterpreted by Edmund Spenser as a noun phrase meaning “manhood and chivalry,” and Spenser’s mistake was picked up and passed on by writers and historians like Sir Walter Scott. Derring-do entered English (spelled durring don) in the 14th century, Spenser’s derring-doe in the second half of the 16th century.

how is derring-do used?

Lancelot, naturally, had performed the bravest deeds; Galahad, the most noble. The rest scrambled for attention with various feats of derring-do, most of which were exaggerated, to say the least.

Matt Phelan, Knights vs. Dinosaurs, 2018

Summer revealed woollen tank-style swimwear and lakeside derring-do: balcony dives, greased-pole logrolling (“we don’t allow that anymore”), jousting in rowboats (“another thing we don’t allow”).

Sarah Larson, "When Toscanini Went to Mohonk," The New Yorker, December 9, 2019

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Friday, May 14, 2021

pulchritudinous

[ puhl-kri-tood-n-uhs, -tyood- ]

adjective

physically beautiful.

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What is the origin of pulchritudinous?

Pulchritudinous, “physically beautiful,” first occurs in 1877 in Puck, the first successful American humor magazine, and all the occurrences of pulchritudinous are facetious or humorous. Pulchritudinous is formed from the Latin noun pulchritūdō (inflectional stem pulchritūdin-) “beauty” and the adjective suffix –ous.

how is pulchritudinous used?

And now, ladies and gentlemen, a very big round of applause for our next act! Captain Boytom and his pulchritudinous pachyderms!

Chaplin, directed by Richard Attenborough, 1992

As Moira Rose might say, what a pulchritudinous eventide!

E. Alex Jung, "Dan Levy on Schitt's Creek's Fulsome, Splendrous Emmys Night," New York, September 22, 2020

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