Word of the Day

Word of the day

Friday, November 19, 2021

nugatory

[ noo-guh-tawr-ee ]

adjective

of no force or effect; ineffective; futile; vain.

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What is the origin of nugatory?

Nugatory “of no force or effect” comes from Latin nūgātōrius “worthless, useless,” from the verb nūgārī “to trifle.” Nūgārī, in turn, derives from the plural noun nūgae “trifles, idle talk, frivolities,” which is also the source of nugacious, a synonym of nugatory, and nugacity, a noun that means “insignificance.” While it may seem odd that Latin features nouns such as nūgae that always appear in the plural, English is no stranger to nouns that usually or exclusively appear in plural form. Many objects that contain two component parts, such as pants, trousers, scissors, and shears, are typically limited to the plural, as are certain location-related words, such as headquarters and surroundings. Nugatory was first recorded in English at the turn of the 17th century.

how is nugatory used?

I am sending you herewith photo and description of our pressure testing machine. It is our belief that the method and construction employed entirely avoid errors from the following sources: (1) Variation in wind velocity; (2) Variations in temperature and density of the atmosphere; (3) Travel of center of pressure; (4) Variation in angle of incidence owing to movements of the mounting arms, The first two causes gave Mr. Langley trouble; while the third and fourth vitiate somewhat the natural wind experiments of Lilienthal. Gravity and centrifugal force are also rendered nugatory.

Wilbur Wright, Letter to Octave Chanute, January 19, 1902

While outdated theory may not render one’s interpretations nugatory, they may seem quaint to those who work within the field from which the ideas came, and intramural strife, if it remains unobserved, can not then serve to provide occasions for fruitful comparison, since intellectual battles in one arena often have interesting parallels and previously unimagined consequences within another.

Carlo Ginzburg, James D. Herbert, W. J. T. Mitchell, Thomas F. Reese and Ellen Handler Spitz, "Inter/disciplinarity," Art Bulletin, Vol. 77, December 1995

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Word of the day

Thursday, November 18, 2021

circadian

[ sur-key-dee-uhn ]

adjective

noting or pertaining to rhythmic biological cycles recurring at approximately 24-hour intervals.

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What is the origin of circadian?

Circadian “pertaining to 24-hour biological cycles” is a coinage based on two Latin terms: the preposition circā “about, around” and diēs “day.” English has also adapted circā directly (as circa) when providing estimates of dates. If you were wondering why circā resembled circle and circus, it is because all three words descend from Ancient Greek kírkos “ring, circle.” Latin diēs is also the source of day-related words such as diary, diet, and meridian; the term also has an adjective form, diurnus “daily,” which is the source of words such as diurnal and journal, as we learned about in the etymology for the recent Word of the Day selection toujours perdrix. Circadian was first recorded in English in the late 1950s.

how is circadian used?

Think of every cell and system in your body as having a tiny clock. And each of these tiny clocks is on approximately a 24-hour cycle, so a master clock in your brain coordinates and makes sure those tiny clocks work together. This “circadian system” essentially signals to your body what time of day it is and what time of year it is and helps match your behavior with your environment.

Kavitha Cardoza and Andee Tagle, “‘Tis the Season: Coping With SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder,” NPR, October 29, 2020

Sleep seems to remove us from the general tyranny of the advancing clock. When you wake, 20 minutes could have passed as easily as three hours. But sleep defines time, dividing day and night. Humans discover circadian rhythm through the urge to sleep. That urge is, of course, cyclic, endless: always more sleep to be had.

Siobhan Phillips, "Sleep as Resistance," Poetry Foundation, March 25, 2014

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Word of the day

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

avgolemono

[ ahv-goh-lem-uh-noh ]

noun

a soup or sauce made with beaten eggs, lemon juice, and usually chicken broth.

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What is the origin of avgolemono?

Avgolemono “a soup made with beaten eggs, lemon juice, and chicken broth” is a loanword from Modern Greek augolémono, literally meaning “egg lemon.” Through a series of regular yet dramatic sound changes, Modern Greek augó derives from classical Greek ōión “egg,” which is the source of the combining form oo- (as in oocyte “immature egg cell”) and is distantly related to English egg and Latin ovum (as in ovary and, via Spanish, in huevos rancheros). Modern Greek lemóni, bucking the common trend of Greek words exported to the Italian peninsula, is a borrowing from Italian limone and ultimately derives from Persian līmū; from here, the word may have traveled through India and originated in Southeast Asia, perhaps in the Austronesian language family. Avgolemono was first recorded in English in the early 1960s.

how is avgolemono used?

Avgolemono is the most famous Greek sauce, named for its indispensable ingredients, avgo (egg) and lemoni (lemon). Light in color and of the prized lemony flavor, it is prepared with or without a roux base. But egg, lemon juice, and hot stock or broth from the dish for which it is being prepared are necessities .… Some Greek villagers, when adding the avgolemono to soup or dish, make a kissing sound, a magical trick to keep the egg from curdling.

Vilma Chantiles, Food of Greece: Cooking, Folkways, and Travel in the Mainland and Islands of Greece, 1975

“How do you like the avgolemono?” Mrs. Redbone asks Wakefield. “They say it was first served at the table of Aristophanes after he wrote a play about the meeting of a chicken and a lemon.” “That’s lovely,” interjects Persephone. “I thought it was first served at the Greek diner on Twenty-third Street where I first had it.” Avgolemono is a lovely soup, light, pale as the crest of a wave, filled with sun, the rice like grains of sand on the beach at Kios. I must be getting soft, thinks Wakefield: I’m making soup metaphors. I’ve got to toughen up.

Andrei Codrescu, Wakefield, 2004

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