Word of the Day

Thursday, October 24, 2019

numinous

[ noo-muh-nuhs, nyoo- ]

adjective

spiritual or supernatural.

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What is the origin of numinous?

The Latin source for numinous is the noun numen (inflectional stem nūmin-), derived from the verb –nuere “to nod the head as a signal of assent or command.” The verb –nuere occurs only in compounds such as adnuere (annuere) “to beckon, nod, assent to,” formed from the preverb ad-, an-, meaning “to,” plus –nuere. The phrase annuit coeptis, “He (God) has favored our undertakings,” is the motto on the reverse of the Great Seal of the U.S. and is also printed on the reverse of a one-dollar bill. Annuit coeptis is an adaptation of a line from from Vergil’s Aeneid. The Latin neuter noun suffix -men forms concrete nouns from verbs. The meanings of numen range from “a nod of the head, inclination, bias,” to “divine or supernatural power (which also possesses poets and prophets, and offers protection),” to “the expressed will of a god, divinity.” Numinous entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is numinous used?

This confrontation becomes more dramatic if the numinous power takes a personified form—of a spirit, ghost, devil, revenant, nightmare, witch or some other human or non-human entity.

Ülo Valk and Daniel Sävborg, "Place-Lore, Liminal Storyworld and Ontology of the Supernatural," Storied and Supernatural, 2018

The Periodic Table, by contrast, was a Jacob’s ladder, a numinous spiral, going up to, coming down from a Pythagorean heaven.

Oliver Sacks, "Brilliant Light," The New Yorker, December 20, 1999
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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

consternation

[ kon-ster-ney-shuhn ]

noun

a sudden, alarming amazement or dread that results in utter confusion; dismay.

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What is the origin of consternation?

Consternation comes from the Latin noun cōnsternātiō (inflectional stem cōnsternātiōn-) “unsettlement, confusion, disturbance, disorder,” a derivation of the verb cōnsternāre “to throw into confusion, drive frantic, shock.” Cōnsternāre most likely derives from the verb cōnsternere “to strew over, cover, calm (the sea), bring down, fell,” a compound of the intensive prefix con– (a variant of com-) and the simple verb sternere “to lay out on the ground, spread out,” from the Proto-Indo-European root ster-, sterə-, strē-, steru-, streu– “to spread out, stretch out.” The root is the source of Sanskrit stṛṇā́ti “he throws down, strews,” Greek stornýnai and strōnnýnai “to stretch out, make level, make one’s bed,” Old Irish sernim “I spread out,” Albanian shtrin “I spread out.” The variant streu– lies behind Gothic straujan “strew,” Old English strēowian “to scatter” (English strew), and strēaw “hay, straw” (English straw). Consternation entered English in the early 17th century.

how is consternation used?

Deepfakes have inspired much consternation over their potential to destabilize public discourse.

Alexis C. Madrigal, "Mark Zuckerberg Is Rethinking Deepfakes," The Atlantic, June 26, 2019

I was standing shaving at my glass, when I suddenly discovered, to my consternation and amazement, that I was shaving—not myself—I am fifty—but a boy.

Charles Dickens, "The Haunted House," All the Year Round, 1859
Tuesday, October 22, 2019

solipsism

[ sol-ip-siz-uhm ]

noun

extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of one's feelings, desires, etc.; egoistic self-absorption.

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What is the origin of solipsism?

The usual sense of solipsism is “extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of one’s feelings or desires; egoistic self-absorption,” and not the philosophical sense “the theory that only the self exists or can be proved to exist.” Solipsism comes from New Latin sōlipsismus “extreme self-centeredness,” formed from the Latin adjective sōl(us) “lone, alone,” the pronoun and adjective ips(e) “himself, herself,” and –ismus, a noun suffix borrowed from Greek –ismós, forming action nouns from verbs ending in –ízein (-izāre in Latin), as baptismós “dipping, baptism” (baptismus in Latin), from baptízein (baptizāre in Latin). A literal translation of sōlipsimus would be the ungainly “myselfaloneism.” Solipsism entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is solipsism used?

Murdoch’s fiction frequently offers work as the way out of the self-serving fantasies of solipsism, even simple labor proving therapeutic.

Peter J. Reed, "Introduction," 2001,  A Fairly Honourable Defeat, 1970

“Lady Bird” takes its protagonist through adolescent solipsism to recognition and gratitude ….

Richard Brody, "Greta Gerwig's Exquisite, Flawed 'Lady Bird'," The New Yorker, November 2, 2017

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