• Word of the day
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    Thursday, October 24, 2019

    numinous

    adjective [noo-muh-nuhs, nyoo-]
    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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  • Word of the day
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    Wednesday, October 23, 2019

    consternation

    noun [kon-ster-ney-shuhn]
    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

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, October 22, 2019

    solipsism

    noun [sol-ip-siz-uhm]
    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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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, October 21, 2019

    bon vivant

    noun [bon vee-vahnt; French bawn vee-vahn]
    a person who lives luxuriously and enjoys good food and drink.
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    What is the origin of bon vivant?

    Bon vivant is completely unnaturalized in English; indeed, if the term were naturalized, it would lose its je ne sais quoi. In French bon vivant simply means “good liver” (a person, not the organ about which every French person is concerned). Bon is a masculine singular adjective meaning “good,” which comes straight from Latin bonus. Vivant is the masculine singular present participle of vivre “to live,” straight from Latin vīvere. The plural of bon vivant is bons vivants, which has the same pronunciation. One also sees the feminine form (not nearly so common), bonne vivante and its plural bonnes vivantes. Bon vivant entered English at the end of the 17th century.

    How is bon vivant used?

    ... his creditors had tampered with his honest name and reputation as a bon vivant. He have bad wine! For shame! He had the best from the best wine-merchant ..... William Makepeace Thackeray, The Adventures of Philip on His Way Through the World, 1862

    Jean-Jacques was a bon vivant and might even bring along a couple Cuban cigars .... M. L. Longworth, Death in the Vines, 2013

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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, October 20, 2019

    pepita

    noun [puh-pee-tuh, pe-]
    the edible seed of a pumpkin or squash, used in cooking and often dried or toasted and eaten as a snack food.
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    What is the origin of pepita?

    Pepita in 16th-century Spanish meant “naturally occurring nugget or lump of metal, especially gold,” an extension of its original meaning “seed, kernel.” The more recent sense of pepita, “the edible seed of a pumpkin or squash,” arose in the early 1940s.

    How is pepita used?

    ... if you want a crunchy, moderately healthy Halloween snack to munch on ... head to the bulk aisle of your local health food store and pick up some pepitas that are actually fit for human consumption. L. V. Anderson, "You're Doing It Wrong: Pumpkin Seeds," Slate, October 30, 2013

    Claire ladled out a Hubbard squash bisque sprinkled with chili-crusted pepitas. Steven Raichlen, Island Apart, 2012

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, October 19, 2019

    canny

    adjective [kan-ee]
    astute; shrewd; knowing; sagacious: a canny negotiator.
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    What is the origin of canny?

    Canny originally meant “knowing, wise,” and was a doublet of cunning, originally “knowledgeable, learned, skillful.” Canny (and cunning) both derive from Old English cunnan “to become acquainted with, know" (Modern English verb can). All of the citations of canny before, say, 1800, are from Scottish authors, and the word is first attested in the latter half of the 16th century. Uncanny is also originally Scottish, but feels as American as the pulp horror and sci-fi magazines of the 1930s. The now usual sense of uncanny, “having a supernatural or inexplicable basis,” dates from the mid-19th century.

    How is canny used?

    He thought himself canny and alert, able to uncover plots, or flatter the great and trick them, bend events to his will. Tanith Lee, White as Snow, 2000

    You have had things all your own way for all your life (... your brothers are much more canny than you are about political issues). Jane Smiley, Private Life, 2010

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  • Word of the day
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    Friday, October 18, 2019

    minutiae

    plural noun [mi-noo-shee-ee, -nyoo-]
    precise details; small or trifling matters: the minutiae of his craft.
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    What is the origin of minutiae?

    In English, minutiae is the plural of the noun minutia, which usually appears in the plural with the meaning “precise details, trifling matters,” the same sense as the Late Latin plural noun minūtiae. In Latin only the singular minūtia appears, and it has its literal meaning “smallness, fineness,” a derivative of minūtus, the past participle of minuere “to reduce in size, lessen.” From the same root min-, Latin also has the words minor “smaller in size or kind" (English minor), minus “a smaller number" (English minus), minimus “smallest, least” (English minimum and minimal), and minusculus “rather small, pretty small” (English minuscule). Minutiae entered English in the mid-18th century.

    How is minutiae used?

    In my preceding chapters I have tried, by going into the minutiae of the science of piloting, to carry the reader step by step to a comprehension of what the science consists of .... Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, 1883

    In a thank-you note to his devotees that he tweeted last week, the congressman offered a similar lulling density of minutiae. Katy Waldman, "Beto O'Rourke's Rebirth as a Knausgaardian Blogger," The New Yorker, November 16, 2018

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