• Word of the day
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    Sunday, November 03, 2019

    obumbrate

    verb (used with object) [ob-uhm-breyt]
    to darken, overshadow, or cloud.
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    What is the origin of obumbrate?

    The Latin root of obumbrate helps clarify this verb meaning “to darken, overshadow, or cloud”: umbra, “shadow, shade.” Obumbrate comes from Latin obumbrāre “to overshadow, shade, darken.” Obumbrāre combines the prefix ob- “on, over” (among other senses) and umbrāre “to shade,” a derivative of umbra. English owes many other words to Latin umbra, including adumbrate, penumbra, umbrage, and umbrella, the latter of which can be literally understood as “a little shade.” Obumbrate entered English in the early 1500s.

    How is obumbrate used?

    ... that solemn interval of time when the gloom of midnight obumbrates the globe .... The Summer Miscellany; or, A Present for the Country, 1742

    It requires no stretch of mind to conceive that a man placed in a corner of Germany may be every whit as pragmatical and self-important as another man placed in Newhaven, and withal as liable to confound and obumbrate every subject that may fall his way .... General Advertiser, September 3, 1798

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, November 02, 2019

    squee

    verb (used without object) [skwee]
    to squeal with joy, excitement, etc.
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    What is the origin of squee?

    Squee! It’s easy to hear how this word imitates the sound of a high-pitched squeal. As an expression of joy, excitement, celebration, or the like, squee originates as a playful, written interjection in digital communications in the late 1990s, as in “OMG is in the dictionary. Squee!” By the early 2000s, squee expanded as a verb used to convey such excited emotions: “The students squeed when they learned the Word of the Day.”

    How is squee used?

    I squeed in happiness when I stole a warrior's Whirlwind attack and used it against him. Carol Pinchefsky, "A 'World of Warcraft' Player Reviews 'Guild Wars 2'," Forbes, August 26, 2012

    ... we're also going to take a moment to squee about the possibility of Martian microbes. Michelle Starr, "Giant Lake of Liquid Water Found Hiding Under Mars' South Pole," Science Alert, July 25, 2018

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  • Word of the day
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    Friday, November 01, 2019

    Lilliputian

    adjective [lil-i-pyoo-shuhn]
    extremely small; tiny; diminutive.
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    What is the origin of Lilliputian?

    In the first of the four adventures of his 1726 satirical novel Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift has his narrator, Lemuel Gulliver, shipwrecked on the invented island of Lilliput. Its residents, the Lilliputians, are under six inches high—and their smallness is widely interpreted as a commentary on the British politics of Swift’s day. Lilliputian was quickly extended as an adjective meaning “extremely small; tiny; diminutive,” often implying a sense of pettiness. In the second adventure, Gulliver voyages to an imaginary land of giants, the Brobdingnagians, whose name has been adopted as a colorful antonym for Lilliputian.

    How is Lilliputian used?

    The Lilliputian vest was over-the-top ’00s style at its finest .... Liana Satenstein, "Is Fashion Ready for the Return of the Tiny Little Vest?" Vogue, September 25, 2019

    ... miniature things still have the power to enthrall us .... That, at least, is one theory as to why people obsessively re-create big things in Lilliputian dimensions. Belinda Lanks, "'In Miniature' Review: Let's Get Small," Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2019

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  • Word of the day
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    Thursday, October 31, 2019

    ghost word

    noun [gohst wurd]
    a word that has come into existence by error rather than by normal linguistic transmission, as through the mistaken reading of a manuscript, a scribal error, or a misprint.
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    What is the origin of ghost word?

    Ghost word is a term coined by the great English philologist and lexicographer Walter Skeat in an address he delivered as president of the Philological Society in 1886. One amusing example that Skeat mentioned in his address comes from one of Sir Walter Scott’s novels, The Monastery (1820), “... dost thou so soon morse thoughts of slaughter?” Morse is only a misprint of nurse, but two correspondents proposed their own etymologies for morse. One proposed that it meant “to prime (as with a musket)," from Old French amorce “powder for the touchhole” (a touchhole is the vent in the breech of an early firearm through which the charge was ignited). The other correspondent proposed that morse meant “to bite” (from Latin morsus, past participle of mordere), therefore "to indulge in biting, stinging, or gnawing thoughts of slaughter." The matter was finally settled when Scott’s original manuscript was consulted, and it was found that he had plainly written nurse.

    How is ghost word used?

    Your true ghost word is a very rare beast indeed, a wild impossible chimera that never before entered into the heart of man to conceive. Philip Howard, A Word in Your Ear, 1983

    Spookily enough, phantomnation itself is a "ghost word" originating in a 1725 translation of Homer's Odyssey by Alexander Pope. Paul Anthony Jones, Word Drops: A Sprinkling of Linguistic Curiosities, 2016

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  • Word of the day
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    Wednesday, October 30, 2019

    ghoulish

    adjective [goo-lish]
    strangely diabolical or cruel; monstrous: a ghoulish and questionable sense of humor.
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    What is the origin of ghoulish?

    Ghoulish literally means “of, relating to, or like a ghoul.” If you know your folklore (and word origins), you won’t be surprised to learn why ghoulish evolved to mean “strangely diabolical or cruel; monstrous.” Recorded in the late 1700s, English ghoul is borrowed from the Arabic ghūl (based on a verb meaning “to seize”), a desert-dwelling demon in Arabic legend that robbed graves and preyed on human corpses. A ghūl was also believed to be able to change its shape—except for its telltale feet, which always took the form of donkey’s hooves. A “monstrous” creature, indeed. Ghoulish entered English in the 1800s.

    How is ghoulish used?

    ... her dark humor and ghoulish sensibility are not for everyone. Heller McAlpin, "'Rest And Relaxation' Is As Sharp As Its Heroine Is Bleary," NPR, July 10, 2018

    ... much of the story’s ghoulish humor derives from his habit of visualizing and communicating with murder victims, their ghosts intervening to help him solve each crime in trial-and-error fashion. Justin Chang, "Cannes Film Review: 'Blind Detective'," Variety, May 20, 2013

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, October 29, 2019

    requiescat

    noun [rek-wee-es-kaht, -kat]
    a wish or prayer for the repose of the dead.
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    What is the origin of requiescat?

    Requiescat, as any high school Latin student can tell you, is the third person singular present subjunctive active of the Latin verb requiēscere “to rest, be at rest, rest in death” and means “May he/she/it rest.” If the kid wants to show off, they may volunteer that requiescat is an optative subjunctive, that is, a subjunctive that expresses a wish, as opposed to a hortatory subjunctive, a subjunctive that exhorts, as in requiēscāmus “Let’s take a rest,” or a jussive subjunctive, which expresses a command, as in requiescant “Let them rest!” (Requiēscant can also be an optative subjunctive, “May they rest.”) Requiescat usually appears in the phrase Requiescat In Pace (abbreviated R.I.P.) "May he/she/it rest in peace,” seen on tombstones. Requiescat entered English in the second half of the 1700s.

    How is requiescat used?

    In delivering its eulogy, perhaps I can beg a requiescat from its enemies as well. Francesco De Sanctis, "The Ideal," From Kant to Croce: Modern Philosophy in Italy, 1800–1950, translated by Brian Copenhaver and Rebecca Copenhaver, 2012

    That emotion. I bury it here by the sea ... And a heart's requiescat I write on that grave. Robert Bulwer-Lytton, Lucile, 1860

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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, October 28, 2019

    macabre

    adjective [muh-kah-bruh, -kahb, -kah-ber]
    gruesome and horrifying; ghastly; horrible.
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    What is the origin of macabre?

    The history of the adjective macabre is confusing. The word is Middle French and first occurs (in French) in 1376, Je fis de Macabré la dance “I made the Dance of Death.” In late Middle English Macabrees daunce meant “Dance of Death.” French Macabré may be an alteration of Macabé “Maccabaeus”; if so, Macabré la dance may be the same as the medieval ritual or procession chorēa Machabaeōrum "dance of the Maccabees," honoring the martyrdom of Judas Maccabaeus and his brothers (II Maccabees). Macabre entered English in the 15th century.

    How is macabre used?

    Their macabre task is swabbing dead animals they find by the side of the road to get hold of their microbiomes—the communities of microorganisms that inhabit these mammals. Jamie Durrani, "Roadkill Animals Are Surprising Sources of Drug Discovery," Scientific American, January 4, 2017

    Vincent (1982) combines Burton’s burgeoning visual aesthetic with his lifelong love of the macabre and interest in stop-motion animation. Aja Romano, "Tim Burton has built his career around an iconic visual aesthetic. Here's how it evolved." Vox, April 17, 2019

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