Word of the Day

Monday, November 18, 2019


[ op-i-duhn ]


of a town; urban.

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What is the origin of oppidan?

Oppidan derives from Latin oppidānus “of a town,” from the noun oppidum “town.” Oppidānus didn’t just describe any town, though: it was used of towns other than Rome, which was referred to as urbs “city,” specifically the capital city of Rome. Due to this distinction from Rome, Latin oppidānus could have the pejorative connotation of “provincial, rustic.” The adjective form of urbs was urbānus “of the city,” source of English urban. Another city-based adjective English gets from Latin is municipal, from mūnicipium, a town whose residents had the rights of Roman citizens but which otherwise governed itself. Oppidan entered English by the mid-1500s.

how is oppidan used?

A lot of people were confused when Kaplan … took a job at Condé Nast Traveler, a magazine not widely known as a bastion of oppidan irreverence.

Nathan Heller, "The Cranky Wisdom of Peter Kaplan," The New Republic, September 13, 2012

Forsake your oppidan haunts and play manorial backgammon in the ballroom at Old Westbury Gardens, John S. Phipps’s former Long Island estate.

Russell Edwards, "Future Social Events," New York Times, May 26, 1974
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Sunday, November 17, 2019


[ sahy-muh-nee, sim-uh- ]


the making of profit out of sacred things.

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What is the origin of simony?

Simony takes its name from the figure of Simon Magus in the New Testament of the Bible. Acts 8:9–24 presents the account of Simon, a Samaritan sorcerer who converted to Christianity. When Simon sees the apostles Peter and John bestowing the Holy Spirit by laying their hands on people, he offers them money in hopes that he, too, can possess spiritual or ecclesiastical gifts. This story is the source of Late Latin simōnia “buying or selling of spiritual or ecclesiastical gifts.” Entering Middle English around by early 1200s in the form of simonie, simony expanded to refer to the sin of buying or selling positions or privileges in the church and, more broadly, “the making of profit out of sacred things.”

how is simony used?

His critique was that the Jellybys of the world sometimes commit the sin of simony, meaning that they trade in sacred and spiritual materials for their own emotional profit.

Josephine Livingstone, "America's 'Poster Child' Syndrome," The New Republic, June 20, 2018

But isn’t what I’m doing the greatest crime of all? … Am I committing simony?

Gore Vidal, Lincoln, 1984
Saturday, November 16, 2019


[ sprook ]

verb (used without object)

Australian Slang.

to make or give a speech, especially extensively or elaborately; spiel; orate.

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What is the origin of spruik?

Spruik “to make or give a speech, especially extensively or elaborately” is an Australian and New Zealand slang term recorded by the early 1900s. While its exact origin is unknown, spruik may have been borrowed from German Sprüche “patter, spiel,” the plural of Spruch, “a saying; empty talk,” among other senses. Other proposed sources include forms of Dutch spreken “to speak,” such as spreuk “saying, spell.” German Spruch and Dutch spreken are both related to English speak, which developed from Old English specan, a variant of sprecan that lost the original r.

how is spruik used?

Thompson might have had the power of the press to spruik his message, but he had other factors going against him.

James Coventry, Time and Space, 2015

Andi, Justin and Karl will sit around the set looking uncomfortable waiting their turn to spruik about the New Alchemy Institute in Massachusetts, the world’s most powerful microscope, robot technology in Japan and research into children’s co-ordination.

Richard Coleman, "Television Choice," The Sydney Morning Herald, July 23, 1985
Friday, November 15, 2019


[ hoot-spuh, khoot- ]



audacity; nerve.

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What is the origin of chutzpa?

Chutzpa is one of many colorful, and very useful, English words of Yiddish origin. Also commonly spelled chutzpah (among other forms), chutzpa was borrowed into English in the late 1800s from Yiddish khutspa “impudence; gall; audacity; nerve,” from Aramaic ḥūṣpā. Chutzpa often has a negative connotation, as in “The unruly siblings had the chutzpa to correct their father on manners.” The qualities of chutzpa, however, can also be positive, as in “The employees showed a great deal of chutzpa when they demanded pay raises.”

how is chutzpa used?

It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to write a book called “The Problem With Everything,” but chutzpah is something essayist and cultural critic Meghan Daum has always possessed in spades.

Rosa Brooks, "Meghan Daum's merciless take on modern feminism, woke-ness and cancel culture," Washington Post, October 24, 2019

Selling these artifacts at these prices requires more than a list of customers with too much disposable income. It takes hard work, chutzpa and catalog copy that ignites neural brush fires in the amygdala.

Rene Chun, "Why Audiophiles Are Paying $1,000 for This Man's Vinyl," Wired, March 4, 2015
Thursday, November 14, 2019

ipso facto

[ ip-soh fak-toh ]


by the fact itself; by the very nature of the deed: to be condemned ipso facto.

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What is the origin of ipso facto?

First recorded in English in the mid-1500s, ipso facto is an adverb that comes directly from the Latin phrase ipsō factō “by the fact itself, by the very fact.” Ipso facto is often used when the very fact that one thing occurs is a direct consequence of another, as in “Having won all the gold medals in the sport’s Olympic events, she was ipso facto the best gymnast in the world.” Latin factō is the ablative form of factum “deed, act, fact,” and ipsō is the ablative of ipsum “very, same, itself,” among other senses. Ipso appears in other Latin expressions used in English, especially in law, including eo ipso “by that very fact” and ipso jure “by the law itself.”

how is ipso facto used?

… the notion that cars made in Germany would ipso facto be better crafted than others … this would have seemed curious indeed just a generation before.

Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, 2005

I had, it seemed, defined myself as a “popular” writer, and if one is popular, then, ipso facto, one is not to be taken seriously.

Oliver Sacks, On the Move, 2015
Wednesday, November 13, 2019


[ luh-kyoo-nuh ]


a gap or missing part, as in a manuscript, series, or logical argument; hiatus.

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What is the origin of lacuna?

In Latin lacūna means “ditch, pit, gap, deficiency, hole, hole where water collects.” Modern French lagune “lagoon,” Italian laguna “lagoon,” and Spanish laguna “lagoon, gap” are obvious developments from lacūna. Lacūna in turn is a derivative of lacus “basin, tub, cistern, pond, lake,” the source (through Old French) of English lake. Latin lacus is also related to Scots Gaelic and Irish loch. Lacuna entered English in the 17th century.

how is lacuna used?

I hardly know what to say after that, for there is a lacuna in the story, a line of verse missing from the elegy.

Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880), Memoirs of a Madman, translated by Andrew Brown, 2002

Attending to the mundane and the momentous, they punch in on the dark side of the clock, bridging the quiet lacuna between rush hours.

David Montgomery, "All in a Night's Work," Washington Post, August 20, 2000
Tuesday, November 12, 2019


[ gal-uh-maw-free ]


Chiefly Literary.

a hodgepodge; jumble; confused medley.

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What is the origin of gallimaufry?

Gallimaufry is an unusual but delightful word for “a hodgepodge; jumble; confused medley.” It was borrowed into English in the mid-1500s from Middle French galimafree, a kind of stew or hash, apparently concocted from a mishmash of ingredients. Galimafree may be its own etymological jumble, probably a conflation of French galer “to amuse oneself” and Picard mafrer (Picard is a language spoken in northern France) “to gorge oneself.” Like gallimaufry, other terms for a “confused medley” originally named food items composed of a mix of ingredients, including farrago, hodgepodge, and potpourri.

how is gallimaufry used?

Luncheons at Retta’s home were ridiculous affairs … There would be a gallimaufry of ices and trifles and toasts ….

Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things, 2013

Yet this gallimaufry of satire, real history, fake history, and score-settling … never loses that relentless, fatiguing quality that is the hallmark of all books written out of an obsession.

David Leavitt, "The Making of Larry Kramer's Americans," The New Yorker, May 19, 2015

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