Word of the Day

Sunday, January 05, 2020

orbicular

[ awr-bik-yuh-ler ]

adjective

like an orb; circular; ringlike; spherical; rounded.

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What is the origin of orbicular?

The uncommon adjective orbicular ultimately comes from the rare Late Latin adjective orbiculāris “circular, orbicular,” which occurs in zoological and botanical texts. Orbiculāris is a derivative of orbiculus “small disk or ring, small wheel or pulley.” Orbiculus is a diminutive of the noun orbis “ring, disk, hoop, millstone, table, tabletop (i.e., a two-dimensional figure), sphere, ball, globe (i.e., describing a heavenly body).” In English, orbicular is about as restricted in usage as it is in Latin, occurring in anatomy, physiology, botany, and zoology. Orbicular entered English in the 15th century.

how is orbicular used?

The whole orbicular World hangs by a golden chain from that part of the battlements of Heaven whence the angels fell.

Walter Alexander Raleigh, Milton, 1900

What would be thought of a zoologist who should describe the feet of the web-footed birds as orbicular disks, divided to a great or less extent?

"On the Natural System of Botany," Magazine of Botany and Gardening, British and Foreign, Vol. 2, No. 20, 1834
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Saturday, January 04, 2020

welp

[ welp ]

interjection

Nonstandard.

an informal variant of well used to indicate disappointment, resignation, or acceptance at the beginning of an utterance: Welp, this might not work out for us after all.

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What is the origin of welp?

The etymological explanation of welp is accurate, if wonky: welp is a form of well as an isolated or emphatic utterance, with an excrescent p representing closing of the lips, creating an unreleased labial stop, as also in nope, yep, and yup. Excrescent consonants are pretty common: the usual one in English is t, as in amongst, midst, and whilst. Excrescent t also occurs in ancient Greek and Sanskrit. German Sekt “champagne” derives from French vin sec “dry wine” and shows the same excrescent t. Welp is first recorded in English in the mid-1940s but doubtless has been around far longer.

how is welp used?

Pitt smiles and bluntly states, “There is no future.” Welp.

Avery Matera, "Brad Pitt Makes a Statement About Climate Change by Channeling a Weatherman," W, June 7, 2017

Knowing that I’ll get to retire is such a “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” Welp, time for another day of answering e-mails.

Alex Schmidt, "Just Another Nineties Workday," The New Yorker, September 26, 2019
Friday, January 03, 2020

hibernaculum

[ hahy-ber-nak-yuh-luhm ]

noun

winter quarters, as of a hibernating animal.

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What is the origin of hibernaculum?

Hibernaculum comes directly from Latin hībernāculum, a derivative of the adjective hībernus “wintry,” itself a derivative of hiems “winter.” Nowadays hibernaculum is restricted pretty much to zoology, especially referring to the winter quarters of a hibernating animal (some students of Latin may recall reading about Julius Caesar leading his troops to safety, if not comfort, into their hībernācula “winter quarters”). The inflectional stem of hiems is hiem-, which is close to Sanskrit hima– in himālaya “abode of snow,” a compound of himá– “snow” and ālaya “dwelling, abode.” Hibernaculum entered English in the late 17th century.

how is hibernaculum used?

It retires to its hibernaculum when the cold weather has fairly set in, and comes generally out in early Spring.

J. Duns, "Hibernation of Mammals," Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, January 1885

The bears spent the winter in a hibernaculum—basically a big box.

Joe Palca, "Hibernating Bears 'A Metabolic Marvel'," NPR, February 18, 2011
Thursday, January 02, 2020

splore

[ splawr, splohr ]

noun

Scot.

a frolic; revel; carousal.

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What is the origin of splore?

The Scots excel at having words and phrases of obscure origin, and splore is one of them, but because Robert Burns uses the word, it’s a keeper. Splore may be a shortening of explore, but that is just a guess. Splore entered English in the 18th century.

how is splore used?

… it’s only a hunter’s shanty, but it has seen many a merry splore in its time ….

Phillip Ruysdale, A Pilgrimage Over the Prairies, 1863

The morn’s Auld Yule, you know, and like enough the folk have kept him to join in some splore.

Charles Gibbon, For Lack of Gold, 1873
Wednesday, January 01, 2020

twenty-twenty

[ twen-tee-twen-tee, twuhn-tee-twuhn-tee ]

adjective

keenly or acutely perceptive: an opinion based on twenty-twenty hindsight.

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What is the origin of twenty-twenty?

Twenty-twenty “keenly or acutely perceptive,” as is often remarked of the advantages of hindsight, has its roots in vision. In ophthalmology, twenty-twenty means “having normal visual acuity,” and is based on the Snellen chart developed by Dutch ophthalmologist Herman Snellen in 1862. Many will recognize this chart as the array of letters one reads when taking an eye test. Snellen calculated fractions to determine visual acuity, or the clarity or sharpness of one’s vision, and twenty-twenty refers to the fraction that corresponds to what someone considered to have normal vision can see at a distance of 20 feet. By the middle of the 20th century, twenty-twenty was a jazz term meaning excellent. By the early 1960s, the disillusioned, regretful expression twenty-twenty hindsight had emerged in the business world.

how is twenty-twenty used?

Yes, well don’t forget, sir, we’re viewing this with twenty-twenty hindsight, but at the time no one gave a thought to geckos or what they ate—they were just another fact of life in the tropics.

T. C. Boyle, "Top of the Food Chain," Harper's, April 1993

And sure, with twenty-twenty hindsight, I know I could have swum out from underneath the boat, but at that moment it didn’t occur to me.

Jodi Picoult, House Rules, 2010
Tuesday, December 31, 2019

finito

[ fi-nee-toh ]

adjective

Informal.

finished; ended.

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What is the origin of finito?

When the ball drops at midnight on December 31, you can say the year is finito. It’s “finished; ended.” It’s done. Over with. Finito is an informal adjective borrowed directly from the past participle of Italian finire, from Latin fīnīre “to end, finish, limit,” source (via French) of English finish. Latin fīnīre is based on the noun fīnis “end, utmost limit, highest post,” ultimate source of such English words as fine, final, and finite. In French, Latin fīnis became fin “end.” Viewers of French cinema may recognize this term as displayed at the conclusion of a film: Fin, “The End.” Finito entered English in the mid-1900s.

how is finito used?

It’s done. Over. Finished. Finito.

Herbert Muschamp, "Puppet Regime," New York Times, October 10, 2004

The experiment was done. Lesson learned. Finito.

Gregory Spatz, "Any Landlord's Dream," New England Review, Vol. 26, No. 3, 2005
Monday, December 30, 2019

retrospection

[ re-truh-spek-shuhn ]

noun

the action, process, or faculty of looking back on things past.

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What is the origin of retrospection?

Retrospection, and the slightly earlier noun retrospect, are based on retrospect-, past participle stem of New Latin retrōspicere “to look,” based on Latin adverb retrō “backward, back, behind” and specere “to look (at).” Retrospection, then, is the act of looking back, as many do when reflecting at the end of the year. The stem retrospect– may be partly based on (pro)spect, from Latin prōspectus “outlook, view,” composed of prō “before, in front of, for” and the same specere. Latin specere is the ultimate source of many English words involving various senses of “looking”: aspect, circumspect, expect, inspect, introspect, spectacular, and suspect, among many others. Retrospection entered English in the early 1600s.

how is retrospection used?

Every separate day in the year is a gift presented to only one man—the happiest one … and it often happens that he recognizes his day only in retrospection

Vladimir Nabokov, "The Potato Elf," A Russian Beauty and Other Stories, 1973

He was roused from the reverie of retrospection and regret produced by it …

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, 1814

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