Word of the Day

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

outré

[ oo-trey ]

adjective

passing the bounds of what is usual or considered proper; unconventional; bizarre.

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What is the origin of outré?

Outré may bring smiles of recognition to fans of the American writer of horror stories H.P. Lovecraft (1890–1937), it and nefandous being particular favorites of his. The very French-looking outré, “excessive, extreme, exaggerated,” is indeed a past participle of the French verb outrer “to push or go beyond the limits.” Outrer is a derivative of Old French oultre, ultimately from the Latin preposition and adverb ultrā “on the far side of, beyond.” Outré is also the root of Old French and English outrage, “an act of wanton cruelty.” Students of modern European history will be familiar with the phrase attaque à outrance “an attack to the bitter end, to death,” the ruinous, catastrophic French military policy of World War I. Outré entered English in the 18th century.

how is outré used?

A kind of growing horror, of outré and morbid cast, seemed to possess him.

H. P. Lovecraft, "Cool Air," Tales of Magic and Mystery, March 1928

Since the dawn of the millennium, the outré has become ordinary in opera.

Elisa Mala, "Opera Inspiration: Books, Film—Even TV Talk Shows," Newsweek, August 1, 2008
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Monday, September 23, 2019

gossamer

[ gos-uh-mer ]

noun

a fine, filmy cobweb seen on grass or bushes or floating in the air in calm weather, especially in autumn.

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What is the origin of gossamer?

The etymology of English gossamer is a little clearer in the alternative Middle English spellings gossomer, gosesomer, gossummer “goose summer,” that is, a late, mild fall when roast goose was a favorite dish (German has the noun Gänsemonat “November,” literally “goose month”). But the etymology of gossamer does not fit its meaning, “a fine, filmy cobweb seen on grass or bushes or floating in the air in calm weather, especially in the fall.” It may be that the cobwebs resembled goose down, or that the cobwebs appeared in “goose summer,” and the name of the season was transferred to the spider webs. Gossamer entered English in the 14th century.

how is gossamer used?

Small, viewless aeronaut, that by the line / Of Gossamer suspended, in mid air / Float’st on a sun beam …

Charlotte Smith, "To the insect of the gossamer," Conversations Introducing Poetry, 1804

When the early morning sun glints off droplets of dew on the gossamer strands of a spider web, it creates a visual masterpiece.

Carrie Arnold, "Spiders Listen to Their Webs," National Geographic, June 5, 2014
Sunday, September 22, 2019

Roscian

[ rosh-ee-uhn, rosh-uhn ]

adjective

of, relating to, or involving acting.

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What is the origin of Roscian?

The English adjective Roscian comes straight from the Latin proper adjective Rosciānus, coined by and used exclusively by Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 b.c.) in honor of his older contemporary, mentor, friend, and client, the actor Quintus Roscius Gallus (ca. 126–62 b.c.). Acting was not a respected profession in Rome, but Roscius dignified it and devoted himself to elocution, gesture, and characterization. The Roman general, reactionary politician, and dictator Sulla (138–79 b.c.) even presented Roscius with a gold ring, a symbol of equestrian rank. Roscius instructed the young Cicero in elocution and delivery; Cicero successfully pleaded Roscius’ cause in a civil suit around 76 b.c. (Cicero’s speech Pro Quinto Roscio Comoedo survives); he and Roscius used to engage in friendly contests to see who could express emotion and character better, the actor or the orator. Roscian entered English in the early 17th century.

how is Roscian used?

Because you grace the roscian sphere, / As great in Chalkstone as in Lear ….

Samuel Boyce, "The Animal Comedians, A Fable," Poems on Several Occasions, 1757

I … found it to be a crumpled play-bill of a small metropolitan theatre, announcing the first appearance, in that very week, of “the celebrated Provincial Amateur of Roscian renown, whose unique performance in the highest tragic walk of our National Bard has lately occasioned so great a sensation in local dramatic circles.”

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, 1861

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