Word of the Day

Thursday, March 21, 2019

palimpsest

[ pal-imp-sest ]

noun

a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text.

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What is the origin of palimpsest?

English palimpsest comes via Latin palimpsēstus from Greek palímpsēstos “rubbed again, scraped again,” i.e., in reference to durable parchment (not papyrus) “erased (so as to be able to be written upon) again.” Palimpsests are important in recovering the texts of ancient manuscripts. At least two unique ancient texts have been recovered through modern techniques of decipherment: the first text is Cicero’s dialogue De Re Publica (“On the Republic, On the Commonwealth”), which was discovered in the Vatican Library in 1819 and published definitively in 1908. The second major find is the Archimedes Palimpsest, containing seven treatises by the Greek scientist and mathematician Archimedes (c287-212 b.c.), which was made legible after decipherment performed between 1998 and 2008. Palimpsest entered English in the 17th century.

how is palimpsest used?

All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949

Holmes and I sat together in silence all the evening, he engaged with a powerful lens deciphering the remains of the original inscription upon a palimpsest, I deep in a recent treatise upon surgery.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez," The Return of Sherlock Holmes, 1905
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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

wellspring

[ wel-spring ]

noun

a source or supply of anything, especially when considered inexhaustible: a wellspring of affection.

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What is the origin of wellspring?

Wellspring from its earliest records has meant both “source or headspring of a river or stream” as well as “source of a constant supply of something.” The extended, metaphorical sense appears earlier, in the Old English version of the Cura Pastoralis (Pastoral Care) of St. Gregory the Great (a.d. c540-604) that was commissioned by King Alfred the Great (a.d. 849-899). The literal sense of wellspring, “source of a stream or river,” first appears in the Catholic Homilies (c990) composed by Aelfric “Grammaticus” (c955-c1025).

how is wellspring used?

I decided to reach deep down, to the wellspring of my charisma, which had been too long undisturbed, and dip my fingers in it and flick it liturgically over the audience.

Steve Martin, The Pleasure of My Company, 2003

And from the same wellspring of creativity, utilizing that same power to abstract, they were the first people to see the world around them in symbolic form, to extract its essence and reproduce it.

Jean M. Auel, The Plains of Passage, 1990
Tuesday, March 19, 2019

obscurantism

[ uhb-skyoor-uhn-tiz-uhm, ob-skyoo-ran-tiz-uhm ]

noun

opposition to the increase and spread of knowledge.

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What is the origin of obscurantism?

English obscurantism ultimately comes via the French noun obscurantisme from Latin obscūrant-, the stem of obscūrāns, present participle of obscūrāre “to dim, cover in darkness,” a derivative of the adjective obscūrus “dim, dark, dingy; insignificant, doubtful,” the obvious source of English obscure. Obscūrus is a compound of the preposition and prefix ob, ob- “to, toward, in front of“ (and in compounds usually having a sense of confrontation or opposition), and the unattested adjective scūrus. Scūrus is a Latin development of the Proto-Indo-European root (s)keu-, (s)kū- “to hide, cover.” The Germanic form of this root, skeu-, has a derivative noun skeujam “cloud, cloud cover” that becomes skȳ in Old Norse, adopted into English as sky. Obscurantism entered English in the 19th century.

how is obscurantism used?

New ideologies manipulate religions, push a contagious obscurantism.

Emmanuel Macron, "Commemoration of the Armistice," translated from French, November 11, 2018

There is the obscurantism of the politician and not always of the more ignorant sort, who would reject every idea which is not of immediate service to his cause.

Y. B. Yeats, "The Irish National Theatre and Three Sorts of Ignorance," The United Irishman, October 24, 1903
Monday, March 18, 2019

bracketology

[ brak-i-tol-uh-jee ]

noun

Sports.

a system of diagrammatically predicting and tracking the process of elimination among sequentially paired opponents in a tournament, especially an NCAA basketball tournament.

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What is the origin of bracketology?

Bracketology combines bracket, in the sports sense of “a diagram for tracking advancement in a tournament,” and -ology, a word-forming element indicating “branch of knowledge, science.” The term playfully elevates the sports pastime to a discipline or science. Stages of sports tournaments have been termed brackets since the early 1900s, from bracket as a “grouping” in the late 1800s, a sense informed by pairs of typographical brackets for enclosing text or numbers. The tree-diagram structure of NCAA basketball tournament brackets indeed calls up such typographical brackets, named after the original architectural bracket, a type of L-shaped support projecting from a wall. Entering English in the 16th century, the word bracket may derive from a Romance word meaning “breeches,” the architectural devices perhaps resembling a pair of legs or the codpieces historically worn on breeches. That could make bracketology, with a liberal literalism, “the study of pants” or “the study of jockstraps.”

how is bracketology used?

Bracketology—the scientific-sounding name for prognosticating tournament picks before the official committee reveals the bracket on Selection Sunday—has exploded among basketball fans in recent years ….

Zach Schonbrun, "To N.C.A.A. Bracketologists, It’s Who’s In, Not Who Wins," New York Times, March 13, 2018

Bracketology is the practice of predicting the field and seeding for all 68 teams in the NCAA tournament and/or the outcomes for all games in the tournament. It is a made-up “-ology”, sadly, so don’t change your major just yet.

Daniel Wilco, "March Madness bracketology: The ultimate guide," NCAA, March 12, 2019
Sunday, March 17, 2019

green-eyed

[ green-ahyd ]

adjective

Informal.

jealous; envious; distrustful.

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What is the origin of green-eyed?

Green-eyed means “jealous” and is probably most familiar from Shakespeare’s phrase green-eyed monster (Othello, 1604). In the ancient and medieval humoral theory, an excess of yellow bile, which was thought to give the skin a greenish tint, was associated with the element fire and produced a violent, short-tempered, vengeful character. Green-eyed in its literal sense entered English in the 16th century.

how is green-eyed used?

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; / It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock / the meat it feeds on …

William Shakespeare, Othello, 1623

The protagonist, Ida, has a green-eyed prettiness …

Maria Russo, "In Praise of Maurice Sendak," New York Times, February 14, 2019
Saturday, March 16, 2019

viator

[ vahy-ey-tawr, -ter ]

noun

a wayfarer; traveler.

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What is the origin of viator?

Viator comes straight from Latin viātor “traveler,” formed from the noun via “track, road” and the noun suffix -tor signifying agency. Many occurrences of viātor are on epitaphs on Roman tombs from the “occupant,” asking travelers passing by not to deface the tomb with graffiti, or warning, “Look out! Your turn is coming!” Viātor was also a title of Mercury, the patron and protector of travelers and the escort of the dead to the underworld. A viātor was also an agent employed on official errands for magistrates, other public officers, and professional organizations. Viator entered English in the early 16th century.

how is viator used?

… how long he was a viator or traveler in his course of obedience no man knows.

Samuel Rutherford,  The Covenant of Life Opened, 1654

… these are so graciously concealed by the fine trees of their grounds, that the passing viator remains unappalled by them …

John Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, 1875
Friday, March 15, 2019

fantods

[ fan-tods ]

noun

a state of extreme nervousness or restlessness; the willies; the fidgets (usually preceded by the): We all developed the fantods when the plane was late in arriving.

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What is the origin of fantods?

In chapter eight of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Huck, hiding on Jackson’s Island, spots a man sleeping on the ground: “It most give me the fantods.” Here the meaning of fantods is plain enough: “acute distress, fear, panic”; the meanings of fantods range between irritability, tension, an emotional fit or outburst, and physical or mental disorder—not at all specific. Fantods has no reliable etymology: it may be a jocular formation based on fantasy or fantastic. Fantods entered English in the 19th century.

how is fantods used?

It gave me the fantods to discover myself cooped up in that narrow room with such a ghastly figure beside me, which I’ll describe to you as best I can.

Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616), The Dialogue of the Dogs, translated by David Kipen, 2008

What would Mr. Gorey make of his status as an All Hallows’ Eve grand ghoul were he alive to see it?

“That would have given Gorey himself the fantods,” said Mark Dery, using one of the antiquated words the artist loved to collect and trot out in his books.

Steven Kurutz, "Edward Gorey Was Eerily Prescient," New York Times, October 30, 2018

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