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

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