Word of the Day

Word of the day

Monday, November 15, 2021

pampero

[ pahm-pair-oh, pam- ]

noun

a cold and dry southwesterly wind that sweeps down over the pampas of Argentina from the Andes.

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What is the origin of pampero?

Pampero “a cold and dry southwesterly wind in Argentina” is a direct borrowing from Latin American Spanish, in which the term literally means “of the pampas.” Pampas are the vast grassy plains typical of southern South America that are especially common in Argentina, and pampa is a loanword from Quechua, in which it means “flat, unbounded plain.” Quechua is native to the Andes Mountains and is spoken to this day by millions of people in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru, and although this dialect continuum is most often associated with the Incan Empire, the Inca were one of many Quechuan-speaking groups. Pampero was first recorded in English in the 1810s.

how is pampero used?

The pampero, dreaded on shore as well as at sea, blows with tremendous force across this region. There is not a cloud in the sky. The night may be perfectly calm. Mosquitoes in vast numbers are busy with their sharp stings. Suddenly a rustling in the woods may be heard afar off. The noise increases into a dull roar. Clouds appear above the horizon. Still all is calm. The mosquitoes vanish. The dogs are howling in anticipation of danger. As if by magic, dark masses of clouds cover the heavens like a curtain. They are rent asunder, thunder roars, lightning flashes, and the wind, like an army of wild beasts, rushes on.

W. H. G. Kingston, The Western World, 1874

When the heat is at the greatest, a pampero suddenly comes, with its accompaniment of rain, thunder and lightning, and cools the air. Pampero winds from the W. and W.S.W. with nothing to impede their progress across the extended Pampas, blow with great violence, raising clouds of dust, and obliging every one to close windows and doors. Being off the land, they are not dangerous to shipping; though vessels at the mouth of the river have been blown in sea hundreds of miles, by a Pampero.

George Thomas Love, A Five Years’ Residence in Buenos Ayres During the Years 1820 to 1825, 1825

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Sunday, November 14, 2021

desolate

[ adjective des-uh-lit ]

adjective

deprived or destitute of inhabitants; deserted; uninhabited.

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What is the origin of desolate?

Desolate “deprived or destitute of inhabitants” comes via Middle English from Latin dēsōlātus “forsaken,” from sōlāre “to make lonely, abandon,” a derivative of the adjective sōlus “alone, on one’s own, lonely.” Sōlus is the source of numerous loneliness-related words in English, such as isolate, soliloquy, solitary, solitude, solo, and even sullen, and it is most likely descended from a Proto-Indo-European reflexive pronoun; compare self (via Old English) and the combining form idio- “proper to one” (via Ancient Greek). Alternative origins for sōlus include a connection to sollus “whole” as well as a distant link to English consolation and solace (via Latin) and the German adjective selig “overjoyed”—almost the opposite of what desolate means today. Desolate was first recorded in English in the late 1300s.

how is desolate used?

Hot, harsh, arid wastelands, nothing but sand, sky, and rocks. Majestic, sweeping landscapes, teeming with a life that seems it shouldn’t be, and more things to see, experience, and explore than one could imagine to fit in a lifetime. These are two ways to describe the desert, neither wrong, and neither giving the whole picture. A land of contrasts, with razor thin lines between polar opposites: pleasure and pain, life and death, success and failure, bleakness and beauty. The desert is a truly desolate and wondrous place.

Carston Oliver, “Utah by Dirt: Seeking the Secrets of the Desert,” National Geographic, June 26, 2015

Each of [J. G.] Ballard’s 98 short stories is like a dream more perfectly realized than any of your own. His personal vocabulary of scenarios imprints itself from the very first, each image with the quality of a newly minted archetype. Ballard was the poet of desolate landscapes marked by signs of a withdrawn human presence: drained swimming pools, abandoned lots littered with consumer goods, empty space stations, sites of military or vehicular tragedies.

Jonathan Lethem, "Poet of Desolate Landscapes," New York Times, September 8, 2009

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Saturday, November 13, 2021

brackish

[ brak-ish ]

adjective

somewhat salty or briny, as the water in an estuary or salt marsh.

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What is the origin of brackish?

Brackish “somewhat salty or briny” derives by way of the adjective brack “salty” from Dutch brak, which may be connected to Middle Dutch brak “worthless.” While freshwater has a relatively low sodium chloride content and seawater is far saltier, brackish water occurs where these two salt concentrations mix and merge, producing an environment between the two extremes. Because brackish water is too salty to be used for drinking or farming, the Middle Dutch definition of “worthless” surely applies. Note that brackish also contains the suffix -ish, which in this context indicates “somewhat” or “rather”; while brack is “salty,” brackish is salty to less than the full extent. Brackish was first recorded in English in the 1530s.

how is brackish used?

For decades, if you ordered oysters on the half-shell on the eastern Gulf coast, they most likely came from Apalachicola Bay—an estuary in north Florida where freshwater rivers meet the Gulf of Mexico, creating the perfect brackish mix for growing plump, salty oysters. But in recent years, they’re hard to come by.

Debbie Elliott, “Florida Closes Iconic Apalachicola Oyster Fishery,” NPR, July 22, 2020

Unfathomable Sea! whose waves are years, Ocean of Time, whose waters of deep woe are brackish with the salt of human tears! Thou shoreless flood, which in thy ebb and flow claspest the limits of mortality!

Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Time," Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1824

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