Word of the Day

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

parlous

[ pahr-luhs ]

adjective

perilous; dangerous.

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What is the origin of parlous?

Parlous and its variant perlous, meaning “dangerous,” are contractions of perilous, which dates from the end of the 13th century. Perilous comes from Old French perillus, perilous, perilleus (with many more spelling variants) “dangerous, hazardous,” from Latin perīculōsus. Parlous and perlous both entered English at about the same time, toward the end of the 14th century.

how is parlous used?

High school lay before me, vast and parlous, as middle school receded in the rearview mirror.

Phuc Tran, Sigh, Gone, 2020

I gave him two one-dollar bills. As I handed them over I noticed that one of them had seen parlous times. Its upper right-hand corner was missing, and it had been torn through in the middle, but joined again.

O. Henry, A Municipal Report, Maclean's Magazine, May 1911

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Tuesday, February 09, 2021

meritocracy

[ mer-i-tok-ruh-see ]

noun

a system in which a person's progress is based on ability and talent rather than class privilege and wealth.

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What is the origin of meritocracy?

Meritocracy, “a system in which a person’s progress is based on ability and talent rather than class privilege and wealth,” is a relatively recent word, dating from the mid-1950s; it’s a transparent combination of the noun merit and the common suffix –cracy “rule, government.” The term was coined by the British sociologist Michael Young in his satirical work The Rise of the Meritocracy (1958), which took aim at the British educational system. Much to Young’s dismay, meritocracy was adopted into widespread use without a hint of irony. In 2001, Young wrote in The Guardian: “The book was a satire meant to be a warning (which needless to say has not been heeded) against what might happen to Britain between 1958 and the imagined final revolt against the meritocracy in 2033.” 

how is meritocracy used?

If the educational system is reproducing existing class and status hierarchies—if most of the benefits are going to students who are privileged already—then either meritocracy isn’t working properly or it wasn’t the right approach in the first place.

Louis Menand, "Is Meritocracy Making Everyone Miserable?" The New Yorker, September 23, 2019

Most Silicon Valley leaders still see their industry as a true meritocracy, where employees are generously compensated, can easily switch jobs and don’t need a union to advocate for them. But a growing number of activists both inside and outside the companies don’t agree.

Gerrit De Vynck, Nitasha Tiku, and Jay Greene, "Six things to know about the latest efforts to bring unions to Big Tech," Washington Post, January 26, 2021

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Monday, February 08, 2021

badinage

[ bad-n-ahzh, bad-n-ij ]

noun

light, playful banter or raillery.

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What is the origin of badinage?

Badinage “playful banter” is a French compound noun of badiner “to joke, trifle” and the noun suffix -age, naturalized in English. Badiner is a derivative of the noun badin “joker, banterer,” from the Provençal verb badar “to gape,” which in turn comes from unrecorded Vulgar Latin batāre “to yawn, gape.” Badinage entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is badinage used?

“The Importance of Being Earnest” … has delighted audiences for more than a century with its badinage, irreverence and frothy romance. The real stars of the play have always been the words, which tumble out in a scathing, literate, giddy gush.

Ann Hornaday, "Fussy 'Earnest' Is Wilde at Heart," Washington Post, May 24, 2002

So, with laughter and shouts and endless badinage and merriment, the guests take their places.

Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, 1906

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