Word of the Day

Saturday, June 26, 2021

paucity

[ paw-si-tee ]

noun

smallness of quantity; scarcity; scantiness.

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What is the origin of paucity?

Paucity “smallness of quantity; scarcity; scantiness,” comes via Old or Middle French paucité from Latin paucitāt-, the inflectional stem of paucitās “smallness of quantity; scarcity; scantiness,” a derivative of the adjective paucus “few” (because of its intrinsic meaning, paucus is usually used in the plural). Paucus is also the source of Italian poco “a little,” i.e., the musical direction meaning “somewhat, a little,” and of poco a poco “little by little, gradually.” The Proto-Indo-European root underlying the Latin words is pau-, pōu-, pəu-, pu– (with still more variants) “few, a few, little, low,” which also usually is extended by consonant suffixes. Latin pau– with a suffixed –l forms the adjective paulus, paullus “little, small,” the Roman surname Paullus, and the English forename Paul. The variant root pu– with a suffixed –er forms the Latin noun puer “boy, child”; the diminutive of puer is puellus “a young boy,” and puella, the feminine of puellus, therefore means “girl.” The root pau– becomes the Proto-Germanic root faw-; its derived adjective fawaz “few, a little,” becomes fēawa, fēa in Old English, and few in modern English. Paucity entered English in the first half of the 15th century.

how is paucity used?

Watching American films from the 1970s today, you may be struck by the paucity of music: filmmakers then did not want to depend on the emotional groundbase a continuous music track provides—they wanted to focus your attention on their images.

James Monaco, How to Read a Film, 2009

Ambiguous references to what may have been hats of vegetable materials are to be found in the works of almost all ancient writers, but very little that is specific can be discovered. Perhaps one reason for the paucity of information on this subject may be that the homemade hats of plaited straws or rushes were probably worn only by the common people.

Dan Piepenbring, "Straw Hats: Their History and Manufacture," The Paris Review, May 5, 2015

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Friday, June 25, 2021

neophyte

[ nee-uh-fahyt ]

noun

a beginner or novice.

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What is the origin of neophyte?

Neophyte “a beginner or novice” ultimately comes from Greek neóphytos “newly planted” (grains, vines), a compound of neo-, a combining form of the adjective néos “new,” and –phytós “planted,” a derivative of phýein “to make grow, bring forth, beget.” Neóphytos first appears in the works of the Athenian comic dramatist Aristophanes (died ca. 385 b.c.), and it keeps its literal, agricultural sense down to the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that was completed by the 1st century b.c. Neóphytos in the sense “new convert” (to Christianity) first appears in I Timothy, one of the Pastoral Epistles traditionally ascribed to St. Paul. Neóphytos in its new sense was adopted by Christian Latin authors as neophytus; neophytus was sufficiently established for St. Jerome to use it in his Latin translation from the Greek I Timothy. The general, modern sense “beginner” first appears in Ben Jonson’s play Every Man out of His Humor (1600). Neophyte entered English in the 15th century.

how is neophyte used?

Maybe it takes a ruthless, calculating egoist to transform pain into product. Or maybe all the attention that the neophyte clamors for feels suffocating to the full-grown artist.

Danielle Chapman, "Sweet Bombs," Poetry, October 2006

Macron, who exit polls project as the winner of Sunday’s first round presidential election in France, is a political neophyte.

Krishnadev Calamur, "The Rebuke of France's Political Establishment," The Atlantic, April 23, 2017

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Thursday, June 24, 2021

non sequitur

[ non -sek-wi-ter, -toor ]

noun

something said or written that is unrelated to what immediately precedes.

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What is the origin of non sequitur?

The Latin sentence non sequitur, “it doesn’t follow” in English is used as a noun whose original meaning was “an inference or a conclusion that does not follow from the premises,” i.e., a logical fallacy, a usage established by Cicero in the 1st century b.c. A typical example of such a fallacy is: “If X is true, then Y is true. But Y is true. Therefore, X is true.” Nowadays non sequitur mostly means “a statement containing an illogical conclusion,” especially a conclusion that is amusing, whether intentional or not, or “something said or written that is unrelated to what immediately precedes.”

how is non sequitur used?

And who would want to forget, say, “Mr. F’s Aunt,” whose outbursts of demented rage at poor Arthur Clennam in “Little Dorrit” make no sense at all. “There’s milestones on the Dover Road!” “When we lived at Henley, Barnes’s gander was stole by tinkers.” … Mr. F’s Aunt’s malign non sequiturs would be immortal in whatever book Dickens had chosen to insert them.

Robert Gottlieb, "Robert Gottlieb on Dickensworld — the Great Novelist's Grand Universe," New York Times, November 6, 2020

But every day many people find themselves sitting across the table from a negotiation partner they can’t abandon or replace: their kids. How might parents manage these often fraught, exasperating conversations in which their counterpart, lacking self-awareness, sometimes seems to think it strategic to respond with complete non sequiturs?

Joe Pinsker, "How a Negotiation Expert Would Bargain With a Kid," The Atlantic, June 13, 2019

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