Word of the Day

Monday, May 17, 2021

pecuniary

[ pi-kyoo-nee-er-ee ]

adjective

of or relating to money.

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What is the origin of pecuniary?

Pecuniary, “relating to money,” comes from the Latin adjective pecūniārius, a derivative of pecūnia “property, possessions, wealth, money,” itself a derivative of pecū “flock, herd, farm animals,” livestock being a very important source of wealth in early farming societies. Pecū and its related nouns are derivatives of the Proto-Indo-European noun peku– “sheep,” from the root pek-, pok- “to pluck, fleece, card (wool, flax).” Peku- is the source of Umbrian pequo “cattle” (Umbrian was an Italic language spoken in Umbria, north of Rome), Greek pókos and pékos “sheep’s wool, fleece,” and Lithuanian pekus “cattle.” By regular phonetic change peku- becomes fehu– in Proto-Germanic, becoming Gothic faihu “possessions, property,” German Vieh “cattle, beast, brute,” Old English feoh, fioh, feh “cattle, property (in cattle),” Middle English fe, feo, feh “livestock, herd of livestock, movable property, wealth, money.” Modern English fee “charge, payment, sum paid, “ but also “landed estate, inherited estate,” comes partly from the Middle English and Old English nouns, but fee in the sense “inherited estate, feudal estate” also comes from Old French fieu, fief “estate in land” and Anglo-French fe, fee, fie, from Germanic fehu. Pecuniary entered English in the early 16th century.

how is pecuniary used?

Whatever Mr. Penson’s civic convictions, he also has a pecuniary interest in the outcome.

Charles V. Bagli, "Owner of Grand Central Vies With Developer Over Skyscraper on an Adjacent Block," New York Times, September 23, 2014

As of last year, nearly half of America’s middle-aged adults found themselves members, willing or not, of what’s been called “the sandwich generation,” so named because these people have a child below them and an aging parent above them. … Given the pecuniary strain involved, it’s surprising that, about 150 years ago, parents might have gone out of their way to set up a situation like this.

Joe Pinsker, "America, the Plannable: How Banks Affect Family Size," The Atlantic, September 25, 2014

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Sunday, May 16, 2021

nudnik

[ nood-nik ]

noun

a persistently dull, boring pest.

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What is the origin of nudnik?

Everyone, unfortunately, has had experience with a nudnik, “a persistently dull, boring pest.” Nudnik is plainly a Yiddishism, a derivative of the Yiddish verb nudyen “to bore, pester.” Nudyen may come from Polish nudzić “to weary, bore,” or Russian nudit’ “to wear out (with complaints, pestering).” The Yiddish suffix –nik, adopted into English as a noun suffix that refers to persons, usually derogatorily, involved in a political cause or group (such as beatnik, peacenik), is also of Slavic origin. The personal suffix –nik appears in English as early as 1905, but the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik, literally “traveling companion,” popularized –nik ad nauseam. Nudnik entered English in the first half of the 20th century.

how is nudnik used?

Mr. Daniels is one of those quintessential New York characters: a confessed nudnik. Dozens of times a year, he telephones city officials about local irritants, from the lack of sidewalk curb cuts to accommodate wheelchairs to a mound of asphalt left on a sidewalk after a repaving job.

Elizabeth Wurtzel, "How Long to Fix a Streetlight? 12 Months, if You're Persistent," New York Times, February 6, 2009

We lie to protect our privacy (“No, I don’t live around here”); to avoid hurt feelings (“Friday is my study night”) … to escape a nudnik (“My mother’s on the other line”) …

Chief Judge Kozinski, United States v. Alvarez, 638 F.3d  666, 674 (9th Cir, 2011)

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Saturday, May 15, 2021

derring-do

[ der-ing-doo ]

noun

daring deeds; heroic daring.

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What is the origin of derring-do?

The noun derring-do, “daring deeds; heroic daring,” has a curious history. In Middle English the phrase durring don, durring do meant “daring to do,” durring being the present participle of durren “to have the courage (to do something),” modern English dare, and don, do being a present infinitive verb, modern English do. Chaucer uses the phrase “correctly” is his Troilus and Criseyde: Troilus was nevere… secounde / In durryng don that longeth to a knight (“Troilus was never… second in daring to do what was fitting for a knight”). Derrynge do, one of the later spellings of durring don, was misinterpreted by Edmund Spenser as a noun phrase meaning “manhood and chivalry,” and Spenser’s mistake was picked up and passed on by writers and historians like Sir Walter Scott. Derring-do entered English (spelled durring don) in the 14th century, Spenser’s derring-doe in the second half of the 16th century.

how is derring-do used?

Lancelot, naturally, had performed the bravest deeds; Galahad, the most noble. The rest scrambled for attention with various feats of derring-do, most of which were exaggerated, to say the least.

Matt Phelan, Knights vs. Dinosaurs, 2018

Summer revealed woollen tank-style swimwear and lakeside derring-do: balcony dives, greased-pole logrolling (“we don’t allow that anymore”), jousting in rowboats (“another thing we don’t allow”).

Sarah Larson, "When Toscanini Went to Mohonk," The New Yorker, December 9, 2019

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