Word of the Day

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

perigee

[ per-i-jee ]

noun

Astronomy.

the point in the orbit of a heavenly body, especially the moon, or of an artificial satellite at which it is nearest to the earth.

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What is the origin of perigee?

Perigee, “the point in the orbit of a heavenly body, especially the moon or an artificial satellite, at which it is nearest to the earth,” comes via French périgée from the New Latin noun perigēum, perigaeum, from the Greek adjective perígeios, a term in Stoic philosophy meaning “surrounding the earth,” and as an astronomical term, “near the earth (e.g., the moon).” The noun plus adjective phrase perígeion semeîon (“sign, signal”) means “the perigee”; the phrase is also shortened to perígeion, a noun use of the neuter adjective. The Greek preposition and prefix perí, peri– means “around, surrounding”; the combining form  –geios is a derivative of the noun “earth.” Perigee entered English at the end of the 16th century.

how is perigee used?

The phenomenon, in which a full moon appears at its closest point in its orbit around the Earth, known as perigee, is colloquially called a “supermoon.”

, "Images of a Supermoon Spectacle," New York Times, November 15, 2016

The moon’s distance varies within its orbit. At its apogee, it is 252,088 miles (405,696 km) from Earth. At its perigee, it is a closer 225,623 miles (363,104 kilometers).

David Grossman, "The Moon: An Explainer," Popular Mechanics, July 25, 2019

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Monday, April 06, 2020

Jabberwocky

[ jab-er-wok-ee ]

noun,

an example of writing or speech consisting of or containing meaningless words.

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What is the origin of Jabberwocky?

Jabberwocky, “speech consisting of or containing meaningless words,” is a derivative of the name Jabberwock, a monster generally depicted as a dragon in a nonsense poem in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass (1871). Concerning the etymology of Jabberwocky, Carroll himself wrote in a letter to students at Girls’ Latin School in Boston, Massachusetts (now Boston Latin Academy), “The Anglo-Saxon word wocer or wocor signifies ‘offspring or fruit.’ Taking jabber in its ordinary acceptation of ‘excited and voluble discussion,’ this would give the meaning of ‘the result of much excited and voluble discussion.’”

how is Jabberwocky used?

his face melts into a mask of sadness and despair, then sparkles with wit as he tells in a stream of jabberwocky the loopy story of a fop named Pongo Twistleton …

Rex Reed, "John Lithgow's 'Stories by Heart' Breathes New Life Into the One-Man Show," Observer, January 16, 2018

Of course all the White House’s latest jabberwocky about “benchmarks” and “milestones” and “timetables'”…  is nothing more than an election-year P.R. strategy …

Frank Rich, "Dying to Save the G.O.P. Congress," New York Times, October 29, 2006

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Sunday, April 05, 2020

erstwhile

[ urst-hwahyl, -wahyl ]

adjective

former; of times past: erstwhile friends.

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What is the origin of erstwhile?

Erstwhile is a compound of the Middle English adjective and adverb erest “first in time, rank, order, excellence, etc.,” from the similar Old English adjective and adverb ǣrest “first, at first.” (The –est ending indicates that Old English ǣrest is the superlative degree of ǣr “early,” which functions as an adjective, adverb, preposition, and conjunction.) While comes from the Old English noun hwīl “a space of time, a while, an indefinite space of time,” which in Middle English develops senses as an adverb and conjunction. Erstwhile as an adverb entered English in the second half of the 16th century, and as an adjective, in the early 20th.

how is erstwhile used?

Many of Biden’s erstwhile opponents have found roles for themselves.

Eric Lach, "What's Joe Biden's Role in the Response to the Coronavirus Crisis?" The New Yorker, March 27, 2020

When the the 75-year-old ruler … refused to step down, some of his erstwhile allies from the military and security forces pushed him out.

Mohammed Alamin, "Why Sudan's Pain Endures After a Brutal Leader's Ouster," Washington Post, June 11, 2019

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Saturday, April 04, 2020

assiduity

[ as-i-doo-i-tee, -dyoo- ]

noun

constant or close application or effort; diligence; industry.

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What is the origin of assiduity?

Assiduity ultimately comes from the Latin noun assiduitās (inflectional stem assiduitāt-) “constant presence or attendance, constant practice,” a derivative of the adjective assiduus “settled, continued, persistent.” Assiduus derives from the compound verb assidēre “to sit near, sit next to, pay attention to,” formed from the preposition and prefix ad, ad– “to, at, near” and the simple verb sedēre “to sit.” The semantics of sitting and therefore paying close attention fits perfectly with the German noun Sitzfleisch (borrowed into English in the 19th century), which means “the buttocks, (literally) sit-flesh,” and by extension, the ability to sit for a long period of time and persevere in an activity. Assiduity entered English in the early 17th century.

how is assiduity used?

“I really believe in working with youth, and particularly this age group — middle school — with respect and kindness and patience,” Palla said. It’s an approach that takes assiduity, especially considering the volume of students that Cook and Palla oversee.

Kathryn Bowen, "Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard Project changed how Berkeley students eat. Its next goal: to fight climate change," Berkeleyside, February 4, 2020

These disloyal thoughts came seldom, and she put them resolutely away, devoting herself with all the greater assiduity to her muslin curtains and ruffled pillow-shams.

Kate Douglas Wiggin, Rose o' the River, 1905

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Friday, April 03, 2020

personalia

[ pur-suh-ney-lee-uh, -neyl-yuh ]

plural noun

biographical data, personal reminiscences, or the like: He could never keep the personalia out of his essays.

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What is the origin of personalia?

Personalia is a noun use of the neuter plural form of the Latin adjective persōnālis “personal.” Persōnālis is not very common in Latin, being restricted to the law, as in beneficium persōnāle “personal benefit,” and grammar, as in verbum persōnāle “personal verb” (that is, a verb with three persons in both numbers). The modern English sense of personalia is a New Latin sense that first appeared in the 19th century.

how is personalia used?

Simply for its pictures of that old life, for its vivid anecdote, for its riches of personalia, and for its manly tone, the narrative is readable and delightful to a wonderful degree.

Royal Cortissoz, "Significant Art Books," The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 37, January 1906

But if the show is a bit hard to read (which is which?), the lavish catalog is a pleasure. With texts for each plate slyly sending up our fascination with personality and personalia, it is as engrossing as any new fiction.

, "Softly Treading Between Taste and Art," New York Times, March 16, 2008

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Thursday, April 02, 2020

aperçu

[ a-per-sy ]

noun

French.

an immediate estimate or judgment; understanding; insight.

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What is the origin of aperçu?

Aperçu, “a hasty glance or glimpse; an insight; an outline or summary,” is not at all naturalized in English, even retaining its French spelling (the cedilla under the c). Aperçu is the past participle of the verb apercevoir “to perceive, see, catch sight of,” a compound of the prefix a– (from Latin ad– “to,” here indicating direction or tendency) and the Old French verb perçoivre (Middle French, French percevoir), from Latin percipere “to obtain, seize, gather (crops), collect (taxes).” Percipere is a compound verb composed of the preposition and prefix per, per– “through,” here with an intensive meaning, and the simple verb capere “to take, take hold of, seize, capture.” Aperçu entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is aperçu used?

I once heard an author of young adult fiction being asked what her novel was about, and instead of explaining its adventure plot or sophisticated science- fiction premise, she said: “Kissing”. This was clearly self-deprecation, but it was also an aperçu about the pleasure that draws readers to a huge array of books ….

Sandra Newman, "The Binding by Bridget Collins review – magical tale of supernatural books," The Guardian, January 4, 2019

Kottke has been an engaging, likable omnipresence on the scene for as long as it has existed, serving up a daily blend of clean-crafted personal aperçus and fresh, literate links to tech, pop, and political news that is as brisk and cozy as Folgers in your cup.

Julian Dibbell, "Pay You, Pay Me," Village Voice, February 22, 2005

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Wednesday, April 01, 2020

credulous

[ krej-uh-luhs ]

adjective

willing to believe or trust too readily, especially without proper or adequate evidence; gullible.

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What is the origin of credulous?

Credulous comes from the Latin adjective crēdulus “inclined to believe or trust, trustful, credulous, rash.” The first part of crēdulus comes from the verb crēdere “to believe, trust, entrust,” most likely a compound of Proto-Indo-European kerd-, kred- (and other variants) “heart” and -dere, a combining form meaning “to put, place,” from the root dhē-, dhō-, with the same meaning. Latin crēdere “to place my heart” is a very ancient religious term that has an exact correspondence with Sanskrit śrad-dadhāti “he trusts,” and Old Irish cretim “I trust.” The second part of crēdulus is the diminutive noun and adjective suffix –ulus, which frequently has a pejorative sense, as in rēgulus “petty king, chieftain.” Credulous entered English in the mid-16th century.

how is credulous used?

When the British news network aired a three-minute segment about Swiss spaghetti farmers plucking long strands of pasta straight from tree branches, hundreds of credulous viewers wrote in asking how they could cultivate their own spaghetti tree.

Sarah Kaplan, "A brief, totally sincere history of April Fools' Day," Washington Post, March 31, 2016

I did not believe half of what she told me: I pretended to laugh at it all; but I was far more credulous than I myself supposed.

Anne Brontë, Agnes Grey, 1847

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