Word of the Day

Word of the day

Friday, May 31, 2019

persiflage

[ pur-suh-flahzh, pair- ]

noun

light, bantering talk or writing.

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What is the origin of persiflage?

The origin of persiflage all comes down to sound. English persiflage is borrowed from French persiflage, derived from persifler “to banter” and -age, a noun-forming suffix. Persifler combines per-, an intensive prefix meaning “thoroughly,” and siffler “to whistle, hiss.” Siffler in turn comes from Late Latin sīfilāre, from Latin sībilāre, also “to whistle, hiss.” This perfectly expressive verb yields English sibilate “to hiss” and sibilant “hissing,” which, in phonetics, characterizes such sounds as the –s– and –zh– in persiflage. We can well imagine how the teasing repartee, for example, of two sweethearts in a romantic comedy, sizzles with sibilant sounds, but for all the “hissing” of persiflage, its raillery is light and good-natured. Persiflage entered English in the mid-18th century.

how is persiflage used?

He was not an Italian, still less a Frenchman, in whose blood there runs the very spirit of persiflage and of gracious repartee.

E. M. Forster, Howards End, 1910

… when persons of unrestrained wit devote their attention to airy persiflage, much may be included in their points of view.

Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Head of the House of Coombe, 1922
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Word of the day

Thursday, May 30, 2019

foment

[ foh-ment ]

verb

to instigate or foster (discord, rebellion, etc.).

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What is the origin of foment?

English foment ultimately comes from the Latin noun fōmentum “a soothing dressing or compress (hot or cold), a remedy, alleviation.” Fōmentum is a contraction of an earlier, unrecorded fovimentum or fovementum, a derivative of the verb fovēre “to keep warm, protect from the cold, refresh, ease.” The Latin neuter suffix –mentum is used to form concrete nouns from verbs, such as armāmentum “sailing gear, tackle,” from armāre “to fit out with equipment or weapons.” Foment entered English in the 15th century.

how is foment used?

Russian attempts to influence American voters—including ad purchases on social media intended to foment racial division—coexisted with and benefitted from domestic attempts to discourage people from casting a vote.

Jelani Cobb, "The House Takes On America's Voting-Rights Problem," The New Yorker, February 10, 2019

The coordinated attacks, which took place in three Sri Lankan cities and killed more than 300 people, were designed to foment religious strife in a country that has been slowly recovering from a quarter-century-long civil war.

Noam Cohen, "Like Guns, Social Media Is a Weapon That Should Be Regulated," Wired, April 23, 2019

Word of the day

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

equity

[ ek-wi-tee ]

noun

the quality of being fair or impartial; fairness; impartiality.

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What is the origin of equity?

Equity comes via Old French equité from Latin aequitāt-, stem of aequitās “evenness, uniformity, justice, fairness, impartiality.” Aequitās is a noun derivative of the adjective aequus “even, level, flat, just, impartial, reasonable,” of unknown origin. Aequus is the ultimate source of many other familiar English words, including equal, equality, equable, equitable, equation, and equator, as well as the combining form equi-, as in equipoise. Latin also used aequus in compounds, ultimately yielding such English words as equanimity, literally “even mind,” equilateral “having equal sides,” equilibrium “equal weight,” equinox “equal (day and) night,” and equivalent “having equal power.” Equity entered English by the early 14th century.

how is equity used?

In general, the female candidates who won foregrounded fundamental issues of equity and access for all Americans, especially regarding health care and education.

Margaret Talbot, "How Women Won Big in the Midterms," The New Yorker, November 7, 2018

But it [universal basic income] should work in tandem with targeted aid motivated by equity over blind equality.

Jathan Sadowski, "Why Silicon Valley is embracing universal basic income," The Guardian, June 22, 2016

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