• Word of the day
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    Friday, May 31, 2019

    persiflage

    noun [pur-suh-flahzh, pair-]
    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
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    Thursday, May 30, 2019

    foment

    verb [foh-ment]
    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

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  • Word of the day
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    Wednesday, May 29, 2019

    equity

    noun [ek-wi-tee]
    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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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, May 28, 2019

    otiose

    adjective [oh-shee-ohs, oh-tee-]
    being at leisure; idle; indolent.
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    What is the origin of otiose?

    The many meanings of the English adjective otiose are pretty much the same as the Latin original, ōtiōsus. Ōtiōsus means “not busy with business or politics, leisurely, avoiding work or action, ineffectual, useless, peaceable, tranquil, vacant (land or public office).” Ōtiōsus is a derivative of the noun ōtium “spare time, leisure time, time off (from work or the army), inactivity, idleness, holiday, vacation, ease, rest, peace and tranquility.” Otiose entered English in the late 18th century.

    How is otiose used?

    He was habitually otiose. Lounging in his relax-a-chair was his favorite occupation. Ellie Grossman, "The Grammar Guru: Some words are too big for their britches," The Blade, September 27, 2001

    There is nothing more idle than ten-best or ten-worst lists, and it would be utterly rash and otiose to pick the most overrated playwrights of the American thirties; the real trick would be to find a single underrated one. John Simon, "Raggle-Taggle Rundown," New York, March 19, 1984

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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, May 27, 2019

    decoration

    noun [dek-uh-rey-shuhn]
    a badge, medal, etc., conferred and worn as a mark of honor: a decoration for bravery.
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    What is the origin of decoration?

    English decoration is a straightforward borrowing from Late Latin decorātiō (inflectional stem decorātiōn-) “adornment, ornament,” a derivative of the verb decorāre. Decorāre in turn derives from decor- (inflectional stem of decus) “an ornament, splendor, honor.” Decus is related to the verbs decēre “to be acceptable, be fitting” and docēre “to teach,” i.e., “to make fitting.” Decoration entered English in the 16th century.

    How is decoration used?

    He was later awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration .... Harrison Smith, "Howard Lee, Medal of Honor recipient who led a long-odds defense, dies at 85," Washington Post, March 31, 2019

    In short order, White won a Rhodes scholarship, became the best-paid player of his era in the National Football League and its rushing champion and earned decorations for his wartime Navy service. Laura Kalman, "John Kennedy's Nonconformist," New York Times, August 23, 1998

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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, May 26, 2019

    seriatim

    adverb, adjective [seer-ee-ey-tim, ser-]
    in a series; one after another.
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    What is the origin of seriatim?

    The English adverb seriatim “one after another, in a series,” comes directly from the Medieval Latin adverb seriātim, which has the same meaning. Seriātim is composed of the Latin noun seriēs “line, series” and the adverb suffix -ātim, extracted from Latin adverbs like gradātim “by steps, ascending or descending gradually,” and certātim “in rivalry, emulously.” The suffix is a useful one, forming adverbs like literātim “literally, letter for letter, literatim,” and verbātim “literally, word for word, verbatim.” Seriatim entered English in the late 15th century.

    How is seriatim used?

    I’ve been reading all the “Doonesbury” strips from the fall of 1976 through January of 1980, seriatim. Rick Perlstein, "Rick Perlstein: By the Book," New York Times, August 28, 2014

    This is no place to list his achievements, nor need his failures be set down seriatim. "President Taft," The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 109, 1912

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, May 25, 2019

    hermitage

    noun [hur-mi-tij]
    any secluded place of residence or habitation; retreat; hideaway.
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    What is the origin of hermitage?

    The history of the English noun hermitage is complicated by the unetymological h-. Middle English and Old French have both hermitage and ermitage (and many other spellings). Late Latin (in a 5th-century Christian author) has erēmīta (correctly) “eremite, hermit,” from Greek erēmī́tēs, a very rare noun and adjective meaning “of the desert,” and first occurring in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible dating from the 3rd century b.c.) in the Book of Job. The Greek noun (and therefore the Latin, too) is a derivative of erêmos (also érēmos), an adjective and noun meaning “solitary, desolate, lonely; a desert.” The spellings herēmīta and its derivative herēmītagium “hermitage” first appear in Medieval Latin. Hermitage entered English in the late 13th century.

    How is hermitage used?

    ... I had found out for myself a little hermitage. It was a kind of leafy cave, high upward into the air, among the midmost branches of a white-pine tree. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance, 1852

    In the end, the legend holds, Lancelot goes to live in penitence in a hermitage, while the king, mortally wounded, is set adrift on a ship—to one day rise again. Kathryn Schulz, "Rapt," The New Yorker, March 2, 2015

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