Word of the Day

Thursday, February 28, 2019


[ pe-tri-kawr, ‐trahy- ]


a distinctive scent, usually described as earthy, pleasant, or sweet, produced by rainfall on very dry ground.

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What is the origin of petrichor?

Petrichor is an uncommon word used in mineral chemistry or geochemistry to describe the pleasant scent of rain falling on very dry ground. Petrichor is a compound of the Greek nouns pétrā “rock, stone” (as in petroleum “rock oil”) and īchṓr, the juice or liquid—not blood!—that flows in the veins of the Olympian gods. About 60 percent of ancient Greek words have no satisfactory etymology; īchṓr is one of them. Petrichor was coined by two Australian chemists, Isabel “Joy” Bear and Richard Grenfell Thomas, in 1964.

how is petrichor used?

I surfaced from the tunnel in a shack, where the air was close and smelled of petrichor.

Samantha Shannon, The Mime Order, 2015

So whether rainfall reminds you of summer soccer games, puddle-splashing with siblings or a terrifying storm, thank (or blame) the planets [sic], microbes and minerals that give petrichor such a distinctive odor.

Marissa Fessenden, "High-Speed Video Shows When The Smell of Rain Begins," Smithsonian.com, January 20, 2015
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Wednesday, February 27, 2019


[ dih-vur-tis-muhnt ]


a diversion or entertainment.

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What is the origin of divertissement?

The English noun divertissement comes directly from the French divertissement “amusement, entertainment, diversion.” Divertisse- is the long stem of the verb divertir “to amuse, entertain”; it comes from Latin dīvertere or dēvertere “to turn away, divert, make a detour, digress”; the French suffix -ment, from the similar Latin noun suffix -mentum, denotes action or resulting state. Divertissement entered English in the 18th century.

how is divertissement used?

Featuring an uncomplicated plot and easily relatable personalities, this is a divertissement compared with the thematic heft of “Like Father, Like Son.”

Maggie Lee, "Cannes Film Review: 'After the Storm'," Variety, May 20, 2016

My place in your life is a divertissement, and when it ceases to be that it will be no good to you.

May Sarton, The Single Hound, 1938
Tuesday, February 26, 2019


[ kuhz-uhn ]


to cheat, deceive, or trick.

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What is the origin of cozen?

The verb cozen has a doubtful ancestry. One plausible etymology has cozen associated with the noun cousin (i.e., the relative), modeled on the French usage of the verb cousiner “to call ‘cousin,’” i.e., to claim fraudulent kindred to gain some profit or advantage. A second etymology derives cozen from Italian cozzonare “to engage in horse trading, cheat,” from cozzone, from Latin coctiōn-, the inflectional stem of coctiō “a dealer, broker.” Cozen entered English in the 16th century.

how is cozen used?

He had come to cozen me into letting him use me in return for a mockery of an honor.

David Graham Phillips, The Plum Tree, 1905

Let us cozen it with a golden shrewdness.

Iris Murdoch, An Accidental Man, 1971
Monday, February 25, 2019


[ ee-vuhn-fawl ]


twilight; dusk; the beginning of evening.

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What is the origin of evenfall?

Evenfall, “the beginning of evening, dusk,” from its very look is a poetic word. It is reasonable to assume, but impossible to prove, that evenfall was modeled on the earlier nightfall (1700). Evenfall entered English in the 19th century.

how is evenfall used?

And now ’tis evenfall in the brave and beautiful Borderland, and long shadows fall across the smooth lawns and fragrant garden …

George MacDonald Fraser, The Reavers, 2007

James Turner had his own conception of what happiness was … Mine is to smoke a pipe at evenfall and watch a badger, a rattlesnake, and an owl go into their common prairie home one by one.

O. Henry, "What You Want," Strictly Business, 1910
Sunday, February 24, 2019


[ hal-i-duhm ]


a holy place, as a church or sanctuary.

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What is the origin of halidom?

Halidom is a rare word meaning “holy place, sanctuary.” Its Old English form, hāligdōm, is a compound formed of the adjective hālig “holy” and the abstract noun suffix -dōm (English -dom). Hāligdōm originally meant “holiness, sanctity” in Old English, but this sense was obsolete by the 17th century. The concrete senses of hāligdōm, “chapel, sanctuary” and “relic,” are as old as the abstract sense. Halidom entered English before 1000.

how is halidom used?

Most nations would reckon it a village, but it had its halidom, assembly hall, market, and busy little industries.

Poul and Karen Anderson, "Faith," After the King: Stories in Honor of J. R. R. Tolkien, 1992

There are few more interesting spots in Great Britain than “Dewisland,” or the “halidom” of St. David.

W. A. B. Coolidge, "St. David's," The Cathedral Churches of England and Wales, 1884
Saturday, February 23, 2019


[ prod-i-guhl ]


wastefully or recklessly extravagant: prodigal expenditure.

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What is the origin of prodigal?

Prodigal ultimately derives from the Late Latin adjective prōdigālis “wasteful,” from the Latin adjective prōdigus (with the same meaning), a derivative of the verb prōdigere “to drive forth or away; to waste, squander.” Prōdigere is a compound of the preposition and combining form pro, pro- “forth, forward” and agere “to drive (cattle), ride (a horse).” Aristotle in Book IV of the Nicomachean Ethics defines the virtue of liberality (with respect to wealth) as the mean between the opposite vices of prodigality and stinginess, the prodigal man being one who wastes money on self-indulgent pleasures. The most famous case of prodigality is from Luke’s gospel (15:11-32), the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” Prodigal entered English in the 15th century.

how is prodigal used?

… Kubrick a planned and prodigal expenditure of resources.

Annette Michelson, "Bodies in Space: Film as 'Carnal Knowledge'," Artforum, February 1969

She feels she can never truly write well because she lacks Lila’s wild, prodigal spirit. Lila, she thinks, “possessed intelligence and didn’t put it to use but, rather, wasted it, like a great lady for whom all the riches in the world are merely a sign of vulgarity.”

Joan Acocella, "Elena Ferrante's New Book: Art Wins," The New Yorker, September 1, 2015
Friday, February 22, 2019


[ fyoo-til-i-tair-ee-uhn ]


a person who believes that human hopes are vain, and human strivings unjustified.

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What is the origin of futilitarian?

Futilitarian is a humorous blend of futile and utilitarian. The word was coined in scorn for the utilitarian philosophy for the jurist and philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and the philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill (1806-73). Futilitarian entered English in the 19th century.

how is futilitarian used?

A lot of artists in America tend to be self-deprecating futilitarians, because we’ve grown up in a culture in which art doesn’t matter except, occasionally, as a high-end investment.

Tim Kreider, "When Art Is Dangerous (or Not)," New York Times, January 10, 2015

For it is significant that much of the work of Bierce seems to be that of what he would have called a futilitarian, that he seldom seems able to find a suitable field for his satire, a foeman worthy of such perfect steel as he brings ot he encounter …

Bertha Clark Pope, "Introduction" to The Letters of Ambrose Bierce, 1922

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