Word of the Day

Monday, March 04, 2019

pettifog

[ pet-ee-fog, -fawg ]

verb

to bicker or quibble over trifles or unimportant matters.

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What is the origin of pettifog?

The verb pettifog is a back formation from the noun pettifogger, originally “ambulance chaser, shyster, fixer.” Pettifogger is a compound of the adjective petty “of minor importance” and fogger “a middleman.” Fogger itself probably derives ultimately from Fugger, the name of a prominent family of German bankers of the 15th and 16th centuries. The family name became a common noun in German and Dutch, meaning “rich man, monopolist, usurer.” Pettifog entered English in the 17th century.

how is pettifog used?

Marius, my boy, you are a baron, you are rich, don’t pettifog—I beg of you.

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, translated by Charles Edwin Wilbour, 1862

The way for the President to protect his prerogatives of office is not to pettifog about war powers but to go to the nation with his case.

William Safire, "In Harm's Way," New York Times, May 25, 1987
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Sunday, March 03, 2019

melic

[ mel-ik ]

adjective

intended to be sung.

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What is the origin of melic?

Melic comes from the Greek adjective melikós “lyric (poetry, poet),” a derivative of the noun mélos “limb (of a body), member, musical member, musical phrase, music, song.” Melic is not a common word, unlike its cousin melody, from mélos and ōidḗ “song” (the source of English ode). Melic entered English at the end of the 17th century.

how is melic used?

… anapaests are commonly used either as a sung form, “melic anapaests”, or chanted, a form sometimes called “marching anapaests.”

Simon Goldhill,  Sophocles and the Language of Tragedy, 2012

The earliest discussions call this kind of verse ‘melic’ (the Greek melos means ‘song’), and roughly distinguish sung poems from epic and tragedy.

Colin Burrow, "Ohs and Ahs, Zeros and Ones," London Review of Books, Vol. 39 No. 17, September 7, 2017
Saturday, March 02, 2019

animus

[ an-uh-muhs ]

noun

strong dislike or enmity; hostile attitude; animosity.

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What is the origin of animus?

In Latin the noun animus has many meanings: “the mind (as opposed to the body), the mind (or soul) that with the body constitutes a person, the mind as the seat of consciousness, the immortal part of a person (the soul)….” Animus comes from the same Proto-Indo-European source (anә– “to breathe”) as Greek ánemos “the wind.” The modern sense “strong dislike, enmity” is a development within English, appearing only at the end of the 18th century.

how is animus used?

This time, it’s not a border wall or a health care proposal driving the animus, but an online ad for a men’s razor, because, of course.

Emily Dreyfuss, "Gillette's Ad Proves the Definition of a Good Man Has Changed," Wired, January 16, 2019

Second, people should not let their animus toward him—and his animus toward the truth—trick them into trafficking in conspiracy theories.

David Leonhardt, "How to Cut Child Poverty," New York Times, October 27, 2017

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