Word of the Day

Monday, January 14, 2019


[ fat-ik ]


denoting speech used to express or create an atmosphere of shared feelings, goodwill, or sociability rather than to impart information: phatic communion.

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What is the origin of phatic?

Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942), the Polish-born US anthropologist, coined phatic in 1923. Phatic applies to speech expressive of goodwill and sociability, as at a bar or a cookout. Phatic is composed of the Greek participle phatós “spoken, (that) may be spoken, famous” and the adjective suffix -ic. Phatós comes from the Greek verb phánai “to speak,” from the common Proto-Indo-European root bhā- “to speak.” The root bhā- is the source of Latin fārī “to speak” with its many derivatives, e.g., fāma “fame.” Fārī is also the source of infant, from Latin īnfant-, stem of īnfāns “unspeaking,” formed from the negative prefix in- (from the same Proto-Indo-European source as English un-) and fāns, the present participle of fārī. The same root is the source of English boon “benefit, blessing” via Old Norse bón “prayer, request.”

how is phatic used?

… everyday conversation is filled with little pauses and filler words, the “phatic” spackle of social interactions. That’s why Alexa says things like “Sorry, I’m not sure about that,” or Siri says “OK, here’s what I found …”

Clive Thompson, "Stop the Chitchat. Bots Don't Need to Sound Like Us," Wired, November 16, 2017

At conferences, phatic greetings including the endless discussion of the weather where one lives. “Does it get hot there in the summer?” “I bet the winters are cold.”

Jeff Rice, "Phatic Academics," Inside Higher Ed, May 5, 2015


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Sunday, January 13, 2019


[ kar-uhm ]


to strike and rebound.

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What is the origin of carom?

English carom is a shortening and alteration of carambole, as if carambole were in fact carom ball. Carambole is a French word borrowed from Spanish carambola “the red ball in billiards.” Further etymology is fanciful, as might be expected from idle gentlemen idly playing a gentlemanly game of billiards. One suggestion is that Spanish carambola comes from Portuguese carambola, the name of a Southeast Asian ornamental tree and its edible fruit (yellowish green, not red; elliptical, not round). The Portuguese word derives from Marathi karambal (Marathi is spoken in south India in Bombay). Carom entered English in the 18th century.

how is carom used?

Over the span of its short life, the company has caromed from self-description to self-description.

Franklin Foer, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech, 2017

Her life often caromed like one of the billiard balls clicking in the gaslit parlor below her on the mezzanine of the Bardolph.

John Griesemer, Signal & Noise, 2004
Saturday, January 12, 2019


[ ahys-blingk ]


a yellowish luminosity near the horizon or on the underside of a cloud, caused by the reflection of light from sea ice.

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What is the origin of iceblink?

The English noun iceblink is formed from West and North Germanic languages: Dutch and German (West Germanic) have isblink and Eisblink, respectively; Swedish and Danish (North Germanic) have isblink. Iceblink entered English in the 18th century.

how is iceblink used?

Above us the clouds were heavy and leaky, and ahead every depression of the dark mountains and the underside of the black cloud canopy above them was lit with the pale, cold glare of the “ice-blink.”

Robert E. Peary, Northward Over the "Great Ice," 1898

In a clear sky, it appeared, ice-blink was to be seen as a luminous yellow haze; on an overcast sky it was more of a whitish glare.

J. R. L. Anderson, Reckoning in Ice, 1971
Friday, January 11, 2019


[ ter-uh-fawrm ]


to alter the environment of (a celestial body) in order to make capable of supporting terrestrial lifeforms.

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What is the origin of terraform?

Readers of science fiction already know that terraform means to transform a hostile planet to one suitable for supporting terrestrial life. The Latin noun terra “earth, land, dry land” comes from an unattested noun tersā, from the Proto-Indo-European root ters- “dry,” source of Germanic (English) thirst. Latin forma looks somehow related to Greek morphḗ “form, shape, figure” and is possibly a borrowing from Greek through Etruscan. Morphḗ and forma are the sole representatives of an otherwise isolated root merph- “form,” Latin forma showing metathesis of m and ph (ph becoming f in Latin). Terraform entered English in the mid-20th century.

how is terraform used?

… Dr. Shara said he strongly suspected that we will terraform Mars. “It goes with the human propensity for expansionism, colonization, the need to be real estate developers.”

Dennis Overbye, "Oh, the Places We Could Go," New York Times, November 14, 2011

… the Old Race became able to terraform planets that had previously been beyond their powers.

John Brunner, The Psionic Menace, 1963
Thursday, January 10, 2019


[ im-pruh-sahr-ee-oh, -sair- ]


a person who organizes or manages public entertainments, especially operas, ballets, or concerts.

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What is the origin of impresario?

Impresario is an Italian noun, still unnaturalized in English (the Italian plural impresarii, impresari still occasionally occurs in English). In Italian an impresario is a contractor (in any kind of business), especially a manager or producer of operas and opera companies. The Italian word is formed from impresa “an undertaking,” a noun use of the past participle impreso from the Italian (and Vulgar Latin) verb imprendere, “to undertake,” and the noun suffix -ario, from Latin -arius. Impresario entered English in the 18th century.

how is impresario used?

Liam Neeson plays a world-weary, traveling impresario with but one act to promote: an armless and legless artist (Harry Melling) who recites passages from the Bible and Shakespeare and the Gettysburg Address …

Richard Roeper, "'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs': The Coen brothers go west in 6 diverse ways," Chicago Sun-Times, November 16, 2018

… the loveliest moments in the life of the impresario were when the trapeze artist set foot on the rope ladder, and in a flash, was finally hanging back up on his trapeze again.

Franz Kafka (1883–1924), "First Sorrow," Konundrum, translated by Peter Wortsman, 2016
Wednesday, January 09, 2019


[ paw-kee ]


Chiefly British. cunning; sly.

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What is the origin of pawky?

Pawky “shrewd, sly” is an uncommon adjective used Irish English, Scots, and northern English dialect. It is a derivative of the noun pawk (also pauk) “a trick, cunning,” but there is no further etymology. Pawky entered English in the 17th century.

how is pawky used?

You are developing a certain unexpected vein of pawky humour, Watson, against which I must learn to guard myself.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Valley of Fear, 1915

And in spite of the pawky fun that has been made of this bureaucracy, it was the Secretariat of America’s war and might be led or disciplined but could not be dissolved.

Alistair Cooke, The American Home Front, 1941–1942, 2006
Tuesday, January 08, 2019


[ lab-uh-rin-thin, -theen ]


complicated; tortuous: the labyrinthine byways of modern literature.

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What is the origin of labyrinthine?

What treasures lie in labyrinthine! It is obviously a derivative of labyrinth, via Latin labyrinthus “maze, labyrinth, especially the one built by Daedalus in Cnossus,” from Greek labýrinthos. Labýrinthos has long been associated with Greek lábrys “ax,” especially the double-headed ax in Minoan mythology (and built onto Minoan buildings), from Lydian (an extinct language spoken in western Asia Minor). In a Linear B tablet from Knossos (Linear B is a system of syllabic writing used for Greek in Mycenean times), there is the phrase Daburinthoio Potniai “to the Mistress of the Labyrinth (an offering of one amphora).” The confusion of d and l is pretty common: compare Odysseus and Ulysses, Dakota and Lakota, Latin odor “a smell” and olet “it smells.” Labyrinthine entered English in the 17th century.

how is labyrinthine used?

… no one had tried out before then a general theory of chance. … They revere the judgments of fate, they deliver to them their lives, their hopes, their panic, but it does not occur to them to investigate fate’s labyrinthine laws nor the gyratory spheres which reveal it.

, "Lottery in Babylon," translated by John M. Fein, Prairie Schooner, Fall 1959

But the sentences in “Music of Time” are often long and labyrinthine, heavily qualified and with dangling modifiers all over the place.

Charles McGrath, "How Anthony Powell Wrote His Twelve-Volume Masterpiece," The New Yorker, November 12, 2018


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