Word of the Day

Word of the day

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Phlegethon

[ fleg-uh-thon, flej- ]

noun

a stream of fire or fiery light.

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What is the origin of Phlegethon?

In addition to referring to “a stream of fire or fiery light,” Phlegethon retains its original meaning as the river of fire that surrounded Hades, the underworld, in Greek mythology. Its name literally means “burning” or “flaming” in Ancient Greek. The Phlegethon was one of five rivers in Hades; the others were the Acheron, Cocytus, Lethe, and Styx. While the Phlegethon was known as the river of fire, the Acheron was the river of sadness, the Cocytus was the river of weeping, the Lethe was the river of forgetfulness, and the Styx was the river of hatred. All five rivers coalesced at the center of Hades, and Charon ferried the souls of the dead either along the Acheron or the Styx, depending on the author.

how is Phlegethon used?

[T]he Baptistery shone with ice, and the porch-lions of the Cathedral looked as though some eighteenth-century Farnese had fitted powdered wigs upon them. The Torrente from its bridges seemed a Phlegethon, a river of whirling smoke, but felt like what it really was: a reservoir of benumbing vapor.

Edwin Howland Blashfield and Evangeline Wilbour Blashfield, Italian Cities, Vol. 1, 1900

The buckets dropped; the water sizzed and steamed on the sand. The boy barely missed stumbling into a Phlegethon of molten iron as he dodged the murderous missile.

Isaac K. Friedman, By Bread Alone, 1901

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Word of the day

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

vamoose

[ va-moos ]

verb (used without object)

to leave hurriedly or quickly; decamp.

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What is the origin of vamoose?

Vamoose is an adaptation of the Spanish phrase vamos, and unlike the majority of recent borrowings from Spanish, which preserve the original spelling and approximate the original pronunciation, vamoose is one of a small family of terms borrowed over 100 years ago that changed so much in both letters and sound that their connection to Spanish is almost unrecognizable. Alligator is one of these words; it comes from a Spanish phrase that means “the lizard.” So are buckaroo, an alteration of the Spanish word for “cowboy,” and cockroach, from Spanish cucaracha. The closest relative of vamoose is savvy, which derives from Spanish sabe (usted), meaning “(you, formal) know,” and is still sometimes used as a verb in English.

how is vamoose used?

Sitting beside Russo in the passenger seat of his wheezing Ford Galaxy, all throughout that long cross-country drive, was his mother. She’d decided it was time to vamoose, too, and who better to escape with than the son whom she always called her “rock.”

Maureen Corrigan, "Caring For Mom, Dreaming Of 'Elsewhere,'" NPR, November 5, 2012

“The Brazilians prefer to make xixi in the streets,” he said. “We don’t have enough bathrooms for everyone.” Nearby, a woman was making her own bathroom right next to the entrance of a residential building, vamoosing only when the doorman, Clever Santos Chavez, chased her away.

Terrence McCoy, "At Brazil’s Carnival, Rio declares war on a daunting foe: Public urination," Washington Post, February 24, 2020

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Word of the day

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

minatory

[ min-uh-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee ]

adjective

menacing; threatening.

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What is the origin of minatory?

Despite the similar sound, minatory isn’t related to the name of the Minotaur, a human-bull hybrid in Greek mythology. Though the Minotaur was certainly a minatory creature, Minotaur is a compound of Minos, a king of Crete, and the Ancient Greek word for “bull,” while minatory ultimately derives from a Latin verb meaning “to threaten” and that was used in terms related to driving cattle with threats. This same Latin verb is the ultimate source of menace “a threat” and promenade “a stroll or walk,” both derived ultimately from the “cattle driving” sense.

how is minatory used?

When I woke up in the sleeping balcony and looked out the small casement window beside the bed at the bare branches nodding outside in the grey morning, tapping on the walls in an indecipherable but all too obviously minatory code, … I found it impossible to imagine how, in a month or so, they’d be green again, covered in the lushness of leaves and lifted by warmer breezes.

Rafi Zabor, I, Wabenzi, 2005

Since her father’s imprisonment, Minou handles the business, and she is in the shop when a mysterious envelope appears, addressed to her and bearing a terse, minatory message: “She knows that you live.”

Elizabeth Hand, "‘Burning Chambers’ is a sweeping historical novel that puts current events in perspective," Washington Post, June 19, 2019

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