Word of the Day

Thursday, February 20, 2020

phronesis

[ froh-nee-sis ]

noun

Philosophy.

wisdom in determining ends and the means of attaining them.

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What is the origin of phronesis?

Phronesis, “wisdom in determining ends and the means of attaining them, practical understanding, sound judgment,” comes from Latin phronēsis, from Greek phrónēsis, meaning “practical wisdom, prudence in government and public affairs” in Plato, Aristotle, and other heavy hitters. Phrónēsis is a derivative of the verb phroneîn “to think, be minded, be wise”; phroneîn in turn is a derivative formed from the noun phrēn (stem phren-), whose myriad meanings include “midriff, diaphragm, heart (as seat of the passions and bodily appetites), mind (seat of the mental faculties and perception).” Phronesis entered English in the 16th century.

how is phronesis used?

[Aristotle’s] concept of practical wisdom or phronesis involved constantly weighing the relative value of arguments in the face of decisions and actions.

Michelle Mielly and Sharon Crost, "Fake news meets fact in an Oxford-style debate revival," The Conversation, May 21, 2018

… courage also requires us to apply what Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics calls “phronesis” or practical wisdom.

The best analysis of practical wisdom I know of occurs in the chorus of “The Gambler” … “You got to know when to hold ‘em / Know when to fold ‘em / Know when to walk away / Know when to run.”

Bruce Weinstein, "A Royal Question: When Do Leaders Have A Duty To Step Back?" Forbes, January 11, 2020
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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

détente

[ dey-tahnt; French dey-tahnt ]

noun

a relaxing of tension, especially between nations, as by negotiations or agreements.

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What is the origin of détente?

Détente, “a relaxation of tension, especially between nations,” still feels like a French word, as its spelling and pronunciation show. French détente comes from Old French destente, a derivative of destendre “to relax,” a compound of the prefix des– “apart, away” (from the Latin prefix dis– with the same meanings) and the verb tendre “to stretch” (from Latin tendere). Détente entered English in 1908 at the time of the détente between Great Britain and France.

how is détente used?

There is hope that the U.S. and China will at least reach some sort of detente on trade.

Justin Lahart, "A Perfect Storm for Business Investment," Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2019

The fairly stunning detente in what was shaping up to be a protracted war of digital assistants for ultimate domination of the smart home could lead to any number of smart home innovations now that the two systems are being allowed to work in tandem.

Adario Strange, "Alexa and Cortana will now be able to talk to each other to control your smart home," Mashable, August 30, 2017
Tuesday, February 18, 2020

plethoric

[ ple-thawr-ik, -thor-, pleth-uh-rik ]

adjective

overfull; turgid; inflated: a plethoric, pompous speech.

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What is the origin of plethoric?

The rare adjective plethoric means “overfull, inflated; marked by plethora (a morbid condition due to an excess of red blood cells).” And just as plethora does not mean “abundance” but “overabundance,” so plethoric means “overabundant.” Plethoric comes via the Late Latin medical term plēthōricus, plētōricus, from Greek plēthōrikós “plethoric,” a derivative of the noun plēthōra “fullness, satiety, excess of blood or another humor.” Plethoric in its medical sense entered English at the end of the 14th century; its extended sense “inflated, turgid, excessive” in the 17th.

how is plethoric used?

… my very astute friend Daniels pulled out a plethoric purse and began to display the marked gold with which it was plentifully supplied.

W. W. (Mary Fortune), "The Detectives Album," The Australian Journal, February 1882

The “blue book,” he says, “creates an atmosphere of formality and redundancy in which the drab, Latinate, plethoric, euphemistic style of law reviews and judicial opinions flourishes ….”

Tom Goldstein, "Drive for Plain English Gains Among Lawyers," New York Times, February 19, 1988

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