Word of the Day

Friday, June 11, 2021

picaresque

[ pik-uh-resk ]

adjective

of, relating to, or resembling rogues.

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What is the origin of picaresque?

The English adjective picaresque, “pertaining to or resembling rogues,” is modeled on Spanish picaresco “pertaining to or resembling a pícaro” (i.e., a rogue or vagabond), which first appears in print in Spanish in 1569. Picaresque in the sense “pertaining to a kind of narrative fiction” first appears in print in English in 1810; Spanish picaresco in the same sense appears in 1836. The etymology of pícaro is contested: it may come from the verb picar “to prick, pierce,” from Vulgar Latin piccāre, and be related to Latin pīcus “woodpecker.” Pícaro first appears in print in Spanish in the first half of the 16th century in the phrase pícaro de cozina “kitchen knave”; it was not a literary term. Pícaro in the sense “hero of a genre of novel” first appears in English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is picaresque used?

Ronnie Cornwell was a picaresque, forceful, charming, world-class con man, and he is the obsession of his famous son to this day.

Timothy Garton Ash, "The Real le Carré," The New Yorker, March 15, 1999

The author … has composed meticulous biographies of each of the complete Gutenberg Bibles that have come down to us. Many have led picaresque lives. Harvard’s copy was briefly stolen, in 1969, by a troubled young man who smashed its glass encasement, took the book, climbed out a window, and knocked himself unconscious when he fell to the ground.

Cullen Murphy, "Our Predictions About the Internet Are Probably Wrong," The Atlantic, January/February 2020

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Thursday, June 10, 2021

ravelment

[ rav-uhl-muhnt ]

noun

entanglement; confusion.

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What is the origin of ravelment?

Ravelment, “entanglement; confusion,” is a compound of the verb ravel “to tangle, entangle” and the noun suffix –ment, here denoting a resulting state. Ravel most likely comes from Dutch ravelen “to become entangled or confused, (of fabric or thread) to fray.” Ravelment entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is ravelment used?

We are prone to seek out one cause as the single cause, which by itself determines all later events in a chain of events. But historical causes are a ravelment and there can be no single turning point from which all events flow.

Gary Saul Morson, Hidden in Plain View, 1987

This jagged shard of American history has become a ravelment of an election, a tangle of confusion and complexity.

Francis X. Clines, "The Latest Stop on a Wild Ride: the Ballot Box, Again," New York Times, December 10, 2000

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Wednesday, June 09, 2021

predilection

[ pred-l-ek-shuhn, preed- ]

noun

a tendency to think favorably of something in particular; partiality; preference.

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What is the origin of predilection?

Predilection, “a tendency to think favorably of something; partiality; preference,” has several origins. One is Middle French prédilection, from the second half of the 15th century; another is Italian predilezione from the early 17th century ; and the final source is the rare Medieval Latin noun praedīlectiō (inflectional stem praedīlectiōn-), dating from the 10th century. Praedīlectiō is a derivative of the verb praedīligere, “to prefer over others,” a compound of the preposition and prefix prae, prae– “before” and dīligere “to love” (usually not as strong as amāre). Dīligere in turn is a compound of the prefix dis– “apart” and the simple verb legere “to choose, select.” Predilection entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is predilection used?

It turns out that Swedes have an unlikely predilection for the American South. The Scandinavian country is a major hub for country music. Swedes have their own square dancing association. And thanks to one man, Johan Fritzell, they also have Holy Smoke BBQ, arguably the most authentic Texas barbecue in all of Europe.

Lisa Abend, "How Texas barbecue found a home in rural Sweden," Washington Post, September 21, 2019

Most of us hold unrealistically optimistic views of the future, research shows, downplaying the likelihood that we will have bad experiences. Now a study… has found clues to the brain’s predilection for the positive, identifying regions that may fuel this “optimism bias” by preferentially responding to rosier information.

Andrea Anderson, "Unflagging Optimism," Scientific American, March 1, 2012

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