Word of the Day

Thursday, November 07, 2019

picayune

[ pik-ee-yoon, pik-uh- ]

adjective

Informal.

of little value or account; small; trifling: a picayune amount.

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What is the origin of picayune?

In the early 1800s in Louisiana, Florida, and other Southern U.S. states, the noun picayune designated a coin equal to a Spanish half-real, which was worth a mere six-and-one-quarter cents. Picayune comes from Provençal picaioun (compare French picaillons “money”), a type of copper coin from the historical region of Savoy in southeastern France. While the picayune, as currency, fell out of circulation in the U.S., the word picayune did not. Picayune—on the basis of the coin’s paltry sum—extended as an adjective meaning “of little value or account; small; trifling.” The name of the former coin also survives in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, which cost one picayune when the newspaper was established (as The Picayune) in 1837.

how is picayune used?

The point is less to dwell on the picayune details of what was once known as the “browser wars” than to show how hard it is to escape the hold these companies’ ecosystems have on our lives.

Jacob Silverman, "Breaking up Big Tech may be impossible. It's still worth trying." Washington Post, June 5, 2019

“My client is determined to have his day in court.” “But why?” Swan said. “It’s such a picayune amount of money.”

Matt Braun, Dodge City, 2006
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Wednesday, November 06, 2019

turophobia

[ tur-uh-foh-bee-uh ]

noun

an irrational or disproportionate fear of cheese.

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What is the origin of turophobia?

People who desperately avoid cheese may at least be pleased to learn there is a word they can use for their experience: turophobia “an irrational or disproportionate fear of cheese.” This term is formed on tur-, a variant of Greek tȳrós “cheese” and -phobia, a combining form meaning “fear,” itself from Greek phóbos “fear, panic.” Fear not, cheese lovers: a turophile is a connoisseur or lover of cheese, with –phile a Greek-derived combining form meaning “lover of.” Turophobia is fairly new formation in English, recorded in the early 2000s.

how is turophobia used?

Stossel’s own fears include turophobia, a fear of cheese; asthenophobia, a fear of fainting; and claustrophobia.

, "Fear of Fainting, Flight And Cheese: One Man's 'Age of Anxiety'," NPR, January 6, 2014

What is your main character’s worst fear? Is it something universal, like the death of a loved one? Or a rare phobia, like turophobia (fear of cheese).

Sarah Ockler, "10 Prompts to Get You Out of a NaNoWriRut," The NanoWriMo Blog, November 6, 2015
Tuesday, November 05, 2019

thither

[ thith-er, thith- ]

adverb

to or toward that place or point; there.

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What is the origin of thither?

The adverb thither “to or toward that place or point; there” is an old one in English. Its original form in Old English was thæder, altered to thider (among other forms) due to hider. This adverb hider evolved into a word thither frequently appears together with: hither, as in hither and thither “here and there.” Thither was largely replaced by there (as hither was by here). If you go back far enough in time, you’ll find that thither and there share a common root, as do many humble English function words beginning with th-, including that, this, and the.

how is thither used?

We told them that we were travelling, that we had been transported thither, and that they had nothing to fear from us.

Emanuel Swedenborg, Earths in the Universe, 1758, translated 1860

He was a thorough-going old Tory … who seldom himself went near the metropolis, unless called thither by some occasion of cattle-showing.

Anthony Trollope, The Small House at Allington, 1864
Monday, November 04, 2019

Sprachgefühl

[ shprahkh-guh-fyl ]

noun

German.

a sensitivity to language, especially for what is grammatically or idiomatically acceptable in a given language.

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What is the origin of Sprachgefühl?

If you have sufficient Sprachgefühl for German, you’ll know that this noun is a great example of how that language can form compounds that capture very specific concepts. Sprachgefühl combines German Sprache “speech, language” and Gefühl “feeling.” Literally meaning “speech-feeling,” this term was borrowed into English by the early 1900s to convey the idea of “a sensitivity to language, especially for what is grammatically or idiomatically acceptable in a given language,” that is, an intuitive sense of how a language works. For instance, native English speakers understand (usually without being explicitly taught about adjective order) that a phrase like the green big book is incorrect in English. (The correct construction would be the big green book.)

how is Sprachgefühl used?

He displays an extraordinary range of what Germans call Sprachgefühl, an infectious love of language that inspires his readers and illuminates the nooks and crannies of the English language.

George Thomas Kurian, "Safire's Political Dictionary," The Reference Librarian's Bible, 2018

The test of vocabulary is important, but subordinate to that of “Sprachgefühl.”

Mary Anna Sawtelle, quoted in Report of the Third Annual Meeting of the New England Modern Language Association, May 12, 1906
Sunday, November 03, 2019

obumbrate

[ ob-uhm-breyt ]

verb (used with object)

to darken, overshadow, or cloud.

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What is the origin of obumbrate?

The Latin root of obumbrate helps clarify this verb meaning “to darken, overshadow, or cloud”: umbra, “shadow, shade.” Obumbrate comes from Latin obumbrāre “to overshadow, shade, darken.” Obumbrāre combines the prefix ob– “on, over” (among other senses) and umbrāre “to shade,” a derivative of umbra. English owes many other words to Latin umbra, including adumbrate, penumbra, umbrage, and umbrella, the latter of which can be literally understood as “a little shade.” Obumbrate entered English in the early 1500s.

how is obumbrate used?

… that solemn interval of time when the gloom of midnight obumbrates the globe ….

, The Summer Miscellany; or, A Present for the Country, 1742

It requires no stretch of mind to conceive that a man placed in a corner of Germany may be every whit as pragmatical and self-important as another man placed in Newhaven, and withal as liable to confound and obumbrate every subject that may fall his way ….

, General Advertiser, September 3, 1798
Saturday, November 02, 2019

squee

[ skwee ]

verb (used without object)

to squeal with joy, excitement, etc.

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What is the origin of squee?

Squee! It’s easy to hear how this word imitates the sound of a high-pitched squeal. As an expression of joy, excitement, celebration, or the like, squee originates as a playful, written interjection in digital communications in the late 1990s, as in “OMG is in the dictionary. Squee!” By the early 2000s, squee expanded as a verb used to convey such excited emotions: “The students squeed when they learned the Word of the Day.”

how is squee used?

I squeed in happiness when I stole a warrior’s Whirlwind attack and used it against him.

Carol Pinchefsky, "A 'World of Warcraft' Player Reviews 'Guild Wars 2'," Forbes, August 26, 2012

… we’re also going to take a moment to squee about the possibility of Martian microbes.

Michelle Starr, "Giant Lake of Liquid Water Found Hiding Under Mars' South Pole," Science Alert, July 25, 2018
Friday, November 01, 2019

Lilliputian

[ lil-i-pyoo-shuhn ]

adjective

extremely small; tiny; diminutive.

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What is the origin of Lilliputian?

In the first of the four adventures of his 1726 satirical novel Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift has his narrator, Lemuel Gulliver, shipwrecked on the invented island of Lilliput. Its residents, the Lilliputians, are under six inches high—and their smallness is widely interpreted as a commentary on the British politics of Swift’s day. Lilliputian was quickly extended as an adjective meaning “extremely small; tiny; diminutive,” often implying a sense of pettiness. In the second adventure, Gulliver voyages to an imaginary land of giants, the Brobdingnagians, whose name has been adopted as a colorful antonym for Lilliputian.

how is Lilliputian used?

The Lilliputian vest was over-the-top ’00s style at its finest ….

Liana Satenstein, "Is Fashion Ready for the Return of the Tiny Little Vest?" Vogue, September 25, 2019

… miniature things still have the power to enthrall us …. That, at least, is one theory as to why people obsessively re-create big things in Lilliputian dimensions.

Belinda Lanks, "'In Miniature' Review: Let's Get Small," Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2019

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