Word of the Day

Saturday, July 07, 2018

plantigrade

[ plan-ti-greyd ]

adjective

walking on the whole sole of the foot, as humans, and bears.

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What is the origin of plantigrade?

The adjective plantigrade comes from the Latin noun planta “sole (of the foot)” and the verb gradī “to take steps, step, walk.” The Proto-Indo-European root ghredh- “to step, stride” is not very common, and all current English words are borrowings from Latin, e.g., gradual, grade, and verbs ending in -gress, e.g., ingress, regress, transgress. Planta, however, is another story: it shows the infix n, but its Proto-Indo-European root is the very common plat-, plet-, plot- “flat, broad.” Plat- is the source of the Lithuanian adjective platùs “wide, broad,” the all but identical Greek adjective platýs “flat, wide” (as in platypus “flatfoot”), the English adjective and noun flat, the noun flet (also flett) “dwelling, hall,” familiar to readers of Beowulf and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (probably the same crowd), and flan (the Spanish custard). Plantigrade entered English in the 19th century.

how is plantigrade used?

When later the old man slipped back into the night, the bear lifted itself and nosed briefly about its prison and the open gate, then walked out favoring one leg, its plantigrade shuffle derelict and comic in the darkness.

Robert Herring, McCampbell's War, 1986

Cats and many other carnivores walk upright on their toes, a stance known as digitigrade, as opposed to the plantigrade stance found in humans and bears.

Kevin Hansen, Bobcat: Master of Survival, 2007
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Friday, July 06, 2018

campcraft

[ kamp-kraft, -krahft ]

noun

the art of outdoor camping.

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What is the origin of campcraft?

Campcraft is a straightforward compound noun. Camp ultimately derives from Latin campus “field, plain,” especially the Campus Martius “the field of Mars” (so called from the altar dedicated to Mars), which was originally pastureland between the Tiber River and the northwest boundary of Rome. The Campus Martius was used for recreation and exercise, various civilian meetings, and army musters and military exercises. Craft is a common Germanic word: cræft in Old English, Kraft in German, kraft in Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish. All of the Germanic languages except English have maintained the original meaning “strength, power”; only English has developed the sense “skill, skilled occupation.” Campcraft entered English in the 20th century.

how is campcraft used?

Daniel Boone, Kit Carson and the other old fellows we admire so much could never have lived a week in the wilderness had they not known all the ins and outs of campcraft–that is, the art of taking care of themselves in the wilderness and of making themselves as comfortable as conditions would permit under canvas or in the open.

Dillon Wallace, "How to Be a Good Camper," Boys' Life, July 1914

Inman squatted in the brush and watched the folks go about their campcraft.

Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain, 1997
Thursday, July 05, 2018

debonair

[ deb-uh-nair ]

adjective

courteous, gracious, and having a sophisticated charm: a debonair gentleman.

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What is the origin of debonair?

The adjective debonair, from Old French debonaire, originated in Old French as the phrase de bon aire “of good lineage.” The aire of that phrase comes from the Latin noun ager “field,” which presumably meant “nest” in Vulgar Latin. Debonair entered English in the 13th century.

how is debonair used?

He was a tall, thin man, with gray hair swept back and a debonair ease of movement that suggested wealth, confidence, and success.

Jacqueline Winspear, Pardonable Lies, 2005

What could be simpler than to toddle down one flight of stairs and in an easy and debonair manner ask the chappie’s permission to use his telephone?

P. G. Wodehouse, Indiscretions of Archie, 1921
Wednesday, July 04, 2018

fizgig

[ fiz-gig ]

noun

a type of firework that makes a loud hissing sound.

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What is the origin of fizgig?

Fizgig has a very cloudy history. The first syllable, fiz (also fis), may derive from the Middle English noun fise or feist “a fart” (cf. fizzle), from the Proto-Indo-European root pezd- “fart,” source of Latin pēdere, Greek bdeîn, and Polish bździeć, all meaning “to fart,” which well fits the sound made by the firework. Gig may be imitative in origin, but the word or words are very problematic, and it is less difficult to state what gig does not mean than what it does mean: “a flighty, giddy girl (cf. giglet, giggle); a top (i.e., the toy); “odd-looking character, a fool; a joke, merriment.” Fizgig entered English in the 16th century.

how is fizgig used?

Neither powder nor pepper (you know) was adulterated in those days, and if you made a fizgig, why it blossomed and starred like a golden thistle, flashed into a myriad sparklets like a tiny fountain for Queen Mab and her troupe to dance round.

Frank Fowler, Last Gleanings, 1864

What sputters green and blue, this fizgig called Fifine!

Robert Browning, Fifine at the Fair, 1872
Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Kafkaesque

[ kahf-kuh-esk ]

adjective

marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity: Kafkaesque bureaucracies.

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What is the origin of Kafkaesque?

Kafkaesque means “having a disorienting, confusing, nightmarish quality; feeling surreal and threatening,” as, for instance, a form letter from the IRS. Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was a German-speaking Jew born in Prague, Bohemia (now the capital of the Czech Republic). Kafka received a rigorous secular education: he wrote in both German and Czech and spoke German with a Czech accent but never thought himself fluent in Czech. He began publishing his artistic prose in 1908. Kafka’s father, Hermann Kafka (1854-1931), was a clothing retailer in Prague and employed around a dozen people in his business. Hermann Kafka used the image of a jackdaw (kavka in Czech) as the logo for his business. Kafkaesque entered English in the 20th century.

how is Kafkaesque used?

As I see it, there is still another telling Kafkaesque dimension to Watergate now that President Ford has written his version of The End. It is the enormousness of the frustration that has taken hold in America ever since Compassionate Sunday, the sense of waste, futility, and hopelessness that now attaches to the monumental efforts that had been required just to begin to get at the truth.

Philip Roth, "Our Castle," Reading Myself and Others, 1975

What makes the situation positively Kafkaesque is that under the terms of the Consent Decree, which was created in part to prevent songwriters from monopolizing the market, composers are now often compelled to license their songs to these monopolistic behemoths at absurdly low rates.

John Seabrook, "Will Streaming Music Kill Songwriting?" The New Yorker, February 8, 2016
Monday, July 02, 2018

buttery

[ buht-uh-ree ]

adjective

grossly flattering; smarmy.

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What is the origin of buttery?

The adjective buttery in the Middle Ages meant “containing butter”; by the 18th century it acquired additional meanings “having the consistency of butter; smeared with butter”; and in the mid-19th century the sense “grossly flattering, smarmy.” Butter, the noun from which buttery derives, is a borrowing of the Latin word būtȳrum “butter,” itself a borrowing from Greek boútyron “butter,” literally “cow cheese.” Būtȳrum was adopted by the West Germanic languages, e.g., Old English butere, English butter, Dutch boter, Old High German butera, and German Butter. Buttery entered English in the 14th century.

how is buttery used?

Once Maloney began speaking there seemed no end to the words that poured from his whiskered lips, buttery words, words unreliable, words from which all sincerity had been drained to be replaced by a jovial condescension.

Ralph McInerny, Celt and Pepper, 2002

His face adorned by a seraphic, buttery smile, he stood unmoved, while Miss Higglesby-Browne uttered cyclonic exhortations and reproaches …

Camilla E. L. Kenyon, "Spanish Doubloons," Sunset: The Pacific Monthly, March 1918
Sunday, July 01, 2018

mind-pop

[ mahynd-pop ]

noun

Psychology Informal. a word, phrase, image, or sound that comes into the mind suddenly and involuntarily and is usually related to a recent experience.

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What is the origin of mind-pop?

Mind-pop was coined by Austrian psychologist George Mandler (1924–2016). It was first recorded in 2000–05.

how is mind-pop used?

Mind-pops are more often words or phrases than images or sounds and they usually happen when someone is in the middle of a habitual activity that does not demand much concentration—perhaps when they are brushing their teeth or tying their shoes.

Ferris Jabr, "Mind-Pops: Psychologists Begin to Study an Unusual form of Proustian Memory," Scientific American, May 23, 2012

… researchers can now see that having a mind pop activates the same region of the brain that’s engaged when you’re open to experience. … Even when they are mixed and conflicted, they are signs of your creative brain in action.

Srini Pillay, Tinker Dabble Try, 2017

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