Word of the Day

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

plebeian

[ pli-bee-uhn ]

adjective

common, commonplace, or vulgar: a plebeian joke.

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What is the origin of plebeian?

English plebeian, adjective and noun, ultimately derives from the Latin adjective and noun plēbēius “pertaining to the common people, a commoner.” The adjective also meant “common, ordinary, everyday” and was usually disparaging. Plēbēius derives from the noun plebs (also plēbēs, stem plēb-) “the general citizenry (as opposed to the patricians).” Plebs (plēbēs) is akin to Greek plêthos “great number, multitude, the majority of people, the commons”; the Latin and Greek nouns derive from a Proto-Indo-European plēdhwo-, ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root pele-, plē– “to fill.” Plebeian entered English in the 16th century.

how is plebeian used?

It outfitted all the high-touch areas of the penthouse (like the bannister on the staircase) in an antimicrobial coating, so you don’t have to deal with such plebeian concerns as germs.

Elizabeth Segran, "This $26 million penthouse is the Goop of luxury real estate," Fast Company, July 17, 2019

The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, dons bifocals when she appears before the House of Commons, as if to advertise her sympathetic connection to the plebeian indignities of embodiment.

Katy Waldman, "Kyrsten Sinema and Statement Glasses in the Senate," The New Yorker, November 15, 2018
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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

donnybrook

[ don-ee-brook ]

noun

(often initial capital letter)

an inordinately wild fight or contentious dispute; brawl; free-for-all.

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What is the origin of donnybrook?

Donnybrook is the English spelling of the English pronunciation of Irish Domhnach Broc “Church of (St.) Broc.” Domhnach also means “Sunday” in Irish and comes from Latin (Diēs) Dominica “Lord’s (Day).” Little is known of St. Broc, who founded a church in the 8th century at the location of Donnybrook Cemetery in Dublin, Ireland.

In 1204 the English King John (“famous” for the Magna Carta) granted a charter for an annual fair, at first like an American county fair, featuring livestock and produce, but later developing into a carnival, a medieval Irish Coney Island, beset with drunks and brawlers. During the 1790s campaigns against the fair began; prominent citizens purchased the royal charter, and they had the fair shut down in 1866. The Donnybrook Fair grounds are now the Donnybrook Rugby Ground.

Donnybrook entered English in the mid-19th century.

how is donnybrook used?

Now the New York hotel and restaurant workers’ local is threatening a “donnybrook” if it doesn’t get a contract at the Portman.

, "Portman's New Headache," New York, March 22, 1982

On Monday, when the panel conducted a hearing about the Mueller report, there was a partisan donnybrook.

Jeffrey Toobin, "The House Judiciary Committee Considers Antitrust Law, the Tech Giants, and the Future of News," The New Yorker, June 14, 2019
Monday, August 12, 2019

subitize

[ soo-bi-tahyz ]

verb (used without object)

Psychology.

to make an immediate and accurate reckoning of the number of items in a group or sample without needing to pause and actually count them.

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What is the origin of subitize?

Subitize is a useful word in psychology regardless of the awkwardness of its formation. The first part of the word, subit-, comes from the Late Latin verb subitāre “to come suddenly and unexpectedly upon” (a derivative of the adjective subitus “sudden, abrupt”). The familiar, completely naturalized suffix –ize (“to render, make; convert into; subject to; etc.”) comes via Late Latin –izāre from Greek –ízein.

how is subitize used?

Below five, we’re able to subitize, or rapidly judge numbers of items without counting.

Steph Yin, "Do You Know What Lightning Really Looks Like?" New York Times, June 11, 2018

Getting the computer model to subitize the way humans and animals did was possible, he found, only if he built in “number neurons” tuned to fire with maximum intensity in response to a specific number of objects.

Jim Holt, "Numbers Guy," The New Yorker, February 24, 2008

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