Word of the Day

Saturday, March 23, 2019

plumbeous

[ pluhm-bee-uhs ]

adjective

resembling or containing lead; leaden.

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What is the origin of plumbeous?

Plumbeous comes straight from the Latin adjective plumbeus “made of lead, leaden, (of coins) base,” a derivative of the noun plumbum. Plumbum is a noun of unknown etymology, and linguists have speculated on the connection between plumbum and Greek mólybdos with its variants mólibos and bólimos, which also have no reliable etymology. In ancient times lead was mined in Attica (i.e., the territory whose capital was Athens), Macedonia, Asia Minor (Anatolia), Etruria, Sardinia, Gaul (France), Britain, and Spain. Many scholars think that the Greek and Latin words derive from an Iberian (Spanish) language, and the Basque word for lead, berun, supports this. Plumbeous entered English in the 16th century.

how is plumbeous used?

… a headachy dawn was breaking, with small rain sifting down out of clouds that were the same plumbeous colour as the shadows under Baby’s eyes.

John Banville, The Untouchable, 1997

… the pencil has been worn down to two-thirds of its original length. The bare wood of its tapered end has darkened to a plumbeous plum, thus merging in tint with the blunt tip of graphite whose blind gloss alone distinguishes it from the wood.

Vladimir Nabokov,  Transparent Things, 1972
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Friday, March 22, 2019

earthshaking

[ urth-shey-king ]

adjective

imperiling, challenging, or affecting basic beliefs, attitudes, relationships, etc.

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What is the origin of earthshaking?

Earthshaking in its literal sense was modeled on epithets for the Greek god Poseidon (he caused earthquakes) and the Latin god Neptune. Ennosígaios and Ennosíchthōn, both meaning “earthshaker,” were epithets for Poseidon in the Iliad and Odyssey. Latin Ennosigaeus is a pretty unimaginative borrowing. Earthshaking entered English toward the end of the 16th century; its usual sense “of great consequence or importance” dates from the 19th century.

how is earthshaking used?

… not everything true is universally comprehensible. And that, small as it is, is an earthshaking insight.

Jesse Green, "Review: 'An Ordinary Muslim' Gets Caught Between Cultures and Genres," New York Times, February 26, 2018

Divorce is hardly an earthshaking event in politics these days.

Hank Phillippi Ryan, The Other Woman, 2012
Thursday, March 21, 2019

palimpsest

[ pal-imp-sest ]

noun

a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text.

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What is the origin of palimpsest?

English palimpsest comes via Latin palimpsēstus from Greek palímpsēstos “rubbed again, scraped again,” i.e., in reference to durable parchment (not papyrus) “erased (so as to be able to be written upon) again.” Palimpsests are important in recovering the texts of ancient manuscripts. At least two unique ancient texts have been recovered through modern techniques of decipherment: the first text is Cicero’s dialogue De Re Publica (“On the Republic, On the Commonwealth”), which was discovered in the Vatican Library in 1819 and published definitively in 1908. The second major find is the Archimedes Palimpsest, containing seven treatises by the Greek scientist and mathematician Archimedes (c287-212 b.c.), which was made legible after decipherment performed between 1998 and 2008. Palimpsest entered English in the 17th century.

how is palimpsest used?

All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949

Holmes and I sat together in silence all the evening, he engaged with a powerful lens deciphering the remains of the original inscription upon a palimpsest, I deep in a recent treatise upon surgery.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez," The Return of Sherlock Holmes, 1905

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