• Word of the day
    Previous Week Next Week
    Tuesday, April 09, 2019

    polysemy

    noun [pol-ee-see-mee, puh-lis-uh-mee]
    a condition in which a single word, phrase, or concept has more than one meaning or connotation.
    See Full Definition

    Get to know dictionary.com

    Sign up for our Newsletter!
    Start your day with weird words, fun quizzes, and language stories.
    • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

    What is the origin of polysemy?

    Fast can mean "moving quickly" or "firmly fixed." The word shows polysemy, which ultimately derives from Greek polýsēmos "having many meanings." Polýsēmos joins polýs "many, much," and sêma "sign, mark, token." Polýs yields the combining form poly-, seen in many English words, such as polygon "many angles" or polytheism "many gods." Sêma produces another term used, like polysemy, in linguistics: semantics "the study of meaning." In linguistics, polysemy and semantics were modeled on French polysémie and sémantique. These words were formed in the late 19th century by French linguist Michel Bréal (1832–1915)—a man perhaps better remembered for inspiring the modern Olympic marathon in 1896. Polysemy entered English in the 1920s.

    How is polysemy used?

    Twenty-three alternate meanings for it are listed in English alone—it is, the editors say, a model of "polysemy," packing multiple meanings into a single sign ... . Adam Gopnik, "Word Magic," The New Yorker, May 26, 2014

    This rich polysemy of language is the basis for William Empson's first type of poetic ambiguity: "when a detail is effective in several ways at once." C. Namwali Serpell, Seven Modes of Uncertainty, 2014

    Get to know dictionary.com

    Sign up for our Newsletter!
    Start your day with weird words, fun quizzes, and language stories.
    • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
    Previous Day Load More
  • Word of the day
    Previous Week Next Week
    Monday, April 08, 2019

    funemployed

    adjective [fuhn-em-ploid]
    without a paid job but enjoying the free time: Ask one of your funemployed friends to come along with you.
    See Full Definition

    What is the origin of funemployed?

    Funemployed, an informal combination of fun and (un)employed, is a neologism dating to 1995.

    How is funemployed used?

    So far, at least, he seems like an excellent match for this slightly wilder, funemployed new version of Jess. Izzy Grinspan, "New Girl Recap: Off the Grid," Vulture, September 26, 2012

    Buoyed by severance, savings, unemployment checks or their parents, the funemployed do not spend their days poring over job listings. Kimi Yoshino, "For the 'funemployed,' unemployment is welcome," Los Angeles Times, June 4, 2009

    Previous Day Load More
  • Word of the day
    Previous Week Next Week
    Sunday, April 07, 2019

    vade mecum

    noun [vey-dee mee-kuhm, vah-]
    something a person carries about for frequent or regular use.
    See Full Definition

    What is the origin of vade mecum?

    A vade mecum in English is something, especially a book or manual, that a person carries about for consulting. The English phrase comes from the Latin phrase vāde mēcum “go with me.” The first word, vāde, is the second person singular imperative of vādere “to go, advance, proceed,” from the same Proto-Indo-European root wadh- “to go” as the Germanic (English) wade. Mēcum ”with me,” and its kindred forms tēcum “with thee,” nōbiscum “with us,” and vōbiscum “with you,” are relics or fossils in Latin of an earlier stage in the language when “prepositions” (elements that precede the words governed) were “postpositions” (the elements followed the words governed). During imperial times, the anomalous mēcum and tēcum were strengthened, reinforced by the “regular” preposition cum, yielding cum mēcum and cum tēcum, which persist in modern Spanish as conmigo and contigo. Vade mecum entered English in the 17th century.

    How is vade mecum used?

    ... the complete poem, though subjected to repeated prosecutions, made its way in pirated editions and became a vade mecum among the radicals. Samuel C. Chew and Richard D. Altick, A Literary History of England, 2nd ed., Vol. 4, The Nineteenth Century and After, 1967

    The travel guides we consult to find a trattoria near Piazza Navova may one day seem as foreign—and as revealing of an era marked by overwhelming plenty—as these fictional vade mecums. Richard B. Woodward, "Armchair Traveler," New York Times, September 24, 2008

    Previous Day Load More
  • Word of the day
    Previous Week Next Week
    Saturday, April 06, 2019

    plasticity

    noun [pla-stis-i-tee]
    the capability of being molded, receiving shape, or being made to assume a desired form: the plasticity of social institutions.
    See Full Definition

    What is the origin of plasticity?

    Plasticity is made up of plastic and the noun suffix -ity. Plastic comes via Latin plasticus “for molding or modeling," from Greek plastikós with the same meanings. Plastikós is a derivative of the verb plássein, pláttein “to mold, form." Other derivatives from the Greek include plaster, from Medieval Latin plastrum “plaster (both medical and building senses),” ultimately an alteration of Greek émplaston “molded on, daubed”; plastid “an organelle of plant cells”; plastique (as in the explosive); and plastron "a piece of armor; part of a turtle's shell.” Plasticity entered English in the 18th century.

    How is plasticity used?

    Studies reveal adolescence to be a period of heightened “plasticity” during which the brain is highly influenced by experience. Laurence Steinberg, "The Case for Delayed Adulthood," New York Times, September 19, 2014

    Comic actors, like dramatic ones, have their comfortable niches, from Bill Murray's sardonic schlubbism to Jim Carrey's manic plasticity. Christopher Orr, "The Movie Review: 'Along Came Polly'," The Atlantic, June 8, 2004

    Previous Day Load More
  • Word of the day
    Previous Week Next Week
    Friday, April 05, 2019

    anthophobia

    noun [an-thuh-foh-bee-uh]
    an abnormal fear of flowers.
    See Full Definition

    What is the origin of anthophobia?

    Anthophobia, “an abnormal fear of flowers,” is surely one of the odder phobias, as opposed to acrophobia “an abnormal fear of heights” or arachnophobia “an abnormal fear of spiders” or—a good one!—chiroptophobia “an abnormal fear of bats (the flying mammal).” Anthophobia is composed of two Greek nouns: ánthos “flower” and the combining form -phobíā “fear.” Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603) suffered from anthophobia, especially of a fear of roses, which has no technical name. Anthophobia entered English in the 19th century.

    How is anthophobia used?

    And if you dislike the task of summer gardening, you may even be a victim of anthophobia, the fear of flowers, although that's a rare malady indeed. Hal Boyle, "Some Phobias You Can Enjoy," Tallahassee Democrat, Associated Press, May 23, 1969

    Queen Elizabeth I is said to have been terrorized by roses, a subcategory of anthophobia, a generalized fear of flowers. Marianne Szegedy-Maszak, "Conquering Our Phobias: The Biological Underpinnings of Paralyzing Fears," U.S. News & World Report, December 6, 2004

    Previous Day Load More
  • Word of the day
    Previous Week Next Week
    Thursday, April 04, 2019

    multiverse

    noun [muhl-ti-vurs]
    a hypothetical collection of identical or diverse universes, including our own.
    See Full Definition

    What is the origin of multiverse?

    Multiverse, a combination of the common prefix multi- and (uni)verse, nowadays means “a hypothetical collection of identical or diverse universes, ours included,” a sense first suggested in 1952 by the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1887–1961). Multiverse, however, was coined by the American psychologist and philosopher William James (1842–1910). Multiverse to James was an alternative to or an opposite of universe and meant “the universe imagined as lacking order, unity, or a single ruling and guiding power.” James used multiverse in a lecture “Is Life Worth Living?” in 1895.

    How is multiverse used?

    Multiverse proponents advocate the idea that there may exist innumerable other universes, some of them with totally different physics and numbers of spatial dimensions; and that you, I and everything else may exist in countless copies. Heinrich Päs, "Quantum Monism Could Save the Soul of Physics," Scientific American, March 5, 2019

    Ten days before he died, Stephen Hawking sent one more written insight out into the cosmos—a paper, co-written with physicist Thomas Hertog of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, tackling the problem of a multiverse. Sarah Kaplan, "One of Stephen Hawking's final scientific acts: Tackling the multiverse," Washington Post, May 3, 2018

    Previous Day Load More
  • Word of the day
    Previous Week Next Week
    Wednesday, April 03, 2019

    hamartia

    noun [hah-mahr-tee-uh]
    the character defect that causes the downfall of the protagonist of a tragedy; tragic flaw.
    See Full Definition

    What is the origin of hamartia?

    In Greek the noun hamartíā means “failure, fault, error (of judgment), guilt, sin.” Hamartia, if familiar at all, will be familiar as the term that the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 b.c.) uses in his Poetics for the personal defect or frailty—the tragic flaw—that brings about the ruin of a prosperous or eminent man who is neither utterly villainous nor totally good, like, for instance, Oedipus. Hamartíā is a derivative of the verb hamartánein “(of a spear) to miss the mark, (in general) to fail in one’s purpose, fall short, go wrong.” Hamartánein with its derivatives and related words, like about 60 percent of Greek vocabulary, has no known etymology. Hamartia entered English in the late 19th century.

    How is hamartia used?

    Every person was felt to have his or her hamartia—a tragic flaw, or potential for error in judgment that would frequently destroy an otherwise promising career. The most common among these flaws was hubris .... James P. Atwater, "Letter to the Editor: The President's Men," New York Times, August 29, 1982

    ... his hamartia ("error") leads to the loss of all that matters to him, as well as to a puncturing of his former worldview. Mark Buchan, "Sophocles with Lacan," A Companion to Sophocles, 2012

    Previous Day Load More
Sign up for our Newsletter!
Start your day with weird words, fun quizzes, and language stories.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.