Word of the Day

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

polysemy

[ pol-ee-see-mee, puh-lis-uh-mee ]

noun

a condition in which a single word, phrase, or concept has more than one meaning or connotation.

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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
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Monday, April 08, 2019

funemployed

[ fuhn-em-ploid ]

adjective

without a paid job but enjoying the free time: Ask one of your funemployed friends to come along with you.

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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
Sunday, April 07, 2019

vade mecum

[ vey-dee mee-kuhm, vah- ]

noun

something a person carries about for frequent or regular use.

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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

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