Word of the Day

Friday, May 10, 2019

popinjay

[ pop-in-jey ]

noun

a person given to vain, pretentious displays and empty chatter.

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What is the origin of popinjay?

The many spellings of popinjay, e.g., papejay, popingay, papinjai in Middle English, in medieval Romance languages, and in medieval Germanic languages, demonstrate the foreign, exotic origin of the term, let alone the bird. The English change of the final syllable from –gay to –jay may be by folk etymology, through association with the jay, the name of several kinds of raucous, lively birds of the crow family. Medieval Latin has papagallus, whose first half, papa-, may be imitative of the bird’s cry; the second half, gallus, is the ordinary Latin noun for “rooster, cock.” Papagallus comes from medieval Greek papagállos, itself a derivative of papagás, from Arabic babghā’, babbaghā’, which is imitative of the bird’s cry. Popinjay entered English in the 13th century in the now obsolete sense of a picture or representation of a parrot (as on a tapestry).

how is popinjay used?

… Matt Damon brings preening fun to a popinjay in spurs and suede fringe; his throwaway lines and sidelong glances finally realize the comic promise the character always possessed.

Ann Hornaday, "Cohen brothers' 'True Grit' is polished and entertaining," Washington Post, December 22, 2010

The Prince of Wales (Rupert Everett) is a nasty popinjay, and George’s prime minister, Pitt the Younger … a manipulative cold fish.

David Denby, "It's a Mad Mad Mad George," New York, January 2, 1995
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Thursday, May 09, 2019

perspicacity

[ pur-spi-kas-i-tee ]

noun

keenness of mental perception and understanding; discernment; penetration.

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What is the origin of perspicacity?

Perspicacity ultimately comes from the Late Latin noun perspicācitās (inflectional stem perspicācitāt-) “sharp-sightedness, discernment,” a derivative of the Latin adjective perspicāx (inflectional stem perspicāc-) “sharp-sighted, penetrating, acute.” Perspicāx is a derivative of the verb perspicere “to inspect thoroughly, examine, look through, see through.” The prefix per– here is both literal (“to see or look through”) and intensive (“to examine thoroughly”). The combining form –spicere comes from specere “to see, observe, keep an eye on,” a Latin derivative of the Proto-Indo-European root spek-, spok– “look at closely, examine.” Greek metathesizes the root to skep– and skop– (as in the English derivatives skeptic and horoscope). The Germanic form of the root, speh-, is the source of English spy and espionage. Perspicacity entered English in the 16th century.

how is perspicacity used?

How well she deceived her father we shall have occasion to learn; but her innocent arts were of little avail before a person of the rare perspicacity of Mrs. Penniman.

Henry James, Washington Square, 1880

This early work shows that Saramago had yet to achieve his radical style, but his perspicacity and wit were already fully formed.

Carmela Ciuraru, "Newly Released Books; Skylight," New York Times, December 24, 2014
Wednesday, May 08, 2019

blossom

[ blos-uhm ]

verb

to flourish; develop: a writer of commercial jingles who blossomed out into an important composer.

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What is the origin of blossom?

Blossom in both the noun and the verb senses dates back to Old English. The Old English verb blōstmian “to bloom, blossom, effloresce” is a derivative of the noun blōstm, blōstma, blōsma “blossom, flower.” The English words blossom, bloom, and blow (“a yield or display of blossoms”) are all Germanic derivatives of the Proto-Indo-European root bhel-, bhlē-, bhlō– (and other variants) “to thrive, bloom.” In Latin the root appears in flōs (inflectional stem flōr-) “flower“ (which via Old French yields English flower, flour, and flourish). English florescent comes straight from Latin flōrescent-, the inflectional stem of flōrescēns, the present participle of flōrescere “to come into bloom.” Other English derivatives from Latin include floral and folium “leaf,” which becomes, again through Old French, English foil. Greek has the noun phýllon “leaf,” whose most common English derivative is probably chlorophyll.

how is blossom used?

… the beauty of their island only blossomed the further through time they moved away from it.

Roxane Gay, An Untamed State, 2014

This bit of utilitarian Web ephemera [the hashtag], invented with functionality squarely in mind, has blossomed into a marvelous and underappreciated literary device.

Julia Turner, "#InPriaseOfTheHashtag," New York Times Magazine, November 2, 2012

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