Word of the Day

Saturday, October 13, 2018

postern

[ poh-stern, pos-tern ]

noun

a back door or gate.

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What is the origin of postern?

English postern comes from Old French posterne, originally “a concealed exit from a fort, a sally port,” later “a small door, a back door.” Posterne is an alteration of Old French posterle “a back door, back way,” from Late Latin posterula “a small back door or gate; back way, byway,” a diminutive noun formed from the adjective posterus “(coming or being) after or in the future” and -ula, the feminine form of the common diminutive noun suffix -ulus. The -n- in posterne is likely due to the influence of the Old French adjectives interne (from Latin internus) and externe (from Latin externus). Postern entered English in the early 14th century.

how is postern used?

It was the second gate, a postern in the north wall, that accounted for the most noticeable change.

James A. Michener, The Source, 1965

A practicable postern was ajar on the yellow wood of the studded gates.

Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford, Romance, 1903
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Friday, October 12, 2018

sennachie

[ sen-uh-kee ]

noun

Chiefly Scot., Irish. a professional storyteller of family genealogy, history, and legend.

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What is the origin of sennachie?

There are several English spellings, e.g., shanachie, seannachie, for the exotic Irish and Scottish noun meaning “storyteller, oral historian, genealogist.” The word in Scots Gaelic is seanachaidh (seanachaidhe in Irish) meaning “historian, antiquarian, chronicler,” from sen “old, ancient” and cūis “matter, affair.” Sen is from Proto-Indo-European sen(o)- “old,” most obvious in Latin senex “old man,” senātus “senate,” and senectūs “old age.” Senos appears in Greek in the noun hénos “year,” and the adjective hénos “last year’s”; and in Baltic (Lithuanian) as sẽnas “old,” and sẽnis “old man.” Sennachie entered English in the 16th century.

how is sennachie used?

… I do not think he could falsify a folk-tale if he tried. At the most he would change it as a few years’ passing from sennachie to sennachie must do perforce.

William Butler Yeats, "Irish Folk Tales," The National Observer, 1891

My schoolfellows like my stories well enough-better at least, on most occasions, than they did the lessons of the master; but, beyond the common ground of enjoyment which these ex-tempore compositions furnished to both the “sennachie” and his auditors, our tracts of amusement lay widely apart.

Hugh Miller, My Schools and Schoolmasters; or, The Story of My Education, 1854
Thursday, October 11, 2018

clavier

[ kluh-veer, klav-ee-er, kley-vee- ]

noun

any musical instrument having a keyboard, especially a stringed keyboard instrument, as a harpsichord, clavichord, or piano.

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What is the origin of clavier?

English clavier comes from Old French clavier “keyholder, keybearer,” as if from Medieval Latin clāviārius (formed from clāvis “key,” which becomes clef or clé in French, and the common noun suffix -ārius, which becomes -ier in Old French). French clavier also meant “a bank or row of keys on a musical instrument, a keyboard,” which is the first sense of the word in English, dating from the early 18th century. German and the other Germanic languages specialized the meaning to “keyboard instrument with strings (particularly the clavichord),” which English adopted in the mid-19th century.

how is clavier used?

Herr Gleissner composed twelve songs with clavier accompaniment.

Alois Senefelder, The Invention of Lithography, translated by J. W. Muller, 1911

An engraved portrait that a German artist made of Buchinger, in 1710, includes thirteen surrounding vignettes that picture him at tables, bearing his instruments and props, but just one depicts him in action, playing a hammered clavier.

Peter Schjeldahl, "Seeing and Believing," The New Yorker, January 25, 2016

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