Word of the Day

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

prescient

[ presh-uhnt, ‐ee-uhnt pree-shuhnt, ‐shee-uhnt ]

adjective

having knowledge of things or events before they exist or happen; having foresight.

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What is the origin of prescient?

Prescient comes from Old French from Late Latin praescient-, the present participle stem of the verb praescīre, “to know beforehand, know in advance.” The verb is used mostly by the Latin church fathers (Tertullian, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine) to refer to God’s foreknowledge. Praescīre is a derivative of Latin praesciscere, “to get to know beforehand,” a relatively rare compound verb made up of the inceptive verb sciscere “to get to know” (an inceptive verb is one that shows the beginning of an action), formed from the simple verb scīre “to know” and the inceptive infix –sc-; prae– is the Latin preposition and prefix prae, prae– “in front, ahead, before.” Prescient entered English at the end of the 16th century.

how is prescient used?

He was known to have had prescient visions that were accurate, penetrating, and defied four-dimensional explanation.

Frank Herbert, Dune, 1965

Seen now, “The Social Network,” about the founding of Facebook and the lawsuits that followed, feels grimly prescient and perhaps representative of how the past few years since the movie premiered—and the past few months of the pandemic—have changed our relationship to social media and each other.

Maya Phillips, "'The Social Network' 10 Years Later: A Grim Online Life Foretold," New York Times, October 5, 2020

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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

mal du pays

[ mal dy pey-ee ]

noun

French.

homesickness.

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What is the origin of mal du pays?

Mal du pays is French for “homesickness,” formed from the noun mal, “evil, hurt, harm,” from the Latin adjective and noun malus “bad, wicked,” and pays, “country, land, region.” Pays comes from Vulgar Latin pāgēnsis, pāgēsis, “inhabitant of a region,” equivalent to Latin pāgānus, which has two meanings: “pertaining to a pāgus” (“rural community”), and “civilian, civil, citizen,” a military usage, but used by reputable authors (Tacitus, Suetonius). Roman military slang influenced Latin Christianity: Tabernāculum meant “pup tent, shelter half” (English tabernacle, for both Jewish and Christian usage); sacrāmentum, “the oath of loyalty that a soldier swore annually to his commanding general” (English sacrament), and pāgānus “civilian,” meant “non-Christian, non-Jewish,” English pagan. Mal du pays entered English in the second half of the 18th century.

how is mal du pays used?

It is the most gentle, depressed-looking creature I ever saw; it seems to have the mal du pays ….

Maria Edgeworth, "Maria Edgeworth to Ludy Edgeworth, January 12, 1822," in A Memoir of Maria Edgeworth, Vol. 2, 1867

For all of its aural joy and ebullience, though, one can still hear Mr. Nabay’s mal du pays.

Andy Beta, "Sounds Converge From All Corners," Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2012

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Monday, October 26, 2020

autoschediasm

[ aw-toh-skee-dee-az-uhm ]

noun

something that is improvised or extemporized.

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What is the origin of autoschediasm?

If there is any one word that fully displays the amazing plasticity of Greek, that word is autoschediasm “improvisation,” a borrowing from the Greek noun autoschedíasma. Autoschedíasma is a derivative of autoschediázein, “to speak offhand, improvise,” a verb formed from the adjective of autoschédios “hand-to-hand (fighting), rough and ready, improvised (speaking),” a derivative of the adverb autoschedón “near at hand, on the spot.” Autoschedón breaks down into the familiar naturalized combining form auto– “self, same, right (here, there),” used here as an intensifier of the adverb schedón “close by, near.” The last element, –(as)ma, is a neuter noun suffix that shows the result of an action: for example, prâgma “something done, an act (concrete),” versus the active noun suffix –sis, as in prâxis “a doing, transacting.” Autoschediasm entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is autoschediasm used?

The first thing is to collect the material. This must comprise the whole range of ancient literature, always carefully weighing the nature of the evidence, so as to reject mere autoschediasms.

Ernst Riess, "On Ancient Superstition," Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol. 26, 1895

He was a little over-conscious of his command of English, for it was not without an obvious sense of enjoyment that he described his recent refusal of a certain professorial post as “a mere exhibition of autoschediasm.”

Alleyne Ireland, "The Clock Peddler," The Unpartizan Review, No. 29, Vol. 15, 1921

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