Word of the Day

Word of the day

Sunday, October 24, 2021

prestidigitation

[ pres-ti-dij-i-tey-shuhn ]

noun

sleight of hand; legerdemain.

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What is the origin of prestidigitation?

Prestidigitation “sleight of hand” is a borrowing from French, in which it literally means “nimble-fingeredness.” From there, the etymology becomes a bit murky. The -digit- element is clear; it derives from Latin digitus “finger,” which is also the source of digital (literally “of or relating to fingers”). For the presti- element, in contrast, there are at least three theories. The first is that presti- comes from Latin praestō “at hand,” a compound of prae “before” and a derivation from the Proto-Indo-European root ghes- “hand.” A second theory derives Latin praestō instead from prae and stāre “to stand,” which would make prestidigitation a distant relative of words such as stable, stand, state, and static. The third theory asserts that prestidigitation is a coinage based on or at least influenced by French prestigiateur “juggler, conjurer,” from Latin praestīgiae “juggler’s tricks,” a compound of prae and stringere “to bind fast,” which would make prestidigitation a distant relative of strait, stress, strict, and stringent. Prestidigitation was first recorded in English in the 1840s.

how is prestidigitation used?

Toscato began gently with a little prestidigitation, picking five-pound notes out of the air, and simplicities of that kind. He then borrowed a handkerchief, produced an orange out of the handkerchief, a vegetable-marrow out of the orange, a gibus hat out of the vegetable-marrow, a live sucking-pig out of the gibus hat, five hundred yards of coloured paper out of the sucking-pig, a Union-jack twelve feet by ten out of the bunch of paper, and a wardrobe with real doors and full of ladies’ dresses out of the Union-jack. Lastly, a beautiful young girl stepped forth from the wardrobe.

Arnold Bennett, A Great Man, 1904
[Derek] DelGaudio jettisoned most of the trappings of magic shows and used his prestidigitation skills in service of a meditation on identity. The illusions were less “ta-da!” moments than metaphors for the stories that we tell about ourselves—and what we hide.

Michael Schulman, "The Magician Who Used His Skills to Cheat at Cards," The New Yorker, March 12, 2021

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Word of the day

Saturday, October 23, 2021

verst

[ vurst, verst ]

noun

a Russian measure of distance equivalent to 3,500 feet, or 0.6629 mile (1.067 kilometers).

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What is the origin of verst?

Verst “a Russian measure of distance equivalent to 3,500 feet” is borrowed by way of either French or German from Russian verstá, from Old Russian vĭrsta “age; measure of length.” Though these two definitions are rather different, their connection is measurement, whether of time or distance. Vĭrsta derives from the Proto-Indo-European root wert- “to turn,” which is also the source of a profusion of words related to turning, twisting, and bending. The English suffix -ward (as in forward, inward, outward, and toward) is one such derivative, as are warp, worm, wrangle, wrap, wreath, wrench, wrestle, wring, wrinkle, wrist, and writhe. This root is also found in words that figuratively indicate turning in a negative direction, such as awry, weird, worry, wrath, and wrong. By way of Latin, English has inherited terms such as diversion, introvert, versatile, versus, vertebra, and vertex (from vertere “to turn”); reverberate (from verber “whip”); and converge and diverge (from vergere “to be inclined”). Several Ancient Greek-origin terms, such as rhapsody (from rháptein “to stitch”) and rhombus (from rhémbein “to revolve”), also derive from the same root. Verst was first recorded in English in the mid-1500s.

how is verst used?

After passing the fifteenth verst-stone, Chichikov suddenly recollected that, according to Manilov, fifteen versts was the exact distance between his country house and the town; but the sixteenth verst stone flew by, and the said country house was still nowhere to be seen. In fact, but for the circumstance that the travellers happened to encounter a couple of peasants, they would have come on their errand in vain.

Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809–1852), Dead Souls, translated by D. J. Hogarth, 1915

Now that McDonald’s hamburgers and Pepsi-Cola are a hit with Moscow residents, American-style suburban town houses are on their way there too. Construction of the first 132 of 528 units planned for Krasnagorsk, a suburb about 23 versts—15 miles—northwest of Red Square, will begin in August.

Richard D. Lyons, "POSTINGS: 528 Town House Units; 23 Versts To Red Sq.," New York Times, May 6, 1990

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Word of the day

Friday, October 22, 2021

cryosphere

[ krahy-oh-sfeer ]

noun

the part of the earth’s surface where, at temperatures below 32°F (0°C), the water is frozen solid.

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What is the origin of cryosphere?

Cryosphere “the part of the earth’s surface where the water is frozen solid” is a compound of the combining form cryo-, which describes cold and ice, and sphere. Cryo- derives from Ancient Greek krýos “icy cold,” which comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root that gives us crystal (from Ancient Greek krýstallos “clear ice”) and both crouton and crustacean (from Latin crusta “crust”). Sphere comes from Ancient Greek sphaîra “ball,” and outside the realm of geometry, the combining form -sphere is often used in English to describe geographic or ecological regions (such as biosphere and noosphere) and air layers (such as atmosphere and stratosphere). Cryosphere was first recorded in English in the late 1930s.

how is cryosphere used?

Release of methane into the atmosphere from any source is troubling because methane has far more potent greenhouse powers than carbon dioxide .… Scientists have speculated about such methane releases and modeling has predicted that it would happen as the cryosphere…softens and melts .… “But no one had ever shown that it was occurring or that it was a widespread phenomenon,” [lead author Katey Walter Anthony] said. “This paper really is the first time that we see with field evidence that this type of geologic methane is escaping as the cryosphere retreats.”

Yereth Rosen, “Study finds permafrost thaw, glacier melt releasing methane,” Reuters, May 21, 2012
[T]he new satellite, called ICESat-2, will give researchers the sharpest look ever at melting glaciers, ice sheets and sea ice, which make up much of the Earth’s frozen regions that are collectively known as the cryosphere …. Tom Neumann, deputy project scientist for the new satellite, said it would provide “a phenomenal picture” of changes in the planet’s ice sheets and water. “It’s going to enable science discoveries in the cryosphere and polar research for years to come,” he said.

John Schwartz, "As the Ice Melts, NASA Will Be Watching," New York Times, September 14, 2018

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