Word of the Day

Thursday, January 07, 2021

prolixity

[ proh-lik-si-tee ]

noun

a tendency to speak or write at great or tedious length.

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What is the origin of prolixity?

Prolixity “a tendency to speak or write at great or tedious length, long-windedness” ultimately comes from Latin prōlixitās (inflectional stem prōlixitāt-) “extension in space or time,” a derivative of the adjective prōlixus “having extensive growth, luxuriant; tall, big; (of time) extended; (of people) generous, warm-hearted, liberal; (of writing) lengthy, detailed.” In classical Latin none of the terms mean long-windedness, which is a meaning that first appears in Late Latin. Old French prolixité kept and passed along the negative meaning “verbosity, long-windedness” (in addition to the original Latin meanings) to Middle English. Prolixity first appears in English in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (ca. 1395): For fulsomnesse of his prolixitee “Because of the excess of its long-windedness.”

how is prolixity used?

First Barack Obama gave a very long opening answer; then when the consecutive interpreter started in, Obama acted surprised, apologized for his prolixity, and said he would have broken the answer into shorter chunks if he had understood that the interpreter was going to wait until he was done.

James Fallows, "Language Screwup at the Hu-Obama Presser? Maybe Not," The Atlantic, January 19, 2011

Because of its customers’ social-media prolixity, the brand has gathered a wealth of data about their preferences and, Brett hopes, their brand loyalty will extend to staying in West Elm Hotels.

Amy Merrick, "West Elm Gets Into Hotels and Gender Politics," The New Yorker, September 27, 2016

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Wednesday, January 06, 2021

procellous

[ proh-sel-uhs ]

adjective

stormy, as the sea.

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What is the origin of procellous?

The rare English adjective procellous “turbulent, stormy (as the sea)” comes via Middle French procelleux from Latin procellōsus “stormy, squally,” a derivative of the noun procella “violent wind, gale.” Procella is related to or is a derivative of the verb procellere “to throw forward with violence,” a compound of the preposition and prefix pro, pro-, here meaning “forward, outward,” and the verb –cellere (occurring only in compounds) “to rush, drive, set in rapid motion.” Procellous entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is procellous used?

I likened myself to a sailor navigating shoals and … besought her to anoint me with her glance and so hearten me to brave the dangers of that procellous sea.

Rafael Sabatini, The Strolling Saint, 1906

A cloud of adversity so gloomy and procellous, has rarely overshadowed a military leader.

Charles Caldwell, Memoirs of the Life and Campaigns of the Hon. Nathaniel Greene, 1819

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Tuesday, January 05, 2021

shenanigans

[ shuh-nan-i-guhnz ]

plural noun

mischief; prankishness.

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What is the origin of shenanigans?

The informal plural noun shenanigans “mischief, pranks” is more common than the singular shenanigan. Shenanigan was originally an Americanism, first appearing in print in two California newspapers, Town Talk (San Francisco) and Spirit of the Age (Sacramento), in the mid-1850s, toward the end of the California Gold Rush. The fact that shenanigan first appeared in newspapers with no explanation demonstrates that it had already been around in conversation for a while. There are at least 11 recorded spellings for the singular noun (but only one for the plural); there are at least five suggested etymologies: French, Spanish, Erse (Irish Gaelic), a Rhenish Franconian dialect of German, and East Anglian (modern Norfolk and Suffolk in the U.K.). As the lawyers say, non liquet “it isn’t clear.”

how is shenanigans used?

One of the “new” old books I recently took out was “The Cat in the Hat,” by Dr. Seuss, the 1957 classic about two siblings stuck at home and the shenanigans that they get up to.

Ruth Margalit, "Quarantine Culture Recommendations: 'The Cat in the Hat,' Ambient Electronica, and Tolstoy," The New Yorker, April 10, 2020

An odd episode, this. The first half contrasts Captain Scott’s ill-fated exploration with modern Antarctic research, while the second is essentially cameraperson shenanigans.

Ed Yong, "Every Episode of David Attenborough’s Life Series, Ranked," The Atlantic, May 6, 2016

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