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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Monday, January 04, 2021

nimiety

[ ni-mahy-i-tee ]

noun,

excess; overabundance.

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What is the origin of nimiety?

Nimiety is a bit much, literally. It comes from the Late Latin noun nimietās (inflectional stem nimietāt-) “excess, overabundance,” a derivative of the adjective nimius “excessive, immoderate.” Nimius in its turn is a derivative of the adverb and noun nimis “too much, unduly; an excessive amount or degree.” Nimietās first appears in the Metamorphōsēs (“Transformations”) of Lucius Apuleius, who may have coined the word. Apuleius was a Roman satirist and Epicurean philosopher who was born in Madaurus in North Africa and lived in the 2nd century a.d. His Metamorphōsēs is a bawdy, picaresque novel, the only ancient Roman novel to survive intact. St. Augustine of Hippo (a.d. 354-420), also from North Africa, disliked Epicureanism (most ancients did because of its atheism) and derisively renamed Apuleius’ Metamorphōsēs the Asinus Aureus (“Golden Ass”), an alternative title that has persisted till this day. Nimiety entered English in the first half of the 16th century.

how is nimiety used?

But of course there were problems of upkeep, and an oppressive feeling of nimiety, or too‐muchness. I have suffered from it all my life—too many possessions, too many books, too much to eat and drink.

Kenneth Clark, The Other Half, 1977

The additions to the template may be broadly inconsequential … but the execution is unrivalled—the humorous animations, the high-contrast vistas, the nimiety of customization options. Video games have been this detailed before, but rarely to such unwaveringly joyous effect.

Simon Parkin, "The Best Video Games of 2014," The New Yorker, December 15, 2014

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Sunday, January 03, 2021

frazil

[ frey-zuhl, fraz-uhl, fruh-zeel, -zil ]

noun

ice crystals formed in turbulent water, as in swift streams or rough seas.

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What is the origin of frazil?

The relatively uncommon noun frazil “ice crystals formed in turbulent water, as in swift streams or rough seas,” comes from Canadian French frasil (also frazil, fraisil), an extension of French fraisil “coal cinders, coal dust.” French fraisil is an alteration of Vulgar Latin adjective facilis “pertaining to a torch or firebrand,” a derivative of the Latin noun fax (inflectional stem fac-) “torch, light.” It is unsurprising that frazil first appeared in the Montreal Gazette in the winter of 1888.

how is frazil used?

Sea ice begins as tiny, needle-shaped crystals, about a tenth of an inch long, known as frazil.

Jon Gertner, "Does the Disappearance of Sea Ice Matter?" New York Times, July 29, 2016

First the wind churns up the surface, and the spray and droplets freeze into frazil. Murphy describes this as a collection of “spicules,” or needle-shaped pieces.

Tom Spears, "Frazzle ice has frazzled Ottawa since 1910," Ottawa Citizen, May 13, 2016

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Saturday, January 02, 2021

handsel

[ han-suhl ]

noun

a gift or token for good luck or as an expression of good wishes, as at the beginning of the new year or when entering upon a new situation or enterprise.

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What is the origin of handsel?

The noun handsel “a token given at New Year’s for good luck; a payment or reward,” is used mostly in Scotland, Ireland, and Northern England. Handsel comes via Middle English hansel(l)e, hancel, handsell (and several other variant spellings). The Middle English forms come from Old English handselen “manumission,” which literally means “hand-gift” (the Old English noun selen “gift” is akin to the verb sell). The Middle English forms were influenced by Old Norse handsal “handshake, handclasp (for sealing a purchase or a promise).” Handsel entered English before 1000.

how is handsel used?

A handsel is a gift made to celebrate a new beginning, as a coin might be placed in the pocket of a freshly-tailored coat.

Brian Stableford, "Chanterelle," Black Heart, Ivory Bones, 2000

It was the principal day of the whole year for making trials and forecasts of the future. Every visitor to the house received a “handsel,” i.e. a gift.

W. W. Tullock, D. D., "The Celtic Year," The Living Age, January–March, 1907

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Friday, January 01, 2021

carpe diem

[ kahr-pe -dee-em; English kahr-pey -dee-uhm ]

seize the day; enjoy the present, as opposed to placing all hope in the future.

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What is the origin of carpe diem?

The Latin sentence carpe diem is usually translated “seize the day,” which is a concise but inadequate translation. The sentence comes from the 1st-century b.c. Roman poet Horace in the first book of his Odes, published in 23 b.c. Carpe is the 2nd person singular present imperative of the verb carpere “to pluck, gather, pull (fruit, flowers, etc.); diem “day,” is the accusative singular of diēs, and the direct object of carpe. A more accurate but tedious translation is “pluck the fruit of the day (while it is still ripe),” which completely demolishes Horace’s conciseness. Carpere comes from the very complicated Proto-Indo-European root (s)kerp-, (s)karp– (and other variants) “to cut, pluck,” the source also of Greek karpós “(cut or plucked) fruit.” The Germanic noun harbistaz, from the Proto-Indo-European superlative adjective karp-ist-os “best suited for plucking or reaping,” yields hærfest “autumn” in Old English (English harvest) and Herbst “autumn” in German. Diēs comes from the very, very widespread Proto-Indo-European root dyeu-, dyu-, diw– “to shine,” and by extension “sky, heaven, god,” source of Latin Juppiter “Jupiter,” actually an old vocative formula meaning “Father Jove,” and the exact equivalent to Greek Zeû páter “Father Zeus,” and Sanskrit dyā́uṣpitā́ “Father Heaven.” Carpe diem entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is carpe diem used?

I asked the now-66-year-old Valerie Carpenter what she would say to the 18-year-old Valerie Glines. “Carpe diem,” she said. “Seize the day. Don’t mess around. Follow your heart.”

John Kelly, "They Dated in High School, Broke Up, Lost Touch: A Valentine's Day Love Story," Washington Post, February 13, 2019

More than anything, the pandemic has shown how quickly things can change if they must. Carpe diem.

Timothy Egan, "After the Pandemic, the Big Reset," New York Times, April 10, 2020

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