Word of the Day

Thursday, February 18, 2021

prosopopoeia

[ proh-soh-puh-pee-uh ]

noun

personification, as of inanimate things.

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What is the origin of prosopopoeia?

You can charge a lot for a learned Greek word like prosopopoeia, a term in rhetoric meaning “personification, as of inanimate things; imaging an absent or dead person as speaking or acting.” Prosopoeia is very effective when a master like Demosthenes or Cicero uses it, not so much when it’s badly bungled in a sermon. Prosopoeia comes via Latin prosopopoeia from Greek prosōpoiía “putting speeches in the mouths of characters, dramatization.” Prosōpoiía is composed of the noun prósōpon “face, countenance, person” and the Greek combining form –poiía “making, creating,” a derivative of the verb poieîn “to make” (ultimate source of English poesy and poetry). Prósōpon, literally “opposite the face (of the other),” is composed of the preposition and prefix pros-, pros “toward, in the face of” and the noun ṓps “eye, face, countenance.” Prosopopoeia entered English in the mid-16th century.

how is prosopopoeia used?

Over the 14 lines of the sonnet, the poem moves from making a negative comparison to the Colossus of Rhodes to animating the “new Colossus” with a voice, an instance of what literary critics call personification or, to use the more unwieldy term, prosopopoeia

Walt Hunter, "The Story Behind the Poem on the Statue of Liberty," The Atlantic, January 16, 2018

Lord Byron’s very numerous comparisons, all admirable, and often under the form of a prosopopoeia, are indicative of the warm imagination which clothed inanimate shapes with the breathing realities of life …

"Recollections of Shelley and Byron," Westminster Review, Vol. 69, 1858

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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

rueful

[ roo-fuhl ]

adjective

feeling, showing, or expressing sorrow, repentance, or regret.

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What is the origin of rueful?

The adjective rueful is easy to define: “full of rue,” but what is rue? The noun rue comes from Middle English reu(e) “pity, someone or something causing sorrow, a disgrace” (herte-reue means “sorrow in one’s heart”). Reu(e) comes from Old English hrēow “sorrow, regret, penitence, repentance,” and is akin to Old Frisian rīowa, Old Dutch rouwe, Dutch rouw, Old High German (h)riuwa, German Reue, all meaning “regret, remorse, repentance.” The noun ruth “pity, compassion; sorrow, grief” comes from Middle English reuth(e) (it has many extravagant spellings), a derivative of the adjective reu(e) plus the suffix –th, which forms nouns of action such as birth, bath, or of state, such as breadth, width. Lastly, the personal name Ruth comes from Hebrew Rūth, possibly a contracted form of rəʿūth “friend(s), female friend(s).” Rueful entered English in the first half of the 13th century.

how is rueful used?

A common refrain from writers on Twitter is that writing is hard. Often, this insight is accompanied by the rueful observation that tweeting is easy.

Katy Waldman, "Is the Internet Making Writing Better?" The New Yorker, July 26, 2019

He stood for a moment with his hands held down and a rueful face, staring out over the waste that defied him.

H. G. Wells, The First Men in the Moon, 1901

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Tuesday, February 16, 2021

paczki

[ pawnch-kee ]

noun

a traditional Polish doughnut, filled with jam or another sweet filling and covered with powdered sugar or icing.

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What is the origin of paczki?

The presence of cz in a word is enough to make one suspect we are dealing with Polish. Paczki, thus spelled, in Polish is the plural of the feminine noun paczka “package, parcel.” The Polish word we want, however, is pączki (the ą is a nasal vowel, pronounced approximately as in French on). Pączki is the plural of the masculine noun pączek “bud (as of a flower),” and also “jelly doughnut,” a diminutive of the noun pąk “bud (of a flower).” So while pączki with the ogonek is the more accurate spelling, paczki without the diacritic is more prevalent in English. The tasty treat it refers to is a celebrated indulgence for some the day before Ash Wednesday, known in some circles as Paczki Tuesday.

how is paczki used?

They are rich, jelly doughnuts that have traditionally been a Fat Tuesday treat. Customers line up at Polish bakeries to get boxes of paczki, which they share with their families and friends.

Micheline Maynard, "As Fat Tuesday Approaches, Paczki Are Becoming A Midwest Mania," Forbes, February 23, 2020

Every year, he’d come through the Capitol carrying a box of paczki—the Polish filled donuts—reminding his friends of the pride he had in his immigrant roots.

Steny Hoyer, "My Friend, John Dingell," The Atlantic, February 8, 2019

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