Word of the Day

Thursday, October 22, 2020

psephology

[ see-fol-uh-jee ]

noun

the study of elections.

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What is the origin of psephology?

Psephology, “the study of elections,” comes from Greek psêphos “small stone, pebble.” (The Greeks used pebbles in counting and arithmetic functions; the ancient Athenians also used pebbles to cast votes in elections and trials.) The element –logy is the completely naturalized combining form used in the names of sciences (geology, biology) and bodies of knowledge (theology, astrology). The 20th-century British historian R.B. McCallum wrote in a personal letter that while with C.S. Lewis and other heavy-hitting philologists, he proposed the term electionology, which so offended the sensibilities of Lewis and the others that they proposed the etymologically correct psephology, avoiding the dreadful Latin-Greek hybrid. Psephology entered English in the mid-20th century.

how is psephology used?

You don’t need a degree in psephology from the Kennedy School of Government to figure out that without the female vote and the male vote it’s hard to be elected President.

John Cassidy, "Romney Needs More Than Money—A Lot More," The New Yorker, August 6, 2012

Well, for one thing, we’re inveterate psephology addicts—but also, the more special elections that occur, the more data we have to identify patterns not only across special elections, but within them.

Nathaniel Rakich, "Be Skeptical of Anyone Who Tells You They Know How Democrats Can Win In November," FiveThirtyEight, April 2, 2018

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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

nimbus

[ nim-buhs ]

noun

a cloud, aura, atmosphere, etc., surrounding a person or thing.

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What is the origin of nimbus?

Nimbus, “shining cloud surrounding a deity; dense clouds with ragged edges,” comes straight from Latin nimbus, “rainstorm, rain cloud, cloud (of smoke), cloudburst.” Nimbus comes from a complicated Proto-Indo-European root (e)nebh-, (n)embh– “damp, vapor, cloud,” as in Sanskrit nábhas– “fog, vapor, cloud, heaven,” Latin nebula, Greek nephélē, néphos “cloud,” Old Irish nem and Welsh nef, both meaning “heaven,” Polish niebo “sky, heaven,” Hittite nebis “heaven,” German Nebel “fog, mist,” and Old Norse niflheimr “home of fog, abode of the dead, Niflheim.” Nimbus entered English in the early 17th century.

how is nimbus used?

She had a capacity for excess, and a nimbus of exhausted hedonism trailed along with her.

Dwight Garner, "A New Biography of Janis Joplin Captures the Pain and Soul of an Adventurous Life," New York Times, October 25, 2019

It is curious how certain words accumulate a nimbus of positive associations, while others, semantically just as innocuous, wind up shrouded in bad feelings.

Roger Kimball, "If We Love Democracy, Why Does 'Populism' Get Such a Bad Rap?" Wall Street Journal, November 29, 2017

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

desideratum

[ dih-sid-uh-rey-tuhm, -rah-, -zid- ]

noun

something wanted or needed.

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What is the origin of desideratum?

The noun desideratum (plural desiderata) means “something wanted or needed.” It is a noun use of the Latin neuter past participle dēsīderātum, from the verb dēsīderāre “to long for, desire.” According to the Roman grammarian Festus, dēsīderāre and its close relative cōnsīderāre “to observe attentively, contemplate,” were compound verbs formed from sīdus (stem sīder-) “heavenly body, star, planet,” that is, dēsīderāre and cōnsīderāre were originally terms used in astrology in general or Roman augury in particular, but aside from Festus there isn’t much evidence for the sidereal connection. Desideratum entered English in the 17th century.

how is desideratum used?

Power becomes its own desideratum. The search for it can trump economic well being, stability and safety.

Michael Gonzalez, "Selling the Atlantic," Wall Street Journal, May 7, 2003

Sitzfleisch, or “sitting still,” became the ultimate desideratum for showing one’s understanding of the new language of classical music.

Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding, "How Beethoven’s 5th Symphony put the classism in classical music," Vox, updated September 16, 2020

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Monday, October 19, 2020

clement

[ klem-uhnt ]

adjective

mild or merciful in disposition or character; lenient; compassionate.

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What is the origin of clement?

Clement, “mild in disposition, merciful,” comes from Latin clēmēns (inflectional stem clēment-) “merciful, lenient, mild (of weather), calm (of water).” Clēmēns has no reliable etymology; its most common derivative is the noun clēmentia “clemency, leniency.” The phrase “clemency of Caesar” is not much used nowadays: It comes from Latin Clēmentia Caesaris, which first appears as part of an inscription on a Roman coin dating to 44 b.c., therefore shortly before Caesar’s assassination, and a nice bit of propaganda in his honor. Clement entered English in the late 15th century.

how is clement used?

I know you are more clement than vile men Who of their broken debtors take a third …

William Shakespeare, Cymbeline, 1623

And the spirit of the times is happily growing more clement toward a greater fulness and variety of life.

Richard Le Gallienne, "The Last Call," Vanishing Roads and Other Essays, 1915

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Sunday, October 18, 2020

mardy

[ mahr-dee ]

adjective

grumpy or moody; sulky.

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What is the origin of mardy?

Mardy is a British dialect (the North and Midlands) adjective and noun meaning “spoiled, spoiled child; childish sulkiness.” Mardy is most likely formed from the adjective marred “damaged, spoiled,” originally the past participle of mar, and the native adjective suffix –y. Mardy entered English in the second half of the 19th century.

how is mardy used?

There was a fleeting reference to the Doctor being in a “mardy mood” during the opening scene. Otherwise, no sign.

Michael Hogan, "Doctor Who: Orphan 55, series 12 episode 3 recap: let down by false jeopardy, a seriously overstuffed story and clumsy moral lessons," Telegraph, January 12, 2020

Pa would rise before daylight had kicked nighttime into touch. He’d return after dark, when he’d be mardy until he’d eaten.

Bernardine Evaristo, Blonde Roots, 2009

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Saturday, October 17, 2020

ambivert

[ am-bi-vurt ]

noun

Psychology.

one whose personality type is intermediate between extrovert and introvert.

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What is the origin of ambivert?

Ambivert, literally “turned both ways,” is a term used in psychology, meaning “one whose personality type is between introvert and extrovert.” Ambivert is based on Latin elements: the prefix ambi– “both, on both sides, around” (as in English ambient “surrounding, encompassing” and ambiguous “open to several interpretations”), and the suffix –vert, extracted from the verb vertere “to turn” (as in English convert “to turn completely,” and divert “to turn aside, deflect”). Ambivert, first recorded in 1927, is modeled on the somewhat earlier words introvert (1916) and extrovert (1918).

how is ambivert used?

Drew was more of an ambivert. He wasn’t as outgoing as his younger sister, but he wasn’t as reserved as his parents either.

Susan Cain, Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts, 2016

A well-developed ambivert, he [Abraham Lincoln] could hold complexity and contradiction to stand firmly behind words America desperately needed ….

Michael Alcee, "Why America Needs Introverted Extroverts Now," Psychology Today, June 27, 2020

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Friday, October 16, 2020

diction

[ dik-shuhn ]

noun

style of speaking or writing as dependent upon choice of words.

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What is the origin of diction?

Diction ultimately comes from Latin dictiō (inflectional stem dictiōn-) “speaking, act of speaking, (oracular) utterance, word, expression,” a derivative of the verb dīcere “to say, speak, talk.” Dictiō, though a word in general Latin vocabulary, is naturally connected very closely with rhetoric and law, two very important professions among the Romans. Dīcere, earlier deicere, comes from the very common Proto-Indo-European root deik- (also deig-), dik- (dig-) “to show, point out,” and appears in Greek deíknysthai “to show, point out,” Gothic ga-teihan “to show, make clear,” and German zeigen “to show.” The 13th-century English philologist, grammarian, and university professor John of Garland coined the word dictiōnārius as the title for one of his Latin textbooks in which he grouped lexical items thematically. Garland explained that his dictiōnārius was not based on the sense of dictiō as a single word, but dictiō in the sense of connected discourse. In the 14th century the Benedictine monk, translator, and encyclopedist Pierre Bersuire used the term dictiōnārium as the title for an alphabetical encyclopedia of the Vulgate (St. Jerome’s version of the Latin Bible, completed at the end of the 4th century). By the 15th century, dictiōnārium acquired the generalized sense “alphabetized wordbook.” Diction entered English in the 15th century.

how is diction used?

She did more than powder noses; she advised on diction and apparel and helped commanders in chief put their best selves forward for television.

Katharine Q. Seelye, "Lillian Brown, Makeup Artist to Nine Presidents, Dies at 106," New York Times, September 29, 2020

His diction mirrors the emotional gravity in each scene, which, combined with raw honesty, is what makes his writing so relatable.

Khrysgiana Pineda, "Review: Bill Clegg's 'The End of the Day' a story of friendship, love and memory," USA Today, September 30, 2020

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