• Word of the day
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    Wednesday, September 19, 2018

    psittacine

    adjective [sit-uh-sahyn, -sin]
    of or relating to parrots.
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    What is the origin of psittacine?

    The English adjective psittacine comes straight from Latin psittacinus, which comes straight from the Greek adjective psittákinos, a derivative of the noun psittakós “parrot” and the common adjective suffix -inos. Sittakós and bittakós, variant spellings of psittakós, confirm what one would expect, that psittakós is not a native Greek word. Psittacine entered English in the 19th century.

    How is psittacine used?

    In 1930, the U.S. Health Service clamped down on the importation of psittacine birds, other than a few permitted to research institutions, zoos, and private parrot fanciers returning from Europe with uninfected birds they had owned for at least six months. , "New Deal for Parrots," The New Yorker, February 2, 1952

    Now the psittacine tribe can claim another brainy feat: tool use. Researchers at the University of York and the University of St. Andrews observed captive greater vasa parrots ... using date pits and pebbles to pulverize cockle shells. Michelle Z. Donahue, "14 Fun Facts About Parrots," Smithsonian, January 5, 2016

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, September 18, 2018

    Johnsonese

    noun [jon-suh-neez, -nees]
    a literary style characterized by rhetorically balanced, often pompous phraseology and an excessively Latinate vocabulary: so called from the style of writing practiced by Samuel Johnson.
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    What is the origin of Johnsonese?

    Samuel Johnson (1709–84) is indeed guilty of Johnsonese, as in his (1755) dictionary definition for network “Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections,” which is incomprehensible (and unforgivable in a dictionary). But far more often Dr. Johnson is direct and pungent (and sometimes amusing), as in his definition for lexicographer “A writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge…” Johnsonese entered English in the 19th century.

    How is Johnsonese used?

    Though I, too, admired his Dictionary, his delightfully wrong-headed “Lives of the Poets” and his countless celebrated apothegms, I agree with Macaulay that he translated the English language into a “Johnsonese” dialect whose now deflated orotundities still disfigure public speaking and other such pious utterances. Anatole Broyard, "Books of the Times: The Man Behind the Myth," New York Times, February 8, 1973

    He valued its uncluttered prose – its freedom from the Johnsonese and Gallicisms that had marred Burney’s late style. Thomas Keymer, "Too Many Pears," London Review of Books, August 27, 2015

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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, September 17, 2018

    aspersion

    noun [uh-spur-zhuhn, -shuhn]
    a damaging or derogatory remark or criticism; slander: casting aspersions on a campaign rival.
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    What is the origin of aspersion?

    Aspersion comes from aspersion-, the stem of the Latin noun aspersiō “a sprinkling.” In classical Latin the noun is restricted to literal sprinkling. In the Vulgate (the Latin version of the Bible prepared by Saint Jerome at the end of the 4th century a.d.), aspersiō also refers to the sprinkling of blood (as for a sacrifice). Aspersiō in the sense “sprinkling with holy water” has always been practiced in the Roman Catholic Church, e.g., in baptisms. The metaphorical sense “sprinkling calumnies; slander” is a development within English. Aspersion entered English in the 16th century.

    How is aspersion used?

    The full enormity of this remark then dawned on me; it was at once a lie and a cruel aspersion on my mother, who would certainly have got me some lighter clothes had I not discouraged her. L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between, 1953

    A notorious New York magazine profile this fall, which cast aspersions on Kaur’s reading habits and penchant for gold rings, showed its cards in the first paragraph ... Carl Wilson, "Why Rupi Kaur and Her Peers Are the Most Popular Poets in the World," New York Times, December 15, 2017

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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, September 16, 2018

    tunesmith

    noun [toon-smith, tyoon-]
    Informal. a person who composes popular music or songs.
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    What is the origin of tunesmith?

    Tunesmith was originally an Americanism, dating from the Jazz Age (roughly from the 1918 Armistice to the stock-market crash of 1929). Fittingly enough, an early citation for tunesmith (1923) is attributed to the American bandleader Paul Whiteman (1890–1967), who debuted George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (1924).

    How is tunesmith used?

    The monthly pay Walnut Records offered me as a tunesmith would barely amount to enough for rent and groceries, but held the promise of royalties should one of my songs get recorded. Kenny Rogers with Mike Blakely, What Are the Chances, 2013

    Granted, the limited palette of film scores sometimes results from the limited abilities of the practitioners, but almost any Hollywood tunesmith could achieve more distinctive results if the iron fist of cliché were to relax just a little. Alex Ross, "Composing for Hollywood," The New Yorker, February 27, 2015

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, September 15, 2018

    piacular

    adjective [pahy-ak-yuh-ler]
    expiatory; atoning; reparatory.
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    What is the origin of piacular?

    Piacular comes directly from the Latin adjective piāculāris “(of a rite or sacrifice) performed or offered by way of atonement; expiatory.” Piāculāris is a derivative of the noun piāculum “a sacrificial victim or expiatory offering,” itself a derivative of the verb piāre “to propitiate a god, remove or avert by expiation.” Finally, piāre is a derivative of the adjective pius “faithful, loyal, and dutiful to the gods, one’s country, family, kindred and friends.” Pius is one of the most potent words in Latin and typical of the Romans. The phrase pius Aenēās “loyal, faithful, dutiful Aeneas” occurs 17 times in the Aeneid. Piacular entered English in the 17th century.

    How is piacular used?

    T. S. Eliot made a fetish of using long-dormant adjectives like defunctive, anfractuous, and polyphiloprogenetive; he apparently felt piacular (meaning something done or offered in order to make up for a sin or sacrilegious action) was too run-of-the-mill, so he made up a new form: piaculative. Ben Yagoda, When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It, March 11, 2007

    Sacrifices have generally been divided into three classes of (1) honorific, where the offering is believed to be in some sense a gift to the deity; (2) piacular, or sin-offerings, where the victim was usually burnt whole, no part being retained for eating ... W. Warde Fowler, The Religious Experience of the Roman People, 1911

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  • Word of the day
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    Friday, September 14, 2018

    interregnum

    noun [in-ter-reg-nuhm]
    any period during which a state has no ruler or only a temporary executive.
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    What is the origin of interregnum?

    Interregnum, a straightforward borrowing from Latin, applies far back in Roman history, to the period of kings (traditionally, 753 b.c.–509 b.c.). An interregnum was the period between the death of the old king and the accession of the new one. During the time of the Roman Republic (509 b.c.–27 b.c.), an interregnum was a period when both consuls or other patrician magistrates were dead or out of office. The Roman Senate then appointed from among themselves an interrex (or a series of interregēs) with consular powers for five-day terms whose principal duty was to supervise the election of new consuls. Interregnum entered English in the 16th century.

    How is interregnum used?

    But now, he has been on the job for two decades, save for a brief interregnum when he switched posts with his prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev. Michael McFaul, "I've been in meetings with Putin. Here's what Trump can expect." Washington Post, July 15, 2018

    During the two years of interregnum, during Dr. Aagaard's administration and in the year of two following his resignation to accept a similar position at the University of Washington, all major clinical chairmanships fell vacant and new appointments had to be made. John S. Chapman, "The Cinderella School of Medicine," The Alcalde, January 1962

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  • Word of the day
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    Thursday, September 13, 2018

    exoteric

    adjective [ek-suh-ter-ik]
    popular; simple; commonplace.
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    What is the origin of exoteric?

    Exoteric, the opposite of esoteric, comes from Latin exōtericus “popular (e.g., of books); not overly technical or abstruse,” a borrowing of Greek exōterikós “external, outside, popular.” The first element of the Greek word is the adverb éxō “out, out of, outside”; the last element, -ikós, is a typical adjective suffix. The middle element, -ter-, is usually called a comparative suffix, which is only one of its functions. The suffix -ter is also used in Latin and Greek to form natural or complementary pairs, e.g., Latin nōster “our” and vester “your,” and dexter “right (hand)” and sinister “left (hand).” The Latin adjectives correspond with Greek hēméteros “our” and hyméteros “your,” and dexiterós “right (hand)” and aristerós “left (hand).” Aristerós is a euphemism meaning “better (hand)” (áristos means “best” in Greek, as in aristocracy “rule of the best”). Exoteric entered English in the 17th century.

    How is exoteric used?

    I was on a holiday, and was engaged in that rich and intricate mass of pleasures, duties, and discoveries which for the keeping off of the profane, we disguise by the exoteric name of Nothing. G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles, 1909

    Practical or exoteric alchemy was concerned chiefly with attempts to prepare the philosopher's stone, a hypothetical transmuting and healing agent capable of curing the imagined diseases of metals and the real ones of man. John Read, "A grandiose philosophical system," New Scientist, February 21, 1957

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