Word of the Day

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

psittacine

[ sit-uh-sahyn, -sin ]

adjective

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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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Johnsonese

[ jon-suh-neez, -nees ]

noun

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
Monday, September 17, 2018

aspersion

[ uh-spur-zhuhn, -shuhn ]

noun

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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