Word of the Day

Word of the day

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

public-spirited

[ puhb-lik-spir-i-tid ]

adjective

having or showing an unselfish interest in the public welfare.

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What is the origin of public-spirited?

Public-spirited first appears about 1646, right in the middle of the first (of three) English Civil Wars. The term has been used by many esteemed writers including Edmund Burke, Charles Dickens, and the admirable Jane Addams, who founded Hull House in Chicago (1899) and won the Nobel Peace Prize (1931).

how is public-spirited used?

Through the efforts of public-spirited citizens a medical clinic and a Psychopathic Institute have become associated with the Juvenile Court of Chicago ….

Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull-House, 1910

The hopes of the decade that had begun with John Kennedy’s call for a mix of public-spirited idealism and Cold War realism unraveled as the year wore on.

Jon Meacham, "What the Tumultuous Year 1968 Can Teach Us About Today," New York Times, October 24, 2020

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Word of the day

Monday, November 02, 2020

leviathan

[ li-vahy-uh-thuhn ]

noun

anything of immense size and power.

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What is the origin of leviathan?

“Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down? Canst thou put an hook into his nose? or bore his jaw through with a thorn?” asks God of Job (Job 41). Leviathan first appears in Middle English in John Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible (ca. 1382). Leviathan comes from the Vulgate (the Latin version of the Bible, prepared by Saint Jerome at the end of the 4th century a.d.), from Hebrew liwyāthān, a kind of serpent or sea serpent or dragon of enormous size, possibly derived from the Semitic root lwy “to twist, encircle” (its etymology is uncertain). The most famous application of Leviathan is Thomas Hobbes’ book on politics, Leviathan (1651): Hobbes applied Leviathan to the state, omnipotent, totalitarian, and characterized by vast coercive machinery.

how is leviathan used?

It’s ironic that Microsoft has come to be viewed as an underdog rather than a leviathan. But recent opinion suggests that that is the case …

Benjamin Carlson, "Is Microsoft Winning the Long War with Apple for Techie Hearts?," The Atlantic, September 23, 2009

While much of North America has been sweltering through a summer of record heat, a group of Canadian scientists have been rafting across the Arctic Ocean on a leviathan of floating ice.

John F. Burns, "On an Island of Ice, in an Arctic Odyssey," New York Times, August 21, 1988

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Word of the day

Sunday, November 01, 2020

agonist

[ ag-uh-nist ]

noun

a person who is torn by inner conflict.

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What is the origin of agonist?

The English noun agonist comes from the rare Late Latin noun agōnista, “an athlete or combatant for a prize in the games,” a word used once by St. Augustine in a sermon. Latin agōnista betrays its Greek origin with its –ista agent suffix (borrowed from Greek -istḗs). In Greek, agōnistḗs means “a combatant, contestant (in athletic games), a champion, a pleader or public speaker,” which covers a lot of territory when you consider the roles that competitive athletic games and public speaking (including criminal and civil trials) occupied in ancient Greek life. Agōnistḗs is a derivative of the noun agōnía, one of whose many meanings is “mental or spiritual anguish, agony,” which influenced one of the English meanings of agonist but doesn’t occur in Greek agōnistḗs. Agonist entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is agonist used?

There was a fissure in him from the start; the dream and the business did not march together; his will was not always the servant of his intelligence; he was an agonist, a self- tormentor, who ran to meet suffering halfway.

John Buchan, Memory Hold-the-Door, 1940

He was an agonist. He would argue one way; he would argue another; he just didn’t want to see bigotry thrive or watch a man die.

Jill Lepore, "Objection," The New Yorker, May 16, 2011

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