Word of the Day

Thursday, March 12, 2020

punctilio

[ puhngk-til-ee-oh ]

noun

a fine point, particular, or detail, as of conduct, ceremony, or procedure.

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What is the origin of punctilio?

The English noun punctilio comes via Italian puntiglio “minor point (of detail or behavior),” from Spanish puntillo “a dot, minute point, point of honor” a diminutive of punto “point, spot, dot.” The Spanish and Italian noun punto comes from Latin punctum “small hole, puncture,” a noun use of the past participle punctus from the verb pungere “to pierce, prick, sting (of insects).” The c in Latin punctum is the source of c in English punctilio. Punctilio entered English in the late 16th century.

how is punctilio used?

I omitted not the least punctilio, and was surprised that in these matters I should know without ever having learned. I arranged all my papers, and regulated all my affairs, without the least assistance from any one.

Lydia Maria Francis Child, The Biographies of Lady Russell, and Madame Guyon, 1832

This version of the dance gets a shortened title, “Errand” — a punctilio that the deviations from the original seem too minor to justify.

Brian Seibert, "After the Flood, Drying Off the Classics and Letting Them Fly," New York Times, February 26, 2013

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

stownlins

[ stoun-linz ]

adverb

Scot.

secretly; stealthily.

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What is the origin of stownlins?

Scots English has many interesting words, and stownlins is one of them. Stownlins is an adverb meaning “secretly, stealthily.” Stownlins is formed from stown, Scots for English stolen, and the compound adverb suffix -lins, formed from the now rare and dialectal suffix -ling and the adverb suffix -s (as in English always, unawares). Stownlins appears in print in 1786 in a poem by Robert Burns, which guarantees its immortality.

how is stownlins used?

But she my fairest faithfu’ lass / And stownlins we sall meet again.

Robert Burns, "I'll ay ca' in by yon Town," The Scots Musical Museum, Vol. 5, song 458, 1797

An’ stownlins I tak o’ her charms a survey, / For my courage aye fails when to speak to’r I try.

David Anderson, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, 1826

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

moil

[ moil ]

verb (used without object)

to work hard; drudge.

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What is the origin of moil?

English moil has a number of odd relatives. Middle English mollen “to moisten, soften by wetting” comes from Anglo-French moiller, muiller (Old French moiler “to soak, wet, stain”), from Vulgar Latin molliāre (from Latin mollīre “to soften, relax”), a derivative of mollis “soft, yielding to the touch.” From mollīre Latin derives ēmollīre “to soften, relax, soothe, enervate” (source of English emollient). Late Latin has mollificāre “to soften,” which via Middle French mollifier becomes English mollify. Students of French will recognize the French phonetics term mouillé “palatalized,” literally “wet, moistened.” In Spanish molliāre becomes mojar “to wet, moisten,” whose past participle mojado “wet, moistened” is familiar to many people from the phrase piso mojado “wet floor.” One of the senses of moil “to work hard” dates from the 16th century and is most likely a development of the sense “to make oneself wet, wallow in mire.” The Middle English verb mollen, mullen is the source of the uncommon verb mull, a metallurgical term meaning “to mix clay with sand (to make a mold).” Have we toiled and moiled on the topic enough for today? Moil entered English in the 15th century.

how is moil used?

I shall have to toil and moil all my days, with only little bits of fun now and then, and get old and ugly and sour, because I’m poor, and can’t enjoy my life as other girls do.

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, 1868

Why should he toil and moil, and be at so much trouble to pick himself up out of the mud, when, in a little while hence, the strong arm of his Uncle will raise and support him?

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, 1850

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