Word of the Day

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

quiddity

[ kwid-i-tee ]

noun

the quality that makes a thing what it is; the essential nature of a thing.

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What is the origin of quiddity?

Quiddity, with its conflicting senses, “the essential nature of a thing” and “a trifling nicety of subtle distinction,” ultimately comes from the Medieval Latin noun quidditās (stem quidditāt-), literally “whatness,” formed from the Latin interrogative pronoun quid “what” and the abstract noun suffix –itās, the source via Old French –ité of the English suffix –ity. Quiddity entered English at the end of the 14th century.

how is quiddity used?

… that gift for creating idioms may be a clue to the quiddity of his genius.

Adam Gopnik, "The Pleasure and Pain of Being Cole Porter," The New Yorker, January 13, 2020

If, argues he, we could only find out exactly what humour is ‘in its quiddity,’ we could keep ourselves humorous, or at any rate bring up our children to be so.

Henry Duff Traill, "The Future of Humour," The New Fiction, 1897
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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

blench

[ blench ]

verb (used without object)

to shrink; flinch; quail: an unsteady eye that blenched under another's gaze.

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What is the origin of blench?

The history of the verb blench is complicated. The uncommon Old English verb blencan “to cheat, deceive” is the direct source of Middle English blenchen, blenken, blinchen, blinken “to move suddenly, dodge, avoid, mislead, deceive.” The various Middle English forms yield both English blench “to shrink, flinch” and blink “to wink the eyes, be startled.”

how is blench used?

But art historians should not blench at the sight of dreadful paintings, any more than doctors should blench at the sight of blood.

John Russell, "Art: Symbolists In America at Grey," New York Times, November 30, 1979

… the actor blenches as he reads the instruction ….

Susannah Clapp, "The week in theatre: When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other and more—review," The Guardian, January 27, 2019
Monday, February 10, 2020

grandstand

[ gran-stand, grand- ]

verb (used without object)

to conduct oneself or perform showily or ostentatiously in an attempt to impress onlookers: The senator doesn't hesitate to grandstand if it makes her point.

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What is the origin of grandstand?

The noun grandstand, “the main seating area of a stadium, racetrack, parade route, etc.,” dates from the second half of the 18th century and was originally spelled as two words. The verb grandstand, “to conduct oneself or perform showily or ostentatiously in order to impress onlookers,” was originally used in baseball and dates from the early 20th century.

how is grandstand used?

The debt limit debate allows politicians to grandstand on fiscal responsibility.

Donald Marron, "America doesn't need a debt limit," Christian Science Monitor, July 18, 2011

He used his political platform to grandstand over Italy’s Catholic identity and repeatedly found ways to poke European Union officials in the eye.

Ishaan Tharoor, "Italy's political crisis marks a populist failure," Washington Post, August 20, 2019
Sunday, February 09, 2020

pinnacle

[ pin-uh-kuhl ]

noun

the highest or culminating point, as of success, power, fame, etc.: the pinnacle of one's career.

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What is the origin of pinnacle?

English pinnacle comes from Middle English pinacle, pinnacle, penacle (and even more spellings) “upright architectural structure terminating in a gable or cone,” from Middle French, Old French pinacle, pinnacle “gable, top,” from Late Latin pinnāculum “peak (of a building), pinnacle.” Pinnāculum comes from pinna, a dialect variation of penna “feather, wing, raised part of a parapet,” and the usually diminutive suffix –(ā)culum. The figurative senses, such as “the highest point of success or power,” developed in the mid-15th century. Pinnacle entered English in the first half of the 14th century.

how is pinnacle used?

… the 13 tracks on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band are the pinnacle of the Beatles’ eight years as recording artists.

"500 Greatest Albums of All Time," Rolling Stone, May 31, 2012

That little golden statue, which will be handed out on February 9, represents the pinnacle of movie-making.

Elena Nicolaou, "The 2020 Oscar Nominations Are Here, and J.Lo Was Snubbed," O, January 13, 2020
Saturday, February 08, 2020

tantivy

[ tan-tiv-ee ]

adverb

at full gallop: to ride tantivy.

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What is the origin of tantivy?

Tantivy, whether in its sense as an adverb “at a gallop,” adjective “quick,” noun “a gallop or rush,” or interjection “a hunting cry when the chase is on,” has no reliable etymology. The only etymology suggested is that tantivy is onomatopoeic, supposedly representing the sound of horses galloping. Tantivy entered English in the 17th century.

how is tantivy used?

He was of a nature to ride tantivy into anything that promised excitement or adventure.

Henry Handel Richardson, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, 1930

… he supposes himself as a wolf actually to have been galloping tantivy over hill and dale, through forest and bosky dingle ….

Montague Summers, The Werewolf, 1933
Friday, February 07, 2020

zephyr

[ zef-er ]

noun

a gentle, mild breeze.

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What is the origin of zephyr?

The noun zephyr “west wind, the west wind personified, the god of the west wind” comes from Latin Zephyrus, a borrowing of Greek Zéphyros “(any) westerly wind, the west wind.” Greek poets conceived the winds as minor deities who live and feast in their own palaces or as unruly elemental forces controlled by the god Aeolus. For the Greeks, Zéphyros was the bringer of gentle spring and early summer breezes. Since at least the time of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, zephyrs have been associated with mild, gentle weather. Traditional etymology connects Zéphyros with zóphos “the west, darkness,” but there is no further etymology for either word. Zephyr entered English before a.d 1000.

how is zephyr used?

There was not even a zephyr stirring; the dead noonday heat had even stilled the songs of the birds …

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1876

Isaac had dunked from the foul line, moving through the air with such power, authority and grace that he looked like a seasoned professional. Or a prehistoric bird riding a zephyr.

Floyd Skloot, "The Wings of the Wind," Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 1997
Thursday, February 06, 2020

vis-à-vis

[ vee-zuh-vee; French vee-za-vee ]

preposition

in relation to; compared with: income vis-à-vis expenditures.

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What is the origin of vis-à-vis?

The mere fact that vis-à-vis functions as an adverb, adjective, preposition, and noun all but guarantees many meanings, all semantically related: as an adverb the phrase means “face to face”; as an attributive adjective “face-to-face”; as a preposition “compared with; in relation to”; and as a noun “a person face to face with or opposite another one; a date at a social affair; a person of equal rank or authority.” The still obviously French term vis-à-vis has at least as many meanings as the English one. The French noun vis comes from Vulgar Latin vīsus “face,” from Latin vīsus “sight, vision, faculty of sight, form, appearance.” Vīsus is a derivative of the verb vidēre “to see, see with the mind’s eye, notice.” Vis-à-vis entered English in the mid-18th century.

how is vis-à-vis used?

Until recently, at least in the United States, our notions of privacy have been rooted in the Fourth Amendment’s delineation of the federal government’s powers vis-à-vis the individual citizen.

Glenn S. Gerstell, "I Work for N.S.A. We Cannot Afford to Lose the Digital Revolution." New York Times, September 10, 2019

I’m a stockbroker, and … my timing has been off lately vis-a-vis the market …

Tom Robbins, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, 1994

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