Word of the Day

Sunday, July 14, 2019

raison d'être

[ rey-zohn de-truh ]

noun

reason or justification for being or existence: Art is the artist's raison d'être.

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What is the origin of raison d'être?

The quasi-English phrase raison d’être “reason of being” is still unnaturalized, retaining a French pronunciation of sorts. The English noun reason comes from Middle English reason, raisoun, raison (with still more spelling variants), from Old French reason, reason, raison, etc., from Latin ratiō (inflectional stem ratiōn-), whose many meanings include “a count, calculation, reckoning (as in business or accounts), theory (as opposed to practice), faculty or exercise of reason.”

The French preposition de “of, for” becomes d’ before a vowel. De comes from the Latin preposition “away, away from, down, down from.” The development from to Romance de, di “of” can be seen over the centuries in graffiti, epitaphs, and personal letters. St. Augustine of Hippo defended vulgarisms (which after all became standard in Romance): “Better that grammarians condemn us than that the common people not understand.”

Être is the French infinitive “to be,” and as is typical in French, it is much worn down from its original. In Old French the infinitive was estre, a regular development of Vulgar Latin essere “to be,” from Latin esse. Esse in Latin is an archaism, and the infinitives of nearly all other verbs end in –ere or –āre, or –īre. In Vulgar Latin, however, esse is an anomaly, and the Vulgus “the common people” simple regularized esse to essere. (Essere is even today the infinitive of the verb “to be” in standard Italian.) French loses a vowel after a stressed syllable; thus essere becomes essre (esre), and esre develops an excrescent consonant t between s and r for ease of pronunciation. Raison d’être first appears in English in a letter written in 1864 by John Stuart Mill.

how is raison d'être used?

He would have no raison d’être if there were no lugubrious miseries in the world, as an undertaker would have no meaning if there were no funerals.

D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love, 1920

After all, measuring risk, and setting prices accordingly, is the raison d’être of a health-insurance company.

James Surowiecki, "Fifth Wheel," The New Yorker, December 27, 2009
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Saturday, July 13, 2019

infare

[ in-fair ]

noun

Older Use.

a party or reception for a newly married couple.

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What is the origin of infare?

Infare comes from the Old English noun infǣr “a going in, entrance.” In Scots and Ulster English, infare also meant “a party or reception for a newly married couple,” a sense that the Scotch-Irish brought to the U.S. by the late 18th century.

how is infare used?

There could be no wedding in a Hoosier village thirty or forty years ago without an infare on the following day.

Edward Eggleston, Roxy, 1878

Dr. Graham, an entertaining Kentucky centenarian now living, describes the wedding of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks, and also the “infare” that followed it—a Homeric marriage feast to which everybody was bidden ….

E. G. J., "New Light on Lincoln's Life," The Dial, March 16, 1900
Friday, July 12, 2019

federalese

[ fed-er-uh-leez, -lees ]

noun

awkward, evasive, or pretentious prose said to characterize the publications and correspondence of U.S. federal bureaus.

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What is the origin of federalese?

Federalese is the youngest of an unlovely trio, dates to 1944, and has the narrowest reference, being restricted to the federal government. The equally ugly bureaucratese also dates to World War II (1942) and is broader in scope, including state and municipal government. The oldest and most comprehensive term, officialese, dates to 1884. In English the suffix -ese forms derivative adjectives and nouns from names of countries, their inhabitants, and their languages (such as Chinese, Faroese, Portuguese, Japanese, and Brooklynese, too). By analogy with this usage, –ese is used jocularly or disparagingly to form words designating the diction of people or institutions accused of writing in a dialect of their own invention (such as journalese, officialese, bureaucratese, and federalese).

how is federalese used?

The C.D. program echoes the 1950s mania for bomb shelters, but the 1982 version incorporates a new idea. In federalese, it’s called “crisis relocation,” and, like bomb shelters, a lot of it is laughable.

Michael Kramer, "The Fate of the Freeze," New York, June 14, 1982

The language used is bureaucratic gobbledygook, jargon, double talk, a form of officialese, federalese and insurancese, and doublespeak.

Jack Weinstein, as quoted in "Gobbledygook," ABA Journal, November 1984

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