Word of the Day

Monday, February 24, 2020

realpolitik

[ rey-ahl-poh-li-teek, ree- ]

noun

political realism or practical politics, especially policy based on power rather than on ideals.

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What is the origin of realpolitik?

Realpolitik still feels like a German word. It was coined by Ludwig von Rochau, a 19th-century German politician and journalist, in his Grundsätze der Realpolitik “Principles of Practical Politics” (1853). Real in German means “realistic, practical, objective,” and Realpolitik means “realistic politics, practical politics,” that is, politics based primarily on power, national interests, and material factors and not on explicit ideological or moral or ethical premises. Realpolitik entered English in the second half of the 19th century.

how is realpolitik used?

Throughout, Ms. Warren has kept one eye trained on policy and the other on realpolitik: protecting her aspirational brand of liberalism and robbing Republicans (and her Democratic rivals) of a potent talking point about middle-class taxes.

Shane Goldmacher, Sarah Kliff, and Thomas Kaplan, "How Elizabeth Warren Got to 'Yes' on Medicare for All," New York Times, November 17, 2019

… the cynic also had not counted on how ruthless the man could be in attaching himself to cold realpolitik after building his entire campaign—nay, his entire political career—on a notion of political transcendence.

Charles P. Pierce, "The Cynic and President Obama," Esquire, November 1, 2012
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Sunday, February 23, 2020

thersitical

[ ther-sit-i-kuhl ]

adjective

scurrilous; foulmouthed; grossly abusive.

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What is the origin of thersitical?

The very rare adjective thersitical “scurrilous, foulmouthed, abusive” derives from the Greek personal name Thersítēs, itself a derivative of the adjective thersiepḗs “bold of speech.” Thersites appears in Book 2 of the Iliad in the assembly of the Achaeans. Homer describes Thersites as lame, bowlegged, with shoulders that sloped inward, and a pointy head covered with tufts of hair—the ugliest man at Troy. Thersites accuses Agamemnon of greed and Achilles of cowardice, for which Odysseus beats him severely about the head and shoulders to the great amusement of the rest of the Achaeans. Thersitical entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is thersitical used?

… there is a pelting kind of thersitical satire ….

Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Vol. 2, 1759

These he lists in language so richly thersitical that his English translator, likely Herring himself, must have strained his vocabulary to its limits to do it justice.

Todd H.J. Pettigrew, Stephanie M. Pettigrew, and Jacques A. Bailly, eds., "Introduction," The Major Works of John Cotta, 2018
Saturday, February 22, 2020

gullywasher

[ guhl-ee-wosh-er, -waw-sher ]

noun

Chiefly Midland and Western U.S.

a usually short, heavy rainstorm.

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What is the origin of gullywasher?

Gullywasher, “a short, heavy rainstorm,” is a dialect and regional word in the U.S. Midwest and West. The first half of the word is a variant pronunciation of gullet “throat, esophagus,” from Middle English golet, gulet, from Old French goulet, from Latin gula “throat.” Gullywasher entered English in the early 20th century.

how is gullywasher used?

I used to have a country neighbor who during drouths would inevitably, when he saw a white rim of cloudiness on the easter horizon, prognosticate a gully-washer, a clod-melter, a frog-strangler within the week.

John Graves, "Weather Between East and West," From a Limestone Ledge, 1977

The rounds of rain and flash flooding Tuesday presented another reminder that 2018 has featured both gullywashers and full-day washouts.

Ian Livingston, "Tuesday's record rainfall catapulted D.C. to its yearly total with four months to go in 2018," Washington Post, August 22, 2018
Friday, February 21, 2020

farthing

[ fahr-thing ]

noun

something of very small value: I don't care a farthing for your opinion.

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What is the origin of farthing?

A farthing was formerly an English coin of the smallest denomination, worth a quarter of a penny. Originally the coin was made of silver, then of a copper alloy, and finally of bronze. The coin was discontinued in 1961. The Middle English name for the coin was ferthing, farthing (with still more variants), made of silver, and came from Old English fēorthing, fēorthung “a quarter, a fourth part, a farthing.” The Old English forms are derivatives of fēortha “fourth” and the noun suffix –ing “one belonging to, descended from,” sometimes used to form diminutives, as here. Farthing entered English before a.d. 1000.

how is farthing used?

… when he cares not a farthing for the general good, and will sell his vote for a dollar … then his vote becomes a public pest.

Francis Parkman, "The Failure of Universal Suffrage," North American Review, July–August, 1878

Most of the tunes are pegged to the show-within-the-show, which we couldn’t give a farthing about.

Scott Brown, "Theater Review: The Mystery of Edwin Drood," New York, November 13, 2012
Thursday, February 20, 2020

phronesis

[ froh-nee-sis ]

noun

Philosophy.

wisdom in determining ends and the means of attaining them.

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What is the origin of phronesis?

Phronesis, “wisdom in determining ends and the means of attaining them, practical understanding, sound judgment,” comes from Latin phronēsis, from Greek phrónēsis, meaning “practical wisdom, prudence in government and public affairs” in Plato, Aristotle, and other heavy hitters. Phrónēsis is a derivative of the verb phroneîn “to think, be minded, be wise”; phroneîn in turn is a derivative formed from the noun phrēn (stem phren-), whose myriad meanings include “midriff, diaphragm, heart (as seat of the passions and bodily appetites), mind (seat of the mental faculties and perception).” Phronesis entered English in the 16th century.

how is phronesis used?

[Aristotle’s] concept of practical wisdom or phronesis involved constantly weighing the relative value of arguments in the face of decisions and actions.

Michelle Mielly and Sharon Crost, "Fake news meets fact in an Oxford-style debate revival," The Conversation, May 21, 2018

… courage also requires us to apply what Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics calls “phronesis” or practical wisdom.

The best analysis of practical wisdom I know of occurs in the chorus of “The Gambler” … “You got to know when to hold ‘em / Know when to fold ‘em / Know when to walk away / Know when to run.”

Bruce Weinstein, "A Royal Question: When Do Leaders Have A Duty To Step Back?" Forbes, January 11, 2020
Wednesday, February 19, 2020

détente

[ dey-tahnt; French dey-tahnt ]

noun

a relaxing of tension, especially between nations, as by negotiations or agreements.

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What is the origin of détente?

Détente, “a relaxation of tension, especially between nations,” still feels like a French word, as its spelling and pronunciation show. French détente comes from Old French destente, a derivative of destendre “to relax,” a compound of the prefix des– “apart, away” (from the Latin prefix dis– with the same meanings) and the verb tendre “to stretch” (from Latin tendere). Détente entered English in 1908 at the time of the détente between Great Britain and France.

how is détente used?

There is hope that the U.S. and China will at least reach some sort of detente on trade.

Justin Lahart, "A Perfect Storm for Business Investment," Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2019

The fairly stunning detente in what was shaping up to be a protracted war of digital assistants for ultimate domination of the smart home could lead to any number of smart home innovations now that the two systems are being allowed to work in tandem.

Adario Strange, "Alexa and Cortana will now be able to talk to each other to control your smart home," Mashable, August 30, 2017
Tuesday, February 18, 2020

plethoric

[ ple-thawr-ik, -thor-, pleth-uh-rik ]

adjective

overfull; turgid; inflated: a plethoric, pompous speech.

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What is the origin of plethoric?

The rare adjective plethoric means “overfull, inflated; marked by plethora (a morbid condition due to an excess of red blood cells).” And just as plethora does not mean “abundance” but “overabundance,” so plethoric means “overabundant.” Plethoric comes via the Late Latin medical term plēthōricus, plētōricus, from Greek plēthōrikós “plethoric,” a derivative of the noun plēthōra “fullness, satiety, excess of blood or another humor.” Plethoric in its medical sense entered English at the end of the 14th century; its extended sense “inflated, turgid, excessive” in the 17th.

how is plethoric used?

… my very astute friend Daniels pulled out a plethoric purse and began to display the marked gold with which it was plentifully supplied.

W. W. (Mary Fortune), "The Detectives Album," The Australian Journal, February 1882

The “blue book,” he says, “creates an atmosphere of formality and redundancy in which the drab, Latinate, plethoric, euphemistic style of law reviews and judicial opinions flourishes ….”

Tom Goldstein, "Drive for Plain English Gains Among Lawyers," New York Times, February 19, 1988

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