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[ ri-fyoo-jee-uhm ]


an area where special environmental circumstances have enabled a species or a community of species to survive after extinction in surrounding areas.

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More about refugium

The biological or ecological sense of English refugium “an area where special environmental circumstances have enabled a species or a community of species to survive after extinction in surrounding areas,” is a straightforward borrowing of the Latin noun refugium. (The usual English plural is the Latin plural, refugia, but refugiums is also found.) The Latin noun does not have the modern English sense, of course, and means only “a place or means of shelter, a place to flee or retreat to.” Refugium entered English in the early 20th century.

how is refugium used?

Hence, it served as a refugium for animal and plant species that the ice cap displaced or destroyed elsewhere.

Dan O'Neill, A Land Gone Lonesome, 2006

Trees that survive in a refugium also may help speed the recovery of the surrounding ecosystem. Their seeds float across the charred landscape, producing a new crop of plants.

Carl Zimmer, "'Lifeboats' Amid the World's Wildfires," New York Times, October 12, 2018
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[ kon-truh-nim ]


a word that has opposite or nearly opposite meanings, as cleave, meaning "to adhere closely" and "to part or split"; Janus word.

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More about contranym

Contranym, “a word that has opposite or nearly opposite meanings,” is a good term to have though trotting it out in certain circles may spark debate about whether it should be spelled contranym (from contra– and –(o)nym), an example of prodelision (loss of an initial vowel), or contronym (from contr(a)– and –onym), an example of elision (loss of a final vowel). Contranyms are also called Janus words (Janus was the Roman god of doorways, beginnings, transitions, and time, and is usually portrayed as having two faces, one looking toward the past, the other toward the future). Some very common, current contranyms (or Janus words) include sanction “to authorize, approve, or allow” and “to penalize, discipline” (the Latin verb sancīre means both “to ratify solemnly, confirm (laws, treaties)” and “to make an offense punishable by law”); the verb cleave “to split, divide” and “to remain faithful to” (cleave derives from two different Old English verbs: cleofian “to adhere, stick” and clēofan “to separate, split”); and oversight “supervision (as by a Congressional committee),” and “omission, mistake.” Contranym entered English in the early 1960s.

how is contranym used?

Sometimes, just to heighten the confusion, the same word ends up with contradictory meanings. This kind of word is called a contronym.

Bill Bryson, The Mother Tongue, 1990

“No, totally.” “No, definitely.” “No, exactly.” “No, yes.” These curious uses turn “no” into a kind of contranym: a word that can function as its own opposite.

Kathryn Schulz, "What Part of 'No, Totally' Don't You Understand?" The New Yorker, April 7, 2015
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Word of the day

bona fides

[ boh-nah fee-des ]


good faith; absence of fraud or deceit; the state of being exactly as claims or appearances indicate: The bona fides of this contract is open to question.

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More about bona fides

The Latin phrase bona fidēs “good faith,” is composed of a singular noun in the nominative case (fidēs “faith”) modified by a singular adjective (bona “good”). The relatively recent sense of bona fides “guarantees of good faith, credentials” (as if fidēs, because of its final s, were a plural noun) is first recorded in 1944. The Latin phrase bonā fidē and the English phrase bona fide also mean “in good faith” (fidē being a singular noun in the ablative case, which is frequently used in Latin in adverbial functions). Bona fide was originally an adverbial phrase but since the late 18th century also used as an adjective, e.g., the legal term bona fide purchaser. Bona fides entered English in the 19th century.

how is bona fides used?

Few things have sent up our food-conscious era quite so accurately (or affectionately) as that first-season “Portlandia” sketch in which a restaurant waiter is given the third degree by concerned patrons over the bona fides of the menu’s locally raised chicken.

Robert Abele, "Review: 'The Biggest Little Farm' is a winning doc about a couple's agricultural dream," Los Angeles Times, May 9, 2019

Of course it took me a little while to establish my bona fides but at last I did—it will seem ironic to you, but while neither side fully believed in my honesty both were exultant at having penetrated the enemy intelligence service.

Lawrence Durrell, Quinx, 1985
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