• Word of the day
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    Monday, July 15, 2019

    remora

    noun [rem-er-uh]
    an obstacle, hindrance, or obstruction.
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    What is the origin of remora?

    Remora comes directly from Latin remora “hindrance, delay,” composed of the prefix re- “back, backward, again” and the noun mora “delay, obstacle, pause.” Other English words ultimately derived from mora include moratorium and demur. Remora is first recorded in English in the early 16th century as a name for the suckerfish, which has sucking disks on its head by which it can attach to the likes of sharks, turtles, and ships. This name is found in Late Latin in the 4th century a.d., so called because the fish was believed to slow the progress of ships. In Book 32, Chapter 1 of his Natural History, Pliny the Elder (a.d. 23–79 ) gives mora as a classical Latin gloss of Greek echenēis, literally meaning “holding (back) a ship,” and marvels at the supposed power of these fish: “But alas for human vanity!—when their prows, beaked as they are with brass and with iron, and armed for the onset, can thus be arrested and rivetted to the spot by a little fish, no more than some half foot in length!” (translated by John Bostock and Henry T. Riley, 1855). Remora in the archaic sense “obstacle, hindrance, obstruction” entered English by the early 1600s.

    How is remora used?

    ... notwithstanding the remora of their dismasted ship, and the disadvantage of repairing damages at sea, the French fleet arrived in safety .... David Price, Memoirs of the Early Life and Service of a Field Officer, 1839

    The great remora to any improvement in our civil code, is the reduction that such reform must produce in the revenue. Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon; or, Many Things in Few Words, Vol. 1, 1820

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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, July 14, 2019

    raison d’être

    noun [rey-zohn de-truh]
    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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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, July 13, 2019

    infare

    noun [in-fair] 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

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  • Word of the day
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    Friday, July 12, 2019

    federalese

    noun [fed-er-uh-leez, -lees]
    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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  • Word of the day
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    Thursday, July 11, 2019

    peccable

    adjective [pek-uh-buhl]
    liable to sin or error.
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    What is the origin of peccable?

    Peccable comes from Old French from the Medieval Latin adjective peccābilis “capable of sin, susceptible to sin,” formed from the Latin verb peccāre “to go wrong, make a mistake, act incorrectly, commit a moral or sexual offense.” Peccable was formed on the model of impeccable, which dates from the first half of the 16th century. Peccable entered English in the early 1600s.

    How is peccable used?

    In his thought at that sharp moment he blasphemed even against all that had been left of his faith in the peccable Master. Henry James, The Lesson of the Master, 1888

    And Mrs. Hancock delivers Mrs. Malaprop's peccable usages with impeccable aplomb. Nothing offends this lady so much as having someone cast ''an aspersion upon my parts of speech.'' Walter Goodman, "A Comedy of Manners by Sheridan," New York Times, August 10, 1989

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  • Word of the day
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    Wednesday, July 10, 2019

    eye-minded

    adjective [ahy-mahyn-did]
    disposed to perceive one's environment in visual terms and to recall sights more vividly than sounds, smells, etc.
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    What is the origin of eye-minded?

    Eye-minded “tending to perceive one's environment in visual terms and to recall sights more vividly than sounds or smells” was originally and still is a term used in psychology. Eye-minded has a companion term ear-minded dating from the same year (1888). A third related term motor-minded “tending to perceive one's environment in terms of mechanical or muscular activity” dates to the end of the 19th century.

    How is eye-minded used?

    Some persons are "eye-minded." They particularly enjoy seeing things, and retain visual memories far longer than any other. Alfred N. Goldsmith, "Electrical Entertainment: A Glimpse Into the Future," New York Times, March 22, 1931

    He is a good visualizer, and is eye-minded in every respect. Joseph Jastrow, "Further Study of Involuntary Movements," The Popular Science Monthly, September 1892

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, July 09, 2019

    donnish

    adjective [don-ish]
    bookish; pedantic.
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    What is the origin of donnish?

    The adjective donnish “bookish, pedantic” is a derivative of the Oxbridge term don “a head, fellow, or tutor of a college.” The English noun comes from the Spanish title of respect Don prefixed to a man’s name, as Don Quixote. Spanish don, Portuguese dom ultimately come from Late Latin domnus, a shortening of Latin dominus “lord, master.” Domnus is also the source of Italian Donno, usually reduced to Don, a title of respect for a man, such as Don Corleone. Latin domina “mistress (of a household), lady (of the imperial family)” is the feminine of dominus, and the source of French and English dame, Spanish doña, Portuguese dona, and Italian donna “woman, lady of the house” and Madonna, literally “my lady,” not only a title of the Virgin Mary, but also a respectful form of address equivalent to French madame. In medieval Florence Madonna was shortened to Mona “Ma’am,” an informal but respectful title for a married woman, such as Mona Lisa. In the Neapolitan dialect (and other southern Italian dialects), intervocalic d becomes r, Madonna thereby becoming Maronna, the final a falling away, leaving the interjection Maronn’, a cry of exasperation. Donna has become a female given name in some parts of the United States with large Italian American populations. Donnish entered English in the early 19th century.

    How is donnish used?

    Sir Richard was not exactly donnish, but there was an element of the academic in what seemed otherwise to be a traditional, bird-slaughtering, upper-rank Englishman. John Malcolm, The Gwen John Sculpture, 1985

    ... [William Safire] founded our On Language column in February 1979 and proceeded to write tens of thousands of words about phrases (fashionable and not), usages (proper and not), roots (definitive and not) and his own donnish taste — not! ... Gerald Marzorati, "On Language with Ben Zimmer," New York Times, March 16, 2010

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