Word of the Day

Word of the day

Thursday, November 25, 2021

repast

[ ri-past, -pahst, ree-past, -pahst ]

noun

a meal.

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What is the origin of repast?

Repast “meal” derives via Middle English from the Old French verb repaistre “to eat a meal” (compare Modern French repaître “to feed, to eat”), which ultimately comes from the Latin prefix re- “again, regularly” and the verb pāscere “to feed.” Pāscere, the past participle stem of which is pāst-, is the source of numerous food- and livestock-related terms in English, such as antipasto and pasture. Despite the similar spelling, the words past and pasta are not derivatives of pāscere. Past was originally a variant of passed, the past participle of pass, a verb that comes from the Latin noun passus “step,” while pasta is an Italian borrowing from Ancient Greek pastá “barley porridge.” Repast was first recorded in English in the early 1300s.

how is repast used?

One of the greatest aspects of the traditional Thanksgiving feast is the near-boundless array of food at the table. That also makes it perhaps the [year’s] toughest repast for wine pairing. Or not, if we extend the bounty of the food to the wine options .… [I]t makes sense to make them part of the meal and give guests a chance to try different wines with different dishes, or to hoard a bit of one wine for their favorite part of the meal.

Bill Ward, “Different wines for different dishes at the holiday table,” AP News, November 14, 2018

Consider for a moment, the Thanksgiving meal itself. It has become a sort of refuge for endangered species of starch: sweet potatoes, cauliflower, pumpkin, mince (whatever “mince” is), those blessed yams …. And then the sacred turkey. One might as well try to construct a holiday repast around a fish—say, a nice piece of boiled haddock. After all, turkey tastes very similar to haddock: same consistency, same quite remarkable absence of flavor.

Michael J. Arlen, "Comment," The New Yorker, November 27, 1978

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Word of the day

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

hominid

[ hom-uh-nid ]

noun

any member of the family Hominidae, consisting of all modern and extinct humans and great apes, and all their immediate ancestors.

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What is the origin of hominid?

Hominid “a member of the family consisting of humans and great apes” is adapted from New Latin Hominidae, the name for this family, from Latin homō (stem homin-) “man, human being.” As we learned with recent Word of the Day chernozem, homõ derives from the Proto-Indo-European root dhghem- “earth,” which is the source of person-related terms such as Latin hūmānus (compare human) and Old English guma “man” (compare bridegroom) as well as land-related words such as Latin humus “earth,” Ancient Greek khthōn “earth” (compare chthonian), and Ancient Greek chamaí “on the ground” (compare chameleon, literally “ground lion”). Hominid was first recorded in English in the late 1880s.

how is hominid used?

We know [the Denisovans] were a distinct ancestral species;…They participated in one (or many) of the waves of migration out-of-Africa…when Neanderthals began their migration, and 60,000 years ago when modern humans followed. And we know these groups did not keep to themselves: Denisovan DNA can be found in living humans from Asia (less than 1%) and Melanesia (up to 6%) …. How these different groups of hominids interacted remains something that is less understood.

Krystal D’Costa, “Ancient Girl Had Denisovan and Neandertal Parents,” Scientific American, September 6, 2018

One and a half billion years ago, the planet’s only life-forms were single-celled. Fermentation ruled the earth. Then an anaerobic bacterium engulfed an aerobic bacterium …. This accidental collaboration made possible the proliferation of multicellular life-forms and, eventually, tool-wielding hominids who would come to complain that they feel tired all the time.

Nick Paumgarten, "Energy, and How to Get It," The New Yorker, November 1, 2021

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Word of the day

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

asterism

[ as-tuh-riz-uhm ]

noun

a group of stars.

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What is the origin of asterism?

Asterism “a group of stars” derives from Ancient Greek asterismós “a marking with stars,” from astḗr “star.” Astḗr comes from the Proto-Indo-European root ster-, of the same meaning, which is also the source of English star and Latin stella. For the latter, compare constellation “any of various groups of stars to which definite names have been given,” which is often conflated with asterism, but the two share a slight distinction. An asterism is a group of stars, while a constellation is the named shape that multiple asterisms form. For example, the Big Dipper is an asterism comprising seven stars, but Ursa Major is the constellation that contains the Big Dipper as well as several other asterisms. Asterism was first recorded in English in the 1590s.

how is asterism used?

In a sky so full of stars it’s often difficult to figure out where constellations are, one dark spot stands out: The Coalsack Nebula. Parked near one of the five brightest stars comprising the Southern Cross—perhaps the most easily spotted asterism in the southern sky—the nebula looks like an inky black thumbprint. Where it hangs, the stars struggle to shine. It’s as if someone outlined a portion of the sky and dimmed the lights.

Nadia Drake, “A Nebula Illuminated By Its Missing Stars,” National Geographic, October 14, 2015

Examples of confusing and misleading scientific terms abound. When astronomers say “metals,” they mean any element heavier than helium, which includes oxygen and nitrogen, a usage that is massively confusing not just to laypeople but also to chemists. The Big Dipper isn’t a constellation to them; it is an “asterism.”

Naomi Oreskes, "Scientists: When Talking to the Public, Please Speak Plainly," Scientific American, October 1, 2021

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