Word of the Day

Friday, January 17, 2020

riposte

[ ri-pohst ]

noun

a quick, sharp return in speech or action; counterstroke: a brilliant riposte to an insult.

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What is the origin of riposte?

Riposte, earlier risposte, in its “social” sense “a quick, sharp return in speech or action” and its fencing sense “a quick thrust given after parrying a lunge,” comes via French from Old Italian risposta “response, reply” (13th century), which by the mid-16th century had developed its fencing sense. Risposta is a (feminine) noun use of the past participle of the verb rispondere “to answer,” from an unattested Vulgar Latin verb respondere, from Latin respondēre “to speak in answer to, answer, answer back” (the Latin verb has no “touché” sense associated with it). Risposte entered English in the early 18th century, riposte a century later.

how is riposte used?

George stands humiliated as laughter fills the room, his mind searching frantically for the perfect riposte.

Talib Visram, "How to Craft the Perfect Comeback, According to Experts," Mental Floss, July 16, 2018

Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos, in an annual letter to shareholders, argued that Amazon’s growth has benefited its third-party merchants—a veiled riposte to calls to break up the company.

Spencer Soper, "Bezos Rebuts Warren's Amazon Breakup Call in Antitrust Defense," Washington Post, April 11, 2019
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Thursday, January 16, 2020

flinty

[ flin-tee ]

adjective

unyielding; unmerciful; obdurate: a flinty heart.

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What is the origin of flinty?

Flinty is an obvious combination of the noun flint “a hard stone, a type of silica” and the adjective suffix –y, from Old English –ig, cognate with German –ig, and related to Greek –ikos and Latin –icus. One odd element here is that the derived, metaphorical sense “unyielding, unmerciful, obdurate” appears in the first half of the 16th century, about 75 years before the literal sense “consisting of flint stone” (in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 1). A second oddity is that the noun flint, which comes from Old English flint, has impeccable cognates with other Germanic languages (Middle Dutch vlint, Old High German flins, Danish flint, Swedish flinta), from a Proto-Indo-European root (s)plei– “to split, splice.” But flint may be related to Greek plínthos “brick, air-dried brick, squared building stone,” except that a non-Greek language is the usual source of Greek terms associated with building and architecture and nouns with the suffix –inthos, such as asáminthos “bathtub,” terébinthos “terebinth tree, turpentine tree”—the ultimate source of English turpentine. Flinty entered English in the first half of the 16th century.

how is flinty used?

The section’s editor, Seymour Peck, a flinty New Yorker, had me write columns on movies, theatre, rock music, and television as well as on art, extending my capacities, while cracking down on my flakiness.

Peter Schjeldahl, "The Art of Dying," The New Yorker, December 16, 2019

I opened my mouth to deny it, and he forestalled me with one lifted finger, his gaze flinty.

Jacqueline Carey, "You, and You Alone," Songs of Love and Death, 2010
Wednesday, January 15, 2020

trangam

[ trang-guhm ]

noun

Archaic.

an odd gadget; gewgaw; trinket.

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What is the origin of trangam?

Trangam, also spelled trangame, trangram, and trankum, is a rare noun with no obvious etymology. Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) helped revive trangam in The Abbot (1820), one of the earlier Waverley Novels. Trangam entered English in the 17th century.

how is trangam used?

And meet time it was, when yon usher, vinegar-faced rogue that he is, began to enquire what popish trangam you were wearing …

Sir Walter Scott, The Abbot, 1820

Go, go your ways, get you gone, and finefy your Knacks and Tranghams

Aphra Behn, Sir Patient Fancy, 1678
Tuesday, January 14, 2020

mythomane

[ mith-uh-meyn ]

noun

a person with a strong or irresistible propensity for fantasizing, lying, or exaggerating.

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What is the origin of mythomane?

The noun and adjective mythomane is a relatively recent word, dating from only the 1950s, and is a synonym for the noun and adjective mythomaniac, which is almost a century older (1857). Mythomaniac originally meant someone passionate about or obsessed with myths, its etymological meaning. By the early 1920s mythomaniac had acquired its current sense “someone with a strong or irresistible propensity for fantasizing, lying, or exaggerating.” The Greek noun mŷthos means “word, discourse, conversation, story, tale, saga, myth”; it does not mean “lie.” The curious thing is that the source word mythomania “lying or exaggerating to an abnormal degree” dates from only 1909.

how is mythomane used?

Lawrence himself was a mythomane and, after the first world war, took particular pains to project an image of himself to the public that was as much a construct as anything worked up by the PR team of a film star or celebrity of today.

William Boyd, "Lawrence of Arabia: a man in flight from himself," The Guardian, April 29, 2016

… he is a flat-out mythomane, dedicated to the Sublime, the Enormous and the Ultra-German; a marvelous artist at his best and at his worst a Black Forest ham.

Robert Hughes, "Mocker of All Styles," Time, May 27, 1999
Monday, January 13, 2020

nival

[ nahy-vuhl ]

adjective

of or growing in snow: nival flora.

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What is the origin of nival?

The adjective nival comes straight from Latin nivālis “of or belonging to snow, snowy, covered in snow,” a derivative of the noun nix (inflectional stem niv-) “snow.” The adjective is relatively rare, being confined to zoology, botany, and physical geography. Nix is related to English snow, Sanskrit sneha-, Slavic (Polish) śnieg, and Irish snigid “it’s raining.” Nival entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is nival used?

… when the Alpine climbers ascend the snow-clad mountains of picturesque Switzerland and gather a pretty little bouquet of a dozen different nival flowers, on that barren zone ….

C. O. Van Cleve, "Arctic Flowers," Annual Report of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society, 1888

The nival region is characterised by accumulating snow deposits, both in the completely nival province where precipitation takes the form solely of snow and the semi-nival province where this is interrupted by rainfall.

Albrecht Penck, "Attempt at a Classification of Climate on a Physiographic Basis," Climatic Geomorphology, 1973
Sunday, January 12, 2020

euchred

[ yoo-kerd ]

adjective

Australian Informal.

utterly done in or at the end of one's tether; exhausted.

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What is the origin of euchred?

In Australian English euchred has meant “exhausted, destitute” since the second half of the 19th century, a meaning that formerly existed in American English. The sense derives from the card game euchre (originally American) in which, if a player plays a round and fails to take three tricks, they are euchred “done for,” a sense that was extended to “outwitted, outdone, deceived, cheated.” Euchre, the name of the card game, dates from the first half of the 19th century and has no known etymology.

how is euchred used?

You had one water bottle a day for all purposes, and it would be 48 degrees, so we were euchred physically as much as anything else, and it’s very wearing on the mental factor.

Bob Semple, as quoted in "A life and a violin, forever etched by the horrors of war," Sydney Morning Herald, April 21, 2018

My breath comes hard—I’m euchred boy …

Robert H. Newell, "Letter X," The Orpheus C. Kerr Papers, 1862
Saturday, January 11, 2020

pacific

[ puh-sif-ik ]

adjective

tending to make or preserve peace; conciliatory: pacific overtures.

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What is the origin of pacific?

The adjective pacific ultimately derives from the Latin adjective pācificus “making peace, peaceable,” a compound derived from pāx (inflectional stem pāc– “peace”) and –ficus, a combining form of the verb facere “to do, make.” In the Vulgate (the late 4th-century Latin version of the Bible, used by the Roman Catholic Church), pācificus as an adjective means “peace-loving,” and as a noun “peace offerings.” The Romans wanted peace like everyone else, but on their own terms. The great Roman historian Tacitus in his Agricola, a biography of his father-in-law, has the British chieftain Calgacus deliver a speech in which Calgacus says of the Romans, … ubi sōlitūdinem faciunt, pācem appellant, “… where they make a desert, they call it peace.” Pacific entered English in the 16th century.

how is pacific used?

My mother was a very calm, pacific individual, and I learned from her to be the same way.

Paul Tibbets, as quoted in "We Did It to Stop the Killing, to Stop the War," Chicago Tribune, January 12, 1999

In this way arose the Roman empire, the largest, the most stable, and in its best days the most pacific political aggregate the world had as yet seen.

John Fiske, The Destiny of Man Viewed in the Light of His Origin, 1884

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