Word of the Day

Word of the day

Thursday, June 18, 2020

risibility

[ riz-uh-bil-i-tee ]

noun

the ability or disposition to laugh; humorous awareness of the ridiculous and absurd.

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What is the origin of risibility?

Risibility comes via Middle French risibilité “something or someone that provokes laughter,” from Late Latin rīsibilitās (inflectional stem rīsibilitāt-) “a disposition to laugh,” a very rare noun first occurring in the works of Boethius, the most important philosopher and statesman of the late Western Roman Empire, who Dante described in his Paradiso as “the last of the Romans and first of the Scholastics.” (The Scholastics were followers of a system of theology and philosophy predominant in the Middle Ages, based chiefly upon the church fathers, Aristotle, and Aristotle’s commentators). Boethius’ most important work Dē Consōlātiōne Philosophiae “The Consolation of Philosophy,” which he wrote in prison while awaiting execution, was important enough to be translated (into English) by King Alfred the Great, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Queen Elizabeth I. Perhaps the most enduring contemporary image of the Consolation is the Wheel of Fortune, now the name of a TV show. Risibility entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is risibility used?

He shocked the company by maintaining that the attributes of God were two,—power and risibility; and that it was the duty of every pious man to keep up the comedy.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Illusions," The Atlantic, November 1857

In this high-humored sendup of arty photography, the photographer Duane Michals shoots for risibility and against pretension. 

Grace Glueck, "Art in Review: 'Who Is Sidney Sherman?'" New York Times, November 16, 2001

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Word of the day

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

antepenultimate

[ an-tee-pi-nuhl-tuh-mit ]

adjective

third from the end.

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What is the origin of antepenultimate?

In its most general sense, antepenultimate means “third from the end.” In discussions of grammar and prosody, antepenultimate more often describes the third from last syllable in a word, as te in antepenult. Working backward on antepenultimate, ultimate means “the last, final” (as in ultimatum “the final, last-chance demand)”; pen– is from Latin paene “almost” (as in English peninsula “an almost island)”; ante– is the familiar English prefix meaning “before” (from the Latin preposition, adverb, and prefix ante, ante-). Antepenultimate entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is antepenultimate used?

Theresa May, in her antepenultimate day as the Conservative Party leader, had read an emotional passage from a letter …

Rebecca Mead, "A D Day Journey in the Spirit of A. J. Liebling," The New Yorker, June 7, 2019

this antepenultimate episode takes a softer tack, suggesting that cruel and horrible people can change if they really want to.

Allie Pape, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Recap: Nevada Pizza," Vulture, January 28, 2019

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Word of the day

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Augean

[ aw-jee-uhn ]

adjective

difficult and unpleasant: an Augean chore.

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What is the origin of Augean?

The English adjective Augean comes via Latin Augēus “of Augeas” (an adjective used only of King Augeas’ stables), from the proper name Augēās (mentioned in Latin only for the dung in his stables), from Greek Augeíās. Augeíās, whose name may be related to the adjective augḗeis “bright-eyed, clear-sighted,” a derivative of augḗ “light of the sun, ray, beam,” was the king of Elis (in the western Peloponnesus); his stables, filled with 3,000 immortal cattle, had not been cleaned for over 30 years. The cattle, moreover, were not only immortal but also divinely robust and healthy and therefore produced a prodigious amount of dung. Hercules’ fifth task was to clean the dung in Augeas’ stables, a task that was deliberately meant to be humiliating and impossible. Hercules cleansed the stables by diverting the river Alpheus through them. Augean entered English at the end of the 16th century.

how is Augean used?

Now, after an accumulation of filth for three months, the Spring thaw comes and an Augean task presents itself.

"Street-Cleaning and Common Sense," New York Times, March 23, 1881

Augean jobs were deliberately assigned to him, tasks of almost unhearable tedium—immense bales of spinach to trim alone—in the expectation that he would muster a chef’s endurance or quit.

John McPhee, "A Philosopher in the Kitchen," The New Yorker, February 12, 1979

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