Word of the Day

Thursday, April 30, 2020

saponaceous

[ sap-uh-ney-shuhs ]

adjective

resembling soap; soapy.

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What is the origin of saponaceous?

Saponaceous, “soapy,” comes straight from the New Latin adjective sāpōnāceus. (New Latin, also called Modern Latin, is Latin that developed after, say, 1500; it is used especially and typically in the physical sciences, such as zoology, botany, and anatomy.) Sāpōnāceus is formed from the Latin sāpō noun (inflective stem sāpōn-) and the adjectival suffix –āceus, meaning “made of, resembling.” Sāpō means “a preparation for drying or coloring one’s hair,” and it is one of the relatively few words in Latin borrowed from Germanic (as compared to the many, many words in Germanic borrowed from Latin). Saponaceous also has the uncommon sense “slippery, unctuous,” which appeared in the 19th century: “This… judgment was… so oily, so saponaceous, that no one could grasp it.” Saponaceous entered English in the early 18th century.

how is saponaceous used?

The fruit of this plant is about the size of a large gooseberry, the outer covering or shell of which contains a saponaceous principle in sufficient abundance to produce a lather with water and is used as a substitute for soap.

"Report of the Chief of the Division of Gardens and Grounds," Report of the Secretary of Agriculture, 1890

The yolk contains natural food for the hair, iron and sulphur; while the white, being a mild alkali, finds its congenial mate in the oil from the sebaceous glands, and they mingle in a saponaceous lather.

Ella Adelia Fletcher, The Woman Beautiful, 1899

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

ylem

[ ahy-luhm ]

noun

the hypothetical initial substance of the universe from which all matter is derived.

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Why we chose ylem

Today's word was submitted by one of our readers as part of our Word of the Day Giveaway Sweepstakes! The winner, Matthew Winter, told us: "It makes me think about how everything is connected. All living and inanimate things originate from the same source; we are all ylem." Congrats, Matthew!

What is the origin of ylem?

The modern definition of ylem is “the hypothetical initial substance of the universe from which all matter is derived, originally conceived as composed of neutrons at high temperature and density.” The spelling of ylem comes from John Gower’s 33,000-line poem Confessio Amantis (A Lover’s Confession) finished in 1390: “That matere universall / Which hight Ylem in speciall” (“That universal matter which is called Ylem in particular”). Gower’s ylem is one of several Middle English spellings (also ile, ilem, ylem) from Medieval Latin hȳlēm or ȳlēm, the accusative singular of hȳlē or ȳlē, from Greek hȳ́lē “forest, woodland, wood, firewood”; Aristotle uses the phrase prṓtē hȳ́lē “primary stuff, matter, material.” In 1948 Robert Herman and Ralph Asher Alpher, associates of Russia-born U.S. nuclear physicist George Gamow, adopted the medieval word because, as Alpher said,” it seems highly desirable that a word of so appropriate a meaning be resurrected.”

how is ylem used?

One can call the mixture of particles ylem ( pronounced eelem ) -the name that Aristotle gave to primordial matter.

George Gamow, "Modern Cosmology," Scientific American, 1954

The Ylem is the primordial—the Ur-stuff—out of which everything else is made.

Jeremy Bernstein, "Out of My Mind: The Birth of Modern Cosmology," American Scholar, Vol. 55 No. 1, 1986

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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

iwis

[ ih-wis ]

adverb

Obsolete.

certainly.

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What is the origin of iwis?

Iwis is an obsolete, archaic adverb meaning “certainly, surely.” The very many Middle English spellings of the adverb include wisse, iwise, jwis(se), gwisse, ewis, awis, iwesse…, all of which come from the Old English adverb gewis “certainly, indeed, truly.” Old English gewis shows its close kinship with German gewiß (also spelled gewiss) “certainly, surely” (as in Ja, gewiß! “Yes, certainly!” in lesson 3 of German 101). During the 14th century the spellings i-wis, i-wisse (with other variants) began appearing in manuscripts, and in the second half of the 15th century, I wise appears as well, which shows that the writers or scribes no longer knew exactly what iwis meant, but thought it was a subject pronoun followed by the  (nonexistent) verb wis “know”; thus I wis was misinterpreted to mean “I know.” Iwis entered English before 900.

how is iwis used?

There be fools alive, iwis, / Silver’d o’er; and so was this.

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 1600

For there by magic skill, iwis, / Form of each thing that living is / Was limned in proper dye.

Sir Walter Scott, The Bridal of Triermain, 1813

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