Word of the Day

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

schwa

[ shwah ]

noun

the mid-central, neutral vowel sound typically occurring in unstressed syllables in English, however spelled, as the sound of a in alone and sofa, e in system, i in easily, o in gallop, u in circus.

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What is the origin of schwa?

Schwa, the neutral vowel sound like the a in sofa, comes via German Schwa from Hebrew shəwā, a variant of shāw’, literally “nothingness, emptiness, vanity.” Jewish grammarians used the word to mean “a diacritic mark that shows a neutral vowel quality or no vowel at all.” Schwa entered English toward the end of the 19th century.

how is schwa used?

The top six girls’s names in 2014—Emma, Olivia, Sophia, Isabella, Ava, and Mia—all end in “a,” and, what’s more, they end in the same unstressed vowel sound that linguists call schwa.

Robinson Meyer, "Why Do So Many Girls's Names End in 'A'?" The Atlantic, August 28, 2015

The schwa—the vowel sound at the end of the word “America,” represented in dictionary pronunciation guides with a backward and upside down “e” (ə)—is the most common vowel sound in the English language.

Jennifer Schuessler, "New Online Magazine Honors the Mighty Schwa," New York Times, May 23, 2014

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Monday, June 07, 2021

banausic

[ buh-naw-sik, -zik ]

adjective

serving utilitarian purposes only; mechanical; practical.

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What is the origin of banausic?

There has always been more than a hint of snobbery about banausic, “serving utilitarian purposes only; mechanical; practical.” The word comes from the Greek adjective banausikós, “pertaining to or for artisans,” which is related to the noun bausanía “handicraft; the habits of a mere artisan, bad taste, vulgarity.” Banausikós and bausanía are derivatives of baûnos (also baunós), “furnace, forge,” a pre-Greek word with no known etymology. In modern German Banause “uncouth person” is the exact equivalent of English Philistine. Banausic entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is banausic used?

Nor should we underestimate the counterinstinct, most prevalent among aristocrats and intellectuals, that looked down in contempt on all mundane and banausic occupations from the vantage point of inherited capital or estate income.

Peter Green, Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age, 1990

The modern undergraduates are what we should have called “banausic,” with a strict utilitarian outlook. For their virtues: they are more temperate and frugal than we were, less snobbish about athletics, more industrious, better sons to their parents and, I am inclined to think, better mannered.

John Buchan, Memory Hold-the-Door, 1940

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Sunday, June 06, 2021

amphibious

[ am-fib-ee-uhs ]

adjective

of or relating to military operations by both land and naval forces against the same object.

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What is the origin of amphibious?

Amphibious and amphibian have several overlapping meanings in zoology and botany, but in the sense “relating to combined military operations by land and naval forces against a common target,” only amphibious is used. In the mid-1930s, at a time when air power was rapidly developing, the neologisms triphibian and triphibious were coined very useful for describing combined land, sea, and air operations, but an abomination—two abominations, even, for purists. Amphibious ultimately comes from Greek amphíbios “having a double life,” used by science writers about frogs and plants. In later Greek the Neoplatonist philosopher Plotinus used amphíbios metaphorically to describe the human soul as an inhabitant of two worlds. Amphíbios is composed of two very common Proto-Indo-European roots, ambhi– “on both sides, around” and gweiə-, gwey-, gwī-, gwi– (with many other variants) “to live.” Ambhi– becomes amphí in Greek, as in amphithéātron “amphitheater,” literally, “a place for watching from both sides.” Ambhi– becomes amb(i)– in Latin, a prefix meaning “around, both..,” as in ambiguus “unsettled, undecided.” \ The Greek combining form bio– comes from bíos “life,” from Proto-Indo-European gwios (gw– becomes b– in Greek under certain conditions). The root variant gwī– is the source of Latin vīta “life.” Amphibious entered English in the 17th century.

how is amphibious used?

Through tactical and strategic unification the Allies successfully undertook the greatest amphibious landings yet attempted in warfare.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks to Congress, June 18, 1945

All the elements for the D-day attack were in place by the spring of 1944: more than 150,000 men, nearly 12,000 aircraft, almost 7,000 sea vessels. It was arguably the largest amphibious invasion force in history.

Tim Rives, "'Ok, We'll Go': Just What Did Ike Say When He Launched The D-day Invasion 70 Years Ago?" Prologue, Spring 2014

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