Word of the Day

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

sesquipedalian

[ ses-kwi-pi-dey-lee-uhn, -deyl-yuhn ]

adjective

given to using long words.

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What is the origin of sesquipedalian?

Sesquipedalian comes directly from the Latin adjective sesquipedālis “having a (linear or square) measure of one and a half (Roman) feet.” Unsurprisingly, sesquipedālis is used in farming, military fortifications, architecture, and construction. The poet Horace (65–8 b.c.) uses the phrase sesquipedālia verba “words a foot and a half long” in his Ars Poetica (c19–18 b.c.), a poem in which Horace sets forth his ideas on “poetic art.” It is from Horace’s phrase that English has its only meaning “having or using very long words.” The first part of sesquipedālis is the adverb and prefix sesqui, sesque “one and a half times,” from an earlier, unrecorded sem(i)que, a contraction of sēmis “one half, a half more” and the generalizing particle –que. Pedālis is easy: it’s an adjective meaning “measuring a foot, a foot long, wide, deep, etc.,” a derivative of the noun pēs (inflectional stem ped-) “foot”; –ālis is a very common adjective suffix in Latin, the source of the English adjective suffix –al. Sesquipedalian entered English in the 17th century.

how is sesquipedalian used?

Because my father was a professor, I early picked up a sesquipedalian way of speaking (which has been defined as a tendency to use words like “sesquipedalian“).

Kenneth Tucker, The Old Lit Professor's Book of Favorite Readings, 2010

The Players’ was so successful that Moss Empires invited Sachs to undertake a long tour of major variety theatres, resulting in The Good Old Days, a music hall show which ran on BBC Television from 1953 to 1983 with Sachs as its sesquipedalian Chairman.

Richard Anthony Baker, British Music Hall: An Illustrated History, 2014
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Monday, April 29, 2019

clown car

[ kloun kahr ]

noun

a group whose size seems absurdly excessive for the purported function of the group, and whose effectiveness is therefore questionable: The planning committee has added yet another member to its clown car, almost guaranteeing further delays.

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What is the origin of clown car?

The term clown car in its original sense “a very small car used in a circus comedy act, in which the normal passenger capacity is greatly exceeded by the numerous clowns who climb out from inside,” dates from the early 1950s. The disparaging, usually political sense “a group whose size seems excessive for the function of the group, and whose effectiveness is therefore questionable,” dates from about 2013.

how is clown car used?

But I’m old enough to remember 2015, when there were so many Republicans vying for the nod of their party, the early intraparty debates needed to be divided into two to ensure everyone got airtime …. The clown car, people named it.

Helaine Olen, "The Democratic primary will be crowded in 2020. Good!" Washington Post, November 13, 2018

… as the clown-car of guest stars that Swift brought out in each city verged on the absurd … it started to feel like Taylor Swift was not interested in a collective, collaborative vision of feminism so much as one that proved the dominance of her own brand.

Lindsay Zoladz, "2015: The year that #squad died." Slate, December 18, 2015
Sunday, April 28, 2019

brainchild

[ breyn-chahyld ]

noun

a product of one's creative work or thought.

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What is the origin of brainchild?

The noun brainchild is so common that we forget what a startling metaphor it is: one of the earliest citations for it reads, “All my braines Children fraile and mortall be.” Brainchild entered English in the 17th century.

how is brainchild used?

Coney Island’s white-towered Freudian fairway had been the brainchild of a real-estate entrepreneur named William H. Reynolds … .

Claudia Roth Pierpont, "The Silver Spire," The New Yorker, November 18, 2002

Google Art Project, the brainchild of a small group of art-happy Google employees, brings the Street View technology of Google Earth and Google Maps inside 17 museums around the world.

Eliza Murphy, "The Google Art Project Makes Masterpieces Accessible to All," The Atlantic, February 2, 2011

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