• Word of the day
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    Tuesday, April 30, 2019

    sesquipedalian

    adjective [ses-kwi-pi-dey-lee-uhn, -deyl-yuhn]
    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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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, April 29, 2019

    clown car

    noun [kloun kahr]
    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

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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, April 28, 2019

    brainchild

    noun [breyn-chahyld]
    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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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, April 27, 2019

    groupthink

    noun [groop-thingk]
    the lack of individual creativity, or of a sense of personal responsibility, that is sometimes characteristic of group interaction.
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    What is the origin of groupthink?

    Groupthink is a disparaging term modeled on doublethink “the mental ability to believe simultaneously two contradictory things,” appearing in 1984, by George Orwell (1903–50). Groupthink entered English in the early 1950s.

    How is groupthink used?

    Lately, as scientists try, and fail, to reproduce results, all of science is taking a hard look at funding biases, statistical shenanigans and groupthink. Tamar Haspel, "Here's what the government's dietary guidelines should really say," Washington Post, March 26, 2019

    You don’t need to do many focus groups to see groupthink in action.

    Joseph Stromberg, "Focus groups shape what we buy. But how much do they really say about us?" Vox, January 22, 2019

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  • Word of the day
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    Friday, April 26, 2019

    pseudepigraphy

    noun [soo-duh-pig-ruh-fee]
    the false ascription of a piece of writing to an author.
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    What is the origin of pseudepigraphy?

    The noun pseudepigraphy comes from Late Latin pseudepigrapha, a neuter plural adjective (from pseudepigraphus) used as a noun meaning “books or writings falsely titled or attributed to Hebrew writings supposedly composed by biblical patriarchs and prophets.” Pseudepigrapha was borrowed unchanged from the Greek compound adjective pseudepígrapha (from pseudepígraphos), composed of pseudḗs “false” and the Greek combining form -grapha, neuter plural of -graphos “drawn or written.” Pseudepigraphy entered English in the 19th century.

    How is pseudepigraphy used?

    If de León was the author, his exercise in pseudepigraphy was among the most successful in history. Ezra Glinter, "A mysterious medieval text, decrypted," Boston Globe, June 26, 2016

    Even this gimmick exactly parallels the ancient scriptural practice of pseudepigraphy whereby a later, undistinguished writer, would hide behind the name of a greater figure of the past, claiming venerable authority for his own innovations. Robert M. Price, "About 'The Descent into the Abyss'," The Book of Eibon, 2006

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  • Word of the day
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    Thursday, April 25, 2019

    frisson

    noun, [free-sohn; French free-sawn]
    a sudden, passing sensation of excitement; a shudder of emotion; thrill: The movie offers the viewer the occasional frisson of seeing a character in mortal danger.
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    What is the origin of frisson?

    Frisson is still unnaturalized in English, as its pronunciation shows. In French frisson means “shudder, shiver.” Frisson comes from Old French friçons, a plural noun meaning “trembling (as before the onset of a fever).” Friçons in turn comes from Latin frictiōn-, the stem of frictiō, an irregular derivative (as if from the verb fricāre “to rub,” with a short i) of the verb frīgēre (with a long i) “to be cold, lack vigor.” Frisson entered English in the 18th century.

    How is frisson used?

    Musical passages that include unexpected harmonies, sudden changes in volume, or the moving entrance of a soloist are particularly common triggers for frisson because they violate listeners’ expectations in a positive way ... Mitchell Colver, "Why do only some people get 'skin orgasms' from listening to music?" The Conversation, May 24, 2016

    That first dinner triggers hope, a frisson of discovery. Gael Greene, "Patric's Day," New York, March 23, 1992

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  • Word of the day
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    Wednesday, April 24, 2019

    rhubarb

    noun [roo-bahrb]
    a quarrel or squabble.
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    What is the origin of rhubarb?

    Rhubarb has a complicated origin. There are several odd Middle English spellings (as one would expect), e.g., reubarb, reubard, reubarbe, etc., from Anglo-French or Middle French reubarbe, rubarbe, reu barbare, all from Late Latin reubarbarum, rheubarbarum. The Latin forms are probably from Greek rhêon bárbaron “foreign rhubarb.” Rhêon is a variant of rhâ “the dried root of rhubarb used as a medicine,” perhaps ultimately related to Persian (an Iranian language) rewend “rhubarb.” Ancient Greek authors also associated rhâ (or Rhâ) with the Scythian (another Iranian language) name for the Volga River. The baseball slang meaning of rhubarb “a loud quarrel on the field, especially between a player and an umpire,” dates from about 1938. Rhubarb entered English in the late 14th century.

    How is rhubarb used?

    Power, newly acquired from the Minnesota Twins, was accused of the action during a rhubarb with the umpire on a play at third base. Jet, "'Spitting' Accusation May Cost Vic Power $1,750," July 30, 1964

    ... Tom Meany stopped in a tavern the day after this thing happened ... and the bartender said, "We had quite the rhubarb last night, Mr. Meany." Red Barber and Robert Creamer, Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat, 1968

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