Word of the Day

Friday, December 27, 2019

shilly-shally

[ shil-ee-shal-ee ]

verb (used without object)

to show indecision or hesitation; be irresolute; vacillate.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of shilly-shally?

We have no need to shilly-shally in giving the origin of this amusing term. It develops from the expression to stand shill I, shall I, a playful variation of the repeated question, shall I? shall I?—which a wishy-washy person would struggle to answer. Shilly-shally is modeled after another so-called reduplication (and near synonym), dilly-dally “to loiter or vacillate.” English is fond of such reduplications, or words formed by repeating a word or syllable. Many reduplications are exact, such as boo-boo. Others rhyme, like razzle-dazzle. Shilly-shally follows a pattern known as ablaut reduplication, in which vowels predictably alternate: chitchat, mishmash, and zigzag are other common examples. Entering English at the end of the 1600s, shilly-shally can also be a noun meaning “irresolution; hesitation; vacillation,” an adjective, “irresolute; undecided; vacillating,” and an adverb, “irresolutely.”

how is shilly-shally used?

Experience had taught him that where evil is concerned, it was better to be frank than to shilly-shally.

Anthony C. Winkler, The Family Mansion, 2013

I made my choice and stood by it. But you shilly-shally between both sides.

Ann Rinaldi, Finishing Becca, 1994
quiz icon
WHAT'S YOUR WORD IQ?
Think you're a word wizard? Try our word quiz, and prove it!
TAKE THE QUIZ
arrows pointing up and down
SYNONYM OF THE DAY
Double your word knowledge with the Synonym of the Day!
SEE TODAY'S SYNONYM

Get A Vocabulary Boost In Your Inbox

Get the Word of the Day every day!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Thursday, December 26, 2019

ephemeral

[ ih-fem-er-uhl ]

adjective

lasting a very short time; short-lived; transitory: the ephemeral joys of childhood.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of ephemeral?

Something ephemeral lasts only a very short time. It derives from Greek ephḗmeros “short-lived, lasting but a day.” Ephḗmeros is ultimately based on the preposition and adverb epí “upon, up to, during,” among many other senses, and the noun hēméra “day.” In English, ephemeral originally described fevers that spanned just a day, and evolved to refer to organisms (and other things) not long for this world, including flowers or insects—like the mayfly, which is classified as an ephemerid and shuffles off this mortal coil within two days. Ephḗmeros is also the source of the English plural noun ephemera (singular ephemeron) “items designed to be useful or important for only a short time, especially pamphlets, notices, tickets, etc.” Ephemeral has not proved as much in English, entering in the late 1500s.

how is ephemeral used?

In this country, man’s work seems ephemeral, his influence transitory. Summer scorches the heath. Winter brings a pale damp light.

Hilary Mantel, A Change of Climate, 1994

It’s only with the rise of the Internet that a truly casual, willfully ephemeral prose has ascended—and become central to daily life.

Katy Waldman, "Is the Internet Making Writing Better?" The New Yorker, July 26, 2019
Wednesday, December 25, 2019

big-hearted

[ big-hahr-tid ]

adjective

generous; kind.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of big-hearted?

Big-hearted “generous; kind” certainly wears its heart on its sleeve, etymologically speaking. It’s a straightforward compound of big “magnanimous; generous; kindly” and hearted “having a specified kind of heart.” While big-hearted is found in English in the 1700s in the sense of “courageous,” the word heart, as regarded as the center of a person’s emotion and disposition, reaches well back into Old English. Hearted is used in combination with other adjectives to describe various temperaments: cold-hearted, fainthearted, hardhearted, and lighthearted are some other common examples.

how is big-hearted used?

The varied gifts were ranged about the foot of the bed, the golf stockings bulging with sweets were hung at its head, and the big-hearted donors retired ….

John Kendrick Bangs, "The House of Seven Santas," The Little Book of Christmas, 1912

For his part, the Badger left him in no doubt that a small effort now, and a big-hearted gesture, would make all the difference to the life of Toad, of the River Bank and of them all.

William Horwood, The Willows at Christmas, 1999

Get A Vocabulary Boost In Your Inbox

Get the Word of the Day every day!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.