Word of the Day

Saturday, August 10, 2019

shivaree

[ shiv-uh-ree ]

noun

a mock serenade with kettles, pans, horns, and other noisemakers given for a newly married couple; charivari.

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What is the origin of shivaree?

The etymology of shivaree is obscure. Most authorities consider it to be a Mississippi Valley French alteration (or a vulgar corruption) of French charivari, a noun of obscure origin, said to be from Late Latin carībaria “headache,” from Greek karēbaría, equivalent to karē-, a combining form of kárā, kárē “head,” and the noun suffix –baría “heaviness” (from barýs “heavy” and the abstract noun suffix –ía). Supposedly such a racket would give someone a headache.

Other authorities claim that shivaree comes from French chez vous “at your home” and list many variants in spelling (and presumably in pronunciation): chevaux, cheveaux, chev-ho, chivoo, shavoo, sheave-o, sheavo, sheevo, shevoo, shivaree, shivaroo, shiveree, shiverree, shivoe.

Vulgar or not, shivaree was noble enough for Mark Twain to use it (in that spelling) in A Tramp Abroad (1880): “… she turned on all the horrors of the ‘Battle of Prague,’ that venerable shivaree, and waded chin deep in the blood of the slain.” Charivari entered English in the first half of the 19th century. Shivaree seems to have entered English in 1875.

how is shivaree used?

“Let’s give the governor and his lady a real shivaree!” Nearly a hundred drunks assembled outside the tavern with horns and drums and washboards and bugles and tin pots.

James A. Michener, Texas, 1985

Encouraging cake mashing, like a host of other awful wedding customs, from shivaree (a noisy mock serenade on the wedding night) to tying a tin can to the newlyweds’ getaway car, is one last chance for the couple’s friends to indulge in the game of “X and Y, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.”

Charles Perry, "Cake Smashing," Los Angeles Times, February 26, 1997
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Friday, August 09, 2019

fascicle

[ fas-i-kuhl ]

noun

a section of a book or set of books being published in installments as separate pamphlets or volumes.

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What is the origin of fascicle?

The noun fascicle “a bunch, bundle” has always been a technical term, restricted to botany and anatomy. Even in its publishing sense, “a section of a book or set of books published in installments as separate pamphlets or volumes,” fascicle is a technical term. Fascicle comes from Latin fasciculus (also the source of fascicule) “a small bundle, packet, parcel,” a diminutive of the noun fascis “a bundle (e.g., of sticks, wood, books). The fascēs, the plural of fascis, were the bundle of rods about five feet long, bound by red leather bands around an ax that in Republican times was used as an instrument of execution. The fascēs were the primary visible symbol of a higher Roman magistrate’s power and authority. They were carried by lictors: twelve fascēs for consuls and proconsuls (and for kings in the regal period); six fascēs for praetors and Masters of the Horse; and twenty-four fascēs for dictators. Fascis or fascēs becomes fascio in Italian, meaning “bundle of sticks.” The Roman fascēs were adopted as the symbol of the Partito Nazionale Fascista (“National Fascist Party”) organized by Benito Mussolini in 1919, the same year as the appearance of the English noun fascists. Fascicle entered English in the 17th century.

how is fascicle used?

… she gathered her poems into forty homemade books, known as “fascicles,” by folding single sheets of blank paper in half to form four consecutive pages ….

Dan Chiasson, "Emily Dickinson's Singular Scrap Poetry," The New Yorker, November 27, 2016

… he knew what he sought, and found exactly that, the fascicles dwindling like melting ice-shards, verso words showing through ….

William T. Vollmann, "The Cemetery of the World," Last Stories and Other Stories, 2014
Thursday, August 08, 2019

cat's-paw

[ kats-paw ]

noun

a person used to serve the purposes of another; tool.

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What is the origin of cat's-paw?

In English cat’s-paw originally meant “a person used to serve the purposes of another; tool.” The term comes from a Le Singe et le Chat, “The Monkey and the Cat,” a fable by Jean de La Fontaine (1621–1695), the French poet and collector of fairy tales, in which a monkey persuades a cat to pull chestnuts out of hot coals that the chestnuts are roasting in and promises to share the chestnuts with the cat. The cat scoops the chestnuts one by one out of the coals, burning his paw in the process, while the monkey eats up the chestnuts. A maid enters the room, stopping all the action, and the cat gets nothing for its pains. Both nautical senses, “a light breeze on the surface of the water” and “a kind of knot made in the bight of a rope,” date from the second half of the 18th century. Cat’s-paw entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is cat's-paw used?

I believe these people are simply using you as a cats-paw.

Victor Bridges, A Rogue by Compulsion, 1915

… we should not take these fifty-one painters and sculptors … too seriously. In a certain sense they are mere cat’s-paws.

, "Are They Only Cat's-Paws?" New York Times, April 5, 1909

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