Word of the Day

Friday, January 10, 2020

sidesplitter

[ sahyd-split-er ]

noun

something that is uproariously funny, as a joke or a situation.

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What is the origin of sidesplitter?

Sidesplitter is perfectly obvious in its derivation and meaning: something that is so uproariously funny that you split your sides from laughing. Sidesplitter first appears in a weekly newspaper, the New-York Mirror, in 1834 and slightly later in England.

how is sidesplitter used?

If the lyric “In New York, you can be a real ham” sounds like a sidesplitter, this one’s for you.

Erik Piepenburg, "5 Shows to See in New York When You Have Only an Hour," New York Times, March 8, 2017

My appreciation of the short form was enhanced when I discovered the quirky humor of Damon Runyon and Ring Larder, clearly at their peak in a twenty-page sidesplitter.

Otto Penzler, "Foreword," The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century, 2000
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Thursday, January 09, 2020

beaucoup

[ boh-koo ]

adjective

Informal: Usually Facetious.

many; numerous; much: It's a hard job, but it pays beaucoup money.

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What is the origin of beaucoup?

In French, beaucoup is an adverb meaning (in various combinations) “a lot, lots, lots of, much, many.” Beaucoup first appeared in American English about 1760 in the sense “a lot, many.” The word, whether used as a singular or plural, was rare before 1918, when the United States became fully engaged in World War I, as in “We’ve been spending beaucoup francs lately for Uncle Sam,” and as an adverb “very, very much,” as in Ernest Hemingway’s “I’m pulling through my annual tonsilitis now so feel bokoo rotten” (1918). During the 1960s and ’70s, American servicemen returning from Vietnam popularized the word and introduced the spellings boo-koo, boocoo(p).

how is beaucoup used?

Grassroots support, a powerful message and good timing can still win elections, even without beaucoup bucks.

Eleanor Smeal, "Women Voted for Change," Ms., Vol. 17, 2007

Of course, one can ignore the message and simply revel briefly in the traditional values: the days of beaucoup silverware, heaping platters of mutton, folks upstairs and downstairs.

Rita Kempley, "The Past: Perfect for the Tense Present," Washington Post, November 21, 1993
Wednesday, January 08, 2020

imponderabilia

[ im-pon-der-uh-bil-ee-uh, -bil-yuh ]

plural noun

imponderables; things that cannot be precisely determined, measured, or evaluated: the imponderabilia surrounding human life.

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What is the origin of imponderabilia?

There are not very many seven-syllable words in English, which makes imponderabilia a really weighty word. It’s Latin for “imponderable things, imponderables.” It comes from New Latin imponderābilia, a noun use of the neuter plural of the Medieval Latin adjective imponderābilis “unable to be weighed or measured,” ultimately deriving from Latin ponderāre “to weigh.” Imponderabilia entered English in the early 20th century.

how is imponderabilia used?

… the imponderabilia,—those obscure but all-powerful factors like sentiment, public opinion, good will, affection, and so on. You can’t weigh or measure them, nor get at them by any rule of thumb.

"In the Interpreter's House," American Magazine, Vol. 79, January–June, 1915

Bronisław Malinowski, called [them] “the imponderabilia of actual life.” These are, he wrote, “small incidents, characteristic forms of taking food, of conversing, of doing work, [that] are found occurring over and over again.”

Graeme Wood, "Anthropology Inc." The Atlantic, March 2013
Tuesday, January 07, 2020

oneiric

[ oh-nahy-rik ]

adjective

of or relating to dreams.

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What is the origin of oneiric?

The English adjective oneiric derives from the Greek noun óneiros “dream, the god of dreams.” Óneiros itself is a later derivative from the noun ónar “dream, fortune-telling dream; in a dream.” Oneiromancy is divination through dreams; oneirocriticism is the interpretation of dreams. Ónar has relatives in only two other Indo-European languages: Albanian ëndërrë (the ë represents schwa) and Armenian anurj, both meaning “dream” (linguists have recognized for nearly a century features of phonology, morphology, and vocabulary shared only by Greek and Armenian). Oneiric entered English in the mid-19th century.

how is oneiric used?

The clouds are pregnant and always in bloom, like oneiric cauliflowers ….

Henry Miller, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, 1945

Leonardo’s world was atomistic, volatile, constantly in flux. At the same time, it was also surprising and oneiric, like scenes from a daydream, and this is how he depicted that world in his art.

Maria H. Loh, "Five Hundred Years After Leonardo Da Vinci's Death, His Work Offers New Environmental Insights," Art in America, October 1, 2019
Monday, January 06, 2020

rax

[ raks ]

verb (used without object)

to stretch oneself, as after sleeping.

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What is the origin of rax?

The verb rax “to stretch oneself, as after sleeping,” is used in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Rax comes from Middle English raxen, rasken (Old English racsan, raxan). Raxan is from the same root as rack “a bar, framework of bars” and is akin to the verb reccan, reccean “to stretch, extend.” Rax dates from the Old English period.

how is rax used?

The quenis dog begowthe to rax

William Dunbar (c1460–c1520), "Of a Dance in the Quenis Chalmer," The Poems of William Dunbar, 1907

On easy chair that pamper’d lie, / Wi’ banefu’ viands gustit high, / And turn an’ fauld their weary clay, / To rax an’ gaunt the live-lang day.

Robert Fergusson (1750—1774), "Hame Content," The Poetical Works of Robert Fergusson, 1800
Sunday, January 05, 2020

orbicular

[ awr-bik-yuh-ler ]

adjective

like an orb; circular; ringlike; spherical; rounded.

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What is the origin of orbicular?

The uncommon adjective orbicular ultimately comes from the rare Late Latin adjective orbiculāris “circular, orbicular,” which occurs in zoological and botanical texts. Orbiculāris is a derivative of orbiculus “small disk or ring, small wheel or pulley.” Orbiculus is a diminutive of the noun orbis “ring, disk, hoop, millstone, table, tabletop (i.e., a two-dimensional figure), sphere, ball, globe (i.e., describing a heavenly body).” In English, orbicular is about as restricted in usage as it is in Latin, occurring in anatomy, physiology, botany, and zoology. Orbicular entered English in the 15th century.

how is orbicular used?

The whole orbicular World hangs by a golden chain from that part of the battlements of Heaven whence the angels fell.

Walter Alexander Raleigh, Milton, 1900

What would be thought of a zoologist who should describe the feet of the web-footed birds as orbicular disks, divided to a great or less extent?

"On the Natural System of Botany," Magazine of Botany and Gardening, British and Foreign, Vol. 2, No. 20, 1834
Saturday, January 04, 2020

welp

[ welp ]

interjection

Nonstandard.

an informal variant of well used to indicate disappointment, resignation, or acceptance at the beginning of an utterance: Welp, this might not work out for us after all.

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What is the origin of welp?

The etymological explanation of welp is accurate, if wonky: welp is a form of well as an isolated or emphatic utterance, with an excrescent p representing closing of the lips, creating an unreleased labial stop, as also in nope, yep, and yup. Excrescent consonants are pretty common: the usual one in English is t, as in amongst, midst, and whilst. Excrescent t also occurs in ancient Greek and Sanskrit. German Sekt “champagne” derives from French vin sec “dry wine” and shows the same excrescent t. Welp is first recorded in English in the mid-1940s but doubtless has been around far longer.

how is welp used?

Pitt smiles and bluntly states, “There is no future.” Welp.

Avery Matera, "Brad Pitt Makes a Statement About Climate Change by Channeling a Weatherman," W, June 7, 2017

Knowing that I’ll get to retire is such a “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” Welp, time for another day of answering e-mails.

Alex Schmidt, "Just Another Nineties Workday," The New Yorker, September 26, 2019

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