Word of the Day

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

simulacrum

[ sim-yuh-ley-kruhm ]

noun

an effigy, image, or representation: a simulacrum of Aphrodite.

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What is the origin of simulacrum?

Simulacrum, “a likeness, an image,” comes straight from Latin simulācrum “a resemblance in sight or sound, an image, a statue (of a god).” Simulācrum is a derivative of the verb simulā(re) “to simulate, pretend” and -crum, a variant of -culum, a suffix denoting tools or instruments. Simulāre in its turn is a derivative of the adjective similis “like, similar,” which through Medieval Latin similāris and Old French similaire becomes English similar. Simulacrum entered English at the end of the 16th century.

how is simulacrum used?

Except for flakes of plaster in its streets, the little city is entirely undamaged. The simulacrum now more whole than the original.

Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See, 2014

A gallery of thumbnail-size co-workers on a laptop screen is a diminished simulacrum of the conference-table gatherings that drive so much of corporate life.

Cal Newport, "Why Remote Work Is So Hard—And How It Can Be Fixed," The New Yorker, May 26, 2020

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Monday, August 03, 2020

vacillate

[ vas-uh-leyt ]

verb (used without object)

to waver in mind or opinion; be indecisive or irresolute: His tendency to vacillate makes him a poor leader.

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What is the origin of vacillate?

The verb vacillate comes from Latin vacillāt(us), the past participle of the verb vacillāre “(of a person) to be unsteady on one’s feet, stagger, reel; to waver in mind or opinion; (of a thing) to rock, sway, be in an unsound or precarious condition,” which is also used of persons in regard to their financial condition (yet another demonstration that in some respects the ancients were quite modern). Vacillate entered English at the end of the 16th century.

how is vacillate used?

Manfred, who has an unusual ability to vacillate between pugnacious and charming, cajoled owners, stressing the idea that the sport had to have a season.

Michael S. Schmidt, "How Rob Manfred Navigated A Summer of Peril for Baseball," New York Times, July 25, 2020

As state and local governments vacillate between easing and increasing restrictions, normal summer programs may be unavailable, or if open, may be operating at significantly reduced capacities.

Ashley T. Hirano, "DOL Issues Guidance on FFCRA and Summer School/Camp Closures," National Law Review, June 29, 2020

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Sunday, August 02, 2020

sororal

[ suh-rawr-uhl, -rohr- ]

adjective

of, relating to, or characteristic of a sister or sisters; sisterly.

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What is the origin of sororal?

Sororal means simply “relating to one’s sister or sisters; sisterly.” It derives from the Latin noun soror “sister” and the English adjective suffix -al, which ultimately comes from the Latin suffix -ālis. Soror comes from Proto-Indo-European swésor- “sister,” in Latin going through the stages from swesor to swosor to sworor to soror. Swésor- appears in Sanskrit as svásar-, in Greek as éor (Greek from preliterate times has had trouble with initial and intervocalic s and w, let alone the cluster sw-, all of which usually became h in classical Greek and disappeared in Hellenistic and later Greek). The form swésōr becomes siur in Old Irish and chwaer in Welsh. The Germanic variant swestar yields Gothic swistar, Old Norse systir, which influenced Old English sweostor and suster to become English sister. Sororal entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is sororal used?

Greta Gerwig’s take on Louisa May Alcott’s novel is intelligent and fleet, refreshing if not radical, and as organic in its feminist convictions as it is in its depiction of close-knit sororal love.

Philippa Snow, "The Reinvention of Little Women," The New Republic, January 1, 2020

Eva Kor describes having the same sort of sororal telepathy with her twin, Miriam Czaigher. … each seemed to know when the other was in special need.

Winifred Gallagher, "To the Manner Born," Rolling Stone, November 19, 1987

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Saturday, August 01, 2020

bonanza

[ buh-nan-zuh, boh- ]

noun

a source of great and sudden wealth or luck; a spectacular windfall: The play proved to be a bonanza for its lucky backers.

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What is the origin of bonanza?

Bonanza is a Mexican Spanish noun that entered American English in the early 1840s. In Spanish bonanza means “fair, calm weather (for sailing); prosperity.” Bonanza is a nasalized variant of Vulgar and Medieval Latin bonacia, bonatzia “calm sea,” which is a blend of the Latin adjective bon(us) “good” and Medieval Latin (mal)acia “calm sea,” from Greek malakía “softness.” Bonanza, with a transferred sense “rich vein of ore,” was first applied to the gold mines of Placer County, California (1844), and the silver mines of the Comstock Lode, Nevada (1859).

how is bonanza used?

After Stevie Wonder appeared in a segment, one of his greatest-hits albums jumped to the top of the U.K. iTunes charts, turning “Carpool Karaoke” into a promotional bonanza.

Michael Schulman, "James Cordon's Do-Over," The New Yorker, January 27, 2020

Over the next three weeks they picked up four new clients, a bonanza by Harvey’s standards.

Jonathan Dee, A Thousand Pardons, 2013

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Friday, July 31, 2020

obfuscate

[ ob-fuh-skeyt, ob-fuhs-keyt ]

verb (used with object)

to make obscure or unclear: to obfuscate a problem with extraneous information.

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What is the origin of obfuscate?

The verb obfuscate comes from Late Latin (especially Christian Latin) offuscāt(us), also obfuscāt(us), the past participle of offuscāre (obfuscāre), literally “to darken, obscure.” Offuscāre is a compound of the preposition and prefix ob, of– “toward, against,” also used as an intensive prefix, as here, and the verb fuscāre “to make dark, become dark.” The Latin root word is the adjective fuscus “dark, somber, dim, drab.” Fuscus is possibly related to Old English dox, dosc “dark,” source of the English noun and adjective dusk. Obfuscate entered English in the first half of the 16th century.

how is obfuscate used?

Of course all this talk of carbon emissions obfuscates the other significant dangers associated with the nuclear cycle.

Mark Dowie, "Nuclear Caribou," Orion, January/February 2009

But it will take moral clarity, which will require both editors and reporters to stop doing things like reflexively hiding behind euphemisms that obfuscate the truth, simply because we’ve always done it that way.

Wesley Lowery, "A Reckoning Over Objectivity, Led by Black Journalists," New York Times, June 23, 2020

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Thursday, July 30, 2020

evanescent

[ ev-uh-nes-uhnt ]

adjective

vanishing; fading away; fleeting.

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What is the origin of evanescent?

The adjective evanescent, “vanishing, fading,” comes via the French adjective évanescent, from Latin ēvānēscēns (inflectional stem ēvānēscent-), the present participle of the verb ēvānēscere “to disappear, vanish, fade away,” whose root word is the adjective vānus “empty, hollow, illusory,” source of English vain (via Old French). Ēvānēscere is a compound of the preposition and prefix ex-, ē- “out, out of, utterly, completely” and the verb vānēscere “to melt into nothing, vanish.” Ēvānēscere becomes esvanir, evanir in Old French, with a present stem esvaniss-, evaniss-, the source of Middle English vanis(s)hen, “to disappear, disappear suddenly,” English vanish. Evanescent entered English in the early 18th century.

how is evanescent used?

Readers, after enjoying a book, are desperate not to let go of the characters, the evanescent feeling of being in the text.

Deirdre Foley Mendelssohn, "Bottling the Book," The New Yorker, July 15, 2010

The pantomime of head-butting and jabbing, with moments when his whole body crumples as if in grief, lasts mere seconds. Every gesture is sharp but evanescent, vanishing as quickly as it takes shape.

Sarah L. Kaufman, "In pain and rage, a protester approached police. And then he danced," Washington Post, June, 6, 2020

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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

whinge

[ hwinj, winj ]

verb (used without object)

British and Australian Informal.

to complain; whine.

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What is the origin of whinge?

The verb whinge, “to complain, whine,” occurs in just about every national variety of English—British, Irish (James Joyce, Samuel Beckett), Scottish (Robert Burns), Australian, New Zealand—but remains lesser known in US English. Indeed, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry’s address at the Dursleys (4 Privet Drive / Little Whinging / Surrey), Whinging had to be glossed for American readers. Whinge comes from Scots and northern England dialect quhynge (these varieties of Middle English often use qu- for standard English wh-, as in quat for what, quere for where); hence quhynge is pronounced whinge. Quhynge comes from Old English hwinsian “to complain” and is related to whine, whisper, and whistle, all of which come from a Germanic root hwei– “to whistle, whisper.” Whinge entered English in the mid-12th century.

how is whinge used?

When an Ohio second grader joins in to whinge about achy pen-holding fingers, handwriting … becomes as hot a topic as in Erasmus’s day.

Jessica Kerwin Jenkins, "The Story of How Handwriting Evolved, and May Soon Die Off," New York Times, August 25, 2016

I wrote in my diary: ‘Here I am in Paris with dreams fulfilled and I whinge because my back hurts! But it bloody does.’

Patti Miller, Ransacking Paris, 2015

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