• Word of the day
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    Friday, January 26, 2018

    Sisyphean

    adjective [sis-uh-fee-uh n]
    endless and unavailing, as labor or a task.
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    What is the origin of Sisyphean?

    Many Greek proper names, e.g., Sisyphus, Ephyra, Corinth, and Athens, have no discernible etymology in Greek. In Greek mythology Sísyphos was king over Ephýra, the old name for Corinth (the port city on the southern shore of the Gulf of Corinth), about 50 miles west of Athens. The only mention of Sisyphus in the Iliad (book 6:154-55) is that he lived in Ephyra. In the Odyssey (book 11:593-600), Odysseus saw Sisyphus rolling his huge stone but gave no reason for Sisyphus’s punishment. Later writers state that Sisyphus had offended Zeus by telling the river god Asopus where Zeus had taken his (Asopus’s) daughter Aegina. Zeus had abducted Aegina, and Asopus was in vengeful pursuit against Zeus. Sisyphean entered English in the 17th century.

    How is Sisyphean used?

    Making himself useful as always, he took upon himself the Sisyphean task of keeping all those Modernist surfaces sparkling. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex, 2002

    We are shown two inmates toiling at senseless, Sisyphean labors, nursing each other's sores, commiserating and bickering with each other. John Simon, "Mad, Bad, Sad, and Glad," New York, December 16, 1974

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  • Word of the day
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    Thursday, January 25, 2018

    reverie

    noun [rev-uh-ree]
    a state of dreamy meditation or fanciful musing: lost in reverie.
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    What is the origin of reverie?

    Reverie has calmed down from its original meaning of wild emotion, wild behavior, anger, fury (the 14th and 15th centuries). The Middle French nouns reverie and resverie derive from Middle French verbs resver, raver, rever “to be insane, behave deliriously” (in modern French rȇver means only “to dream”). The current English meaning of daydreaming dates from the 15th century.

    How is reverie used?

    Sometimes I'd lie quite still with my eyes closed for as much as half an hour, letting myself sink slowly into a state of reverie that was almost a trance. Christopher Isherwood, The World in the Evening, 1954

    As the evening wore away he became more and more absorbed in reverie, from which no sallies of mine could arouse him. Edgar Allan Poe, "The Gold Bug," The Dollar Newspaper, June 21, 1843

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  • Word of the day
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    Wednesday, January 24, 2018

    quodlibet

    noun [kwod-luh-bet]
    a subtle or elaborate argument or point of debate, usually on a theological or scholastic subject.
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    What is the origin of quodlibet?

    The Latin indefinite pronoun and adjective quodlibet is the neuter singular of quīlibet (also quīlubet) “who(m)/what it pleases, who(m)/what you like, whoever, whatever.” Latin libēre, lubēre “to be dear, be pleasing” is related to English love and to Slavic (Polish) lubić “to like, enjoy." By the 14th century, medieval scholars used the noun quodlibētum “whatever (subject or topic) you like,” as in disputātiō dē quodlibētō “a debate on any topic one likes.” Quodlibet entered English in the 14th century.

    How is quodlibet used?

    And his majesty drove off, very much delighted with his last quodlibet upon the duke, whom he really hated. Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870), The Memoirs of a Physician, translated 1910

    The hexahemera of the fathers and the works of Albertus Magnus would be the text-books in natural science, while theology and philosophy would be nothing but a rehash of the quiddities and quodlibets of Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus. E. P. Evans, "Recent Recrudescence of Superstition," The Popular Science Monthly, October 1895

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, January 23, 2018

    maladroit

    adjective [mal-uh-droit]
    unskillful; awkward; bungling; tactless; lacking in adroitness: to handle a diplomatic crisis in a very maladroit way.
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    What is the origin of maladroit?

    English maladroit is a direct borrowing from French. The first element, mal-, is from the French adverb and combining form mal- “badly, ill,” from the Latin adverb male with the same meaning. The second element is the French adjective adroit “skillful, deft,” in origin a prepositional phrase à droit (also à dreit) “by or according to right; correctly.” The element à is from Latin ad “to, up to, towards.” Dreit (droit) is the French development of Vulgar Latin drēctum, drictum “straightened, straight,” from Latin dīrectum, dērectum “straight, right.” Maladroit entered English in the 17th century.

    How is maladroit used?

    He asked a thousand pardons of Madame la Duchesse for being so maladroit. William Makepeace Thackeray, The Newcomes, 1855

    Nixon’s maladroit attempt to be one of the boys indicates an important advance that shows up in the taping. Clive Irving, "Watergate Didn't Reveal Nixon's Demons—David Frost Did," Daily Beast, May 27, 2017

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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, January 22, 2018

    featly

    adverb [feet-lee]
    neatly; elegantly.
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    What is the origin of featly?

    Featly is an archaic word, used mostly as an adverb and occasionally, since the 19th century, as an adjective. The word derives from the Middle English adverb feetly, fetly “properly, suitably,” from the Old French adjective fait, fet “made (for something),” from the Latin adjective factus “made.” The English suffix -ly is the usual suffix for forming adjectives and adverbs of manner. Featly entered English at the beginning of the 15th century.

    How is featly used?

    Foot it featly here and there ... William Shakespeare, The Tempest, 1623

    For so featly came riding in to the humble prosaic precincts of the cow-pens and into their hearts the vernal beauty of Spring herself ... that the ranchmen were bewitched and dazed, and knew no more of good common-sense. Mary Noailles Murfree, The Frontiersmen, 1904

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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, January 21, 2018

    vulnerary

    adjective [vuhl-nuh-rer-ee]
    used to promote the healing of wounds, as herbs or other remedies.
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    What is the origin of vulnerary?

    The Latin adjective and noun vulnerārius first appears in the writings of the Roman polymath Pliny the Elder (23–79 a.d.), who perished in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 a.d. while trying to observe the eruption). As an adjective, vulnerārius means “(bandage) for dressing wounds"; as a noun, it means “surgeon.” Vulnerary entered English at the end of the 16th century.

    How is vulnerary used?

    She was now in an apartment of the castle, anxiously superintending the preparation of vulnerary herbs, to be applied to the wounded ... Sir Walter Scott, A Legend of Montrose, 1819

    Formerly country people cultivated Comfrey in their gardens for its virtue in wound healing, and the many local names of the plant testify to its long reputation as a vulnerary herb ... Maud Grieve, A Modern Herbal, 1931

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, January 20, 2018

    doodlesack

    noun [dood-l-sak]
    a bagpipe.
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    What is the origin of doodlesack?

    Doodlesack, a respelling of German Dudelsack “bagpipe,” literally “bagpipe sack,” is a rare word in English. The German word is, or seems to be, a derivative of dudeln “to tootle” (unless the verb is a derivative of the noun). Even in German Dudelsack appears not to be a native word but is likely to be a borrowing from a Slavic language, e.g., Polish and Czech dudy “bagpipe.” Doodlesack entered English in the mid-19th century.

    How is doodlesack used?

    You wouldn't happen to have brought a shawm or a doodlesack with you, by any chance? Or even a kazoo? Charlotte MacLeod, The Silver Ghost, 1988

    Kurdis put his hands to his kannel, the piper blew into his doodle sack and the assembled crowd moved across the courtyard. Friedebert Tuglas (1886–1971), "The Mermaid," The Poet and the Idiot And Other Stories, translated by Eric Dickens, 2007

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