Word of the Day

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

skimble-scamble

[ skim-buhl-skam-buhl; skim-uhl-skam-uhl ]

adjective

rambling; confused; nonsensical: a skimble-scamble explanation.

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What is the origin of skimble-scamble?

The rare adjective skimble-scamble shows the same, common vowel alteration in a reduplicated word as in mish-mash or pitter-patter. The reduplicated word is the verb scamble, of unknown etymology, and now obsolete or dialectal, meaning “to struggle or scramble with others for food or money tossed to a crowd,” now replaced by scramble. The lexicographer Samuel Johnson was not keen on skimble-scamble, calling it a “cant word,” one of his favorite terms of abuse. Skimble-scamble entered English at the end of the 16th century.

how is skimble-scamble used?

He complained bitterly of his reporters, saying that the skimblescamble stuff which they published would “make posterity think ill of his understanding, and that of his brethren on the bench.”

John Campbell, The Lives of the Chief Justices of England,  Vol. III, 1873

And such a deal of skimble-skamble stuff, /
As puts me from my faith.

William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1, 1623
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Monday, March 25, 2019

optics

[ op-tiks ]

noun

the way a situation, action, event, etc., is perceived by the public or by a particular group of people.

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What is the origin of optics?

The noun optics originally referred to that branch of physics dealing with light or other electromagnetic radiation and with the sense of sight. The now common sense “the way a situation, action, or event is perceived by the public or in a particular context, especially a political one,” was originally an Americanism first recorded in 1973. Optics entered English in the 16th century.

how is optics used?

The sentence has to be in double figures. The optics are lousy if it’s anything less.

Robert Rotenberg,  The Guilty Plea, 2011

For Romney, there is little value in trying to compete with the optics of Obama’s trip.

Dan Balz, "Romney slams Obama on eve of foreign trip," Washington Post, July 24, 2012
Sunday, March 24, 2019

isolato

[ ahy-suh-ley-toh ]

noun

a person who is physically or spiritually isolated from their times or society.

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What is the origin of isolato?

The rare English noun isolato comes directly from the Italian adjective and noun isolato “isolated; an isolated person.” The Italian word is the past participle of the verb isolare “to shut off, cut off, isolate,” a derivative of the noun isola “isle, island” (there is no Latin verb īnsulāre). Isola is a regular Italian development of Latin īnsula, a noun of unknown etymology, meaning “island, an island as a place of exile, tenement house,” all of which can be pretty bleak. Isolato entered English in the mid-19th century.

how is isolato used?

… my life has been that of an isolato, a shepherd on a mountaintop, situated as far from so-called civilization as possible, and it has made me unnaturally brusque and awkward.

Russell Banks, Cloudsplitter, 1998

I’m an isolato now and there’s no going back.

Viv Albertine, "Viv Albertine: 'I set out to write about an unpleasant woman who fantasised about murder. It turned out to be me,'" The Guardian, April 13, 2018

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