Word of the Day

Friday, August 02, 2019

slake

[ sleyk ]

verb (used with object)

to lessen or allay (thirst, desire, wrath, etc.) by satisfying.

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What is the origin of slake?

Slake means “to lessen or allay something by satisfying it.” While we can slake our curiosity, desire, hunger, or anger, we most commonly say we slake our thirst. Slake comes from Middle English slaken “to mitigate, allay, moderate, lessen one’s efforts,” from Old English slacian “to slacken.” Old English slacian is a verb based off the adjective sleac, slæc, variously meaning “loose, lazy, careless, sluggish, lax (of conduct),” which by Middle English (as slac, slak) narrowed to the sense of “loose, not tight,” the principal sense of its modern form, slack, today. Old English sleac (via Germanic slak-) derives from the Proto-Indo-European root (s)lēg-, which, in its Latin variants, ultimately yielded such English words as languid,  languish, lax, lease, release, and relax. Once again, etymology offers an important life lesson: it’s best not to languish, so slake your thirst—with a beverage of your choice—and relax, but don’t be too lax about it and slack off.

how is slake used?

The desperate elephants dig a well in order to slake the thirst of their little calf.

Sonia Saraiya, "Staggering, Marvelous Our Planet Is the Nature Show We've Been Waiting For," Vanity Fair, April 9, 2019

He could not slake his thirst; he kept going into the kitchen and ladling more water out of the bucket that stood on a bench under the window facing the large moonlit yard.

Péter Nádas, Parallel Stories, translated by Imre Goldstein, 2011
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Thursday, August 01, 2019

august

[ aw-guhst ]

adjective

inspiring reverence or admiration; of supreme dignity or grandeur; majestic: an august performance of a religious drama.

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What is the origin of august?

The English adjective august ultimately derives from the Latin adjective augustus, an uncommon, quasi-religious adjective originally meaning “venerable, solemn,” first used by the Roman poet and playwright Ennius (239-169 b.c.). Augustus also means “majestic (in appearance), dignified,” as used in authors who lived before the emperor Augustus or were contemporary with him.

The etymology of augustus is unclear: it may be related to the verb augēre “to increase, enlarge, grow,” or it may be related to the noun augur, a noun of unknown etymology meaning “a Roman official who observes the flight of birds and interprets the omens.” Finally, it may be related to auspex, a synonym of augur but with an excellent etymology: avis “bird” and –spex “watcher,” from the verb specere “to observe.” It is also unclear why Octavian (the English short form of Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus), the sole head of the Roman state after the Battle of Actium (31 b.c.), selected the old, obscure title Augustus for himself. Octavian had also styled himself Rōmulus, the legendary founder and first king of Rome, and Octavian, perhaps wishing to avoid associations with the monarchy, settled upon Augustus.

On January 16, 27 b.c., the Senate bestowed upon Octavian the titles Augustus and Princeps (Civītātis) “First Citizen (of the State), First Man (of the State),” and Augustus became the emperor’s official title. After Augustus’s time, the title Augustus was applied to succeeding emperors; the feminine title Augusta was given to the emperor’s wife (and occasionally to other close female relatives, such as a mother, grandmother, sister, or daughter).

August entered English in the late 16th century.

how is august used?

We have before observed, that there is generally in nature something more grand and august than what we meet with in the curiosities of art.

Joseph Addison, "No. 414, Paper IV: On the Pleasures of the Imagination," The Spectator, June 25, 1712

At that time, a debate was raging in European scientific circles, one that was roiling the august halls of the French Academy of Sciences.

Robert Whitaker, The Mapmaker's Wife, 2004
Wednesday, July 31, 2019

dumbledore

[ duhm-buhl-dawr ]

noun

a bumblebee.

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What is the origin of dumbledore?

Dumbledore is a British dialect word, a compound of dumble, which is onomatopoeic, occurring variously as bumble-, dumble-, humble-, and the noun dor (also dorr) “an insect that makes a buzzing noise as it flies.” For her Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling selected Dumbledore as the surname of the headmaster of Hogwarts because dumbledore is a dialect word for “bumblebee,” Albus Dumbledore loved music, and she imagined him walking around “humming to himself.” Dumbledore is recorded in English by the late 1700s.

how is dumbledore used?

The dumbledore proper is Emerson’s “burly dozing humblebee,” in American prose always a bumblebee.

Charles P. G. Scott, "English Words which hav Gaind or Lost an Initial Consonant by Attraction," Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol. 23, 1892

Any Humble-bee, no matter what species, is known as a Bumble-bee, a Foggie, a Dumbledore, or a Hummel-bee, according to the peculiar dialect of the locality ….

John George Wood, Homes Without Hands, 1866

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