Word of the Day

Friday, February 19, 2021

snollygoster

[ snol-ee-gos-ter ]

noun

a clever, unscrupulous person.

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What is the origin of snollygoster?

Snollygoster “a clever, unscrupulous person,” is an American slang term that first appears in print in 1845 in Marion County, Indiana. As with many, if not most slang terms, there is no reliable etymology for the word. Some authorities have suggested that snollygoster is a variant of snallygaster, a mythical monster that preys on poultry and children and is supposedly found in Maryland, but the earliest citation for snallygaster is 1940, nearly a century after snollygoster.

how is snollygoster used?

But the people will awaken, and all that will be left of the snollygoster will be an unsavory blotch on the history of American politics.

Fred L. Carr, "College Record," North Carolina University Magazine, November 1893

President Reagan has done for succotash what President Truman did for snollygoster: put the spotlight of pitiless publicity on an obscure Americanism.

William Safire, "The Meaning of Depression," New York Times, April 11, 1982

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Thursday, February 18, 2021

prosopopoeia

[ proh-soh-puh-pee-uh ]

noun

personification, as of inanimate things.

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What is the origin of prosopopoeia?

You can charge a lot for a learned Greek word like prosopopoeia, a term in rhetoric meaning “personification, as of inanimate things; imaging an absent or dead person as speaking or acting.” Prosopoeia is very effective when a master like Demosthenes or Cicero uses it, not so much when it’s badly bungled in a sermon. Prosopoeia comes via Latin prosopopoeia from Greek prosōpoiía “putting speeches in the mouths of characters, dramatization.” Prosōpoiía is composed of the noun prósōpon “face, countenance, person” and the Greek combining form –poiía “making, creating,” a derivative of the verb poieîn “to make” (ultimate source of English poesy and poetry). Prósōpon, literally “opposite the face (of the other),” is composed of the preposition and prefix pros-, pros “toward, in the face of” and the noun ṓps “eye, face, countenance.” Prosopopoeia entered English in the mid-16th century.

how is prosopopoeia used?

Over the 14 lines of the sonnet, the poem moves from making a negative comparison to the Colossus of Rhodes to animating the “new Colossus” with a voice, an instance of what literary critics call personification or, to use the more unwieldy term, prosopopoeia

Walt Hunter, "The Story Behind the Poem on the Statue of Liberty," The Atlantic, January 16, 2018

Lord Byron’s very numerous comparisons, all admirable, and often under the form of a prosopopoeia, are indicative of the warm imagination which clothed inanimate shapes with the breathing realities of life …

"Recollections of Shelley and Byron," Westminster Review, Vol. 69, 1858

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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

rueful

[ roo-fuhl ]

adjective

feeling, showing, or expressing sorrow, repentance, or regret.

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What is the origin of rueful?

The adjective rueful is easy to define: “full of rue,” but what is rue? The noun rue comes from Middle English reu(e) “pity, someone or something causing sorrow, a disgrace” (herte-reue means “sorrow in one’s heart”). Reu(e) comes from Old English hrēow “sorrow, regret, penitence, repentance,” and is akin to Old Frisian rīowa, Old Dutch rouwe, Dutch rouw, Old High German (h)riuwa, German Reue, all meaning “regret, remorse, repentance.” The noun ruth “pity, compassion; sorrow, grief” comes from Middle English reuth(e) (it has many extravagant spellings), a derivative of the adjective reu(e) plus the suffix –th, which forms nouns of action such as birth, bath, or of state, such as breadth, width. Lastly, the personal name Ruth comes from Hebrew Rūth, possibly a contracted form of rəʿūth “friend(s), female friend(s).” Rueful entered English in the first half of the 13th century.

how is rueful used?

A common refrain from writers on Twitter is that writing is hard. Often, this insight is accompanied by the rueful observation that tweeting is easy.

Katy Waldman, "Is the Internet Making Writing Better?" The New Yorker, July 26, 2019

He stood for a moment with his hands held down and a rueful face, staring out over the waste that defied him.

H. G. Wells, The First Men in the Moon, 1901

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