Word of the Day

Word of the day

Saturday, December 18, 2021


[ suhm-er-sawlt ]


an acrobatic movement, either forward or backward, in which the body rolls end over end, making a complete revolution.

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What is the origin of somersault?

Somersault derives from Middle French sombresaut, a nasalized variant of sobresault, which is a borrowing from Old Provençal. Provençal is both a dialect of and another name for Occitan, a Romance language that is still spoken today in the south of France. Sobresault is a compound of sobre “over” and saut “a leap,” from Latin super and saltus, of the same meanings. Super is also the source of sovereign, superior, and supreme and is distantly related to English over, German über, and Ancient Greek hypér. Saltus, from the verb salīre “to leap,” is also the source of assault, result, salacious, salient, and recent Word of the Day selection saltigrade. Somersault was first recorded in English in the 1520s.

how is somersault used?

Usain Bolt was ramping into warp speed when suddenly, stunningly, the sprint turned into a somersault. Fifteen steps into the final homestretch of his final race, something gave in his left hamstring. The World’s Fastest Man skittered to a stop — hopping, skipping, jumping, then finally dropping to the ground and tumbling forward before coming to a rest …. He was certainly every bit as stunned as any of the 60,000-plus who packed the stadium Saturday, or the millions watching one of the world’s most entertaining showmen make his final curtain call in the 4×100-meter relay at world championships.

Eddie Pells, “Bolt takes a tumble and can’t complete final race at worlds,” AP News, August 12, 2017

In a statement, Goodall’s family said they were extremely grateful to all those who were involved in the rescue. ‘It was with a heavy heart Susie left DHL Starlight to fend for herself, before she fills with water and rests on the Pacific Ocean floor. DHL Starlight has been her home for the past few years; a faithful friend who stood up valiantly to all the elements, a guardian until their last moments together …. When she was younger, Susie loved doing somersaults on trampolines. We just never thought she’d do one in a boat…’

Katy Stickland, "Golden Globe Race: Susie Goodall rescued," Yachting Monthly, December 9, 2018
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Friday, December 17, 2021


[ voh-luhnt ]


engaged in or having the power of flight.

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What is the origin of volant?

Volant “engaged in or having the power of flight” is a borrowing from French, in which it means “flying” and is the present participle of the verb voler “to fly, steal.” Voler derives from Latin volāre “to fly,” which is of mysterious and uncertain origin. Some linguists derive volāre from a Proto-Indo-European root, gwel- “to raise the arm, throw, reach,” under the assumption that the definition could have shifted from “to raise the arm” to “to spread one’s wings,” but this hypothesis is not universally accepted. If volāre does come from this root, it is a cognate of Ancient Greek ballein “to throw” (as in ballistic, parabola, problem, and symbol). Volant was first recorded in English in the first decade of the 1500s.

how is volant used?

More than 160 million years ago, the forests of ancient China were home to a bizarre predator: a tiny dinosaur that glided from tree to tree with leathery, bat-like wings. The newfound fossil, unveiled today in the journal Nature, is just the second feathered dinosaur found with signs of large membranes on its wings ….“The most exciting thing, for me, is that it shows that some dinosaurs evolved very different structures to become volant,” or capable of some form of flight, says lead study author Min Wang, a paleontologist at China’s Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

Michael Greshko, “New species of bat-wing dinosaur discovered,” National Geographic, May 8, 2019

Bats get a bad rap. From horror films to tabloid pages to Halloween, media and cultural depictions of our planet’s only volant, or flying, mammals have long generated and reinforced unfounded fear …. Such hostile attitudes make it harder to conserve bats and thereby safeguard the many critical benefits they provide us. What’s more, persecuting bats because of the diseases they harbor could easily backfire.

Timothy Treuer, Ricardo Rocha, and Cara Brook, "Bats Are Not Our Enemies," Scientific American, May 15, 2020
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Thursday, December 16, 2021


[ ahngkst, angst ]


a feeling of dread, anxiety, or anguish.

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What is the origin of angst?

Angst “a feeling of dread, anxiety, or anguish” is a borrowing from German, in which the noun is capitalized, from Old High German angust. If you are wondering whether angst is related to anxiety and anguish, your suspicion is correct; all three words ultimately derive from a Proto-Indo-European root, angh- “tight, painful,” which is the source of numerous pain-related terms beginning with ag-, ang-, or anx-. From Old English, derivatives include hangnail (originally agnail, but altered by association with hang). Via Old Norse angr “sorrow, grief,” English has borrowed anger. Through Latin angere “to strangle” (stem anx-) and angustus “narrow,” we have anxiety and anguish. Last, from Ancient Greek anchónē “strangling,” English has inherited angina “an attack of painful spasms.” Angst was first recorded in English in the 1840s.

how is angst used?

It can be hard to tell the difference, in the midst of a crisis, between normal levels of angst and those that indicate we might be edging into serious psychological problems. Key signs of declining mental health include changes in appetite or sleep patterns that last more than a week …. Having more trouble concentrating than usual or being unable to enjoy things you used to enjoy may also indicate that your mental health is declining and that you need to try new coping strategies.

Melinda Wenner Moyer, “You Can Get through This Dark Pandemic Winter Using Tips from Disaster Psychology,” Scientific American, December 21, 2020

My motherly intuition senses that my baby is an old soul, recalling many past lives and really feeling them. According to her doctor, she’s teething and has gas. This may be true on a basic level, but I am certain that she’s also a highly advanced nascent human with acute existential angst. I’ve lived long enough to know flatulence from the unbearable dread of existence.

Carla Ciccone, "My Baby’s Existential Angst," The New Yorker, August 12, 2020
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