Word of the Day

Monday, November 04, 2019

Sprachgefühl

[ shprahkh-guh-fyl ]

noun

German.

a sensitivity to language, especially for what is grammatically or idiomatically acceptable in a given language.

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What is the origin of Sprachgefühl?

If you have sufficient Sprachgefühl for German, you’ll know that this noun is a great example of how that language can form compounds that capture very specific concepts. Sprachgefühl combines German Sprache “speech, language” and Gefühl “feeling.” Literally meaning “speech-feeling,” this term was borrowed into English by the early 1900s to convey the idea of “a sensitivity to language, especially for what is grammatically or idiomatically acceptable in a given language,” that is, an intuitive sense of how a language works. For instance, native English speakers understand (usually without being explicitly taught about adjective order) that a phrase like the green big book is incorrect in English. (The correct construction would be the big green book.)

how is Sprachgefühl used?

He displays an extraordinary range of what Germans call Sprachgefühl, an infectious love of language that inspires his readers and illuminates the nooks and crannies of the English language.

George Thomas Kurian, "Safire's Political Dictionary," The Reference Librarian's Bible, 2018

The test of vocabulary is important, but subordinate to that of “Sprachgefühl.”

Mary Anna Sawtelle, quoted in Report of the Third Annual Meeting of the New England Modern Language Association, May 12, 1906
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Sunday, November 03, 2019

obumbrate

[ ob-uhm-breyt ]

verb (used with object)

to darken, overshadow, or cloud.

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What is the origin of obumbrate?

The Latin root of obumbrate helps clarify this verb meaning “to darken, overshadow, or cloud”: umbra, “shadow, shade.” Obumbrate comes from Latin obumbrāre “to overshadow, shade, darken.” Obumbrāre combines the prefix ob– “on, over” (among other senses) and umbrāre “to shade,” a derivative of umbra. English owes many other words to Latin umbra, including adumbrate, penumbra, umbrage, and umbrella, the latter of which can be literally understood as “a little shade.” Obumbrate entered English in the early 1500s.

how is obumbrate used?

… that solemn interval of time when the gloom of midnight obumbrates the globe ….

, The Summer Miscellany; or, A Present for the Country, 1742

It requires no stretch of mind to conceive that a man placed in a corner of Germany may be every whit as pragmatical and self-important as another man placed in Newhaven, and withal as liable to confound and obumbrate every subject that may fall his way ….

, General Advertiser, September 3, 1798
Saturday, November 02, 2019

squee

[ skwee ]

verb (used without object)

to squeal with joy, excitement, etc.

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What is the origin of squee?

Squee! It’s easy to hear how this word imitates the sound of a high-pitched squeal. As an expression of joy, excitement, celebration, or the like, squee originates as a playful, written interjection in digital communications in the late 1990s, as in “OMG is in the dictionary. Squee!” By the early 2000s, squee expanded as a verb used to convey such excited emotions: “The students squeed when they learned the Word of the Day.”

how is squee used?

I squeed in happiness when I stole a warrior’s Whirlwind attack and used it against him.

Carol Pinchefsky, "A 'World of Warcraft' Player Reviews 'Guild Wars 2'," Forbes, August 26, 2012

… we’re also going to take a moment to squee about the possibility of Martian microbes.

Michelle Starr, "Giant Lake of Liquid Water Found Hiding Under Mars' South Pole," Science Alert, July 25, 2018
Friday, November 01, 2019

Lilliputian

[ lil-i-pyoo-shuhn ]

adjective

extremely small; tiny; diminutive.

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What is the origin of Lilliputian?

In the first of the four adventures of his 1726 satirical novel Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift has his narrator, Lemuel Gulliver, shipwrecked on the invented island of Lilliput. Its residents, the Lilliputians, are under six inches high—and their smallness is widely interpreted as a commentary on the British politics of Swift’s day. Lilliputian was quickly extended as an adjective meaning “extremely small; tiny; diminutive,” often implying a sense of pettiness. In the second adventure, Gulliver voyages to an imaginary land of giants, the Brobdingnagians, whose name has been adopted as a colorful antonym for Lilliputian.

how is Lilliputian used?

The Lilliputian vest was over-the-top ’00s style at its finest ….

Liana Satenstein, "Is Fashion Ready for the Return of the Tiny Little Vest?" Vogue, September 25, 2019

… miniature things still have the power to enthrall us …. That, at least, is one theory as to why people obsessively re-create big things in Lilliputian dimensions.

Belinda Lanks, "'In Miniature' Review: Let's Get Small," Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2019
Thursday, October 31, 2019

ghost word

[ gohst wurd ]

noun

a word that has come into existence by error rather than by normal linguistic transmission, as through the mistaken reading of a manuscript, a scribal error, or a misprint.

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What is the origin of ghost word?

Ghost word is a term coined by the great English philologist and lexicographer Walter Skeat in an address he delivered as president of the Philological Society in 1886. One amusing example that Skeat mentioned in his address comes from one of Sir Walter Scott’s novels, The Monastery (1820), “… dost thou so soon morse thoughts of slaughter?” Morse is only a misprint of nurse, but two correspondents proposed their own etymologies for morse. One proposed that it meant “to prime (as with a musket),” from Old French amorce “powder for the touchhole” (a touchhole is the vent in the breech of an early firearm through which the charge was ignited). The other correspondent proposed that morse meant “to bite” (from Latin morsus, past participle of mordere), therefore “to indulge in biting, stinging, or gnawing thoughts of slaughter.” The matter was finally settled when Scott’s original manuscript was consulted, and it was found that he had plainly written nurse.

how is ghost word used?

Your true ghost word is a very rare beast indeed, a wild impossible chimera that never before entered into the heart of man to conceive.

Philip Howard, A Word in Your Ear, 1983

Spookily enough, phantomnation itself is a “ghost word” originating in a 1725 translation of Homer’s Odyssey by Alexander Pope.

Paul Anthony Jones, Word Drops: A Sprinkling of Linguistic Curiosities, 2016
Wednesday, October 30, 2019

ghoulish

[ goo-lish ]

adjective

strangely diabolical or cruel; monstrous: a ghoulish and questionable sense of humor.

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What is the origin of ghoulish?

Ghoulish literally means “of, relating to, or like a ghoul.” If you know your folklore (and word origins), you won’t be surprised to learn why ghoulish evolved to mean “strangely diabolical or cruel; monstrous.” Recorded in the late 1700s, English ghoul is borrowed from the Arabic ghūl (based on a verb meaning “to seize”), a desert-dwelling demon in Arabic legend that robbed graves and preyed on human corpses. A ghūl was also believed to be able to change its shape—except for its telltale feet, which always took the form of donkey’s hooves. A “monstrous” creature, indeed. Ghoulish entered English in the 1800s.

how is ghoulish used?

… her dark humor and ghoulish sensibility are not for everyone.

Heller McAlpin, "'Rest And Relaxation' Is As Sharp As Its Heroine Is Bleary," NPR, July 10, 2018

… much of the story’s ghoulish humor derives from his habit of visualizing and communicating with murder victims, their ghosts intervening to help him solve each crime in trial-and-error fashion.

Justin Chang, "Cannes Film Review: 'Blind Detective'," Variety, May 20, 2013
Tuesday, October 29, 2019

requiescat

[ rek-wee-es-kaht, -kat ]

noun

a wish or prayer for the repose of the dead.

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What is the origin of requiescat?

Requiescat, as any high school Latin student can tell you, is the third person singular present subjunctive active of the Latin verb requiēscere “to rest, be at rest, rest in death” and means “May he/she/it rest.” If the kid wants to show off, they may volunteer that requiescat is an optative subjunctive, that is, a subjunctive that expresses a wish, as opposed to a hortatory subjunctive, a subjunctive that exhorts, as in requiēscāmus “Let’s take a rest,” or a jussive subjunctive, which expresses a command, as in requiescant “Let them rest!” (Requiēscant can also be an optative subjunctive, “May they rest.”) Requiescat usually appears in the phrase Requiescat In Pace (abbreviated R.I.P.) “May he/she/it rest in peace,” seen on tombstones. Requiescat entered English in the second half of the 1700s.

how is requiescat used?

In delivering its eulogy, perhaps I can beg a requiescat from its enemies as well.

Francesco De Sanctis, "The Ideal," From Kant to Croce: Modern Philosophy in Italy, 1800–1950, translated by Brian Copenhaver and Rebecca Copenhaver, 2012

That emotion. I bury it here by the sea … And a heart’s requiescat I write on that grave.

Robert Bulwer-Lytton, Lucile, 1860

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