Word of the Day

Word of the day

Monday, August 20, 2018

squamous

[ skwey-muhs ]

adjective

covered with or formed of squamae or scales.

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What is the origin of squamous?

The adjective squamous is a direct borrowing of Latin squāmōsus “covered with scales, scaly”, a derivative of the noun squāma “scale (on a fish or reptile), metal plate used in making armor.” The ultimate etymology of squāma is unclear, but it is related to squālēre “to be covered or crusted in scales or dirt,” and the derivatives of squālēre include squālidus “having a rough surface” and squālor “roughness, dirtiness, filth.” Squamous entered English in the 16th century.

how is squamous used?

The back was piebald with yellow and black, and dimly suggested the squamous covering of certain snakes.

H. P. Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror," Weird Tales, April 1929

They speak no known tongue and are said to sacrifice sailors to their squamous, fish-headed gods, likenesses of whom rise from their stony shores, visible only when the tide recedes.

George R. R. Martin, Elio M. García, Jr., and Linda Antonsson, The World of Ice and Fire, 2014
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Word of the day

Sunday, August 19, 2018

lunula

[ loo-nyuh-luh ]

noun

something shaped like a narrow crescent, as the small, pale area at the base of the fingernail.

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What is the origin of lunula?

The uncommon noun lunula is restricted to anatomy, biology, and archaeology or art history. It’s a straightforward borrowing of Latin lūnula, literally “little moon,” but meaning “crescent-shaped ornament” (one of its senses in English). The only common meaning for this uncommon noun is the pale, crescent-shaped are at the base of a fingernail or toenail. Lūnula is a diminutive of lūna “moon,” which is disconcertingly similar to Russian luná “moon.” (The cognate Polish łuna means “glow.”) Both the Slavic and the Latin nouns derive from the same Proto-Indo-European source, louksnā, the same source as Avestan raoxshna- “shining; a light.” (Raoxshna is also used as a proper female name that in Greek is rendered Rhōxánē “Roxane.” The “original” Raoxshna/Roxane was a Bactrian princess born c340 b.c.; she married Alexander the Great in 327 b.c., and was poisoned in prison in 310 b.c.). Proto-Indo-European louksnā becomes in Old Prussian the plural noun lauxnos “stars,” and Middle Irish luan “moon.” All of these forms derive from the very common Proto-Indo-European root leuk- and its variants louk- and luk- “light, bright.” Lunula entered English in the 16th century.

how is lunula used?

It refuses to grow back, the nail of this one finger, the lunula destroyed, a moon permanently obliterated by one smash of his interrogator’s pistol.

Vaddey Ratner, Music of the Ghosts, 2017

I … wore only a simple shift of amber-and-brown plaid wool, and only ghillies, ovals of calfskin, laced around my feet. No golden tore, no silver lunula, nor am I royal of stature or of mien.

Nancy Springer, “The Kingmaker,” Firebird Soaring, 2009

Word of the day

Saturday, August 18, 2018

prima facie

[ prahy-muh fey-shee-ee, fey-shee, fey-shuh, pree- ]

adjective

plain or clear; self-evident; obvious.

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What is the origin of prima facie?

The English phrase prima facie is obviously Latin: prīmā faciē (ablative singular in form) means “at first sight.” (Faciēs has very many meanings: “physical or outward appearance, looks, sight, scene, good looks,….”) It is not incredible that the English phrase at first blush is a literal translation of the Latin phrase: blush, a noun meaning “glance, sight,” is obsolete except for the phrase at (on) (the) first blush. Prima facie entered English in the 15th century.

how is prima facie used?

McCain and Palin have been quoting this remark ever since, offering it as prima-facie evidence of Obama’s unsuitability for office.

Hendrik Hertzberg, "Like, Socialism," The New Yorker, November 3, 2008

There was no prima-facie absurdity in his hypothesis—and experiment was the sole means of demonstrating its truth or falsity.

Thomas H. Huxley, "William Harvey," Popular Science Monthly, March 1878

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