Word of the Day

Thursday, July 01, 2021

stalwart

[ stawl-wert ]

adjective

firm, steadfast, or uncompromising.

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What is the origin of stalwart?

Stalwart “strong and brave; valiant” or “firm, steadfast, or uncompromising” is in origin a Scots form of Middle English stalworth “strong, sturdy, serviceable.” Stalworth has many variant spellings in Middle English because its second syllable was confused with the adjective worth “having monetary value.” In fact, stalworth comes from Old English stǣlwirthe “able to stand a person in good stead; serviceable (of ships).” Stǣl is probably a contraction of stathol “base, support, bottom (of a haystack)”; the Old English adjective suffix –wirthe, with the variants –wierðe, –wyrðe, –weorðe “good, worthy,” survives in modern English worth. Stalwart in the sense “serviceable” entered English before 900; the other senses date from the late 12th century.

how is stalwart used?

Martha was envious, but she was a stalwart friend, and mordantly funny about women’s plight.

Dorothy Wickenden, "The Pre-Civil War Fight Against White Supremacy," The New Yorker, January 18, 2021

It would have needed a very stalwart young woman in 1828 to disregard all those snubs and chidings and promises of prizes. One must have been something of a firebrand to say to oneself, Oh, but they can’t buy literature too. Literature is open to everybody.

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own, 1929

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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

cunctation

[ kuhngk-tey-shuhn ]

noun

lateness; delay.

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What is the origin of cunctation?

Cunctation “lateness; delay; tardy action” comes from Latin cunctātiō (inflectional stem cunctātiōn-), a derivative of the verb cunctārī “to delay, hang back.” Cunctārī is a derivative of the Proto-Indo-European root kenk-, konk– “to hang; hang back; vacillate.” The root appears in Sanskrit śáṅkate “(he) vacillates, doubts, fears,” Hittite kanki “(he) hangs.” In Proto-Germanic the original root konk– becomes hanh-, forming the transitive verb hanhan “to hang (e.g., a malefactor)” and the intransitive verb hanganan “to hang, be suspended, be in suspense.” Cunctation entered English in the second half of the 16th century.

how is cunctation used?

Lord Eldon, however, was personally answerable for unnecessary and culpable “cunctation,” as he called it, in protracting the arguments of counsel and in deferring judgment from day to day, from term to term, and from year to year, after the arguments had closed and he had irrevocably decided in his own mind what the judgment should be.

John Campbell, Lives of Lord Lyndhurst and Lord Brougham, 1869

Break off delay, since we but read of one / That ever prosper’d by cunctation.

Robert Herrick, "Delay," Hesperides, 1648

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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

sacrosanct

[ sak-roh-sangkt ]

adjective

extremely sacred or inviolable.

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What is the origin of sacrosanct?

Sacrosanct “extremely sacred or inviolable” comes directly from Latin sacrōsanctus, which more correctly should be a phrase sacrō sanctus “made holy by a sacred rite.” Sacrō is the ablative singular of the noun sacrum “sacred object or place; sacrificial victim; religious observance or rite.” Sanctus “secured by religious sanctions, inviolate” is an adjective use of the past participial of sancīre “to ratify solemnly, prescribe by law; consecrate.” The Romans liked everything nice and tidy, legal, watertight, and sacrōsanctus is just such a word. In the 500 years of the Roman Republic, the Tribunes of the People (Tribūnī Plēbis) defended the rights of the common people against the patricians, controlling the power of the magistrates, issuing vetoes right and left. The tribunes derived their power not from statute but from the oath that the plebeians swore to maintain the tribunes’ sacrōsanctitās, their sacrosanctity. Sacrosanct entered English in the 17th century.

how is sacrosanct used?

The result is a standoff between two camps that regard the site as sacrosanct for very different reasons, and have spent years in a quiet tug of war between ancient traditions and modern regulations.

Sam Dolnick, "Hindus Find a Ganges in Queens, to Park Rangers’ Dismay," New York Times,

Voting in the United States of America is a sacrosanct right. It is both a precious obligation and a sacred opportunity we all have to participate in our democracy, and our voting process should be treated with the gravity and seriousness that it demands.

Cory Booker and Tiffany Muller, "How the Next Congress Can Improve U.S. Elections and Protect Voting Rights," Time, December 30, 2020

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