Word of the Day

Tuesday, November 26, 2019


[ stahr-gey-zer ]


a daydreamer.

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What is the origin of stargazer?

Stargazer originally had a very derogatory meaning. The word first appears in English in the Geneva Bible, an English translation that appeared between 1557 and 1560. In Isaiah 47:13 in the King James Version, differing only slightly from the earlier Geneva Bible, the text reads “Thou [i.e. the “virgin daughter of Babylon”] art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee.” The text is scornful of idolatrous customs. In Daniel Defoe’s A system of magick (1727), we still see the same contemptuous usage as in the Geneva Bible but somewhat qualified to mean astronomer, “The Eminent Dr. H—— may be call’d the King’s Astronomer, or as the more Eminent Mr. Flamstead usually call’d himself, the King’s Star-gazer.” It is only in the first half of the 19th century that stargazer acquires the benign sense of amateur astronomer, “The mere star-gazer who is an Astronomer simply in the respect that he is the owner of a telescope.” Stargazer in the sense “daydreamer, impractical idealist” first occurs in Emerson’s Transcendentalist, “The materialist..mocks at..star-gazers and dreamers.”

how is stargazer used?

The materialist, secure in the certainty of sensation, mocks at fine-spun theories, at star-gazers and dreamers, and believes that his life is solid,

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Transcendentalist," Lecture at Masonic Temple, January 1842

He was a stargazer in both senses. … a man who questioned givens, resisted the forces of fate and tradition, saw himself as part of the picture.

Peter Standish, Understanding Julio Cortázar, 2001
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Monday, November 25, 2019


[ hawr-uh-loh-jee-uh m, hor- ]


a timepiece, as a clock or sundial, or a building supporting or containing a timepiece.

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What is the origin of horologium?

There are nearly a score—20!—spellings in Middle English for horologium, and nearly as many in Old French. Horologium comes from the Latin noun hōrologium “an instrument for showing the time, a dial, sundial, hourglass, clock, clepsydra (water clock).” Hōrologium is a Latin borrowing of Greek hōrológion with the same meaning. Greek hōrológion is a compound of hōrológos “teller of time” and the diminutive noun suffix -ion. Hōrológos is a compound of hṓra “year, season, hour, time, time of day, the right time, time of ripening or florescence,” which was taken into Latin wholesale as hōra with all its meanings (hour comes into English via Old French from Latin). The element or word logos “word, speech, account, computation, reason” is very familiar in English as the suffix –logy, as in philology, theology, paleontology. Horologium entered English in the second half of the 14th century.

how is horologium used?

In this Horologium moves the hand or arrow towards the twenty-four, and to the right of the twenty-four it was yesterday, and to the left, today.

Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before, translated by William Weaver, 1995

It appears this horologium was an elaborate piece of mechanism furnished with many painted images, which no doubt performed curious evolutions.

Willis I. Milham, Time and Timekeepers, 1923
Sunday, November 24, 2019


[ koh-puh-set-ik, -see-tik ]



fine; completely satisfactory; OK.

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What is the origin of copacetic?

Copacetic first appears in the generation before World War II, in 1919 to be exact. It is a thoroughly American piece of slang, and all the citations of the word come from American writers. Perhaps foreigners avoided copacetic because of all its variant spellings, which include copa, copasetic, copasetty, copesette(e), copissettic, copus, kopacetic, kopasetic, kopasetee…. Many slang terms have no reliable etymology, and copacetic is within that happy group. Some of the more fanciful, not to say outrageous or just plain nutty etymologies for copacetic include; 1) Chinook jargon copasenee “everything is satisfactory (along the waterways of Washington State)”; 2) the excruciating phrase “the cop is on the settee” (i.e., he’s not paying attention), which transmogrified into copacetic and was supposedly used by American gangsters; or 3) an Italian word, but unknown in standard Italian or in any of its many dialects. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson claimed to have coined copacetic (not likely), but he did popularize copacetic in his vaudeville acts, radio programs, and movies he made with Shirley Temple in the 1930s.

how is copacetic used?

The United States of the 1960s experienced many social upheavals. But in one realm, all was copacetic.

Michael Tomasky, "The Real Legacy of the 1970s," New York Times, February 2, 2019

If he signed a paper saying he wouldn’t make any speeches, everything would be copacetic.

Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days, 2001
Saturday, November 23, 2019


[ guhs-toh ]


hearty or keen enjoyment, as in eating or drinking, or in action or speech in general: to dance with gusto.

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What is the origin of gusto?

Gusto comes from the Italian noun gusto “taste, flavor,” from Latin gustus “tasting, flavor, sense of taste.” Gustus is also the source of Spanish and Portuguese gosto and French goût, all meaning “taste, flavor, relish.” The main current sense of gusto, “keen enjoyment,” first appeared in 1629 but only started to become very common in the early 19th century.

how is gusto used?

She ate with gusto, sending particles of egg flying onto the table as she spoke.

Anna Esaki-Smith, Meeting Luciano, 1999

Anna could hear her father singing with gusto.

D. H. Lawrence, The Rainbow, 1915
Friday, November 22, 2019


[ yoo-sij-as-ter ]


a self-styled authority on language usage.

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What is the origin of usageaster?

A true expert on language usage will know that using usageaster “a self-styled authority on language usage” is not meant kindly. For instance: “The reader was no more than a usageaster; he insisted on corrections that were merely a matter of style, not grammar.” Usageaster is composed of usage and the -aster, which is a “diminutive or pejorative suffix denoting something that imperfectly resembles or mimics the true thing.” This suffix, derived from Latin, can also be found in such words as poetaster “an inferior poet” and criticaster “incompetent critic.”

how is usageaster used?

We can help such people overcome their insecurity by making a clear distinction between usageasters and usage experts.

Thomas L. Clark, "The Usageasters," American Speech, Vol. 55, No. 2, 1980

… a usageaster pretends to know about questions of usage in language.

Allan Metcalf, Predicting New Words, 2002
Thursday, November 21, 2019


[ av-uh-key-shuhn ]


something a person does in addition to a principal occupation, especially for pleasure; hobby: Our doctor's avocation is painting.

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What is the origin of avocation?

Avocation derives from Latin āvocātiō, which literally means “a calling away” but has the sense of “distraction.” Āvocātiō is formed on the verb āvocāre “to call away; divert; distract; amuse,” composed of the prefix ā– “away from” and vocāre “to call,” source of English vocation. A person’s hobby or leisure pursuit is called an avocation, etymologically speaking, because it “calls away” that person from their main work—their vocation, or “calling.” Starting in the 1600s, however, avocation was used as a synonym for vocation, apparently on the thinking that a person’s side work can be or become as important as their regular occupation. Avocation entered English in the early 1500s.

how is avocation used?

So they signed up for a second shift, an avocation that earns them psychic income in the currencies of artistry, adventure and passion.

Charles Fenyvesi, "I Live Two Lives," Washington Post, September 4, 1983

Her three avocations—gardening, current events, and photography—were, like her writing, deeply informed by a desire to secure fragile moments as objects of art.

Danny Heitman, "The Quiet Greatness of Eudora Welty," Humanities, March/April 2014
Wednesday, November 20, 2019


[ kon-truh-vurt, kon-truh-vurt ]

verb (used with object)

to argue about; debate; discuss.

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What is the origin of controvert?

A controvert is not some kind of hybrid of an introvert and extrovert. It is actually a verb that means “to argue about; debate; discuss” and “argue against; deny; oppose.” Controvert does share a root, however, with introvert and extrovert: Latin vertere “to turn.” Controvert is based on Latin contrōversus “debatable, disputed”—that is, controversial, another derivative of contrōversus. Contrōversus is composed of a variant of contrā “against” and versus, past participle of vertere “to turn, turn around, spin.” (An introvert is literally someone “turned within” and an extrovert, someone “turned outside.”) Controvert entered English by the early 1600s.

how is controvert used?

It seemed as if his first instinct on hearing a proposition was to controvert it, so impatient was he of the limitations of our daily thought.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Thoreau," The Atlantic, August 1862

It seems natural to suppose—though many scholars controvert it—that Book I of the Republic was originally written as a separate book …

Basil Mitchell and J. R. Lucas, An Engagement with Plato's Republic, 2003

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