Word of the Day

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

stargazer

[ stahr-gey-zer ]

noun

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

horologium

[ hawr-uh-loh-jee-uh m, hor- ]

noun

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

copacetic

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

adjective

Slang.

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

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