Word of the Day

Monday, August 12, 2019

subitize

[ soo-bi-tahyz ]

verb (used without object)

Psychology.

to make an immediate and accurate reckoning of the number of items in a group or sample without needing to pause and actually count them.

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What is the origin of subitize?

Subitize is a useful word in psychology regardless of the awkwardness of its formation. The first part of the word, subit-, comes from the Late Latin verb subitāre “to come suddenly and unexpectedly upon” (a derivative of the adjective subitus “sudden, abrupt”). The familiar, completely naturalized suffix –ize (“to render, make; convert into; subject to; etc.”) comes via Late Latin –izāre from Greek –ízein.

how is subitize used?

Below five, we’re able to subitize, or rapidly judge numbers of items without counting.

Steph Yin, "Do You Know What Lightning Really Looks Like?" New York Times, June 11, 2018

Getting the computer model to subitize the way humans and animals did was possible, he found, only if he built in “number neurons” tuned to fire with maximum intensity in response to a specific number of objects.

Jim Holt, "Numbers Guy," The New Yorker, February 24, 2008
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Sunday, August 11, 2019

utopian

[ yoo-toh-pee-uhn ]

adjective

founded upon or involving idealized perfection.

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What is the origin of utopian?

The English adjective and noun utopian comes from New Latin Ūtopiānus, an adjective derived from the noun Ūtopia, a quasi-Greek noun meaning “no place,” formed from the negative adverb and particle ou “not” (“quasi-Greek” because in Greek ou cannot be used as a prefix for nouns), top-, the stem of the noun tópos “a place,” and the noun suffix –ia (the adjective suffix –ānus is purely Latin). Ūtopia is a coinage of Sir Thomas More’s in his 1516 satire Dē optimō reīpublicae statū dēque novā insulā Ūtopiā (“Concerning the Best State of a Republic [Commonwealth] and Concerning the New Island Utopia”). In English, but not in other languages, the first syllable of Ūtopia rhymes with the prefix eu– (as in Euclid or Eucharist); thus in English there is a confusion between Ūtopia “no place” and Eutopia “good place, a place of happiness and felicity.”

how is utopian used?

For its proponents, it offered a utopian vision of an art world in which color and class barriers were finally dismantled.

Holland Cotter, "Beyond Multiculturalism, Freedom?" New York Times, July 29, 2001

At a time of such social, political and ecological upheaval, it’s natural to dream of a utopian world in which these problems are no more—in fact, people have been doing it for centuries.

Heather Alberro, "Utopia isn't just idealistic fantasy—it inspires people to change the world," The Conversation, June 21, 2019
Saturday, August 10, 2019

shivaree

[ shiv-uh-ree ]

noun

a mock serenade with kettles, pans, horns, and other noisemakers given for a newly married couple; charivari.

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What is the origin of shivaree?

The etymology of shivaree is obscure. Most authorities consider it to be a Mississippi Valley French alteration (or a vulgar corruption) of French charivari, a noun of obscure origin, said to be from Late Latin carībaria “headache,” from Greek karēbaría, equivalent to karē-, a combining form of kárā, kárē “head,” and the noun suffix –baría “heaviness” (from barýs “heavy” and the abstract noun suffix –ía). Supposedly such a racket would give someone a headache.

Other authorities claim that shivaree comes from French chez vous “at your home” and list many variants in spelling (and presumably in pronunciation): chevaux, cheveaux, chev-ho, chivoo, shavoo, sheave-o, sheavo, sheevo, shevoo, shivaree, shivaroo, shiveree, shiverree, shivoe.

Vulgar or not, shivaree was noble enough for Mark Twain to use it (in that spelling) in A Tramp Abroad (1880): “… she turned on all the horrors of the ‘Battle of Prague,’ that venerable shivaree, and waded chin deep in the blood of the slain.” Charivari entered English in the first half of the 19th century. Shivaree seems to have entered English in 1875.

how is shivaree used?

“Let’s give the governor and his lady a real shivaree!” Nearly a hundred drunks assembled outside the tavern with horns and drums and washboards and bugles and tin pots.

James A. Michener, Texas, 1985

Encouraging cake mashing, like a host of other awful wedding customs, from shivaree (a noisy mock serenade on the wedding night) to tying a tin can to the newlyweds’ getaway car, is one last chance for the couple’s friends to indulge in the game of “X and Y, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.”

Charles Perry, "Cake Smashing," Los Angeles Times, February 26, 1997

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