Word of the Day

Thursday, December 24, 2020

sugarplum

[ shoog-er-pluhm ]

noun

a small round candy made of sugar with various flavoring and coloring ingredients; a bonbon.

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What is the origin of sugarplum?

Sugarplum is a transparent compound of the nouns sugar and plum. The sugar in a sugarplum is the ordinary kind used in cooking and confectionery, but plum here refers to the plum-like size (small) and shape (round or roundish) of the hardened mass of sugar. In fact, in the second half of the 17th century, sugarplum was synonymous with comfit, a candy with a kernel of nut or fruit. Sugarplums have long been associated with Christmas, as in Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas (perhaps more commonly known as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas), first published in 1823, “The children were nestled all snug in their beds, / While visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.” Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Nutcracker (1892), is set on Christmas Eve, and one of its main characters is the Sugarplum Fairy. The American journalist and poet Eugene Field (1850-95) is not much read today, but he is still famous for his children’s poems, such as Wynken, Blynken and Nod and The Duel (better known as The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat). Fields also wrote the lullaby The Sugar-Plum Tree. Sugarplum entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is sugarplum used?

The children were nestled all snug in their beds, / While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.

Clement Clarke Moore, A Visit from St. Nicholas, 1823

These days, the poem is more likely to prompt a question than a vision: what exactly is a sugarplum and, almost more importantly, why was it doing so much dancing back in the early 19th century?

Emelyn Rude, "The History That Explains Those 'Visions of Sugarplums,'" Time, December 21, 2016

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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

matutinal

[ muh-toot-n-l, -tyoot- ]

adjective

pertaining to or occurring in the morning; early in the day.

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What is the origin of matutinal?

Matutinal “occurring in the morning, early” comes from the Late Latin adjective mātūtinālis, a derivative of the Latin adjective mātūtīnus “of the (early) morning,” and via Old French, the source of English matins, the first canonical hour (morning prayer in the Anglican Church). Mātūtīnus is a derivative of Mātūta (Māter), the Roman goddess of the dawn. Roman matrons made a cake for Mātūta Māter for her festival, the Mātrālia, celebrated on June 11th, and commended their children to her for protection. Matutinal entered English in the first half of the 15th century.

how is matutinal used?

Early rising is a ritual with me. Unlike my nocturnal brethren in show business, I am matutinal by nature.

Jack Benny, "After 39 Years—I'm Turning 40," Collier's Weekly, February 19, 1954

However, he displayed a remarkable equanimity in the midst of chaos, maintaining a matutinal regimen of five hundred words regardless of the circumstances.

Ruth Franklin, "God in the Details," The New Yorker, September 27, 2004

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Tuesday, December 22, 2020

swivet

[ swiv-it ]

noun

a state of nervous excitement, haste, or anxiety; flutter.

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What is the origin of swivet?

Swivet “nervous excitement, haste, anxiety” usually occurs in the phrase in a swivet, or in such a swivet. Swivet is an American colloquialism of unknown origin, first appearing in 1890 in the Vermont Journal.

how is swivet used?

On the night of their 10th anniversary, he’d been in such a swivet about what to give her that he locked himself in his bedroom trying to choose the right gift.

Caitlin Flanagan, "Jackie and the Girls," The Atlantic, July/August 2012

Here in the valley of my mid-50s, I try not to get into a swivet over my occasionally faulty memory: Sometimes the mind has a mind of its own.

Henry Alford, "Total Recall: A Reader's Guide to Memory Gain," New York Times, January 7, 2018

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Monday, December 21, 2020

brumal

[ broo-muhl ]

adjective

wintry.

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What is the origin of brumal?

The adjective brumal “wintry” ultimately comes from Latin brūmālis “pertaining to the winter solstice, or to the winter,” a derivative of the noun brūma “the day of the winter solstice, the position of the sun on the solstice, midwinter” (both the noun and the adjective are very restricted in their usage). Brūma comes from breuma, a contraction of brevi-ma “shortest” (Latin v is pronounced like English w). The ending –ma is an old superlative ending (usually replaced in Latin by –issima; brevissima is standard Latin). Brevi– is the inflectional stem of brevis “short, low, shallow, stunted,” and the source of English breve and brief. Brumal entered English in the first half of the 16th century.

how is brumal used?

Our motley platoon of snowmobiles was chewing up a rippled meadow high on the southwestern flanks of the Gore Range near Vail, Colo., four bundles of motorized mayhem zigzagging across a brumal landscape.

Rick Lyman, "It's Vail in the Winter. Who Needs Skis?" New York Times, January 26, 2003

Operated under the Antarctic Treaty System, the South Pole is meant to be a brumal Eden of science, where research centers are freed from the political binds that exist in the world above.

B. David Zarley, "In Ashley Shelby's South Pole Station, a Climate Change Denier Rocks Antarctica's Research Community," Paste, July 6, 2017

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Sunday, December 20, 2020

snuggery

[ snuhg-uh-ree ]

noun

British.

a comfortable or cozy room.

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What is the origin of snuggery?

Snuggery “a comfortable, cozy room” is a transparent derivative of the adjective snug “comfortably warm and cozy,” as in Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas (1823), “The children were nestled all snug in their beds, / While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.” The origin of snug is uncertain: it may be of Scandinavian origin, related to Old Norse snøggr “short, short-haired, sudden, brief,” Old Danish snøg, and Swedish snygg, both meaning “neat, trim, tidy.” Snuggery entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is snuggery used?

On the top of the house was a snuggery, into which he retired when he wanted to be entirely alone, and this he called his Syracuse, or workshop.

Sabine Baring-Gould, The Tragedy of the Caesars, 1892

No wonder, then, that Phra-Alack experienced an access of gratitude for the privilege of napping for two hours in a snuggery of sunshine.

Anna Leonowens, "The English Governess at the Siamese Court," The Atlantic, April 1870

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Saturday, December 19, 2020

cordate

[ kawr-deyt ]

adjective

heart-shaped.

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What is the origin of cordate?

Cordate, now used only in botany and biology in the meaning “heart-shaped,” comes from the Latin adjective cordātus “intelligent, sensible,” a derivative of the noun cor (inflectional stem cord-) “the heart” (the organ, also considered the seat of one’s conscience, will, and emotions). In English the senses “intelligent, prudent” became obsolete during the first half of the 18th century; Latin cordātus never had any biological senses. Cordate in the sense “intelligent, prudent” entered English in the mid-17th century; its modern sense in the second half of the 18th century.

how is cordate used?

He also wrote, at 15, his first poem after seeing a raindrop cause a cordate leaf to flutter.

Alden Whitman, "Vladimir Nabokov, Author of 'Lolita' and 'Ada,' Is Dead," New York Times, July 5, 1977

Its leaves are variable in shape, as are those of most ivies, but generally cordate, or heart-shaped, and very dark green, larger than the Irish ivy, which is the ivy you see most often in Washington.

Henry Mitchell, "Getting Down to Steel and Stem," Washington Post, December 11, 1988

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Friday, December 18, 2020

eleemosynary

[ el-uh-mos-uh-ner-ee, -moz-, el-ee-uh- ]

adjective

of or relating to alms, charity, or charitable donations; charitable.

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What is the origin of eleemosynary?

Eleemosynary “relating to alms or almsgiving” comes from the Medieval Latin adjective eleēmosynārius, a derivative of the Late Latin noun eleēmosyna “alms,” used by Christian Latin authors (Tertullian, St. Augustine of Hippo). Latin eleēmosyna is a borrowing from Greek eleēmosýnē “pity, mercy, compassion” (and “alms” in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate), a derivative of the adjective ele(e)inós “rousing compassion.” The Greek forms derive from the noun éleos “pity, compassion,” from which Greek forms the verb eleeîn “to pity, have pity on, feel pity for.” The second singular active aorist imperative, eléēson, as in the phrase from the Christian liturgy (in Latin transcription representing the Late Greek pronunciation) Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison “Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy” will be familiar to those who like to listen to or take part in musical settings of the Latin Mass. Eleemosynary entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is eleemosynary used?

It would be fair enough to call Cornelia a power for good. I shared an apartment in New York with her the year before she was married, and I haven’t done so many eleemosynary acts in the whole rest of my life as I did during that time.

Eleanor Gilchrist, "Poor Darling," The New Yorker, February 5, 1944

When a church collects money to then redistribute to the poor in its neighborhood, it performs an eleemosynary function.

Ray Hennessey, "Why Milton Friedman Could Love Social Entrepreneurship," Entrepreneur, September 16, 2013

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