Word of the Day

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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