Word of the Day

Friday, October 23, 2020

supercilious

[ soo-per-sil-ee-uhs ]

adjective

haughtily disdainful or contemptuous, as a person or a facial expression.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of supercilious?

Supercilious comes from the Latin adjective superciliōsus, which has only one meaning, “full of stern or disapproving looks.” Superciliōsus is a derivative of the noun supercilium “eyebrow; the eyebrow and its underlying ridge; the eyebrow as used in expressing haughtiness, disapproval, sternness.” Supercilium is a compound of the preposition and prefix super, super– “above, beyond,” and cilium “eyelid” (unless cilium is a back formation from supercilium). At any rate, cilium is a derivative of the verb cēlāre “to hide,” that is, the eyelid hides the eye. Supercilious entered English at the end of the 14th century.

how is supercilious used?

Culkin inhabits space with a squalid sort of entitlement, and he employs a supercilious side-eye as if twirling a mustache.

Troy Patterson, "'Success,' Reviewed: An Irresistible Family Power Struggle, Told Through Soap and Satire," The New Yorker, June 1, 2018

For, though elated by his rank, it did not render him supercilious; on the contrary, he was all attention to everybody.

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, 1813

Listen to the word of the day

supercilious

Play Podcast Stop Podcast
00:00/00:00
quiz icon
WHAT'S YOUR WORD IQ?
Think you're a word wizard? Try our word quiz, and prove it!
TAKE THE QUIZ
arrows pointing up and down
SYNONYM OF THE DAY
Double your word knowledge with the Synonym of the Day!
SEE TODAY'S SYNONYM

Get A Vocabulary Boost In Your Inbox

Get the Word of the Day every day!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Thursday, October 22, 2020

psephology

[ see-fol-uh-jee ]

noun

the study of elections.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of psephology?

Psephology, “the study of elections,” comes from Greek psêphos “small stone, pebble.” (The Greeks used pebbles in counting and arithmetic functions; the ancient Athenians also used pebbles to cast votes in elections and trials.) The element –logy is the completely naturalized combining form used in the names of sciences (geology, biology) and bodies of knowledge (theology, astrology). The 20th-century British historian R.B. McCallum wrote in a personal letter that while with C.S. Lewis and other heavy-hitting philologists, he proposed the term electionology, which so offended the sensibilities of Lewis and the others that they proposed the etymologically correct psephology, avoiding the dreadful Latin-Greek hybrid. Psephology entered English in the mid-20th century.

how is psephology used?

You don’t need a degree in psephology from the Kennedy School of Government to figure out that without the female vote and the male vote it’s hard to be elected President.

John Cassidy, "Romney Needs More Than Money—A Lot More," The New Yorker, August 6, 2012

Well, for one thing, we’re inveterate psephology addicts—but also, the more special elections that occur, the more data we have to identify patterns not only across special elections, but within them.

Nathaniel Rakich, "Be Skeptical of Anyone Who Tells You They Know How Democrats Can Win In November," FiveThirtyEight, April 2, 2018

Listen to the word of the day

psephology

Play Podcast Stop Podcast
00:00/00:00
Wednesday, October 21, 2020

nimbus

[ nim-buhs ]

noun

a cloud, aura, atmosphere, etc., surrounding a person or thing.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of nimbus?

Nimbus, “shining cloud surrounding a deity; dense clouds with ragged edges,” comes straight from Latin nimbus, “rainstorm, rain cloud, cloud (of smoke), cloudburst.” Nimbus comes from a complicated Proto-Indo-European root (e)nebh-, (n)embh– “damp, vapor, cloud,” as in Sanskrit nábhas– “fog, vapor, cloud, heaven,” Latin nebula, Greek nephélē, néphos “cloud,” Old Irish nem and Welsh nef, both meaning “heaven,” Polish niebo “sky, heaven,” Hittite nebis “heaven,” German Nebel “fog, mist,” and Old Norse niflheimr “home of fog, abode of the dead, Niflheim.” Nimbus entered English in the early 17th century.

how is nimbus used?

She had a capacity for excess, and a nimbus of exhausted hedonism trailed along with her.

Dwight Garner, "A New Biography of Janis Joplin Captures the Pain and Soul of an Adventurous Life," New York Times, October 25, 2019

It is curious how certain words accumulate a nimbus of positive associations, while others, semantically just as innocuous, wind up shrouded in bad feelings.

Roger Kimball, "If We Love Democracy, Why Does 'Populism' Get Such a Bad Rap?" Wall Street Journal, November 29, 2017

Listen to the word of the day

nimbus

Play Podcast Stop Podcast
00:00/00:00
Tuesday, October 20, 2020

desideratum

[ dih-sid-uh-rey-tuhm, -rah-, -zid- ]

noun

something wanted or needed.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of desideratum?

The noun desideratum (plural desiderata) means “something wanted or needed.” It is a noun use of the Latin neuter past participle dēsīderātum, from the verb dēsīderāre “to long for, desire.” According to the Roman grammarian Festus, dēsīderāre and its close relative cōnsīderāre “to observe attentively, contemplate,” were compound verbs formed from sīdus (stem sīder-) “heavenly body, star, planet,” that is, dēsīderāre and cōnsīderāre were originally terms used in astrology in general or Roman augury in particular, but aside from Festus there isn’t much evidence for the sidereal connection. Desideratum entered English in the 17th century.

how is desideratum used?

Power becomes its own desideratum. The search for it can trump economic well being, stability and safety.

Michael Gonzalez, "Selling the Atlantic," Wall Street Journal, May 7, 2003

Sitzfleisch, or “sitting still,” became the ultimate desideratum for showing one’s understanding of the new language of classical music.

Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding, "How Beethoven’s 5th Symphony put the classism in classical music," Vox, updated September 16, 2020

Listen to the word of the day

desideratum

Play Podcast Stop Podcast
00:00/00:00
Monday, October 19, 2020

clement

[ klem-uhnt ]

adjective

mild or merciful in disposition or character; lenient; compassionate.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of clement?

Clement, “mild in disposition, merciful,” comes from Latin clēmēns (inflectional stem clēment-) “merciful, lenient, mild (of weather), calm (of water).” Clēmēns has no reliable etymology; its most common derivative is the noun clēmentia “clemency, leniency.” The phrase “clemency of Caesar” is not much used nowadays: It comes from Latin Clēmentia Caesaris, which first appears as part of an inscription on a Roman coin dating to 44 b.c., therefore shortly before Caesar’s assassination, and a nice bit of propaganda in his honor. Clement entered English in the late 15th century.

how is clement used?

I know you are more clement than vile men Who of their broken debtors take a third …

William Shakespeare, Cymbeline, 1623

And the spirit of the times is happily growing more clement toward a greater fulness and variety of life.

Richard Le Gallienne, "The Last Call," Vanishing Roads and Other Essays, 1915

Listen to the word of the day

clement

Play Podcast Stop Podcast
00:00/00:00
Sunday, October 18, 2020

mardy

[ mahr-dee ]

adjective

grumpy or moody; sulky.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of mardy?

Mardy is a British dialect (the North and Midlands) adjective and noun meaning “spoiled, spoiled child; childish sulkiness.” Mardy is most likely formed from the adjective marred “damaged, spoiled,” originally the past participle of mar, and the native adjective suffix –y. Mardy entered English in the second half of the 19th century.

how is mardy used?

There was a fleeting reference to the Doctor being in a “mardy mood” during the opening scene. Otherwise, no sign.

Michael Hogan, "Doctor Who: Orphan 55, series 12 episode 3 recap: let down by false jeopardy, a seriously overstuffed story and clumsy moral lessons," Telegraph, January 12, 2020

Pa would rise before daylight had kicked nighttime into touch. He’d return after dark, when he’d be mardy until he’d eaten.

Bernardine Evaristo, Blonde Roots, 2009

Listen to the word of the day

mardy

Play Podcast Stop Podcast
00:00/00:00
Saturday, October 17, 2020

ambivert

[ am-bi-vurt ]

noun

Psychology.

one whose personality type is intermediate between extrovert and introvert.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of ambivert?

Ambivert, literally “turned both ways,” is a term used in psychology, meaning “one whose personality type is between introvert and extrovert.” Ambivert is based on Latin elements: the prefix ambi– “both, on both sides, around” (as in English ambient “surrounding, encompassing” and ambiguous “open to several interpretations”), and the suffix –vert, extracted from the verb vertere “to turn” (as in English convert “to turn completely,” and divert “to turn aside, deflect”). Ambivert, first recorded in 1927, is modeled on the somewhat earlier words introvert (1916) and extrovert (1918).

how is ambivert used?

Drew was more of an ambivert. He wasn’t as outgoing as his younger sister, but he wasn’t as reserved as his parents either.

Susan Cain, Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts, 2016

A well-developed ambivert, he [Abraham Lincoln] could hold complexity and contradiction to stand firmly behind words America desperately needed ….

Michael Alcee, "Why America Needs Introverted Extroverts Now," Psychology Today, June 27, 2020

Listen to the word of the day

ambivert

Play Podcast Stop Podcast
00:00/00:00

Get A Vocabulary Boost In Your Inbox

Get the Word of the Day every day!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.