Word of the Day

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

superluminal

[ soo-per-loo-muh-nl ]

adjective

Astronomy. appearing to travel faster than the speed of light.

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What is the origin of superluminal?

One of the Latin sources for the English adjective superluminal “faster than the speed of light” is the very familiar prefix and preposition super- “above, beyond.” The second Latin source is the adjective lūminōsus “filled with light, dazzling, luminous” a derivative of the noun lūmen “light, radiance,” from an assumed leuksmen or louksmen, a derivative of the root noun lux (stem luc-) “light.” The same root, leuk- (and its variant louk-) lies behind the Latin noun lūna “moon,” from an assumed louksnā. Superluminal entered English in the 20th century.

how is superluminal used?

But what if the spaceship breaks the speed of light? Now, we are entering the purely theoretical realm of superluminal travel. The spaceship is outracing the light it emits, so when the spaceship takes off, it leaves its own light in the space-dust.

David Russell, "Can You Really Go Back in Time by Breaking the Speed of Light?" PBS, August 17, 2015

The Alderson Drive gave us access to the stars at superluminal speeds–but not instantaneous transportation.

Jerry Pournelle and S. M. Stirling, Go Tell the Spartans, 1991
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Tuesday, June 05, 2018

schlimazel

[ shli-mah-zuhl ]

noun

Slang. an inept, bungling person who suffers from unremitting bad luck.

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What is the origin of schlimazel?

The old joke goes, “A schlemiel is someone who spills soup in a restaurant; a schlimazel is the guy he spills the soup on.” The first element of schlimazel comes from the Yiddish adjective schlim “bad, evil,” equivalent to German schlimm, Dutch slim “bad, sly, clever”(the Dutch word is the source of English slim). The second element, -mazel comes from Yiddish mazl “luck,” from Hebrew mazzāl “(celestial) constellation, destiny.” Schlimazel entered English in the mid-20th century.

how is schlimazel used?

… the schlemiel is the one who spills the soup and the schlimazel is the one that’s spilled on.

Jeremy Dauber, Jewish Comedy: A Serious History, 2017

A recent and, even by its own lofty standards, especially hilarious and cringingly tasteless episode of “South Park” features the passionate and petulant schlimazel, middle-aged dad Randy Marsh, watching TV, when a commercial for a fictional consumer genetics company comes on the screen.

Misha Angrist, "A History of Humanity Told Through Genetics," New York Times, November 17, 2017
Monday, June 04, 2018

atavism

[ at-uh-viz-uhm ]

noun

reversion to an earlier type; throwback.

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What is the origin of atavism?

The Latin noun behind the English noun atavism is atavus “great-great-great grandfather; ancestor.” Atavus is formed from atta “daddy,” a nursery word widespread in Indo-European languages, e.g., Greek átta “daddy,” and the possibly Gothic proper name Attila “little father, daddy.” The second element, avus “(maternal) grandfather,” also has cognates in other Indo-European languages, e.g., Old Prussian (an extinct Baltic language related to Latvian and Lithuanian) awis “uncle,” and, very familiar in English, those Scottish and Irish surnames beginning with “O’,” e.g., O’Connor “descended from Connor”). The Celtic “O’” comes from Irish ó “grandson,” from early Irish aue, and appearing as avi “descendant of” in ogham (an alphabet used in archaic Irish inscriptions from about the 5th century). Atavism entered English in the 19th century.

how is atavism used?

So much of their business was done via e-mail that the phone was almost unnecessary–a sort of quaint atavism that nobody thought to use first–but this morning the ringing had been ceaseless.

Debra Ginsberg, What the Heart Remembers, 2012

Because the United States has proved successful in absorbing people from so many different backgrounds, the American political elite has, since the mid-20th century at least, tended to look on group identity as a kind of irrational atavism.

Park MacDougald, "Can America's Two Tribes Learn to Live Together?" New York, April 19, 2018

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