• Word of the day
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    Wednesday, June 06, 2018

    superluminal

    adjective [soo-per-loo-muh-nl]
    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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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, June 05, 2018

    schlimazel

    noun [shli-mah-zuhl]
    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

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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, June 04, 2018

    atavism

    noun [at-uh-viz-uhm]
    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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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, June 03, 2018

    doss

    verb [dos]
    Chiefly British. to sleep or lie down in any convenient place.
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    What is the origin of doss?

    The origin of the English verb doss is obscure. It is most likely derived from the Latin noun dossum, a variant of dorsum “the back (of the body),” a noun of unclear origin. The verb endorse comes from Medieval Latin indorsāre “to write on or sign the back of a document”; the adjective dorsal “having a back or located on the back” is most likely familiar as an anatomical term, especially referring to the fin of a shark or a dolphin. Doss entered English in the late 18th century.

    How is doss used?

    ... he was too old to doss on furniture night after night. Coleen Nolan, Envy, 2010

    I didn't want a place to doss down. Jonathan Gash, The Gondola Scam, 1984

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, June 02, 2018

    brontide

    noun [bron-tahyd]
    a rumbling noise heard occasionally in some parts of the world, probably caused by seismic activity.
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    What is the origin of brontide?

    Brontide is an uncommon word, probably formed from the Greek noun brontḗ “thunder” and the suffix -ide, a variant of -id (“offspring of”) occurring originally in loanwords from Greek, and productive in English especially in names of dynasties (e.g., Attalid) and in names of periodic meteor showers, with the base noun usually denoting the constellation in which the shower appears (e.g., Perseid). Brontḗ appears in brontosaurus “thunder lizard” and is from the same Proto-Indo-European root bhrem- (with a variant brem-) “to growl” as Latin fremitus “dull roar,” Old High German breman and Old English bremman, both meaning “to roar,” and Slavic (Polish) brzmieć “to make a sound.” Brontide entered English about 2000.

    How is brontide used?

    “What's a brontide?” she said, keeping him from bolting. ... "They're like thunder on a clear day. They're like the unexplained sounds of artillery when there's no battle." Gary Fincke, "Faculty X," Emergency Calls, 1996

    ... he urges that brontides predominate in countries which are subject to earthquakes, that they are often heard as heralds of earthquakes, and are specifically frequent during seismic series, and that brontides are sometimes accompanied by very feeble tremors. Charles Davison, A Manual of Seismology, 1921

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  • Word of the day
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    Friday, June 01, 2018

    concupiscent

    adjective [kon-kyoo-pi-suhnt, kong-]
    lustful or sensual.
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    What is the origin of concupiscent?

    Not many Latin words are as easy to break down into their component parts as concupiscent is. The first element is a variant of the preposition and prefix cum “with,” here used as an intensive prefix (“thoroughly”). The second element is the Latin root cup- “desire.” The third, -isc, is the inceptive (also called inchoative) suffix (“beginning to …”). The final element is -ent, the inflectional stem of the present participle; concupiscent literally means “beginning to strongly desire” or simply "desirous." Concupiscent entered English in the 14th century.

    How is concupiscent used?

    He looks at Faust’s romance with Gretchen (Camilla Horn) with an agonized tenderness, and at Mephisto’s courtship of the concupiscent Marthe (Yvette Guilbert) with rib-shaking ribaldry. Richard Brody, "What to Stream This Weekend," The New Yorker, February 24, 2018

    He'd have bet his Porsche, from that one look, that she had summed him up as one more concupiscent old guy, easily manipulated. Edward Falco, Wolf Point, 2005

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  • Word of the day
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    Thursday, May 31, 2018

    palpebral

    adjective [pal-puh-bruhl, pal-pee-bruhl, -peb-ruhl]
    of or relating to the eyelids.
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    What is the origin of palpebral?

    The Latin noun palpebra (also palpebrum) “eyelid” is composed of the verb palpāre “to touch, stroke, caress” and -brum, a suffix forming nouns of instruments, e.g., candēlābrum “a stand for holding several candles, candelabra.” Palpāre derives from a complicated Proto-Indo-European root pāl- (from peǝl-) and its many variants, e.g., pel-, pelǝ-, plē-, etc. “to touch, feel, flutter, float.” A palpebra is “something that flutters (quickly).” The root is also the source of Latin palpitāre “(of a pulse) to beat, pulsate,” pāpiliō “butterfly, moth,” and Old English fēlan “to examine by touch,” English feel. Palpebral entered English in the mid-18th century.

    How is palpebral used?

    adrift on a gold-brown leather recliner, / the little finger of her left hand tapping / on the crocheted antimacassar, / palpebral twitches of chronic hypnagogia. Rodney Jones, "Requiem for Reba Portis," Village Prodigies, 2017

    In his palpebral vision, she beckoned. Richard Fariña, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, 1966

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