Word of the Day

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

susurration

[ soo-suh-rey-shuhn ]

noun

a soft murmur; whisper.

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What is the origin of susurration?

Susurration, “a murmur, whisper,” ultimately comes from the Latin noun susurrātiō (inflectional stem susurrātiōn-), “a murmur, whisper, soft rustling,” a derivative of susurrāt(us), the past participle of the verb susurrāre. Unsurprisingly, susurrāre (and all its derivatives) is onomatopoeic not only in Latin, but also in other Indo-European languages, from the Proto-Indo-European root swer-, swor-, swṛ– “to buzz, hum.” The same root supplies the name of small animals: for instance, the root variant swor– is the source of Latin sōrex (stem sōric-) “shrew, shrew mouse,” Greek hýrax (stem hýrak-) “shrew, shrew mouse, hyrax” and Greek hýron “beehive, swarm (of bees).” The Germanic form swar– (from swor-) supplies English swirl and swarm, Old Norse svarmr “uproar, tumult,” and German schwirren “to buzz (of an insect), whirr (of an arrow).” Susurration entered English in the first half of the 15th century.

how is susurration used?

It must be the whisper of time as it bends over the horizon, a susurration of mortality none can escape.

Dominique Browning, "Interiors," New York Times, December 6, 2013

Leaving the hotel and taking a stroll, I was reminded that the town’s homey otherness is heightened at night. … The susurrations of palms … caress the ear.

Thomas Swick, "A Susurration of Palms," Oxford American, March 28, 2017

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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

argy-bargy

[ ahr-gee-bahr-gee ]

noun

Chiefly British.

a vigorous discussion or dispute.

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What is the origin of argy-bargy?

Argy-bargy, “a vigorous discussion, dispute,” appears in print in 1887, just 15 years after its “original,” argle-bargle. The argle of argle-bargle is a variant of argue. Yet another variant, argue-bargue, which gives away the entire etymology, appears in 1906. Argle entered English towards the end of the 16th century; its offspring all date from the second half of the 19th century.

how is argy-bargy used?

There appears to have ensued more than two decades of argy-bargy over where the new hall should be located, during which time the merchants would meet at the Chamber of Commerce premises.

Nuala Naughton, Glasgow's East End, 2014

On the international scene, he can only be reassured by the strident argy-bargy between Moscow and Peking, despite some pundits’ predictions that the U.S. stand in Viet Nam could only induce harmony between the two great Communist powers.

"The War: The Greatest Drama," Time, April 1, 1966

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Monday, September 28, 2020

avow

[ uh-vou ]

verb (used with object)

to declare frankly or openly; own; acknowledge; confess; admit: He avowed himself an opponent of all alliances.

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What is the origin of avow?

Avow, “to declare openly, acknowledge, admit,” has always had a formal air, a solemnity about it. It comes from Middle English avouen, advouen, awouen, from Old French avo(u)er, a regular phonetic development of Latin advocāre “to call upon, summon (assistance), convoke” (whose past participle advocātus is the source of the English verb and noun advocate). Advocāre is composed of the overworked preposition and prefix ad, ad- “to, toward” and the verb vocāre “to call,” a derivative of the noun vox, stem vōc- “voice, human voice.” Avow entered English in the 13th century.

how is avow used?

Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write?

Rainer Maria Rilke, "The First Letter: February 17, 1903," Letters to a Young Poet, translated by Joan M. Burnham, 2000

Scott achieved fame (and a baronetcy) as a poet, but he did not avow authorship of his novels until relatively late in his career.

David Lodge, "Dickens Our Contemporary," The Atlantic, May 2020

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