Word of the Day

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Svengali

[ sven-gah-lee, sfen- ]

noun

a person who completely dominates another, usually with selfish or sinister motives.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of Svengali?

Two terms survive from George du Maurier’s novel Trilby (1894). The first is Svengali, the evil musician who hypnotizes, controls, and exploits Trilby O’Ferrall, a young Irish girl, and makes her a great singer who is unable to perform without his help. In the stage version of the novel, the actress who played Trilby wore a sort of soft felt hat with an indented crown, now called a trilby or trilby hat. The trilby is now commonly mistaken for a different hat, the fedora. Svengali in its extended sense of “a person who completely dominates another, usually with selfish or sinister motives” is recorded by the early 1900s.

how is Svengali used?

Lou Pearlman, who died on Friday in federal prison in Miami, at the age of sixty-two, was arguably the great pop Svengali of our time.

John Seabrook, "We Live in the Pop-Culture World That Lou Pearlman Created," The New Yorker, August 22, 2016

Though he comes across in his own writings as witty and self-aware, the picture that emerges decades later is of a moody, manipulative Svengali, blinded by his ego to what was really happening on the raft.

A. O. Scott, "'The Raft' Review: A Crew of 10 Set Adrift With a Moody Svengali," New York Times, June 6, 2019
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.
Wednesday, July 24, 2019

ben trovato

[ ben truh-vah-toh ]

adjective

appropriate and characteristic even if untrue; happily invented or discovered.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of ben trovato?

Ben trovato, an Italian phrase meaning “well found,” comes from the sentence Se non è vero, è molto ben trovato “If it isn’t true, it is very well found, happily invented.” The saying seems to have been common in Italy in the 16th century but is especially associated with the pantheistic philosopher (and therefore heretic) and poet Giordano Bruno (1548–1600). Ben trovato entered English in the late 18th century.

how is ben trovato used?

There is a story that Nolan met Burr once on one of our vessels, when a party of Americans came on board in the Mediterranean. But this I believe to be a lie; or rather, it is a myth, ben trovato, involving a tremendous blowing-up with which he sunk Burr …

Edward Everett Hale, "The Man Without a Country," The Atlantic Monthly, December 1863

There is, when we are willing to be deceived, but small difference between the “vero” and the ben trovato

"The Sketcher, No. X," Blackwoods' Edinburgh Magazine, February 1835
Tuesday, July 23, 2019

abusage

[ uh-byoo-sij ]

noun

improper use of words; unidiomatic or ungrammatical language.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of abusage?

The noun abusage, a derivative of the verb abuse, has been in English since the mid-16th century, and originally the noun had many of the original senses of the verb: “misuse, ill-use, abuse,” and the still stronger sense “corrupt practices, immoral behavior.” New Zealand-born British lexicographer Eric Partridge (1894–1979) is credited for giving abusage its current meaning “improper use of language” in his Usage and Abusage: A Guide to Good English (1942).

how is abusage used?

As a presidential campaign approaches, great rhetorical and metaphoric strain is placed on the language. … Lest this abusage corrupt the young, this department instituted (I started) the scrupulously bipartisan 1988 Hyperbolic and Metaphoric Watch.

William Safire, "The '88 Rhetorical Watch," New York Times, March 23, 1986

Many New Yorkers and New Jerseyites persisted in referring to the agency as the “Port of Authority,” and this abusage long served as a kind of shibboleth for identifying natives of the area.

Henry Petroski, The Road Taken, 2016

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.