Word of the Day

Thursday, September 19, 2019


[ swosh-buhk-ler, swawsh- ]


a swaggering swordsman, soldier, or adventurer; daredevil.

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What is the origin of swashbuckler?

If one is old enough, the word swashbuckler will call to mind Errol Flynn, the baddest, most romantic swashbuckler of them all during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Others may think of the dueling swordsmen from The Princess Bride. Swashbuckler is a compound whose first element is swash, a verb of imitative origin meaning “to splash loudly or violently, dash about.” A buckler is a small round shield held by a handgrip and having straps through which one’s arm is passed. A swashbuckler is a swaggering hero who makes a racket by striking the bad guy’s shield with his own or with his sword. Swashbuckler entered English in the mid-16th century.

how is swashbuckler used?

Even Johnny Depp, the linchpin of the series as the swishy swashbuckler Captain Jack Sparrow, knew that the last film, directed by Gore Verbinski (as were the first two), had lost its way.

Brooks Barnes, "New Captain for a Series Becalmed," New York Times, May 11, 2011

The fairy tale is about a swashbuckler named Westley (Elwes) who has to rescue his true love, Buttercup (Robin Wright), before she is forced to marry the evil Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon).

Reed Tucker, "Inside the hilarious making of 'The Princess Bride'," New York Post, October 12, 2014
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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

à gogo

[ uh goh-goh ]


as much as you like; to your heart's content; galore: food and drink à gogo.

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What is the origin of à gogo?

The colloquial phrase à gogo comes from the name of a Parisian nightclub and discotheque Whisky à Go-Go “Whisky Galore,” which opened in 1947 and quickly became very hip (or hep). A similar club, Whisky a Go Go, opened in Chicago in 1958, and a third Whisky a Go Go opened in Los Angeles in 1964. The French phrase à gogo means “aplenty, galore”; it derives from a Middle French adverb sense “joyfully, uninhibitedly, extravagantly,” from the preposition à “to” and gogo, probably a reduplicated form of gogue “witticism, fun, amusement.” À gogo first appears in print in 1960.

how is à gogo used?

… go up and out onto the Boulevard St.-Germain with its cafes a gogo for unlikely‐seeming students and unpublished poets.

William A. Krauss, "If You Go See Paris by Metro for $1.50," New York Times, November 5, 1972

I was at my local park the other day, watching my sons playing tennis, and spotted the Mayor of London on another court—blond hair flying, Hawaiian shorts a go-go.

Rosie Millard, "Shame on those who have driven Alec Baldwin from public life," The Independent, February 24, 2014
Tuesday, September 17, 2019


[ pree-am-buhl, pree-am- ]


the introductory statement of the U.S. Constitution, setting forth the general principles of American government and beginning with the words, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union. …”

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What is the origin of Preamble?

English preamble, “introductory statement or paragraph,” which has the variant spellings preambel, preambile, preambul in Middle English, comes from Old French preamble, preambule, from Medieval Latin preambulum, praeambulum “preliminary statement, preface (in legal documents).” Praeambulum is a neuter adjective used as a noun from the Late Latin adjective praeambulus “walking before,” a compound of the Latin preposition and prefix prae, prae– “before, in advance” (usually spelled pre– in English and completely naturalized), and the verb ambulāre “to walk, walk for health or pleasure, stroll.” Preamble first appears in English in Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath’s Tale” (from The Canterbury Tales, after 1387). The legal sense “introductory paragraph of a treaty, deed, will (or other legal document)” dates to the second half of the 16th century. Preamble, with a capital P, specifically refers to the opening statement of the U.S. Constitution, signed on September 17, 1787. Beginning with the momentous phrase “We the people,” the Preamble lays out the principles and purpose of the Constitution and the government it establishes.

how is Preamble used?

Is not the preamble the foundation of our Constitution; does it not contain the basic principles, and is not the accomplishment of these principles the aim, the end and the essence of our government and Americanism?

George M. B. Hawley, "Function of the Preamble," New York Times, July 16, 1933

… the Preamble is a declaration of purposes and the underlying spirit of the grand game, if such it may be called, of self-government and liberty to be played by the people of the United States.

Charles A. Beard, "A More Perfect Union and Justice," The Republic, 1944
Monday, September 16, 2019


[ kley-muhnt, klam-uhnt ]


compelling or pressing; urgent: a clamant need for reform.

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What is the origin of clamant?

The English adjective clamant comes from the Latin present participle clāmāns (stem clamant-), from the verb clāmāre “to shout, utter a loud noise.” The second sense in English, “compelling, pressing, urgent,” does not occur in Latin and is mostly a Scottish usage. Clamant entered English in the 17th century.

how is clamant used?

… despite the clamant need for economic and political measures which only peace can render possible, may it not be the part of the far-visioned statesmanship to face that inescapable issue now … ?

Henry P. Van Dusen, "China's Crisis," Life, September 2, 1946

I remember dwelling in imagination upon this or that dish till my mouth watered; and long before we got in for the night my appetite was a clamant, instant annoyance.

Robert Louis Stevenson, An Inland Voyage, 1878
Sunday, September 15, 2019


[ ri-fyoo-jee-uhm ]


an area where special environmental circumstances have enabled a species or a community of species to survive after extinction in surrounding areas.

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What is the origin of refugium?

The biological or ecological sense of English refugium “an area where special environmental circumstances have enabled a species or a community of species to survive after extinction in surrounding areas,” is a straightforward borrowing of the Latin noun refugium. (The usual English plural is the Latin plural, refugia, but refugiums is also found.) The Latin noun does not have the modern English sense, of course, and means only “a place or means of shelter, a place to flee or retreat to.” Refugium entered English in the early 20th century.

how is refugium used?

Hence, it served as a refugium for animal and plant species that the ice cap displaced or destroyed elsewhere.

Dan O'Neill, A Land Gone Lonesome, 2006

Trees that survive in a refugium also may help speed the recovery of the surrounding ecosystem. Their seeds float across the charred landscape, producing a new crop of plants.

Carl Zimmer, "'Lifeboats' Amid the World's Wildfires," New York Times, October 12, 2018
Saturday, September 14, 2019


[ kon-truh-nim ]


a word that has opposite or nearly opposite meanings, as cleave, meaning "to adhere closely" and "to part or split"; Janus word.

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What is the origin of contranym?

Contranym, “a word that has opposite or nearly opposite meanings,” is a good term to have though trotting it out in certain circles may spark debate about whether it should be spelled contranym (from contra– and –(o)nym), an example of prodelision (loss of an initial vowel), or contronym (from contr(a)– and –onym), an example of elision (loss of a final vowel). Contranyms are also called Janus words (Janus was the Roman god of doorways, beginnings, transitions, and time, and is usually portrayed as having two faces, one looking toward the past, the other toward the future). Some very common, current contranyms (or Janus words) include sanction “to authorize, approve, or allow” and “to penalize, discipline” (the Latin verb sancīre means both “to ratify solemnly, confirm (laws, treaties)” and “to make an offense punishable by law”); the verb cleave “to split, divide” and “to remain faithful to” (cleave derives from two different Old English verbs: cleofian “to adhere, stick” and clēofan “to separate, split”); and oversight “supervision (as by a Congressional committee),” and “omission, mistake.” Contranym entered English in the early 1960s.

how is contranym used?

Sometimes, just to heighten the confusion, the same word ends up with contradictory meanings. This kind of word is called a contronym.

Bill Bryson, The Mother Tongue, 1990

“No, totally.” “No, definitely.” “No, exactly.” “No, yes.” These curious uses turn “no” into a kind of contranym: a word that can function as its own opposite.

Kathryn Schulz, "What Part of 'No, Totally' Don't You Understand?" The New Yorker, April 7, 2015
Friday, September 13, 2019

bona fides

[ boh-nah fee-des ]


good faith; absence of fraud or deceit; the state of being exactly as claims or appearances indicate: The bona fides of this contract is open to question.

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What is the origin of bona fides?

The Latin phrase bona fidēs “good faith,” is composed of a singular noun in the nominative case (fidēs “faith”) modified by a singular adjective (bona “good”). The relatively recent sense of bona fides “guarantees of good faith, credentials” (as if fidēs, because of its final s, were a plural noun) is first recorded in 1944. The Latin phrase bonā fidē and the English phrase bona fide also mean “in good faith” (fidē being a singular noun in the ablative case, which is frequently used in Latin in adverbial functions). Bona fide was originally an adverbial phrase but since the late 18th century also used as an adjective, e.g., the legal term bona fide purchaser. Bona fides entered English in the 19th century.

how is bona fides used?

Few things have sent up our food-conscious era quite so accurately (or affectionately) as that first-season “Portlandia” sketch in which a restaurant waiter is given the third degree by concerned patrons over the bona fides of the menu’s locally raised chicken.

Robert Abele, "Review: 'The Biggest Little Farm' is a winning doc about a couple's agricultural dream," Los Angeles Times, May 9, 2019

Of course it took me a little while to establish my bona fides but at last I did—it will seem ironic to you, but while neither side fully believed in my honesty both were exultant at having penetrated the enemy intelligence service.

Lawrence Durrell, Quinx, 1985

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