Word of the Day

Word of the day

Thursday, February 21, 2019

tabula rasa

[ tab-yuh-luh rah-suh, -zuh, rey- ]

noun

a mind not yet affected by experiences, impressions, etc.

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What is the origin of tabula rasa?

In Latin tabula rasa means “erased tablet, a tablet rubbed clean (of writing).” Tabula has many meanings: “flat board, plank, table, notice board, notice, game board, public document, deed, will.” For schoolchildren the schoolmaster’s command Manum dē tabulā “Hand(s) off the tablet!” meant “Pencils down!” Rasa is the past participle of radere “to scrape, scratch, shave, clip.” The inside surfaces of a folded wooden tablet were raised along the edges and filled with wax for writing. The wax could be erased by smoothing with the blunt end of a stylus (more correctly stilus) or by mild heat. The Latin phrase is a translation of Greek pinakìs ágraphos “tablet with nothing written on it, blank tablet,” from Aristotle’s De Anima (Greek Perì Psychês, “On the Soul): “What it [the mind] thinks must be in it just as characters may be said to be on a writing tablet (pinakìs) on which nothing is yet actually written (ágraphos).” Tabula rasa entered English in the 16th century.

how is tabula rasa used?

The notion that the brain is a tabula rasa that can be easily transformed by digital technology is, as yet, the stuff of science fiction.

Richard A. Friedman, "The Big Myth About Teenage Anxiety," New York Times, September 7, 2018

The alarm wakes him, and he opens his eyes to a new day. He feels rested, reset, a tabula rasa.

Lisa Genova, Inside the O'Briens, 2015
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Word of the day

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

behemoth

[ bih-hee-muhth, bee-uh- ]

noun

any creature or thing of monstrous size or power: The army's new tank is a behemoth. The cartel is a behemoth that small business owners fear.

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What is the origin of behemoth?

The traditional etymology of the Hebrew noun behemoth is that it is an augmentative or intensive plural of bəhēmāh “beast,” a derivative of the West Semitic root bhm “to be dumb.” It is also possible that Hebrew bəhēmāh is an adaptation to Hebrew phonology of Egyptian p-ehe-mau “hippopotamus” (literally “ox of the water”). Behemoth entered English in the 14th century.

how is behemoth used?

… in a play for the ideological high ground, Mr. de Blasio has cast Uber as a corporate behemoth with a singular goal.

Matt Flegenheimer, "City Hall, in a Counterattack, Casts Uber as a Corporate Behemoth," New York Times, July 20, 2015

Power – this one word sums up the rise in concerns on the left about tech behemoth Facebook.

Tim Mak, "Congress May Soon Impose New Regulations on Facebook," All Things Considered, NPR, January 15, 2019

Word of the day

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

mare

[ mahr-ey, mair-ee ]

noun

Astronomy. any of the several large, dark plains on the moon and Mars: Galileo believed that the lunar features were seas when he first saw them through a telescope.

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What is the origin of mare?

Latin mare “sea” is obviously but irregularly derived from Proto-Indo-European mori- “body of water, lake.” The Latin word “ought” to be more (the a is unexplained). The Proto-Indo-European mori- becomes Old Church Slavonic morje “sea, ocean,” Lithuanian marė “lagoon, bay,” and, in the Germanic languages, English mere (i.e., a lake or a pond), German Meer “sea, ocean,” Gothic marei “sea.” Latin mare used to describe the lunar feature first appears in Michael van Langren’s map of the moon (1645). Mare first entered English in the 19th century.

how is mare used?

The wheels were large and open, and absorbed the unevenness of the mare; Malenfant felt as if he were riding across the Moon in a soap bubble.

Stephen Baxter, Manifold: Space, 2000

The craft will attempt to retrieve up to 2 kilograms of soil and rock from the Oceanus Procellarum, a vast lunar mare on the near side that has yet to be visited by any spacecraft.

Dennis Normile, "Chinese spacecraft successfully lands on moon's far saide and sends pictures back home," Science, January 3, 2019

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