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.

learn about the english language

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
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, 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.

learn about the english language

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
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.

learn about the english language

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
Monday, February 18, 2019

fourscore

[ fawr-skawr, fohr-skohr ]

adjective

four times twenty; eighty.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of fourscore?

Americans will recognize the phrase “Fourscore and seven years ago” from the Gettysburg Address (whether they will know what a score of years amounts to is another question). Most Americans will recognize the line from Psalm 90, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten” and will probably guess 70. The noun score comes from Old English scoru “a tally of 20,” from Old Norse skoru “a notch, scratch, tally of 20.” Score is one of the developments from the very complicated Proto-Indo-European root sker-, ker- “to cut.” In Latin the suffixed form ker-sna appears in cēna “dinner,” literally “a slice.” Old Latin also has the form cesnas; Oscan (an Italic language spoken in southern Italy) has the very conservative form kersnu “dinner.” Sker-, ker- in Germanic (English) appears in shear “to cut” and shears “scissors,” shard, shirt (from Old English scyrte), and skirt (from Old Norse skyrta). Fourscore entered English at the end of the 13th century.

how is fourscore used?

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

President Abraham Lincoln, "The Gettysburg Address," November 19, 1863

Of the fish, I need say nothing in this hot weather, but that it comes sixty, seventy, fourscore, and a hundred miles by land-carriage …

Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, 1771
Sunday, February 17, 2019

milieu

[ mil-yoo, meel- ]

noun

surroundings, especially of a social or cultural nature: a snobbish milieu.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of milieu?

Milieu is still unnaturalized in English, as its several pronunciations indicate. The French word means “middle, medium, environment.” (In Old French miliu means “the middle.”) Milieu breaks down into the prefix mi- and the noun lieu. Mi- ultimately derives from the Latin adjective medius “middle, middle of, in the middle” (the same prefix occurs in French Midi “midday, the south”). The French noun lieu “place” comes from Latin locus. A lieutenant is literally “a place holder, one who holds the place of another, a substitute” (for a higher authority). Milieu entered English in the mid-19th century.

how is milieu used?

… he grew up in Dagenham, on the eastern outskirts of London, a milieu that he has recalled as “gray and grimy.”

Patrick Radden Keefe, "How Mark Burnett Resurrected Donald Trump as an Icon of American Success," The New Yorker, January 7, 2019

Most crucial, though … is a deeply informed, deeply immersive essay from Luc Sante, “Beastie Revolution,” that places the then-nascent band amidst the cultural milieu of New York City, and the world at large, in 1981, from the Walkman and Ronald Reagan and Grandmaster Flash getting booed off stage while opening up for the Clash in Times Square to Robert Mapplethorpe and WBLS radio and the Mudd Club and still-cheap rent.

Corey Seymour, "The Beastie Boys Book Tour Is as Nutty, Irreverent, and Fun as You think It Would Be," Vogue, October 31, 2018
Saturday, February 16, 2019

snowbird

[ snoh-burd ]

noun

Informal. a person who vacations in or moves to a warmer climate during cold weather.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of snowbird?

Snowbird has three distinct meanings. The original meaning, “a bird that spends winters in a cold climate,” dates from the late 17th century; the second, “a person who travels from the cold north to spend the winter in the warm, sunny south,” dates from the mid-1920s; the third sense, “a person addicted to heroin or cocaine,” dates from around 1915.

how is snowbird used?

I don’t know if I can be a snowbird every year… But I’m going to try, even if it’s only for a week or two: for more winter sunrises, for more sunlight, and even for more — why not? — joyful crying.

Jen A. Miller, "How I Became a 37-Year-Old Snowbird," New York Times, February 23, 2018

As the temperature drops and months of cold weather loom ahead, snowbirds pack up for warmer climates, anticipating sunny days free of freezing ice, snow shoveling and other winter worries.

Mary Kane, "Prep Your House for Snowbird Season," Kiplinger's Retirement Report, January 2018
Friday, February 15, 2019

onomastic

[ on-uh-mas-tik ]

adjective

of or relating to proper names.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of onomastic?

English onomastic comes straight from the Greek adjective and noun onomastikós, which has quite a few meanings: “pertaining to a name, naming, special name; (in grammar) nominative (case); vocabulary (organized by subject and not by letter).” Onomastikós is a derivative of the verb onomázein “to name, call by name,” itself a derivative of the noun ónoma, the Greek development of Proto-Indo-European nomen-, which appears in Latin as nōmen, Germanic (English) name, and Sanskrit nā́ma. One of the things that make Greek Greek is the presence of prothetic vowels (prothetic means “put in front”) at the beginning of a word, such as the o- in ónoma, the a- in ástron “star” (akin to English star and Latin stella, from assumed sterla), the e- in ennéa “nine” (Latin novem, Sanskrit náva). Some of the prothetic vowels can be explained according to Indo-European linguistics, others not; they are a source of endless research and speculation. Onomastic entered English in the 18th century.

how is onomastic used?

Today’s baseball rosters are filled with names, not nicknames, not like the ones that used to be. The N.B.A. playoffs are equally devoid of onomastic pleasures, just cheap echoes of Magic and the Mailman, Tiny and Tree, Chief and Cornbread.

John Branch, "Like Magic, Great Sports Nicknames Are Disappearing," New York Times, May 10, 2011

… the survey found that mothers’ top reason for onomastic discontent was that they hadn’t been bold enough …

Ruth Graham, "A Lot of Mothers Regret the Names They Gave Their Children, According to a New Survey," Slate, September 1, 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.