Word of the Day

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

taradiddle

[ tar-uh-did-l ]

noun

Informal.

a small lie; fib.

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What is the origin of taradiddle?

Taradiddle (also tarradiddle), a slang term meaning “a small lie, a fib” has no clear etymology. The second element may be the verb diddle “to move back and forth or up and down quickly”; the first element tara– (or tarra-) has no explanation at all. Taradiddle (tarradiddle) entered English at the end of the 18th century.

how is taradiddle used?

“What are you?” “An engraver.” (This taradiddle I invented to account for the look of my hands.)

James Greenwood, "A Night in a Workhouse," Pall Mall Gazette, 1866

“A taradiddle is by definition a petty lie, a little falsehood or trifling told often to amuse or embellish a story,” he said. “As our world is full of them, seen and witnessed through advertising, P.R., propaganda, flirtations, staged events and presentations of all sorts, I simply came to the conclusion that even the straightest of photographs made in real-world witness was also such.”

Charles Traub, quoted in "Random Moments, Petty Lies and Quiet Pleasures," by Rena Silverman, New York Times, November 8, 2018

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Monday, April 20, 2020

ambages

[ am-bey-jeez ]

noun

Archaic. (used with a plural verb)

winding, roundabout paths or ways.

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What is the origin of ambages?

The English noun ambages is usually used in the plural, just like its Latin original, ambāgēs. Both English and Latin nouns share the same meanings: “winding, roundabout paths; prolix, ambiguous, or equivocating language.” The Latin noun is a compound of the prefix ambhi– “around, about, both” (as in ambidextrous “able to use both hands equally well”), and a derivative noun of the hard-working verb agere “to lead, drive, act, do.” Ambages entered English in the early 15th century.

how is ambages used?

A city of monstrous size to which London was but a market town. Its ambages of streets bewildered.

Anthony Burgess, A Dead Man in Deptford, 2003

few readers, we apprehend, will have the resolution to keep him company to the end of his book, or to follow him through the ambages of his descriptions, without occasional symptoms of weariness.

Charles Stuart Cochrane, "Travels in Colombia," North American Review, 1825

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Sunday, April 19, 2020

kitsch

[ kich ]

noun

something of tawdry design, appearance, or content created to appeal to popular or undiscriminating taste.

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What is the origin of kitsch?

One person’s art is another person’s kitsch. Kitsch is a German noun meaning “trash, rubbish; slapdash, pretentious, sentimental, or tacky work of art.” Kitsch is a derivative of the verb kitschen “to throw together (a work of art),” from German kitschen “to sweep up or scrape up mud from the street,” or from German dialect kitschen “to sell cheaply.” Kitsch entered English in the first half of the 20th century.

how is kitsch used?

When the art critics call me “cornball” and my work “kitsch,” which I’m told is a derogatory term for popular art, I begin to worry. But I always pick up my brushes and go back to work. For better or for worse, I’ll never be a fine arts painter or a modern artist. I’m an illustrator, which is very different. 

Norman Rockwell, My Adventures as an Illustrator, 1960

Allee Willis … lives in a light-pink house north of Hollywood with a bowling-ball garden and a heaving collection of kitsch.

Matthew Schneier, "A Queen of Kitsch Who Made the Whole World Sing," New York Times, June 7, 2018

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Saturday, April 18, 2020

chockablock

[ chok-uh-blok ]

adjective

extremely full; crowded; jammed: a room chockablock with furniture and plants.

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What is the origin of chockablock?

Chockablock is a nautical term describing the position of tackle when the blocks are drawn close together. From the sense of the blocks being pressed tightly together, chockablock develops the sense “extremely full, crowded.” Chock and block are clear enough: they are synonyms for a wedge or other solid, heavy mass for holding something steady. The only problem with chockablock is the –a-: it is likely a reduced form of andChockablock entered English at the end of the 18th century.

how is chockablock used?

I have a steel engraving of the Old Harbor chockablock with ships ….

John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent, 1961

The lyrics and the video are chockablock with suburban Americana signifiers: lawns, pools, divorce.

Spencer Kornhaber, "What Adam Schlesinger Knew About America," The Atlantic, April 3, 2020

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Friday, April 17, 2020

breviloquent

[ bre-vil-uh-kwuhnt ]

adjective

speaking or expressed in a concise or terse style; using brevity of speech.

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What is the origin of breviloquent?

Breviloquent means “speaking in a concise style.” Breviloquent comes from the Latin adjective breviloquēns (inflectional stem breviloquent-), a compound of brevis “short” (inflectional stem brevi-) and loquēns, present participle of loquī “to speak.” Breviloquentia, “brevity of speech,” the noun derivative of breviloquēns, occurs only once—one time!—in all of Latin literature, in a private letter that Cicero wrote to his close childhood friend, Titus Pomponius Atticus. Breviloquent entered English in the 19th century.

how is breviloquent used?

On the contrary, nothing is more remarkable in the Paston correspondence than the extreme and business-like shortness of most of them. They seem to anticipate the breviloquent era of Sir Rowland Hill. 

Herman Merivale, "Are the 'Paston Letters' Authentic?" The Fortnightly, Vol. 2, 1865

Soft-spoken and breviloquent, Nokie Edwards’ gentle manner is contradicted by the quick, clean guitar licks that make him famous as a former member of surf-instro band The Ventures.

Laurie Heuston, "Nokie Edwards and The HitchHiker Band," Mail Tribune, January 20, 2017

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Thursday, April 16, 2020

panacea

[ pan-uh-see-uh ]

noun

an answer or solution for all problems or difficulties: His economic philosophy is a good one, but he tries to use it as a panacea.

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What is the origin of panacea?

Panacea comes from Latin panacēa, which had the same meanings of the Greek original, panákeia “universal remedy; the name of a healing plant and its juice.” Panákeia is a compound of the Greek combining form pan– “all,” completely naturalized in English, and the adjective suffix –akḗs “healing,” a derivative ákos “cure, remedy.” The Greeks had a genius for personification, making, for instance, the common noun peithṓ “persuasion” into the goddess Peithṓ. So, too, with hygíeia “healthy state, good health” becoming the goddess Hygíeia, and panákeia, the goddess Panákeia. In fact the first sentence of the Hippocratic Oath (originally dating between the 5th and 3rd centuries b.c.) begins, “I swear by Apollo the physician and Asclepius and Hygeia and Panacea and all the gods and goddesses….” Panacea entered English in the mid-16th century.

how is panacea used?

That could help provide a financial lifeline for the difficult weeks ahead — but it isn’t a panacea ….

Ann Carrns, "How to Build an Emergency Fund in the Middle of an Emergency," New York Times, March 20, 2020

The panacea of a world state, on the contrary, is doomed to bitter disappointment. A political unification of the nations of the world is impossible while political questions divide mankind.

Ellery C. Stowell, "A League of Nations," The Nation, Vol. 103, December 7, 1916

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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

taxonomy

[ tak-son-uh-mee ]

noun

a classification into ordered categories: a proposed taxonomy of educational objectives.

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What is the origin of taxonomy?

The English noun taxonomy, “classification into ordered categories,” comes from French taxonomie, an irregular formation from the Greek noun táxis “military formation by rank and file,” and the Greek combining form –nomía, a derivative of nómos “law.” A note on the spelling: the original Greek noun táxis is an “i-stem,” and its connecting vowel is –i-; the etymologically correct form is taxinomy. The noun táxos, “yew, yew tree,” has the connecting vowel –o-; taxonomy “properly” means “classification of yew trees.” Taxonomy entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is taxonomy used?

Warhol was the little match girl peering in at high society, wondering what a rich collector or a countess was like and creating a taxonomy of it.

Thomas Sokolowski, quoted in "Picasso: Love Him? Hate Him? A Bit of Both?" Robert Atkins, New York Times, April 28, 1996

How long has our current taxonomy of Red State vs. Blue State been part of our political vernacular?

Christopher Briem, "The map is back!" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 5, 2013

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