Word of the Day

Saturday, June 20, 2020

tête-à-tête

[ teyt-uh-teyt, tet-uh-tet; French te-ta-tet ]

noun,

a private conversation or interview, usually between two people.

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What is the origin of tête-à-tête?

Tête-à-tête, “a private conversation, usually between two people,” in French literally means “head to head.” The tête in tête-à-tête comes from Old French teste, from testa “head” in Vulgar Latin, from Latin testa “terracotta pot, brick.” Tête-à-tête first occurs in French in a comédie-ballet by Molière entitled La comtesse d’Escarbagnas “The Countess of Escarbagnas” (1671). Testa is the Italian word for head, too, but if you use testa a testa in Italian, you will get only a lot of laughs. Tête-à-tête entered English in the early 18th century.

how is tête-à-tête used?

While she and Osborne were having their delightful tête-à-tête above stairs, old Mrs. Sedley and Captain Dobbin were conversing below upon the state of the affairs ….

William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero, 1848

It’s a meeting that promises awkward handshakes, a “family photo” against a scenic backdrop and tense tête-à-têtes on the sidelines.

Claire Parker, "The G-7 summit kicks off on Saturday. Here are some key relationships to watch." Washington Post, August 23, 2019

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Friday, June 19, 2020

inflection point

[ in-flek-shuhn point ]

noun

a point at which a major or decisive change takes place; critical point.

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What is the origin of inflection point?

Inflection point, also point of inflection and flex point, originally, in the first half of the 18th century, was and still is today, was a mathematical term used in geometry and calculus, meaning “a point on a curve at which the curvature changes from convex to concave or vice versa.” This mathematical term gradually spread to other disciplines, such as engineering and economics, that use mathematics extensively. The second meaning of inflection point, “a critical point at which a major or decisive change takes place,” dates from about 2006 and appears to be the coinage of Andrew Grove (1936–2016), a Hungarian-born American businessman, engineer, and author, and a pioneer in the semiconductor industry (Time magazine named him Man of the Year in 1997). Inflection is the usual American spelling, inflexion the usual British one. The Latin noun is inflexiō (inflectional stem inflexiōn-) “bending, curving,” a derivative of the verb inflectere “to bend, curve inward.”

how is inflection point used?

We can either confront it for what it is and make it an inflection point in the arc of our nation’s history, or we can become complicit in the perpetuation of our disease because we refuse to admit we are ill. This time may be different. I pray that it is different.

I think we are at huge inflection point. We need not charitable solutions to structural problems but we need the type of change—and I believe that means that we change the rules.

Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of Color Of Change, "Bear Witness, Take Action," YouTube, June 13, 2020

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

risibility

[ riz-uh-bil-i-tee ]

noun

the ability or disposition to laugh; humorous awareness of the ridiculous and absurd.

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What is the origin of risibility?

Risibility comes via Middle French risibilité “something or someone that provokes laughter,” from Late Latin rīsibilitās (inflectional stem rīsibilitāt-) “a disposition to laugh,” a very rare noun first occurring in the works of Boethius, the most important philosopher and statesman of the late Western Roman Empire, who Dante described in his Paradiso as “the last of the Romans and first of the Scholastics.” (The Scholastics were followers of a system of theology and philosophy predominant in the Middle Ages, based chiefly upon the church fathers, Aristotle, and Aristotle’s commentators). Boethius’ most important work Dē Consōlātiōne Philosophiae “The Consolation of Philosophy,” which he wrote in prison while awaiting execution, was important enough to be translated (into English) by King Alfred the Great, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Queen Elizabeth I. Perhaps the most enduring contemporary image of the Consolation is the Wheel of Fortune, now the name of a TV show. Risibility entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is risibility used?

He shocked the company by maintaining that the attributes of God were two,—power and risibility; and that it was the duty of every pious man to keep up the comedy.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Illusions," The Atlantic, November 1857

In this high-humored sendup of arty photography, the photographer Duane Michals shoots for risibility and against pretension. 

Grace Glueck, "Art in Review: 'Who Is Sidney Sherman?'" New York Times, November 16, 2001

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