Word of the Day

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

tintinnabulation

[ tin-ti-nab-yuh-ley-shuhn ]

noun

the ringing or sound of bells.

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What is the origin of tintinnabulation?

Tintinnabulation is a fittingly tuneful term meaning “the ringing or sound of bells.” This noun was notably sounded by Edgar Allan Poe in his 1849 poem “The Bells”: “Keeping time … / To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells / From the bells, bells, bells, bells …” English tintinnabulation is formed on Latin tintinnābulum “bell.” Tintinnābulum is composed of –bulum, a suffix that indicates agency, and tintinnāre “to ring,” a verb that apparently imitates the sound of jingling bells. And, if you can’t get rid of that ringing in your ears? You may have what medicine calls tinnitus “a ringing or similar sensation of sound in the ears.” Tinnitus is ultimately from a Latin verb related to tintinnāre: tinnīre “to ring, tinkle.” Tintinnabulation entered English in the early 1800s.

how is tintinnabulation used?

To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells / From the bells, bells, bells, bells / bells, bells, bells— / From the jingling and tinkling of the bells.

Edgar Allan Poe, "The Bells," Sartain's Union Magazine of Literature and Art, November 1849

I walked as fast as possible on one shoe toward the far-off tintinnabulation of the bells.

Jim Harrison, Dalva, 1988
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Monday, December 16, 2019

welter

[ wel-ter ]

noun

a confused mass; a jumble or muddle: a welter of anxious faces.

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What is the origin of welter?

The noun welter “confused mass; a jumble or muddle” develops from the verb welter “to roll, toss; writhe, tumble about.” Found in English by the 1300s, the verb welter is a form of Middle English welten, Old English weltan “to roll,” cognate with Middle Dutch welteren and Low German weltern “to roll.” The specific form welter is known as a frequentative, which is a verb that expresses repetitive action, indicated by the suffix –er, as seen in such other verbs as flicker or shudder. Welter, then, has the meaning of rolling over again and again, as waves heaving in the sea or pigs wallowing in the mud, which gave rise to its noun senses, such as “confused mass.” The noun welter is first recorded in English in the late 1500s.

how is welter used?

What traitors books can be! … Others can use them, too, and there you are, lost in the middle of the moor, in a great welter of nouns and verbs and adjectives.

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, 1953
[The pilot] would be expected to know what to do within seconds if a system he didn’t know existed set off a welter of cockpit alerts and forced the plane downward.

Alec MacGillis, "The Case Against Boeing," The New Yorker, November 11, 2019
Sunday, December 15, 2019

peripeteia

[ per-uh-pi-tahy-uh, -tee-uh ]

noun

a sudden turn of events or an unexpected reversal, especially in a literary work.

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What is the origin of peripeteia?

Peripeteia comes from Greek peripéteia “sudden change.” Peripéteia has a literal sense of “falling around,” composed of the prefix peri– “about, around,” pet-, base of píptein “to fall,” and –eia, a noun-forming suffix. In his Poetics, Aristotle describes peripeteia as the turning point in the plot of a tragedy where the protagonist experiences a sudden, surprising, and often ironic reversal of fortune, such as when, in Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex, Oedipus discovers—spoiler alert—he killed his father and married his mother. This critical moment of recognition or discovery had a name in ancient Greek tragedy, too: anagnorisis.

how is peripeteia used?

Mr. Weld’s political peripeteia—which, as a student of the classics, he would recognize as the point in a drama when a sudden reversal occurs—seems to have come during his second term as governor of Massachusetts.

Michael Cooper, "A Candidate's Sudden Turn From Prospect to Dropout," New York Times, June 7, 2006

Bendjelloul’s documentary is delicately balanced on an iceberg-sized peripeteia that is easily spoiled, so if you want to see this movie … read no further.

Sasha Frere-Jones, "Cold Facts," The New Yorker, August 3, 2012

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