Word of the Day

Sunday, August 09, 2020

tome

[ tohm ]

noun

a book, especially a very heavy, large, or learned book.

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What is the origin of tome?

The noun tome comes from Middle French tome, from Latin tomus “a cut, slice, or bit; a piece or length of papyrus; a book (in general).” Tomus is a borrowing of Greek tómos “a slice” (e.g., of ham, cheese), (in geometry) “the frustum” (e.g., of a cylinder), “a beam” (of wood). By the 3rd century b.c. and in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures, dating between the 3rd and 1st centuries b.c.), tómos had also come to mean “(papyrus) roll,” and by the 1st century a.d. “tome, volume” (in the modern sense). Tómos is a derivative of the verb témnein “to cut,” from the Proto-Indo-European root tem-, tom– (with its extensions tend-, tond-) “to cut.” From the variant tem-, Latin derives templum “shrine, temple” (because the property has been cut out from, set apart from profane use). The variant tond- forms Latin tondēre “to cut or clip (hair), shear (a sheep)” and the agent noun tonsor (stem tonsōr-) “barber,” with its derivative adjective tonsōrius, from which English derives the not very serious adjective tonsorial “of or relating to a barber or barbering.” Tome entered English in the first half of the 16th century.

how is tome used?

That eight-hundred-page tome (with an additional three hundred pages of downloadable essays to accompany it) includes the whole Caesarian corpus, as well as hundreds of maps and illustrations.

Michael Kulikowski, "A Very Bad Man," London Review of Books, June 18, 2020

The 240-page tome is less of a tourist guide than it is a primer for a future Washington “Jeopardy” category.

Katie Hickox, "Capital Tome," Washington Post, December 13, 1992

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Saturday, August 08, 2020

diphthong

[ dif-thawng, -thong, dip- ]

noun

an unsegmentable, gliding speech sound varying continuously in phonetic quality but held to be a single sound or phoneme, as the oi-sound of toy or boil.

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What is the origin of diphthong?

Diphthong is hard enough to spell and pronounce, let alone define. Diphthong ultimately comes from Greek díphthongos, literally “with or having two sounds,” a compound of the Greek prefix di- “two, twice, double” and the noun phthóngos “voice, sound,” a derivative of the euphonious verb phthéngesthai “to utter a sound, raise one’s voice, call, talk.” Phthéngesthai is also the root of the Greek verb apophthéngesthai “to speak one’s opinion plainly,” whose derivative noun apóphthegma “a brief, pointed saying” comes into English as apothegm or apophthegm, even harder to spell and pronounce than diphthong. Phthéngesthai has no convincing etymology, but some scholars point to “phonetically convincing” Lithuanian žvéngti “to neigh” and speñgti “(in the ears) to resound, hum, drone.” (The Lithuanian and Greek words derive from the Proto-Indo-European root ghwen-, ghwon- “to sound.”) Diphthong entered English in the second half of the 15th century.

how is diphthong used?

The best word ever—according to deep lexicographical research, science, taste, and common sense—is this: diphthong.

Megan Garber, "Here It Is: The Best Word Ever," The Atlantic, September 13, 2012

It [Atlas of North American English] is vast enough to include 139 color-coded maps and software that lets users click around the country to hear native speakers drop their r’s and overextend their diphthongs with abandon.

Tammy La Gorce, "Ya Gotta Blame New York for Dat," New York Times, February 12, 2006

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Friday, August 07, 2020

axiomatic

[ ak-see-uh-mat-ik ]

adjective

self-evident; obvious.

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What is the origin of axiomatic?

Axiomatic ultimately comes from the Greek adjective axiōmatikós, which originally meant “dignified (of persons or literary style); worthy, high in rank”; as a technical term, axiōmatikós in Stoic philosophy meant “employing logical propositions” (not a cocktail party term!); its adverb axiōmatikôs meant “self-evidently.” Axiōmatikós is a derivative of the noun axíōma, literally “something worthy of someone,” hence “esteem, honor, reputation, rank.” As a scientific term, axíōma meant “something assumed as the basis of a demonstration, a self-evident principle” (Aristotle), and in geometry, “axiom.” Some people may remember axiom from high school geometry (Euclidean), e.g., “If A is equal to B, and B is equal to C, then A is equal to C.” Axíōma is a derivative of the adjective áxios “of like value, worth as much as, worthy,” literally “counterbalancing.” Áxios in its turn derives from the verb ágein, one of whose dozens of meanings is “to weigh on a scale, weigh.” Axiomatic entered English in the late 18th century.

how is axiomatic used?

It’s axiomatic: Reporters run to the story. They don’t sit it out.

John Otis, "The Journalism Students Helping The Times Cover California," New York Times, June 3, 2020

Psychiatry, and society in general, had been subverted by the almost axiomatic belief that “hearing voices” spelled madness and never occurred except in the context of severe mental disturbance.

Oliver Sacks, Hallucinations, 2012

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Thursday, August 06, 2020

faux pas

[ foh pah ]

noun

a slip or blunder in etiquette, manners, or conduct; an embarrassing social blunder or indiscretion.

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What is the origin of faux pas?

Faux pas, from French and still unnaturalized in English, literally means “false step,” nowadays referring to a breach in good manners, a social blunder. French faux comes from Old French fals, faus, from Latin falsus, past participle of the verb fallere “to deceive, mislead.” The French noun pas, source of English pace, comes from the Latin noun passus “a step, stride, pace,” a derivative of the verb pandere “to spread (legs, arms, wings), spread out, open.” Faux pas entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is faux pas used?

I sat for almost half an hour as they finished preparing, acutely aware of my social faux pas.

Tressie McMillan Cottom, "The Problem With Obama's Faith in White America," The Atlantic, December 13, 2016

I accidentally exposed to them my entire desktop, which felt like a big faux pas despite the fact that there was nothing embarrassing on there at that moment.

Jeannie Suk Gersen, "Finding Real Life in Teaching Law Online," The New Yorker, April 23, 2020

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Wednesday, August 05, 2020

esurient

[ ih-soor-ee-uhnt ]

adjective

hungry; greedy.

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What is the origin of esurient?

Esurient, “hungry, greedily hungry, greedy,” comes from Latin ēsuriēns (stem esurient-), the present participle of the verb ēsurīre “to feel hunger, suffer from hunger,” formed from ēs(us), past participle of edere “to eat” and the desiderative suffix -urīre (of unknown origin); thus ēsurīre literally means “to desire to eat.” Esurient may be familiar to those who like Johann Sebastian Bach’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), which contains the verse Ēsurientēs implēvit bonīs et dīvitēs dīmīsit inānēs, “He [God] hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.” Esurient entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

how is esurient used?

The whole business of bribing, so far as it is carried on, will fall into disreputable hands, those of untrustworthy, esurient, broken attorneys, who will sell their clients very often …

"The Corrupt Practices Bill", The Spectator, January 15, 1881

However, this esurient eye for detail can, on rare occasions, cloud the larger picture.

Gordon Marino, "The Natural," New York Times, September 30, 2010

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Tuesday, August 04, 2020

simulacrum

[ sim-yuh-ley-kruhm ]

noun

an effigy, image, or representation: a simulacrum of Aphrodite.

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What is the origin of simulacrum?

Simulacrum, “a likeness, an image,” comes straight from Latin simulācrum “a resemblance in sight or sound, an image, a statue (of a god).” Simulācrum is a derivative of the verb simulā(re) “to simulate, pretend” and -crum, a variant of -culum, a suffix denoting tools or instruments. Simulāre in its turn is a derivative of the adjective similis “like, similar,” which through Medieval Latin similāris and Old French similaire becomes English similar. Simulacrum entered English at the end of the 16th century.

how is simulacrum used?

Except for flakes of plaster in its streets, the little city is entirely undamaged. The simulacrum now more whole than the original.

Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See, 2014

A gallery of thumbnail-size co-workers on a laptop screen is a diminished simulacrum of the conference-table gatherings that drive so much of corporate life.

Cal Newport, "Why Remote Work Is So Hard—And How It Can Be Fixed," The New Yorker, May 26, 2020

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Monday, August 03, 2020

vacillate

[ vas-uh-leyt ]

verb (used without object)

to waver in mind or opinion; be indecisive or irresolute: His tendency to vacillate makes him a poor leader.

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What is the origin of vacillate?

The verb vacillate comes from Latin vacillāt(us), the past participle of the verb vacillāre “(of a person) to be unsteady on one’s feet, stagger, reel; to waver in mind or opinion; (of a thing) to rock, sway, be in an unsound or precarious condition,” which is also used of persons in regard to their financial condition (yet another demonstration that in some respects the ancients were quite modern). Vacillate entered English at the end of the 16th century.

how is vacillate used?

Manfred, who has an unusual ability to vacillate between pugnacious and charming, cajoled owners, stressing the idea that the sport had to have a season.

Michael S. Schmidt, "How Rob Manfred Navigated A Summer of Peril for Baseball," New York Times, July 25, 2020

As state and local governments vacillate between easing and increasing restrictions, normal summer programs may be unavailable, or if open, may be operating at significantly reduced capacities.

Ashley T. Hirano, "DOL Issues Guidance on FFCRA and Summer School/Camp Closures," National Law Review, June 29, 2020

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