Word of the Day

Thursday, January 28, 2021

torrential

[ taw-ren-shuhl, toh-, tuh- ]

adjective

falling in rushing, violent, or abundant and unceasing streams.

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What is the origin of torrential?

Torrential “falling in rushing, violent, or abundant and unceasing streams” is a derivative of the noun torrent. Torrent comes from the Latin noun torrens (inflectional stem torrent-) “a rushing stream, torrent.” Torrens is also a present participle meaning “scorching, burning hot,” but also, curiously, “flowing headlong, rushing, torrential,” which Latinists confess is not easily explained. Torrens comes from the verb torrēre “to heat, scorch, dry up,” from the root ters-, source also of Latin terra “land, dry land.” Torrential entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is torrential used?

The torrential downpour that drenched the city this week clogged drains and traffic.

Robert Mankoff, "Through a Glass Lightly," The New Yorker, July 16, 2014

After they had spent several nights on the street in Bogotá, her old boss had given them a room to sleep in, allowing them to escape the torrential rain that had taken over the city that week.

Julie Turkewitz, "How We Followed a 1,500-Mile Migration Journey," New York Times, December 10, 2020

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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

shibboleth

[ shib-uh-lith, ‐leth ]

noun

a common saying or belief with little current meaning or truth.

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What is the origin of shibboleth?

Shibboleth “a peculiarity of pronunciation distinguishing one group of people from another” comes from Biblical Hebrew shibbōleth, which occurs in Judges 12:4-6. The Gileadites used the word shibbōleth as a linguistic test to distinguish themselves from the fleeing Ephraimites, who pronounced shibbōleth as sibbōleth. Shibbōleth is translated in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, and in the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, as “ear of grain.” But modern scholars think that shibbōleth means “freshet, a sudden rise in the level of a stream or river, as by heavy rainfall,” because the slaughter of the Ephraimites by the Gileadites took place at the fords of the river Jordan. Shibboleth entered English in the second half of the 14th century in John Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible (Wycliffe used the spellings Sebolech and Shebolech).

how is shibboleth used?

The shibboleth persists in politics that government can and should be run “like a business.” … It’s pretty clear that governments do not actually operate like business for a vast number of reasons …

Eric Schnurer, "What Would It Mean for Governments to Compete Like Businesses?" The Atlantic, May 22, 2013

Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice, and we welcome “nerves” or any other shibboleth that will cloak our personal desire.

E. M. Forster, A Room with a View, 1908

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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

grouse

[ grous ]

verb (used without object)

to grumble; complain.

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What is the origin of grouse?

The verb grouse originated as a piece of British army slang, and several of its earliest occurrences are in Rudyard Kipling’s Barrack-Room Ballads (1892). Slang terms like grouse are notoriously difficult to etymologize, and grouse is no exception. Scholars have noted, however, a connection between grouse and Old French groucier, groucher, grocier “to grumble, murmur,” source of English grouch, grudge, and grutch (British dialect for grudge). Grouse entered English in the second half of the 19th century.

how is grouse used?

For everyone who has groused about how slow or spotty their Internet service is at home, William C. Thompson Jr., has a message: Help is on the way.

David W. Chen, "A Thompson Proposal to Grade Web Providers," New York Times, July 22, 2013

They and their peers groused constantly about what teenagers always grouse about: that there is “nothing to do.”

Harold Robbins, The Secret, 2000

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