Word of the Day

Word of the day

Sunday, August 01, 2021

totemic

[ toh-tem-ik ]

adjective

of, being, or relating to anything regarded as a distinctive or venerated emblem by a group or individual.

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What is the origin of totemic?

The adjective totemic, “relating to something, such as a natural object or an animate being, venerated as an emblem by a group or individual,” comes from Ojibwa (also spelled Ojibway and Chippewa), an Algonquian language now spoken mostly in the Great Lakes region. (The Algonquian language family extends from Labrador westward to the Rocky Mountains, west-southwestward through Michigan and Illinois, and southwestward along the Atlantic coast to Cape Hatteras.) In Ojibwa ninto·te·m means “my totem,” oto·te·man “his totem” (probably originally “my/his clan-village-mate,” a derivative of the verb stem o·te·- “dwell in a village”). Totemic was first used in English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is totemic used?

I agree with those who feel that New York would gain by restoring the totemic image of the twin towers to the skyline, if not in their original form.

Herbert Muschamp, "A Goal for Ground Zero: Finding an Urban Poetry," New York Times, January 28, 2003

The sphinx crouches in a position that’s regal and yet totemic of subjugation—she is “beat down” but standing. That’s part of her history, too.

Hilton Als, "The Sugar Sphinx," The New Yorker, May 8, 2014

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Word of the day

Saturday, July 31, 2021

tocsin

[ tok-sin ]

noun

a signal, especially of alarm, sounded on a bell or bells.

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What is the origin of tocsin?

Tocsin, “a signal, especially an alarm sounded on a bell,” comes via Old French toquesin, touquesaint, tocsaint from Provençal tocasenh. Tocasenh is a compound made up of the verb tocar “to strike” (French toucher, English touch), from Vulgar Latin toccāre “to touch” and senh “a bell, note of a bell,” from Medieval Latin signum “a bell,” from Latin signum “a mark or sign; a signal.” Tocsin entered English in the second half of the 16th century.

how is tocsin used?

Labor Day instead of sounding the knell of vacations, has become the tocsin for more holidays–Fall holidays. Increasingly of late years has this season been growing in favor among those who wish to avoid the crowds of early August, or plan a special sort of trip.

Diana Rice, "Labor Day Sounds the Tocsin for Fall Vacations," New York Times, August 24, 1941

Paris is in the streets;—rushing, foaming like some Venice wine-glass into which you had dropped poison. The tocsin, by order, is pealing madly from all steeples.

Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, 1837

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Word of the day

Friday, July 30, 2021

irrefragable

[ ih-ref-ruh-guh-buhl ]

adjective

not to be disputed or contested.

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What is the origin of irrefragable?

Irrefragable, “not to be disputed or contested,” comes from Late Latin irrefragābilis, literally “unable to be broken back,” and an easy word to break down into its components. The prefix ir– is the variant that the Latin negative prefix in– (from the same Proto-Indo-European source as English un-) takes before r-. The element re– means “back, back again,” thoroughly naturalized in English; here re– forms part of the verb refragārī “to oppose (a candidate); resist; militate against” (fragārī is possibly a variant of frangere “to break”; refragārī means “to break back”). The suffix –ābilis is formed from the connecting vowel –ā– and the adjective suffix –bilis, which shows capability or ability, and is the source of English –able. Irrefragable entered English in the first half of the 16th century.

how is irrefragable used?

The court often assumes that a federal agency acted properly unless an employee offers “irrefragable proof to the contrary.”

The Senate committee cited this as one of many issues on which the court had misinterpreted the law and the intent of Congress. “By definition,” it said, “irrefragable means impossible to refute. This imposes an impossible burden on whistleblowers.”

Robert Pear, "Congress Moves to Protect Federal Whistleblowers," New York Times, October 3, 2004

Physical science magnifies physical things. The universe of matter with its irrefragable laws looms upon our mental horizon larger than ever before, to some minds blotting out the very heavens.

John Burroughs, "In the Noon of Science," The Atlantic, September 1912

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