Word of the Day

Word of the day

Saturday, November 14, 2020

triclinium

[ trahy-klin-ee-uhm ]

noun

Roman History.

a dining room, especially one containing a couch extending along three sides of a table, for reclining on at meals.

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What is the origin of triclinium?

The uncommon noun triclinium comes from Latin trīclīnium, straight from Greek triklī́nion “dining room.” A triklī́nion was more precisely an arrangement of three chaise longues in the shape of a capital Greek pi (Π) on three sides of a central table for dining (the fourth side was left open for servants or busboys). Triklī́nion is a compound made up of the Greek (and Latin) combining form tri– “three,” as in triangle (a “three-cornered” geometric figure), triathlete, and tripod (literally “three-footed”). Klī́nion is a derivative of klī́nē “couch, bed, sickbed,” source of English clinic and clinical. Lying on couches while dining was introduced into Greece in the early seventh century b.c. from Asia Minor (now western Turkey). The Romans adopted the Greek custom via the Etruscans, and the Etruscans (and Romans) scandalized the Greeks by allowing citizen women (such as wives), to participate in banquets. Triclinium entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is triclinium used?

Ancient Romans could recline on the triclinium’s long benches, discussing music, literature and other refined topics, while contemplating a vista of ecstatic abandon.

Karen Rosenberg, "Pompeii Style, B.C.E. (Before Catastrophic Eruption)," New York Times, October 23, 2008

The most elegant type of Hellenistic derivation has a curving headrest or fulcrum at one end; but a true triclinium evidently required a matching set of three fitted together …

Katherine M. D. Dunbabin, The Roman Banquet, 2003

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Friday, November 13, 2020

volte-face

[ volt-fahs, vohlt-; French vawltuh-fas ]

noun

a turnabout, especially a reversal of opinion or policy.

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What is the origin of volte-face?

Volte-face “a turnabout, reversal of opinion or policy, an about-face,” comes via French volte-face from Italian volta-faccia (also voltafaccia), a compound of volta, the imperative singular of the verb voltare “to turn” and the noun faccia “face.” Voltare comes from an unrecorded Vulgar Latin volvitāre, equivalent to Latin volvere “to turn, roll.” Faccia (and face) likewise come from the Vulgar Latin noun facia, from Latin faciēs “outward appearance, looks, face.” Volte-face entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is volte-face used?

Grubman had shocked the rest of Wall Street by upgrading A.T. & T., a company he had criticized for years, from neutral to buy. He tried to justify his volte-face by saying that the phone giant’s purchase of a big cable company, Telecommunications Inc., had transformed its prospects, but this explanation was greeted with skepticism.

John Cassidy, "The Investigation," The New Yorker, March 31, 2003

In the manner of the high school teacher he once was, Riordan begins with faint praise (“there are things I like about this adaptation”) before an abrupt volte face. “Having said that, here’s the bad news: The script as a whole is terrible,” he wrote, in a letter so beloved by his fans that it’s even been given dramatic readings.

Allison Flood, "Rick Riordan: 'I feel very protective of my fans. I am aware of my responsibility to make them feel safe,'" Guardian, October 26, 2020

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Thursday, November 12, 2020

modicum

[ mod-i-kuhm, moh-di- ]

noun

a moderate or small amount.

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What is the origin of modicum?

Modicum in Latin means “a small, modest amount,” specifically of money, if we may be so crass. Modicum is a noun use of the neuter singular of the adjective modicus “(used for) measuring, moderate, restrained, slight,” a derivative of the noun modus “measured amount or quantity, limit, measure, time, melody.” Modus is a derivative of the verb meditārī “to think about, ponder, meditate,” from the Proto-Indo-European root med-, mēd-, mod-, mōd– “to measure, take proper measures, judge, cure.” Further Latin derivatives from this set of roots include medērī “to heal, cure,” medicus “physician,” medicīna “the art of medicine, the practice of medicine, the administration of medicines,” remediāre “to treat (successfully), cure,” and its derivative noun remediātiō (stem remediātiōn-), source of English remediate and remediation. The variant mod– also yields Latin modestus “restrained, temperate,” and its opposite immodestus “unrestrained, licentious,” English modest and immodest. Modicum entered English in the second half of the 14th century.

how is modicum used?

But by relieving himself of his secret he discovers at least a modicum of peace.

Paul Morton, "The March of Progress Is Never Neat: Merle Miller's On Being Different," The Millions, November 15, 2012

Anxiety and depression naturally arise when we perceive we have no power over a situation. Doing something, such as documenting seasonal changes, is a way to restore a modicum of control and a sense of well-being.

Theresa Crimmins, "To Ease Climate Anxiety, Reconnect with the Rhythms of the Seasons," Scientific American, January 5, 2020

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