• Word of the day
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    Friday, April 13, 2018

    tub-thump

    verb [tuhb-thuhmp]
    Informal. to promote something or express opinions vociferously.
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    What is the origin of tub-thump?

    Tub-thump, a very rare word, is a back formation of tub-thumper “a vociferous supporter of a cause.” The verb tub-thump was coined by the British author Herman C. McNeile (1888–1937), whose pen name was “Sapper," and who wrote the series of thrillers whose hero was Bulldog Drummond. The only other author to use the verb tub-thump was the American poet and editor Ezra Pound (1885-1972). Tub-thump entered English in 1920.

    How is tub-thump used?

    Ever eager to tub-thump America's vast superiority, local civic chauvinists wanted our homegrown exposition to outstrip them all. Jean Zimmerman, Savage Girl, 2014

    Whereas the United States and many other countries are finding pollution control easier to tub-thump with than to implement, Britain has the existing machinery of the Alkali Inspectorate, the Clean Air Acts and the river authorities whose ambitious programmes were well under way before the word environment was heard in Westminster. Jon Tinker, "Environmental politician," New Scientist, April 22, 1971

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  • Word of the day
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    Thursday, April 12, 2018

    mercurial

    adjective [mer-kyoor-ee-uh l]
    changeable; volatile; fickle; flighty; erratic: a mercurial nature.
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    What is the origin of mercurial?

    The English adjective mercurial ultimately comes from the Latin adjective mercuriālis “of or pertaining to Mercurius“ (i.e., the god Mercury), whose original function was as god of commerce, transporters of goods (especially of grain), and shopkeepers. Latin also has the plural noun, derived from the adjective, Mercuriālēs, the name of a guild of merchants. Mercurius is related to merx (stem merc-) “goods, wares, commodities” (and the ultimate source of English merchant and merchandise). By classical times Mercury was completely identified with the Greek god Hermes—the messenger of the gods because he was fast-moving, and always on the move, negotiating, fast-talking, making deals, flimflamming, playing tricks. Mercurius also acquired the meaning “pertaining to the planet Mercury” (Stella Mercuriī, “Star of Mercury,” a translation of Greek astḕr toû Hermoû), the fastest moving of the planets. Mercurial entered English in the 14th century in the sense “pertaining to the planet Mercury.”

    How is mercurial used?

    A mercurial woman, elusive in her lifetime, Anne is still changing centuries after her death, carrying the projections of those who read and write about her. Hilary Mantel, "Author's Note," Bring Up the Bodies, 2012

    Agriculture, which was most of all to have profited from inflation, on the theory that the mercurial crop-prices would rise faster than anything else, actually suffered the most of all ... Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here, 1935

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  • Word of the day
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    Wednesday, April 11, 2018

    astroturfing

    noun [as-truh-turf-ing]
    the deceptive tactic of simulating grassroots support for a product, cause, etc., undertaken by people or organizations with an interest in shaping public opinion: In some countries astroturfing is banned, and this includes sponsored blog posts.
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    What is the origin of astroturfing?

    Astroturfing was originally an Americanism, coined in 1974, meaning “to cover an area with Astroturf (a carpetlike covering made of vinyl and nylon to resemble turf, used for athletic fields, patios, etc.).” Twenty years later (1993) the current sense of Astroturfing “the deceptive tactic of simulating grassroots support for a product or cause, undertaken to influence public opinion” first appeared in Canadian and Australian newspapers.

    How is astroturfing used?

    An aide said Mr. Markey hoped to combat the tactic of astroturfing in which a professional lobbying effort is made to seem like a grass-roots movement. Stephanie Strom, "Coal Group Is Linked to Fake Letters on Climate Bill," New York Times, August 4, 2009

    This isn’t usually the sort of behavior we think of when we talk about political “astroturfing”—that much-loathed, much-feared practice of faking grass-roots support online—but as more and more political discourse has moved to the Internet, the techniques have multiplied. Caitlin Dewey, "The three types of political astroturfing you'll see in 2016," Washington Post, September 26, 2016

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, April 10, 2018

    balladmonger

    noun [bal-uhd-muhng-ger, -mong-]
    an inferior poet.
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    What is the origin of balladmonger?

    Shakespeare (1564-1616) is the first recorded author to use balladmonger, a compound noun that has nearly always had a belittling or depreciatory sense. Monger is a common Germanic word derived from Latin mangō, “a slave trader; a merchant who adorns or decorates inferior wares to make them look more attractive.” From the Old English period even until the 20th century, monger has had positive connotations, but beginning in the mid-16th century monger and its derivative compounds frequently have had a negative connotation. For example, ironmonger “a merchant or dealer in iron and hardware,” first recorded in the 12th century, is neutral, but Mark Twain’s coinage superstition-monger is certainly depreciatory. Balladmonger entered English in the late 16th century.

    How is balladmonger used?

    I had rather be a kitten, and cry mew, Than one of these same metre ballad-mongers ... William Shakespeare, King Henry IV, Part 1, 1598

    That sounds like a cheap balladmonger's gibe, Richard. Norah Lofts, The Lute Player, 1951

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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, April 09, 2018

    mea culpa

    noun [mey-uh kuhl-puh, mee-uh]
    an acknowledgment of one's responsibility for a fault or error.
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    What is the origin of mea culpa?

    Aging Roman Catholics who were altar boys before the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) can recite from memory the formula from the Confiteor at the beginning of Mass: meā culpā, meā culpā, meā maximā culpā, traditionally translated “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” The Latin phrase was first used in the 13th century as an exclamation or interjection. The noun use of mea culpa, “acknowledgment of responsibility or guilt,” arose in the 19th century.

    How is mea culpa used?

    Facebook was reluctant, however, to issue any mea culpas or action plans with regard to the problem of filter bubbles or Facebook’s noted propensity to serve as a tool for amplifying outrage. Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein, "Inside the Two Years That Shook Facebook--and the World," Wired, February 12, 2018

    Only later on are they willing to strike a bargain with him: a refuge for a mea culpa. Paul West, A Fifth of November, 2001

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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, April 08, 2018

    truckle

    verb [truhk-uhl]
    to submit or yield obsequiously or tamely (usually followed by to): Don't truckle to unreasonable demands.
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    What is the origin of truckle?

    The noun truckle originally (in the early 15th century) meant “a small wheel with a groove around its circumference for a cord or rope to run.” Later in the same century, truckle also had the meaning “a small wheel or roller placed under a heavy object to help move it.” In the 17th century truckle was short for truckle bed or trundle bed, i.e., a low bed moving on casters and usually stored under a larger bed. It is from this last sense, the supine sense, as it were, that truckle acquired its current meaning “to yield or submit meekly” in the 17th century.

    How is truckle used?

    If anything, having professionals serve who remember that their oath is to support and defend the Constitution—and not to truckle to an individual or his clique—will be more important than ever. Eliot Cohen, "To An Anxious Friend," The American Interest, November 10, 2016

    By refusing to truckle to power, by adopting Afro-centric stylings and proclaiming that black really was beautiful, she became a heroine for generations of African American women. Louis Bayard, "Book Review of 'Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone,' by Nadine Cohodas," Washington Post, February 28, 2010

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, April 07, 2018

    phraseology

    noun [frey-zee-ol-uh-jee]
    manner or style of verbal expression; characteristic language: legal phraseology.
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    What is the origin of phraseology?

    In the early 17th century (1604) phrasiology (or phrasiologie) was the original English spelling of phraseology. There is no Greek noun phrasiología, let alone phraseología, but phrasiology is correctly derived from Greek phrásis “speech, enunciation, expression, idiom, phrase” and the combining form -logía “science (of).” The current spelling phraseology ultimately rests on the Greek word phraseologia “phrase book” of Michael Neander (1525-95), a German humanist, educator and philologist. Neander possibly derived phrase- from phráseōs, the genitive singular of phrásis. Phraseology entered English in the mid-17th century.

    How is phraseology used?

    The will is not exactly proper in legal phraseology. George Bernard Shaw, The Devil's Disciple, 1897

    ... three previous presidents distinguished themselves through phraseology: “morning in America,” “city on a hill,” “tear down this wall,” “new world order,” “thousand points of light,” “axis of evil,” “bigotry of low expectations.” Derek Thompson, "Donald Trump's Language Is Reshaping American Politics," The Atlantic, February 15, 2018

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