Word of the Day

Friday, July 20, 2018

tummler

[ toom-ler ]

noun

any lively, prankish, or mischievous man.

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What is the origin of tummler?

If one has firsthand knowledge of what a tummler is and does—or was and did—then one ain’t a kid no more. A tummler was a comedian and/or social director at a Jewish resort, especially in the Borscht Belt in the Catskills of New York State, between the 1920s and 1970s. Danny Kaye, Henny Youngman, Sid Caesar, and Joan Rivers are some notable tummlers. Tummler comes from the Yiddish tumler, an agent noun from the verb tumlen “to make a racket,” from German tummeln “to romp, stir.” Tummler entered English in the 20th century.

how is tummler used?

For there is another, decidedly un-Jamesian Philip Roth: an irreverent, taboo-flouting tummler whose boisterous hi-jinks have offended the sensibilities of some readers while incurring the outright wrath of others.

George J. Searles, "Introduction," Conversations with Philip Roth, 1992

He tried to amuse her with funny walks, crazy faces, and barnyard noises, and when she deigned to laugh his face reddened with happiness. He was her tummler, for crying out loud.

Scott Spencer, River Under the Road, 2017
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Thursday, July 19, 2018

hoity-toity

[ hoi-tee-toi-tee ]

adjective

assuming airs; pretentious; haughty.

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What is the origin of hoity-toity?

The adjective hoity-toity now means “pretentious, haughty”; formerly it meant “frivolous, giddy.” The phrase is probably an alteration and reduplication of hoit, an obsolete verb of obscure origin meaning “to romp, play the fool.” Hoit may also be the source of or akin to hoyden “boisterous, carefree girl, tomboy,” possibly a borrowing from Dutch heiden “rustic, uncivilized person.” Hoity-toity entered English in the 17th century.

how is hoity-toity used?

Always crowing about their kid with the straight A’s at that hoity-toity school.

Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex, 2002

The typeface used for the credits is the kind of hoity-toity cursive writing—in hot pink, no less—one might see on a Tiffany & Co. shower invitation.

Laura Jacobs, "The Devil Inside: Watching Rosemary's Baby in the Age of #MeToo," Vanity Fair, Summer 2018
Wednesday, July 18, 2018

cheville

[ shuh-vee ]

noun

Prosody. a word or expression whose only function is to fill a metrical gap in a verse or to balance a sentence.

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What is the origin of cheville?

Cheville represents the normal northern French phonetic development of Latin clāvīcula “key, tendril, pivot,” a diminutive of clāvis “key, bar, hook.” In French cheville means “ankle, peg, dowel, pin, plug.” It is this latter sense “plug” that gave rise to the English meaning of a filler word or phrase in a sentence or line of verse. Clāvis derives from the Proto-Indo-European root klēu-, klāu- “hook, peg,” the same source of the very many Greek forms, e.g., kleís, klēī́s, klāī́s (all from assumed klāwis, identical to the Latin noun), Celtic (Old Irish) clō “nail,” Baltic (Lithuanian) kliū́ti “to hang, hang on,” and Slavic (Polish) klucz “key.” Cheville entered English in the 19th century.

how is cheville used?

The languages were by this time close enough to each other to make this easy, and when there was any difficulty it scarce required the wit of a Chaucer to supply such a cheville as “An emperesse or crowned queen” … (though it may be observed that “crowned” is a distinct improvement to the sound, if not to the sense of the line) …

George Saintsbury, A History of English Prosody, Volume I, 1906

But when we discover that … the word “Sparte” has been dragged in at any cost for the rhyme’s sake, we feel that a cheville, like some other concessions to the intractable nature of things, is least offensive when it asks for no admiration.

Frederic William Henry Myers, "Victor Hugo," Essays, Modern, 1883

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