Word of the Day

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

twenty-twenty

[ twen-tee-twen-tee, twuhn-tee-twuhn-tee ]

adjective

keenly or acutely perceptive: an opinion based on twenty-twenty hindsight.

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What is the origin of twenty-twenty?

Twenty-twenty “keenly or acutely perceptive,” as is often remarked of the advantages of hindsight, has its roots in vision. In ophthalmology, twenty-twenty means “having normal visual acuity,” and is based on the Snellen chart developed by Dutch ophthalmologist Herman Snellen in 1862. Many will recognize this chart as the array of letters one reads when taking an eye test. Snellen calculated fractions to determine visual acuity, or the clarity or sharpness of one’s vision, and twenty-twenty refers to the fraction that corresponds to what someone considered to have normal vision can see at a distance of 20 feet. By the middle of the 20th century, twenty-twenty was a jazz term meaning excellent. By the early 1960s, the disillusioned, regretful expression twenty-twenty hindsight had emerged in the business world.

how is twenty-twenty used?

Yes, well don’t forget, sir, we’re viewing this with twenty-twenty hindsight, but at the time no one gave a thought to geckos or what they ate—they were just another fact of life in the tropics.

T. C. Boyle, "Top of the Food Chain," Harper's, April 1993

And sure, with twenty-twenty hindsight, I know I could have swum out from underneath the boat, but at that moment it didn’t occur to me.

Jodi Picoult, House Rules, 2010
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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

finito

[ fi-nee-toh ]

adjective

Informal.

finished; ended.

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What is the origin of finito?

When the ball drops at midnight on December 31, you can say the year is finito. It’s “finished; ended.” It’s done. Over with. Finito is an informal adjective borrowed directly from the past participle of Italian finire, from Latin fīnīre “to end, finish, limit,” source (via French) of English finish. Latin fīnīre is based on the noun fīnis “end, utmost limit, highest post,” ultimate source of such English words as fine, final, and finite. In French, Latin fīnis became fin “end.” Viewers of French cinema may recognize this term as displayed at the conclusion of a film: Fin, “The End.” Finito entered English in the mid-1900s.

how is finito used?

It’s done. Over. Finished. Finito.

Herbert Muschamp, "Puppet Regime," New York Times, October 10, 2004

The experiment was done. Lesson learned. Finito.

Gregory Spatz, "Any Landlord's Dream," New England Review, Vol. 26, No. 3, 2005
Monday, December 30, 2019

retrospection

[ re-truh-spek-shuhn ]

noun

the action, process, or faculty of looking back on things past.

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What is the origin of retrospection?

Retrospection, and the slightly earlier noun retrospect, are based on retrospect-, past participle stem of New Latin retrōspicere “to look,” based on Latin adverb retrō “backward, back, behind” and specere “to look (at).” Retrospection, then, is the act of looking back, as many do when reflecting at the end of the year. The stem retrospect– may be partly based on (pro)spect, from Latin prōspectus “outlook, view,” composed of prō “before, in front of, for” and the same specere. Latin specere is the ultimate source of many English words involving various senses of “looking”: aspect, circumspect, expect, inspect, introspect, spectacular, and suspect, among many others. Retrospection entered English in the early 1600s.

how is retrospection used?

Every separate day in the year is a gift presented to only one man—the happiest one … and it often happens that he recognizes his day only in retrospection

Vladimir Nabokov, "The Potato Elf," A Russian Beauty and Other Stories, 1973

He was roused from the reverie of retrospection and regret produced by it …

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, 1814

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