Word of the Day

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

umbrageous

[ uhm-brey-juhs ]

adjective

apt to take offense.

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What is the origin of umbrageous?

Umbrageous has two main senses: “creating or providing shade, shady” and “apt or likely to take offense.” The word comes via French ombrageux “shady; inclined to take offense,” from Latin umbrāticus “(of a person or an activity) living or performed in the shade, secluded, devoted to quiet, impractical pursuits.” Umbrāticus, a derivative adjective and noun of umbra “shadow, shade, reflection, outline,” does not have the senses “shady, providing shade” or “apt or inclined to take offense,” which are senses that English borrowed from 17th-century French. Umbrageous entered English in the second half of the 16th century.

how is umbrageous used?

… he was quite umbrageous, and his personality lent itself to confrontation.

Chuck Pfarrer, Philip Nolan: The Man Without a Country, 2016

Is it possible to spend time with friends whose company I do enjoy without incurring the wrath of the umbrageous?

"Miss Manners: Host needs specific dates for holiday guests," Washington Post, December 6, 2019

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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

bunkum

[ buhng-kuhm ]

noun

insincere talk; claptrap; humbug.

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What is the origin of bunkum?

Bunkum means “insincere talk by a politician” and is an alteration of Buncombe, a county in North Carolina. Bunkum is an all-American word that fittingly enough derives from a debate in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 16th United States Congress (1819-21) during the House debate about the admission of Missouri as a state into the Union. This so-called “Missouri Question” was extremely important, because it dealt with whether Missouri entered the Union as a Free State or Slave State. (Under the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Maine was admitted as a Free State, Missouri as a Slave State.) Just before the vote was called, Felix Walker (1753-1828), U.S Representative from North Carolina, began a long, tedious, irrelevant, dull, and exasperating speech. His House colleagues tried to shout him down, but Walker persisted, saying that he was obliged to say something for the newspapers back home to prove that he was doing his job: “I shall not be speaking to the House, but to Buncombe.”

how is bunkum used?

It’s bunkum to suppose we can be touched by tragedies other than our own.

Beryl Bainbridge, Every Man for Himself, 1996

According to the Mail worldview of recent years, dignified British ways are under attack, mauled by vain liberal cosmopolitans, crafty foreigners, and fashionable bunkum.

Tom Rachman, "A Tabloid Changes Course—and Could Change Britain," The Atlantic, July 12, 2018

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Monday, January 11, 2021

aoristic

[ ey-uh-ris-tik ]

adjective

indefinite; indeterminate.

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What is the origin of aoristic?

Aoristic “indeterminate, undefined,” comes from Greek aoristikós, a derivative of the verbal adjective aóristos “unlimited, unbounded, indeterminate, debatable,” which is a compound of the negative prefix a-, an– (from the same Proto-Indo-European source as un– in English and in– in Latin), and the verbal adjective horistós “definable (of words), delimited (of property or land).” Horistós comes from the verb horízein “to divide, separate,” whose present active masculine participle horízōn “separating,” when modifying the noun kýklos “circle” (“the separating circle”) refers to the (apparent) circle separating the land from the sea, the horizon. Horízōn kýklos seems to be a coinage of Aristotle’s; so it can be trusted. Aoristic entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is aoristic used?

Because Gideon is away indefinitely our lives seem bracketed in a kind of aoristic limbo where things happen haphazardly, without an ordered sequence.

Elon Salmon, When There Were Heroes, 2003

She caught at the nerves like certain aoristic combinations in music, like tones of a stringed instrument swept by the wind, enticing, unseizable.

George Meredith, Beauchamp's Career, 1875

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Sunday, January 10, 2021

guileless

[ gahyl-lis ]

adjective

sincere; honest; straightforward; frank.

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What is the origin of guileless?

Guileless means “without guile, sincere, honest, frank.” Guile comes from Middle English gile, guile “a crafty or fraudulent trick, double-dealing,” from Old French guile “lie, trick, deception,” most likely from a Germanic source. The problem is: Which Germanic language or languages? From the point of view of phonetics, Old French guile could very well come from Germanic wīl, but sources are lacking: Old English wīl “device, trick” may itself be a borrowing from Old French. Old Norse vél “artifice, device, trick” is wrong for phonetic reasons. Guileless entered English in the first half of the 18th century.

how is guileless used?

Looking at them is an exercise in nostalgia not only for the languid California of the early seventies, or the looseness offered by working in a medium that had little respect from the art world and therefore no money, but for a moment when, even if only in the world of these images, the encounter between self and stranger could be guileless.

Emma Cline, "Mike Mandel's Selfies from the Seventies," The New Yorker, October 12, 2020

Guileless? Guess again, sister. There is nothing remotely guileless about this guy, and nowhere is that more evident than in his land deals.

Elizabeth Gilbert, The Last American Man, 2002

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Saturday, January 09, 2021

whithersoever

[ hwith-er-soh-ev-er, with- ]

conjunction

to whatever place.

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What is the origin of whithersoever?

Whithersoever, now archaic, meaning “to whatever place,” comes from Middle English whider-so-evere, whidersere, whidursever, an adverb phrase that could be spelled as two or three words; the one-word spelling first appears in the first half of the 17th century. Etymologists break down whithersoever in several ways: whitherso (by itself meaning “whithersoever”) + ever; whither + so + ever; whider + so-ever; and whiderso + ever. Old English has the adverb phrase swā hwider swā, which means the same thing as the Middle English forms but is not their direct ancestor. Whithersoever entered English in the first half of the 13th century.

how is whithersoever used?

Though you may cross vast spaces of sea … your faults will follow you whithersoever you travel.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c4 b.c.–a.d. 65), "On Travel as a Cure for Discontent," Seneca: Ad Lucilium epistulae morales, translated by Richard M. Gummere, 1917

From wheresoever they come and whithersoever they afterward go, all ships that use the canal will pass through the Caribbean.

Alfred Thayer Mahan, "The United States Looking Outward," The Atlantic, December 1890

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Friday, January 08, 2021

bel-esprit

[ bel-es-pree ]

noun

a person of great wit or intellect.

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What is the origin of bel-esprit?

Bel-esprit “a person of great wit or intellect” is a French term. It means literally “beautiful mind, fine mind, wit,” and by extension “person of wit and intelligence.” Bel is the regular French development of Latin bellus “nice, pretty, handsome, charming,” a diminutive adjective formed from bonus “good, good at (something), morally good.” The French noun esprit “spirit, mind” comes from Latin spiritus “breath, breathing, vital principle, soul.” Bel-esprit entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is bel-esprit used?

She was a bel esprit, and a dreadful Radical for those days.

William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair, 1847–48

Though I would prefer to be dubbed an aristophren, someone of superior intelligence, or a bel-esprit, a person of refined intellect and graceful wit, the proper term for me is lexiphanes (lek-SIF-uh-neez), a showoff with words.

Charles Harrington Elster, "Naming Names," New York Times, August 4, 1996

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Thursday, January 07, 2021

prolixity

[ proh-lik-si-tee ]

noun

a tendency to speak or write at great or tedious length.

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What is the origin of prolixity?

Prolixity “a tendency to speak or write at great or tedious length, long-windedness” ultimately comes from Latin prōlixitās (inflectional stem prōlixitāt-) “extension in space or time,” a derivative of the adjective prōlixus “having extensive growth, luxuriant; tall, big; (of time) extended; (of people) generous, warm-hearted, liberal; (of writing) lengthy, detailed.” In classical Latin none of the terms mean long-windedness, which is a meaning that first appears in Late Latin. Old French prolixité kept and passed along the negative meaning “verbosity, long-windedness” (in addition to the original Latin meanings) to Middle English. Prolixity first appears in English in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (ca. 1395): For fulsomnesse of his prolixitee “Because of the excess of its long-windedness.”

how is prolixity used?

First Barack Obama gave a very long opening answer; then when the consecutive interpreter started in, Obama acted surprised, apologized for his prolixity, and said he would have broken the answer into shorter chunks if he had understood that the interpreter was going to wait until he was done.

James Fallows, "Language Screwup at the Hu-Obama Presser? Maybe Not," The Atlantic, January 19, 2011

Because of its customers’ social-media prolixity, the brand has gathered a wealth of data about their preferences and, Brett hopes, their brand loyalty will extend to staying in West Elm Hotels.

Amy Merrick, "West Elm Gets Into Hotels and Gender Politics," The New Yorker, September 27, 2016

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