a person or thing that is rare and highly valued, or is a hypothetical ideal.
Unicorn comes from Old French unicorne, from the Latin adjective ūnicornis “one-horned,” which is used as a noun possibly referring to the rhinoceros in the Vulgate, the Latin version of the Bible as edited or translated by St. Jerome (c347–420). Ūnicornis is a loan translation from the Greek noun and adjective monókerōs “single-horned” (referring to a wild ox or a unicorn), a word that occurs in the book of Psalms in the Septuagint (the ancient Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures). Ūnicornis is a compound of ūni-, the stem of ūnus “one,” and cornū “horn” and the adjective suffix –is. Unicorn entered English in the 13th century.
Are such politically star-crossed lovers as Mary Matalin and James Carville a relationship unicorn?
Big N.B.A. trades are always followed by a scramble to label players and teams as winners and losers, but every so often a unicorn of a deal comes together, and everyone involved seems to benefit.
cheerful readiness, promptness, or willingness: We accepted the invitation with alacrity.
Alacrity comes from Middle French alacrite from Latin alacritāt-, the stem of alacritās “liveliness, zeal, enthusiasm.” Alacritās is a derivative noun of the adjective alacer “nimble, brisk, enthusiastic, keen.” Latin alacer develops into Italian allegro and Spanish alegre “cheerful, happy.” Alacrity entered English in the 15th century.
Mrs Tulliver was an amiable fish of this kind, and, after running her head against the same resisting medium for fourteen years, would go at it again to-day with undulled alacrity.
The president has grumbled for months about what he views as Nielsen’s lackluster performance on immigration enforcement and is believed to be looking for a replacement who will implement his policy ideas with more alacrity.
to trick, deceive, swindle, or cheat: A fortuneteller flimflammed her out of her savings.
Flimflam “to trick, deceive, swindle,” shows the same common vowel alteration in a reduplicated word as in mish–mash or pitter–patter. Flimflam may possibly be based on a Scandinavian word, e.g., Old Norse flim “a lampoon, mockery.” Flimflam entered English in the 16th century as a noun meaning “idle talk, nonsense; a cheap deception.” The verb sense “to cheat, swindle,” originally an Americanism, arose in the late 19th century.
Slamming my fist on my writing desk I cursed the day a year before that I’d allowed by friend Eddy Dorobek to flimflam me into buying a used laptop from him and giving up my dead father’s rickety old Underwood portable.
Col. Leonard was there and he knows how they tried to flimflam us.
a condition in which a single word, phrase, or concept has more than one meaning or connotation.
Fast can mean “moving quickly” or “firmly fixed.” The word shows polysemy, which ultimately derives from Greek polýsēmos “having many meanings.” Polýsēmos joins polýs “many, much,” and sêma “sign, mark, token.” Polýs yields the combining form poly-, seen in many English words, such as polygon “many angles” or polytheism “many gods.” Sêma produces another term used, like polysemy, in linguistics: semantics “the study of meaning.” In linguistics, polysemy and semantics were modeled on French polysémie and sémantique. These words were formed in the late 19th century by French linguist Michel Bréal (1832–1915)—a man perhaps better remembered for inspiring the modern Olympic marathon in 1896. Polysemy entered English in the 1920s.
Twenty-three alternate meanings for it are listed in English alone—it is, the editors say, a model of “polysemy,” packing multiple meanings into a single sign … .
This rich polysemy of language is the basis for William Empson’s first type of poetic ambiguity: “when a detail is effective in several ways at once.”
without a paid job but enjoying the free time: Ask one of your funemployed friends to come along with you.
Funemployed, an informal combination of fun and (un)employed, is a neologism dating to 1995.
So far, at least, he seems like an excellent match for this slightly wilder, funemployed new version of Jess.
Buoyed by severance, savings, unemployment checks or their parents, the funemployed do not spend their days poring over job listings.
something a person carries about for frequent or regular use.
A vade mecum in English is something, especially a book or manual, that a person carries about for consulting. The English phrase comes from the Latin phrase vāde mēcum “go with me.” The first word, vāde, is the second person singular imperative of vādere “to go, advance, proceed,” from the same Proto-Indo-European root wadh– “to go” as the Germanic (English) wade. Mēcum ”with me,” and its kindred forms tēcum “with thee,” nōbiscum “with us,” and vōbiscum “with you,” are relics or fossils in Latin of an earlier stage in the language when “prepositions” (elements that precede the words governed) were “postpositions” (the elements followed the words governed). During imperial times, the anomalous mēcum and tēcum were strengthened, reinforced by the “regular” preposition cum, yielding cum mēcum and cum tēcum, which persist in modern Spanish as conmigo and contigo. Vade mecum entered English in the 17th century.
… the complete poem, though subjected to repeated prosecutions, made its way in pirated editions and became a vade mecum among the radicals.
The travel guides we consult to find a trattoria near Piazza Navova may one day seem as foreign—and as revealing of an era marked by overwhelming plenty—as these fictional vade mecums.
the capability of being molded, receiving shape, or being made to assume a desired form: the plasticity of social institutions.
Plasticity is made up of plastic and the noun suffix –ity. Plastic comes via Latin plasticus “for molding or modeling,” from Greek plastikós with the same meanings. Plastikós is a derivative of the verb plássein, pláttein “to mold, form.” Other derivatives from the Greek include plaster, from Medieval Latin plastrum “plaster (both medical and building senses),” ultimately an alteration of Greek émplaston “molded on, daubed”; plastid “an organelle of plant cells”; plastique (as in the explosive); and plastron “a piece of armor; part of a turtle’s shell.” Plasticity entered English in the 18th century.
Studies reveal adolescence to be a period of heightened “plasticity” during which the brain is highly influenced by experience.
Comic actors, like dramatic ones, have their comfortable niches, from Bill Murray’s sardonic schlubbism to Jim Carrey’s manic plasticity.