Word of the Day

Thursday, March 14, 2019

upper crust

[ uhp-er kruhst ]

noun

the highest social class.

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What is the origin of upper crust?

The noun phrase upper crust is perfectly plain, self-explanatory: it is the top crust on a loaf of bread or a pie, a meaning the phrase has always had. Other meanings have come and gone, e.g., “exterior layer or surface of the earth” (from the mid-16th through the mid-18th centuries), “a person’s head; a hat” (from about 1825 to 1850). The most common meaning of upper crust, “the highest social class,” was originally an Americanism dating from the 19th century. Upper crust entered English in the 15th century.

how is upper crust used?

… the 1922 edition of Etiquette promised its readers that they could learn to fit in among intimidating elites, or just emulate the American upper crust within their own circles.

Laura Miller, "To the Manners Born," Slate, April 19, 2017

From his perspective, graffiti forced the upper crust to reckon with the names and the fugitive dreams of a forgotten underclass …

Hua Hsu, "The Spectacular Personal Mythology of Rammellzee," The New Yorker, May 28, 2018
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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

diffidence

[ dif-i-duhns ]

noun

the quality or state of lacking confidence in one's ability, worth or fitness; timidity.

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What is the origin of diffidence?

Diffidence is a straightforward borrowing from the Latin noun diffīdentia “distrust, mistrust, lack of confidence.” In the Vulgate, the Latin version of the Bible prepared chiefly by Saint Jerome at the end of the 4th century a.d., diffīdentia also meant “lack of faith, disobedience (to God).” The original sense of diffīdentia, “distrust of other people,” is obsolete; the current sense “distrust of one’s own ability or worth,” shading off to “modesty, retiring nature,” dates from the mid-16th century. Diffidence entered English in the 15th century.

how is diffidence used?

For an artist, insofar as modesty implies diffidence, an unwillingness to exhibit oneself or one’s work, it’s a virtue so dubious as to be a handicap.

Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Conversation of the Modest," The Wild Girls, 2011

I write with great diffidence, but it seems to me that there is no unfairness in punishing people for their misfortunes, or rewarding them for their sheer good luck …

Samuel Butler, Erewhon, 1872
Tuesday, March 12, 2019

facetiae

[ fuh-see-shee-ee ]

plural noun

amusing or witty remarks or writings.

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What is the origin of facetiae?

Facētiae is a Latin plural noun meaning “skillfulness, cleverness, wittiness.” It is a derivative of the adjective facētus “clever, good-humored, whimsical,” which has no reliable etymology. In the olden days, in less enlightened and progressive times than our ownsay about 1850facetiae was used in book catalogs as a euphemism for pornography (now also called erotica). Facetiae entered English in the 16th century.

how is facetiae used?

Even the facetiae of the gallant expressman who knew everybody’s Christian name along the route, who rained letters, newspapers, and bundles from the top of the stage … failed to interest me.

Bret Harte, "A Night at Wingdam," The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Tales, 1871

… you had better beware how you excite that comic vein to its fullest current of facetiae.

Thomas Peckett Prest, The Brigand; or, The Mountain Chief, 1851

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