Word of the Day

Friday, November 22, 2019

usageaster

[ yoo-sij-as-ter ]

noun

a self-styled authority on language usage.

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What is the origin of usageaster?

A true expert on language usage will know that using usageaster “a self-styled authority on language usage” is not meant kindly. For instance: “The reader was no more than a usageaster; he insisted on corrections that were merely a matter of style, not grammar.” Usageaster is composed of usage and the -aster, which is a “diminutive or pejorative suffix denoting something that imperfectly resembles or mimics the true thing.” This suffix, derived from Latin, can also be found in such words as poetaster “an inferior poet” and criticaster “incompetent critic.”

how is usageaster used?

We can help such people overcome their insecurity by making a clear distinction between usageasters and usage experts.

Thomas L. Clark, "The Usageasters," American Speech, Vol. 55, No. 2, 1980

… a usageaster pretends to know about questions of usage in language.

Allan Metcalf, Predicting New Words, 2002
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Thursday, November 21, 2019

avocation

[ av-uh-key-shuhn ]

noun

something a person does in addition to a principal occupation, especially for pleasure; hobby: Our doctor's avocation is painting.

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What is the origin of avocation?

Avocation derives from Latin āvocātiō, which literally means “a calling away” but has the sense of “distraction.” Āvocātiō is formed on the verb āvocāre “to call away; divert; distract; amuse,” composed of the prefix ā– “away from” and vocāre “to call,” source of English vocation. A person’s hobby or leisure pursuit is called an avocation, etymologically speaking, because it “calls away” that person from their main work—their vocation, or “calling.” Starting in the 1600s, however, avocation was used as a synonym for vocation, apparently on the thinking that a person’s side work can be or become as important as their regular occupation. Avocation entered English in the early 1500s.

how is avocation used?

So they signed up for a second shift, an avocation that earns them psychic income in the currencies of artistry, adventure and passion.

Charles Fenyvesi, "I Live Two Lives," Washington Post, September 4, 1983

Her three avocations—gardening, current events, and photography—were, like her writing, deeply informed by a desire to secure fragile moments as objects of art.

Danny Heitman, "The Quiet Greatness of Eudora Welty," Humanities, March/April 2014
Wednesday, November 20, 2019

controvert

[ kon-truh-vurt, kon-truh-vurt ]

verb (used with object)

to argue about; debate; discuss.

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What is the origin of controvert?

A controvert is not some kind of hybrid of an introvert and extrovert. It is actually a verb that means “to argue about; debate; discuss” and “argue against; deny; oppose.” Controvert does share a root, however, with introvert and extrovert: Latin vertere “to turn.” Controvert is based on Latin contrōversus “debatable, disputed”—that is, controversial, another derivative of contrōversus. Contrōversus is composed of a variant of contrā “against” and versus, past participle of vertere “to turn, turn around, spin.” (An introvert is literally someone “turned within” and an extrovert, someone “turned outside.”) Controvert entered English by the early 1600s.

how is controvert used?

It seemed as if his first instinct on hearing a proposition was to controvert it, so impatient was he of the limitations of our daily thought.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Thoreau," The Atlantic, August 1862

It seems natural to suppose—though many scholars controvert it—that Book I of the Republic was originally written as a separate book …

Basil Mitchell and J. R. Lucas, An Engagement with Plato's Republic, 2003

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