Word of the Day

Friday, November 22, 2019

usageaster

[ yoo-sij-as-ter ]

noun

a self-styled authority on language usage.

learn about the english language

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

SIGN UP FOR A VOCABULARY BOOST IN YOUR EMAIL

Get the Word of the Day delivered daily
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
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.

learn about the english language

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.

learn about the english language

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
Tuesday, November 19, 2019

rhapsodic

[ rap-sod-ik ]

adjective

extravagantly enthusiastic; ecstatic.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of rhapsodic?

Not everyone may get “extravagantly enthusiastic or ecstatic” about word origins, but they are key to understanding the development of the word rhapsodic. Rhapsodic is an adjective form of rhapsody, which historically refers to an epic poem, or part of such a poem, such as a book of Homer’s Iliad, that can be recited at one time. Rhapsody ultimately derives from Greek rhapsōidía “recital of epic poetry.” Such recitals tended to be done with intense expression and feeling, leading to the English sense of rhapsodic. In music, a rhapsody is “an instrumental composition irregular in form and suggestive of improvisation,” such as George Gershwin’s truly rhapsodic 1924 opus, Rhapsody in Blue. Rhapsodic entered English in the mid-1700s.

how is rhapsodic used?

When I mentioned the Betty Crocker book to David Kamp … it didn’t seem to inspire the rhapsodic response I was hoping for.

Sadie Stein, "Betty Crocker and the Joys of Children's Cookbooks," The New Yorker, January 5, 2018

… he can now tell you about the rhapsodic joy of a perfect day out at his home break with his boys as well as the spiritual fulfillment he felt from chasing waves around the planet as a surf bohemian inspired by Jack Kerouac.

Jay Caspian Kang, "Writing Waves," New York Times, July 22, 2015
Monday, November 18, 2019

oppidan

[ op-i-duhn ]

adjective

of a town; urban.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of oppidan?

Oppidan derives from Latin oppidānus “of a town,” from the noun oppidum “town.” Oppidānus didn’t just describe any town, though: it was used of towns other than Rome, which was referred to as urbs “city,” specifically the capital city of Rome. Due to this distinction from Rome, Latin oppidānus could have the pejorative connotation of “provincial, rustic.” The adjective form of urbs was urbānus “of the city,” source of English urban. Another city-based adjective English gets from Latin is municipal, from mūnicipium, a town whose residents had the rights of Roman citizens but which otherwise governed itself. Oppidan entered English by the mid-1500s.

how is oppidan used?

A lot of people were confused when Kaplan … took a job at Condé Nast Traveler, a magazine not widely known as a bastion of oppidan irreverence.

Nathan Heller, "The Cranky Wisdom of Peter Kaplan," The New Republic, September 13, 2012

Forsake your oppidan haunts and play manorial backgammon in the ballroom at Old Westbury Gardens, John S. Phipps’s former Long Island estate.

Russell Edwards, "Future Social Events," New York Times, May 26, 1974
Sunday, November 17, 2019

simony

[ sahy-muh-nee, sim-uh- ]

noun

the making of profit out of sacred things.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of simony?

Simony takes its name from the figure of Simon Magus in the New Testament of the Bible. Acts 8:9–24 presents the account of Simon, a Samaritan sorcerer who converted to Christianity. When Simon sees the apostles Peter and John bestowing the Holy Spirit by laying their hands on people, he offers them money in hopes that he, too, can possess spiritual or ecclesiastical gifts. This story is the source of Late Latin simōnia “buying or selling of spiritual or ecclesiastical gifts.” Entering Middle English around by early 1200s in the form of simonie, simony expanded to refer to the sin of buying or selling positions or privileges in the church and, more broadly, “the making of profit out of sacred things.”

how is simony used?

His critique was that the Jellybys of the world sometimes commit the sin of simony, meaning that they trade in sacred and spiritual materials for their own emotional profit.

Josephine Livingstone, "America's 'Poster Child' Syndrome," The New Republic, June 20, 2018

But isn’t what I’m doing the greatest crime of all? … Am I committing simony?

Gore Vidal, Lincoln, 1984
Saturday, November 16, 2019

spruik

[ sprook ]

verb (used without object)

Australian Slang.

to make or give a speech, especially extensively or elaborately; spiel; orate.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of spruik?

Spruik “to make or give a speech, especially extensively or elaborately” is an Australian and New Zealand slang term recorded by the early 1900s. While its exact origin is unknown, spruik may have been borrowed from German Sprüche “patter, spiel,” the plural of Spruch, “a saying; empty talk,” among other senses. Other proposed sources include forms of Dutch spreken “to speak,” such as spreuk “saying, spell.” German Spruch and Dutch spreken are both related to English speak, which developed from Old English specan, a variant of sprecan that lost the original r.

how is spruik used?

Thompson might have had the power of the press to spruik his message, but he had other factors going against him.

James Coventry, Time and Space, 2015

Andi, Justin and Karl will sit around the set looking uncomfortable waiting their turn to spruik about the New Alchemy Institute in Massachusetts, the world’s most powerful microscope, robot technology in Japan and research into children’s co-ordination.

Richard Coleman, "Television Choice," The Sydney Morning Herald, July 23, 1985

SIGN UP FOR A VOCABULARY BOOST IN YOUR EMAIL

Get the Word of the Day delivered daily
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.