• Word of the day
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    Sunday, August 11, 2019

    utopian

    adjective [yoo-toh-pee-uhn]
    founded upon or involving idealized perfection.
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    What is the origin of utopian?

    The English adjective and noun utopian comes from New Latin Ūtopiānus, an adjective derived from the noun Ūtopia, a quasi-Greek noun meaning “no place,” formed from the negative adverb and particle ou “not” ("quasi-Greek" because in Greek ou cannot be used as a prefix for nouns), top-, the stem of the noun tópos “a place,” and the noun suffix -ia (the adjective suffix -ānus is purely Latin). Ūtopia is a coinage of Sir Thomas More’s in his 1516 satire Dē optimō reīpublicae statū dēque novā insulā Ūtopiā ("Concerning the Best State of a Republic [Commonwealth] and Concerning the New Island Utopia"). In English, but not in other languages, the first syllable of Ūtopia rhymes with the prefix eu- (as in Euclid or Eucharist); thus in English there is a confusion between Ūtopia “no place” and Eutopia “good place, a place of happiness and felicity.”

    How is utopian used?

    For its proponents, it offered a utopian vision of an art world in which color and class barriers were finally dismantled. Holland Cotter, "Beyond Multiculturalism, Freedom?" New York Times, July 29, 2001

    At a time of such social, political and ecological upheaval, it’s natural to dream of a utopian world in which these problems are no more—in fact, people have been doing it for centuries. Heather Alberro, "Utopia isn't just idealistic fantasy—it inspires people to change the world," The Conversation, June 21, 2019

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, August 10, 2019

    shivaree

    noun [shiv-uh-ree]
    a mock serenade with kettles, pans, horns, and other noisemakers given for a newly married couple; charivari.
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    What is the origin of shivaree?

    The etymology of shivaree is obscure. Most authorities consider it to be a Mississippi Valley French alteration (or a vulgar corruption) of French charivari, a noun of obscure origin, said to be from Late Latin carībaria “headache,” from Greek karēbaría, equivalent to karē-, a combining form of kárā, kárē “head,” and the noun suffix -baría “heaviness” (from barýs “heavy” and the abstract noun suffix -ía). Supposedly such a racket would give someone a headache. Other authorities claim that shivaree comes from French chez vous “at your home” and list many variants in spelling (and presumably in pronunciation): chevaux, cheveaux, chev-ho, chivoo, shavoo, sheave-o, sheavo, sheevo, shevoo, shivaree, shivaroo, shiveree, shiverree, shivoe. Vulgar or not, shivaree was noble enough for Mark Twain to use it (in that spelling) in A Tramp Abroad (1880): "... she turned on all the horrors of the ‘Battle of Prague,’ that venerable shivaree, and waded chin deep in the blood of the slain.” Charivari entered English in the first half of the 19th century. Shivaree seems to have entered English in 1875.

    How is shivaree used?

    "Let's give the governor and his lady a real shivaree!" Nearly a hundred drunks assembled outside the tavern with horns and drums and washboards and bugles and tin pots. James A. Michener, Texas, 1985

    Encouraging cake mashing, like a host of other awful wedding customs, from shivaree (a noisy mock serenade on the wedding night) to tying a tin can to the newlyweds’ getaway car, is one last chance for the couple’s friends to indulge in the game of “X and Y, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” Charles Perry, "Cake Smashing," Los Angeles Times, February 26, 1997

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  • Word of the day
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    Friday, August 09, 2019

    fascicle

    noun [fas-i-kuhl]
    a section of a book or set of books being published in installments as separate pamphlets or volumes.
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    What is the origin of fascicle?

    The noun fascicle “a bunch, bundle” has always been a technical term, restricted to botany and anatomy. Even in its publishing sense, “a section of a book or set of books published in installments as separate pamphlets or volumes,” fascicle is a technical term. Fascicle comes from Latin fasciculus (also the source of fascicule) “a small bundle, packet, parcel,” a diminutive of the noun fascis “a bundle (e.g., of sticks, wood, books). The fascēs, the plural of fascis, were the bundle of rods about five feet long, bound by red leather bands around an ax that in Republican times was used as an instrument of execution. The fascēs were the primary visible symbol of a higher Roman magistrate’s power and authority. They were carried by lictors: twelve fascēs for consuls and proconsuls (and for kings in the regal period); six fascēs for praetors and Masters of the Horse; and twenty-four fascēs for dictators. Fascis or fascēs becomes fascio in Italian, meaning “bundle of sticks.” The Roman fascēs were adopted as the symbol of the Partito Nazionale Fascista (“National Fascist Party”) organized by Benito Mussolini in 1919, the same year as the appearance of the English noun fascists. Fascicle entered English in the 17th century.

    How is fascicle used?

    ... she gathered her poems into forty homemade books, known as “fascicles,” by folding single sheets of blank paper in half to form four consecutive pages .... Dan Chiasson, "Emily Dickinson's Singular Scrap Poetry," The New Yorker, November 27, 2016

    ... he knew what he sought, and found exactly that, the fascicles dwindling like melting ice-shards, verso words showing through .... William T. Vollmann, "The Cemetery of the World," Last Stories and Other Stories, 2014

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  • Word of the day
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    Thursday, August 08, 2019

    cat’s-paw

    noun [kats-paw]
    a person used to serve the purposes of another; tool.
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    What is the origin of cat's-paw?

    In English cat's-paw originally meant “a person used to serve the purposes of another; tool.” The term comes from a Le Singe et le Chat, “The Monkey and the Cat,” a fable by Jean de La Fontaine (1621–1695), the French poet and collector of fairy tales, in which a monkey persuades a cat to pull chestnuts out of hot coals that the chestnuts are roasting in and promises to share the chestnuts with the cat. The cat scoops the chestnuts one by one out of the coals, burning his paw in the process, while the monkey eats up the chestnuts. A maid enters the room, stopping all the action, and the cat gets nothing for its pains. Both nautical senses, “a light breeze on the surface of the water” and "a kind of knot made in the bight of a rope,” date from the second half of the 18th century. Cat's-paw entered English in the second half of the 17th century.

    How is cat's-paw used?

    I believe these people are simply using you as a cats-paw. Victor Bridges, A Rogue by Compulsion, 1915

    ... we should not take these fifty-one painters and sculptors ... too seriously. In a certain sense they are mere cat's-paws. "Are They Only Cat's-Paws?" New York Times, April 5, 1909

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  • Word of the day
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    Wednesday, August 07, 2019

    manqué

    adjective [mahng-key]
    having failed, missed, or fallen short, especially because of circumstances or a defect of character; unsuccessful; unfulfilled or frustrated (usually used postpositively): a poet manqué who never produced a single book of verse.
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    What is the origin of manqué?

    Everything about the adjective manqué is French, including its spelling and syntax (manqué follows its noun, that is, a novelist manqué, not a manqué novelist). Manqué is the French past participle of manquer “to lack, be short of,” a borrowing from Old Italian mancare (early 14th century). Mancare comes from the Latin adjective mancus “having a useless hand, maimed, feeble, powerless,” a derivative of the noun manus “hand.” Manqué entered English in the second half of the 18th century.

    How is manqué used?

    I got an e-mail from a fellow-scholar who accused me of being an intellectual manqué. Jill Lepore, "The Lingering of Loss," The New Yorker, July 1, 2019

    At first, I planned to take a degree in psychiatry as many manqué talents do; but I was even more manqué than that ... Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita, 1955

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, August 06, 2019

    spondulicks

    noun [spon-doo-liks] Older Slang.
    money; cash.
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    What is the origin of spondulicks?

    Spondulicks “money, cash” was originally an American slang term, never very common, that emigrated to England and Ireland. It has no certain, agreed-upon etymology, but a Greek origin sphóndylos (later also spóndylos) “vertebra, cervical vertebra” has been suggested (from the supposed resemblance of vertebrae to a stack of coins). Huck Finn uses spondulicks in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, chapter 13 (1884): "I’m derned if I’d live two mile out o’ town, where there ain’t nothing ever goin’ on, not for all his spondulicks and as much more on top of it," but the word had already existed in American English for several decades. Spondulicks also occurs in one of James Joyce’s short stories, “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” in the Dubliners (1914). Spondulicks survived among Irish Americans in New York City into the early 1950s. Spondulicks entered American English in the 1850s.

    How is spondulicks used?

    I need to make a dramatic gesture, and for that I need spondulicks. Ben Schott, Jeeves and the King of Clubs, 2018

    Surely no bottom-line sharpie would cough up that kind of spondulicks for ad time after the first few minutes of a show that customarily had all America groaning with boredom before the first 40 commercials had blasted the parlor. Russell Baker, "Right After This Shark," New York Times, January 29, 1986

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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, August 05, 2019

    intellection

    noun [in-tl-ek-shuhn]
    the action or process of understanding; the exercise of the intellect; reasoning.
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    What is the origin of intellection?

    In Latin intellectiō (stem intellectiōn-), literally "understanding," originally meant only synecdoche “a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for a part.” In Late Latin intellectiō acquired the further senses “an act or the faculty of understanding, intellect, idea, notion,” and in Old French and Middle English “understanding, comprehension, meaning, purpose.” Intellection entered English in the mid-15th century.

    How is intellection used?

    I arranged my face into a look of intense concentration, a look that implied I'd had a lightning flash of intellection .... Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station, 2011

    Right or wrong, agree or disagree, Hitchens “made intellection dramatic,” as his friend Martin Amis said. David Remnick, "Remembering Christopher Hitchens," The New Yorker, April 20, 2012

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