Word of the Day

Sunday, April 07, 2019

vade mecum

[ vey-dee mee-kuhm, vah- ]

noun

something a person carries about for frequent or regular use.

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What is the origin of vade mecum?

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.

how is vade mecum used?

… the complete poem, though subjected to repeated prosecutions, made its way in pirated editions and became a vade mecum among the radicals.

Samuel C. Chew and Richard D. Altick, A Literary History of England, 2nd ed., Vol. 4, The Nineteenth Century and After, 1967

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.

Richard B. Woodward, "Armchair Traveler," New York Times, September 24, 2008
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Saturday, April 06, 2019

plasticity

[ pla-stis-i-tee ]

noun

the capability of being molded, receiving shape, or being made to assume a desired form: the plasticity of social institutions.

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What is the origin of plasticity?

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.

how is plasticity used?

Studies reveal adolescence to be a period of heightened “plasticity” during which the brain is highly influenced by experience.

Laurence Steinberg, "The Case for Delayed Adulthood," New York Times, September 19, 2014

Comic actors, like dramatic ones, have their comfortable niches, from Bill Murray’s sardonic schlubbism to Jim Carrey’s manic plasticity.

Christopher Orr, "The Movie Review: 'Along Came Polly'," The Atlantic, June 8, 2004
Friday, April 05, 2019

anthophobia

[ an-thuh-foh-bee-uh ]

noun

an abnormal fear of flowers.

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What is the origin of anthophobia?

Anthophobia, “an abnormal fear of flowers,” is surely one of the odder phobias, as opposed to acrophobia “an abnormal fear of heights” or arachnophobia “an abnormal fear of spiders” or—a good one!—chiroptophobia “an abnormal fear of bats (the flying mammal).” Anthophobia is composed of two Greek nouns: ánthos “flower” and the combining form –phobíā “fear.” Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603) suffered from anthophobia, especially of a fear of roses, which has no technical name. Anthophobia entered English in the 19th century.

how is anthophobia used?

And if you dislike the task of summer gardening, you may even be a victim of anthophobia, the fear of flowers, although that’s a rare malady indeed.

Hal Boyle, "Some Phobias You Can Enjoy," Tallahassee Democrat, Associated Press, May 23, 1969

Queen Elizabeth I is said to have been terrorized by roses, a subcategory of anthophobia, a generalized fear of flowers.

Marianne Szegedy-Maszak, "Conquering Our Phobias: The Biological Underpinnings of Paralyzing Fears," U.S. News & World Report, December 6, 2004

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