Word of the Day

Thursday, September 10, 2020

vale

[ veyl ]

noun

the world, or mortal or earthly life: this vale of tears.

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What is the origin of vale?

Vale may be familiar to some readers from the woeful expression vale of tears, which casts the world as a place of sorrow and difficulty. Vale, “a valley, a low-lying piece of land usually having a brook,” comes from Middle English val, valle, vaile (and more variants), from Old French val, vau, vauls (and more variants), from Latin vallēs (inflectional stem valli-) “valley.” Vale in its literal sense as a geographical feature dates from the second half of the 14th century; the extended, figurative sense, “the world, mortal life, earthly existence,” dates from the first half of the 15th century.

how is vale used?

all he really wanted to do in company was to make jokes, to turn the world upside down and laugh at it, to enrich and enliven this vale of tears with a little fantasy.

Auberon Waugh, Will This Do?, 1991

As Keats witnessed more and more suffering—his brother Tom’s death; the infectious illnesses sweeping London—he connected his aesthetic vision to lived experience, and wrote in a letter that life is “a vale of soul-making”: “Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?”

Meghan O'Rourke, "Americans Have to Accept Uncertainty," The Atlantic, May 6, 2020  

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Wednesday, September 09, 2020

somnambulism

[ som-nam-byuh-liz-uhm, suhm- ]

noun

sleepwalking.

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What is the origin of somnambulism?

Somnambulism, “sleepwalking,” comes via French somnambulisme from New Latin somnambulismus, a pretty transparent compound of the noun somnus “sleep” and the verb ambulāre “to walk, take a walk, stroll,” source of English amble. Somnus is the Latin result of the very common Proto-Indo-European root swep-, swop-, sup– “to sleep.” In Latin, the derivative noun swepnos (or swopnos) becomes sopnos, then somnus. The derivative noun supnos becomes hýpnos in Greek. Another derivative noun, swepos-, becomes sopor– “sleep” in Latin (via swopos-, then sopor-), as in English soporific “causing sleep.” Swepnos becomes swefn “sleep, dream” in Old English and sweven “dream, dream-vision” in Middle English. William Langland, usually considered to be the author of Piers Plowman, fell into a merveilouse swevene, a “curious dream,” one May morning in the Malvern Hills in Hereford and Worcestershire, England, and Piers Plowman is the narrative of his dream. Somnambulism entered English at the end of the 18th century.

how is somnambulism used?

Sleepwalking, or somnambulism, doesn’t always involve walking. A person is said to be sleepwalking if they are performing a complex task—talking, sitting up in bed, getting dressed—while in a state of deep sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Karen Kaplan, "Sleepwalking is often a family affair, study says," Los Angeles Times, May 5, 2015

Out and about, I spotted drowsy or dozing people everywhere; and I realized that a kind of mechanized mass somnambulism is an essential component of modern life ….

Joseph O'Neill, "The Sinking of the Houston," The New Yorker, October 23, 2017

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Tuesday, September 08, 2020

doddle

[ dod-l ]

noun

something easily done, fixed, etc.: He was really worried about my finishing the fence repairs on my own, but it was a doddle.

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What is the origin of doddle?

Doddle, “something easy to do or fix,” is a British colloquialism of uncertain origin. Some say it comes from Scottish doddle “a small lump of toffee” (and therefore attractive and easy to make away with). Some say doddle may come from the verb dawdle “to waste time, idle.” Doddle may also be a variant of the verb toddle “to move with short unsteady steps” (as a toddler does). Doddle entered English in the first half of the 20th century.

how is doddle used?

But it is a delusion to think we can solve Earth’s problems by relocating to Mars. I completely disagree with Musk and with my late colleague Stephen Hawking on that, because dealing with climate change on Earth is a doddle compared with terraforming Mars.

Martin Rees, interviewed by Ian Tucker, "Martin Rees: 'Climate change is a doddle compared with terraforming Mars,'" The Guardian, August 18, 2019

This [journey] would have been a doddle on Highway 1 at any other time of year, but a succession of winter storms had blocked the coast road with landslides in half a dozen places.

Jason Lewis, The Seed Buried Deep, 2014

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Monday, September 07, 2020

Promethean

[ pruh-mee-thee-uhn ]

adjective

creative; boldly original.

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What is the origin of Promethean?

Promethean is the adjective derived from Prometheus, one of the Titans, the race of divine beings that preceded the Olympian gods (there was bad ichor between the two races). The Greek poet Hesiod interpreted Prometheus as “Forethought”; Prometheus’ twin brother Epimetheus was therefore “Afterthought.” Prometheus and Epimetheus (and Atlas, too) were sons of Iapetus, whose Hebrew equivalent, Japheth, is a son of Noah (Genesis 5:32). Promethean entered English towards the end of the 16th century.

how is Promethean used?

While this work suggests man’s helplessness in the face of nature’s relentless power, Cai’s exhibit suggests an ironic thematic reversal: nature’s state of helplessness in the face of modern man’s relentless, Promethean drive to progress.

Orville Schell, "A Chinese Artist Confronts Environmental Disaster," The New Yorker, October 3, 2014

That ambivalence is the divided heart of the novel: Gatsby is a dreamer and a “go-for-broke Promethean overreacher,” but—as Corrigan’s former high school teacher tells her, “Gatsby was looking for the wrong things. . . . Money and clothes and Daisy.” He embodies the best and worst qualities of America, resulting in a novel that is simultaneously buoyant and grim, as Corrigan notes.

Steven Moore, "'So We Read On: How 'The Great Gatsby' Came to Be,' by Maureen Corrigan," Washington Post, September 8, 2014

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Sunday, September 06, 2020

squib

[ skwib ]

noun

a short and witty or sarcastic saying or writing.

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What is the origin of squib?

The noun squib, “a short and witty or sarcastic saying,” dates from the end of the 16th century, a development of its original sense, “a small firework that burns with a hissing noise but doesn’t explode.” The word has no definitive etymology, but it is most likely onomatopoeic. Squib entered English in the first half of the 16th century.

how is squib used?

After Bush pulled off his carrier stunt before an awestruck cable universe, Maureen Dowd dipped her fingernails in the old acid and banged out a memorable squib questioning the Top Gun’s swagger …

William Powers, "The Call of the Skunk," The Atlantic, May 1, 2003

Throughout it all, he found one way or another to seize the gaze of the media, often by slipping to the press short bits of provocative writing, then known as squibs.

Jack Hitt, "P.T. Barnum, the showman and grifter who held up a funhouse mirror to America," Washington Post, October 18, 2019

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Saturday, September 05, 2020

scherzando

[ skert-sahn-doh, -san- ]

adjective

(in music) playful; sportive.

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What is the origin of scherzando?

Scherzando, “playful,” is an adjective used in music. Like many musical terms, scherzando is of Italian origin, it being the gerund of the verb scherzare “to joke.” The noun scherzo, “a musical movement or passage of light or playful character,” is another derivative from the verb. Italian scherzare is most likely a borrowing from Middle High German scherzen “to jump for joy, enjoy (oneself).” Scherzando entered English in the second half of the 18th century.

how is scherzando used?

The scherzando character is expressed in rapid gestures high on the guitar, with mercurial changes of tone color, perilous slides, and abrupt silences.

Jonathan Leathwood and Daphne Leong, "Local Frictions and Long-Range Connections in Carter's Changes for Guitar," Performing Knowledge, 2019

After the opening section in the scherzando mood that Rachmaninov does so wonderfully, he presents us with this gorgeous melody.

"Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 2, by Stephen Hough," Gramophone, September 5, 2016

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Friday, September 04, 2020

olericulture

[ ol-er-i-kuhl-cher ]

noun

the cultivation of vegetables for the home or market.

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What is the origin of olericulture?

Starting from the end, the –iculture of olericulture “cultivation of vegetables for the home or market” is familiar to us from compounds like agriculture “the cultivation of land for crops,” and the relatively recent apiculture “beekeeping, especially commercial beekeeping.” The first part of olericulture comes from oleri-, the inflectional stem of the Latin noun olus (also holus) “a vegetable, vegetables, kitchen herb,” which is related to the adjective helvus “yellowish, dun (of cattle).” Helvus is the Latin result of the Proto-Indo-European adjective ghelwos “bright, yellow,” a derivative of the Proto-Indo-European root ghel– “to shine,” a root that is particularly associated with colors. Latin has another adjective gilvus “yellowish” (used of domestic animals), a borrowing from a Celtic language. Much, much closer to home, ghelwos becomes gelwa– in the Germanic languages, the source of English yellow. Olericulture entered English in the second half of the 19th century.

how is olericulture used?

… he offered his 7-year-old grandson a daily tutorial in olericulture in his backyard field of bounty.

Phil Gianficaro, "With One Sniff, My Grandfather and I Were Together Again," Courier Times, August 19, 2020

As either a lecture or a recitation course alone olericulture is not likely to prove a shining success. It should be accompanied by a definite laboratory course, in which the actual materials of the garden may be studied first hand.

John Craig, "Horticultural Education," The O. A. C. Review, Vol. 19 Issue 6, March 1907

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