Word of the Day

Word of the day

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

vamoose

[ va-moos ]

verb (used without object)

to leave hurriedly or quickly; decamp.

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What is the origin of vamoose?

Vamoose is an adaptation of the Spanish phrase vamos, and unlike the majority of recent borrowings from Spanish, which preserve the original spelling and approximate the original pronunciation, vamoose is one of a small family of terms borrowed over 100 years ago that changed so much in both letters and sound that their connection to Spanish is almost unrecognizable. Alligator is one of these words; it comes from a Spanish phrase that means “the lizard.” So are buckaroo, an alteration of the Spanish word for “cowboy,” and cockroach, from Spanish cucaracha. The closest relative of vamoose is savvy, which derives from Spanish sabe (usted), meaning “(you, formal) know,” and is still sometimes used as a verb in English.

how is vamoose used?

Sitting beside Russo in the passenger seat of his wheezing Ford Galaxy, all throughout that long cross-country drive, was his mother. She’d decided it was time to vamoose, too, and who better to escape with than the son whom she always called her “rock.”

Maureen Corrigan, "Caring For Mom, Dreaming Of 'Elsewhere,'" NPR, November 5, 2012

“The Brazilians prefer to make xixi in the streets,” he said. “We don’t have enough bathrooms for everyone.” Nearby, a woman was making her own bathroom right next to the entrance of a residential building, vamoosing only when the doorman, Clever Santos Chavez, chased her away.

Terrence McCoy, "At Brazil’s Carnival, Rio declares war on a daunting foe: Public urination," Washington Post, February 24, 2020

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Word of the day

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

minatory

[ min-uh-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee ]

adjective

menacing; threatening.

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What is the origin of minatory?

Despite the similar sound, minatory isn’t related to the name of the Minotaur, a human-bull hybrid in Greek mythology. Though the Minotaur was certainly a minatory creature, Minotaur is a compound of Minos, a king of Crete, and the Ancient Greek word for “bull,” while minatory ultimately derives from a Latin verb meaning “to threaten” and that was used in terms related to driving cattle with threats. This same Latin verb is the ultimate source of menace “a threat” and promenade “a stroll or walk,” both derived ultimately from the “cattle driving” sense.

how is minatory used?

When I woke up in the sleeping balcony and looked out the small casement window beside the bed at the bare branches nodding outside in the grey morning, tapping on the walls in an indecipherable but all too obviously minatory code, … I found it impossible to imagine how, in a month or so, they’d be green again, covered in the lushness of leaves and lifted by warmer breezes.

Rafi Zabor, I, Wabenzi, 2005

Since her father’s imprisonment, Minou handles the business, and she is in the shop when a mysterious envelope appears, addressed to her and bearing a terse, minatory message: “She knows that you live.”

Elizabeth Hand, "‘Burning Chambers’ is a sweeping historical novel that puts current events in perspective," Washington Post, June 19, 2019

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Word of the day

Monday, August 16, 2021

zugzwang

[ tsook-tsvahng ]

noun

in chess, a situation in which a player is limited to moves that cost pieces or have a damaging positional effect.

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What is the origin of zugzwang?

Zugzwang means “compulsion to move” in German, and the first element of the word is cognate to the English word tug “a forceful pull.” Zugzwang is one of several terms that we Anglophones have borrowed to describe moves, people, and actions related to chess. Also from German, we’ve adopted patzer, a casual, amateurish chess player. Meanwhile, Italian gives us fianchetto, a move that involves developing the bishop by moving a pawn out of the way, and French gives us en prise, which describes when a piece is likely to be captured. With a game as universally beloved as chess is, it’s not surprising that terms related to the game have crossed, recrossed, and criss-crossed linguistic divides.

how is zugzwang used?

In chess, there’s a position called zugzwang, like being forced to hurt yourself. Being put in zugzwang means a player is obliged to move even though moving means losing a piece. If the player didn’t have to move, the situation wouldn’t be so dire. It always takes place at the endgame; it’s a position that seals the truth, which is that losing is inevitable.

Zoé Valdés, The Weeping Woman, 2016

As in debates over the budget at the federal level, there is an element of what chess players call zugzwang: since any specific solution over deficit reduction is likely to be fairly unpopular, the first mover or perceived aggressor is often at a disadvantage.

Nate Silver, “Decoding the Wisconsin Polls,” New York Times, February 23, 2011

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