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[ vahr-muhnt ] [ ˈvɑr mənt ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling


an objectionable or undesirable animal, usually predatory, as a coyote or bobcat.

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More about varmint

Varmint “an undesirable animal” is a variant of vermin most common today in Southern and Appalachian English. There are two sound changes at play here: vowel backing and excrescence. Vowel backing is when a vowel sound moves farther back in the mouth, as the front/central vowel e in vermin migrates to become the back vowel a in varmint. A similar shift happened with argal (from ergo) and parson (from person). As we learned from the recent Word of the Day enumerate, excrescence is the addition of a consonant, such as the final t in varmint; compare the evolution of Old English thunor into modern English thunder. Despite its association with dialectal American English, varmint was first recorded in English in the 1530s.

how is varmint used?

When European colonists encountered the [coyote] species, they were of two minds, heralding it as an icon of the expansive West and vilifying it as the ultimate varmint, the bloodthirsty bane of sheep and cattle ranchers.

Carol Kaesuk Yoon, “Mysteries That Howl and Hunt,” The New York Times, September 27, 2010

Back in early February, [the groundhog] Phil said we’d have six more weeks of winter. Well, that deadline has passed, and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office has told the varmint that time’s up… it’s “seeking the apprehension of Punxsutawney Phil for deception.”

Doyle Rice, “Groundhog crime: Arrest warrant issued for Punxsutawney Phil for ‘deception,’” USA Today, March 26, 2018
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[ meel-yuh-riz-uhm, mee-lee-uh- ] [ ˈmil yəˌrɪz əm, ˈmi li ə- ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling


the doctrine that the world tends to become better or may be made better by human effort.

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More about meliorism

Meliorism “the doctrine that the world becomes better by human effort” is based on the Latin adjective melior “better,” which is also the source of the English verb ameliorate “to make or become better” as well as French meilleur, Italian migliore, Portuguese melhor, and Spanish mejor, all meaning “better” or “best,” depending on context. Just as better and best are the comparative and superlative of good even though good is not related to them, Latin melior and optimus “best” correspond to bonus “good.” This use of unrelated words as forms of one another is known as suppletion, as we learned from the recent Words of the Day laisser-aller and jovial. Meliorism was first recorded in English in the late 1850s.

how is meliorism used?

The novelist George Eliot (she who fashioned ‘frustrating’ for us) is also credited with formulating, in a letter she wrote in 1885, something rather less negative in its outlook and attitude: the term ‘meliorism,’ or the belief that the world’s suffering is healable if we all work together for that end …. We can meet together in a great disco of the mind, fuelled by the conviction that one day, in the not-too-distant future, that beautiful, fragile, craved-for togetherism we all so desperately miss, will resume again for real.

Kelly Grovier, “The women who created a new language,” BBC, May 7, 2020

The cheerful meliorism that has guided past accomplishments–a fundamental belief that life does and will get better–has been replaced by a gloomy cynicism, or at best a respectful ritualisation of our decline: dressing up in sombre outfits to watch sombrely dressed orchestras play the complicated soundtracks of our golden age; queuing round the block to study the tortured brushstrokes of bygone eras, and finding genius in their pain.

Peter Aspden, “iPod therefore I am,” Financial Times, January 23, 2009
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[ ahr-keyn ] [ ɑrˈkeɪn ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling


known or understood by very few; mysterious; secret.

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More about arcane

Arcane “known by very few” comes by way of Middle French from Latin arcānus “secret, concealed,” from the verb arcēre “to shut up, keep.” Arcēre (stems arc- and erc-) is also the source of coerce and exercise, and it derives from arca “chest, box,” which is the source of ark. Despite the resemblance, arca is not related to arcus “bow, curve,” the latter of which is the ancestor of arc, arcade, arch, and archer. Thanks to Grimm’s law, Latin c tends to correspond to Old English h, and Latin arcus is therefore a distant relative of arrow (from Old English earh). Arcane was first recorded in English in the 1540s.

how is arcane used?

Dubbed the worst problem no one has heard of, an obscure land rights law is winning attention as lawmakers overhaul arcane U.S. inheritance rules that are exploited by predators. At the root of the problem is so-called heirs’ property–a type of enforced communal ownership–which can arise when land or a home is passed on without a clear will.

Cary L. Biron, “Arcane U.S. land law gets slow makeover to help poor,” Reuters, June 19, 2018

Federal officials contend that wolves are resilient enough to bounce back even if their numbers drop sharply due to intensive hunting …. Friday’s hearing focused on a much more arcane, legal issue: Were wolves properly classified under the endangered act prior to losing their protected status last year? A U.S. Justice Department attorney said they were not, because of changes to the act by Congress in 1978.

Matthew Brown, “Fight over US wolf protections goes before judge,” Indian Country Today, November 15, 2021
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