Word of the Day

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

venal

[ veen-l ]

adjective

open to bribery; mercenary.

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What is the origin of venal?

The English adjective venal comes from Latin vēnālis “for sale, for hire, susceptible to or obtainable by bribery,” a derivative of vēnus “sale.” Vēnus comes from an unattested noun wesno-, a Latin derivation of wes– (a variant of the Proto-Indo-European root wes-, wos– “to buy, sell”) and the noun suffix –no. Wes– also appears in Hittite washti “thou buyest.” From the variant wos-, Greek (Attic) has the noun ōnḗ “purchase, purchase price” (Homeric Greek has ônos, Aeolic ónna), all from an unrecorded wosnā. Sanskrit vasná “purchase price, wage” may come from either wes– or wos-. Venal entered English in the 17th century.

how is venal used?

… the perfectly balanced tool in his hands that could be used for the bribing of venal politicians, with a limitless fund for the bribery ….

Katherine MacLean, The Man Who Staked the Stars, 1952

Four years after the street protests that ousted the notoriously venal President Viktor Yanukovych, corruption is the wound that won’t stop bleeding.

Daria Kaleniuk and Melinda Harin, "The spirit of reform lives on in Ukraine—but not because of the president," Washington Post, June 27, 2018
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Monday, June 24, 2019

ex cathedra

[ eks kuh-thee-druh, kath-i-druh ]

adjective, adverb

from the seat of authority; with authority.

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What is the origin of ex cathedra?

The relatively uncommon English adjective and adverb ex cathedra “from the seat (of authority), with authority” comes directly from the Latin phrase ex cathedrā. Latin cathedra “armchair with cushions, easy chair (especially for women), a teacher’s or professor’s chair, a sedan chair” is a loanword from Greek kathédra “seat, sitting posture, teacher’s or professor’s chair, imperial throne.” From cathedra Medieval Latin derived the adjective cathedrālis “pertaining to the chair or throne (of a bishop)”; the bishop’s church, where his throne was located, was called a cathedral church and later just cathedral. Ex cathedra entered English in the 17th century.

how is ex cathedra used?

There’s no way to maintain an ex cathedra advantage when you’re cavorting in a circus ring.

Virginia Heffernan, "When TV tries out new media, everyone can be a star," New York Times, January 1, 2009

Pope John once said, “I am not infallible. I am infallible only when I speak ex cathedra. But I shall never speak ex cathedra.”

Kati Marton, "The Paradoxical Pope," The Atlantic Monthly, May 1980
Sunday, June 23, 2019

demur

[ dih-mur ]

verb (used without object)

to make objection, especially on the grounds of scruples; take exception; object: They wanted to make him the treasurer, but he demurred.

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What is the origin of demur?

The verb demur comes via Old French demorer, demourer, ultimately from Latin dēmorārī “to linger, delay, hold up,” its original, now obsolete meaning in English. In the 17th century demur acquired its usual senses in contemporary English “to object, take exception to,” and especially its legal sense “to make or interpose a demurral,” which is a pleading that admits the facts of an opponent’s proceeding but denies any entitlement to legal relief, and that also causes a delay in the proceedings until the point or pleading is settled. Demur entered English in the 13th century.

how is demur used?

Montague is genial but determined, and before I could demur he had me packed into a two-thousand-dollar Gore-Tex dry suit with an unbearably tight collar, highly insulated rubber bootees, and an electric-blue life jacket.

Michael Specter, "Inherit the Wind," The New Yorker, May 13, 2013

… Sonia had a little changed her mind. Wedge would be very unlikely to demur.

Michael Innes, The New Sonia Wayward, 1960

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