Word of the Day

Friday, April 23, 2021

versal

[ vur-suhl ]

adjective

universal or whole.

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What is the origin of versal?

The adjective versal, “universal; whole,” is a colloquial shortening of universal. But versal achieved respectability because of its first appearance, in Romeo and Juliet (written about 1591–96), when the Nurse tells Romeo that whenever she tells Juliet that Count Paris wants to marry Juliet, Juliet “lookes as pale as any clout [rag, dishrag] in the versall world.”

how is versal used?

I anger her sometimes, and tell her that Paris is the properer man, but Ile warrant you, when I say so, shee lookes as pale as any clout in the versall world.

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 1599

What else in the ‘versal world have you to do, but to go basking about in the yards and places with your tankard in your hand, from morning to night?

Maria Edgeworth, "Eton Montem," The Parent's Assistant, 1796

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Thursday, April 22, 2021

sustainability

[ suh-stey-nuh-bil-i-tee ]

noun

the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.

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What is the origin of sustainability?

Sustainability, now most commonly meaning “the quality of not depleting natural resources,” is a transparent compound of the adjective sustainable “able to be supported or maintained,” and the common noun suffix –ity. The oldest usage of sustainability was as a legal term “the capacity of being sustained as true, or upheld as valid by legal argument” (1835). The current environmental sense, specifically mentioning wildlife and ecosystems, arose about 1980.

how is sustainability used?

Sustainability is based on a simple and long-recognized factual premise: Everything that humans require for their survival and well-being depends, directly or indirectly, on the natural environment.

National Research Council, "Sustainability and the U.S. EPA," 2011

Recognizing that a focus on sustainability is expected by a growing number of customers, many companies have used their relative downtime to take stock of their environmental footprint and make road maps for a greener future.

Bailey Berg, "As the pandemic prompts eco-awareness, the travel industry responds," Washington Post, March 4, 2021

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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Parnassian

[ pahr-nas-ee-uhn ]

adjective

pertaining to poetry.

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What is the origin of Parnassian?

The adjective Parnassian originally meant “pertaining to Mount Parnassus,” a mountain in central Greece on which Delphi is located. Delphi was sacred to Apollo as the god of prophecy and the god of music, which he shared with the Muses, the goddesses of music, poetry, drama, history, and dancing. Parnassian comes via the Latin adjective Parnassius (also Parnāsius) from Greek Parnā́sios, the adjective derivative of Parnās(s)ós. Sixty percent of Greek words have no reliable etymology: Parnās(s)ós is one of them. Parnassian entered English in the second half of the 16th century.

how is Parnassian used?

His granular, giddy analysis of Scottish bard William Topaz McGonagall, “widely acclaimed as the worst poet in history,” fascinates as the negative expression of a Parnassian ideal. It’s also comedic gold.

Katy Waldman, "Ben Lerner Doesn't Hate Poetry," Slate, Katy Waldman, July 8, 2016

With some major performers, this approach might have been revelatory, showing the thunderbolts of inspiration behind the poetry. But with songs containing lines like “I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms” or “When I was six years old I broke my leg … I was younger then,” we’re not exactly in the realm of Parnassian transcendence.

Jonathan Romney, "Songwriter review–Ed Sheeran, an ordinary bloke writing ordinary songs," The Guardian, February 24, 2018

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