Word of the Day

Word of the day

Saturday, October 23, 2021

verst

[ vurst, verst ]

noun

a Russian measure of distance equivalent to 3,500 feet, or 0.6629 mile (1.067 kilometers).

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What is the origin of verst?

Verst “a Russian measure of distance equivalent to 3,500 feet” is borrowed by way of either French or German from Russian verstá, from Old Russian vĭrsta “age; measure of length.” Though these two definitions are rather different, their connection is measurement, whether of time or distance. Vĭrsta derives from the Proto-Indo-European root wert- “to turn,” which is also the source of a profusion of words related to turning, twisting, and bending. The English suffix -ward (as in forward, inward, outward, and toward) is one such derivative, as are warp, worm, wrangle, wrap, wreath, wrench, wrestle, wring, wrinkle, wrist, and writhe. This root is also found in words that figuratively indicate turning in a negative direction, such as awry, weird, worry, wrath, and wrong. By way of Latin, English has inherited terms such as diversion, introvert, versatile, versus, vertebra, and vertex (from vertere “to turn”); reverberate (from verber “whip”); and converge and diverge (from vergere “to be inclined”). Several Ancient Greek-origin terms, such as rhapsody (from rháptein “to stitch”) and rhombus (from rhémbein “to revolve”), also derive from the same root. Verst was first recorded in English in the mid-1500s.

how is verst used?

After passing the fifteenth verst-stone, Chichikov suddenly recollected that, according to Manilov, fifteen versts was the exact distance between his country house and the town; but the sixteenth verst stone flew by, and the said country house was still nowhere to be seen. In fact, but for the circumstance that the travellers happened to encounter a couple of peasants, they would have come on their errand in vain.

Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809–1852), Dead Souls, translated by D. J. Hogarth, 1915

Now that McDonald’s hamburgers and Pepsi-Cola are a hit with Moscow residents, American-style suburban town houses are on their way there too. Construction of the first 132 of 528 units planned for Krasnagorsk, a suburb about 23 versts—15 miles—northwest of Red Square, will begin in August.

Richard D. Lyons, "POSTINGS: 528 Town House Units; 23 Versts To Red Sq.," New York Times, May 6, 1990

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Word of the day

Friday, October 22, 2021

cryosphere

[ krahy-oh-sfeer ]

noun

the part of the earth’s surface where, at temperatures below 32°F (0°C), the water is frozen solid.

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What is the origin of cryosphere?

Cryosphere “the part of the earth’s surface where the water is frozen solid” is a compound of the combining form cryo-, which describes cold and ice, and sphere. Cryo- derives from Ancient Greek krýos “icy cold,” which comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root that gives us crystal (from Ancient Greek krýstallos “clear ice”) and both crouton and crustacean (from Latin crusta “crust”). Sphere comes from Ancient Greek sphaîra “ball,” and outside the realm of geometry, the combining form -sphere is often used in English to describe geographic or ecological regions (such as biosphere and noosphere) and air layers (such as atmosphere and stratosphere). Cryosphere was first recorded in English in the late 1930s.

how is cryosphere used?

Release of methane into the atmosphere from any source is troubling because methane has far more potent greenhouse powers than carbon dioxide .… Scientists have speculated about such methane releases and modeling has predicted that it would happen as the cryosphere…softens and melts .… “But no one had ever shown that it was occurring or that it was a widespread phenomenon,” [lead author Katey Walter Anthony] said. “This paper really is the first time that we see with field evidence that this type of geologic methane is escaping as the cryosphere retreats.”

Yereth Rosen, “Study finds permafrost thaw, glacier melt releasing methane,” Reuters, May 21, 2012
[T]he new satellite, called ICESat-2, will give researchers the sharpest look ever at melting glaciers, ice sheets and sea ice, which make up much of the Earth’s frozen regions that are collectively known as the cryosphere …. Tom Neumann, deputy project scientist for the new satellite, said it would provide “a phenomenal picture” of changes in the planet’s ice sheets and water. “It’s going to enable science discoveries in the cryosphere and polar research for years to come,” he said.

John Schwartz, "As the Ice Melts, NASA Will Be Watching," New York Times, September 14, 2018

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Word of the day

Thursday, October 21, 2021
Today's Word of the Day was chosen by Steven Mackey

shivaree

[ shiv-uh-ree ]

noun

a mock serenade with kettles, pans, horns, and other noisemakers given for a newly married couple; charivari.

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Why Steven Mackey chose shivaree

Shivaree: Fantasy for Trumpet and Orchestra is the title of a piece of classical music by Steven Mackey, which receives its world premiere today, October 21, 2021, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Shivaree is a composition for solo trumpet and orchestra made up of 12 movements, each of which was written as a musical interpretation of different words discovered through our very own Word of the Day. As Mackey himself explained: "Two little rituals became part of my daily life. I was getting notifications on my phone every morning with the 'Word of the Day' from Dictionary.com and my 10-year-old daughter would wander into my study, sit down at the piano, and say, 'Give me a word.' She would play an improvisation inspired by those words, which led me to decide to take some of the more unusual and evocative 'Words of the Day' as points of departure for my Trumpet Fantasy.” The other Word of the Day-inspired movements in the piece are chthonian, erumpent, tintinnabulation, exonumia, requiescat, deipnosophist, omphaloskepsis, horripilation, deliquesce, and apopemptic. Learn more about Shivaree, Steven Mackey, and the art of the musical interpretation of Dictionary.com’s Words of the Day here.

What is the origin of shivaree?

Shivaree “a mock serenade with noisemakers” is of obscure origin, though there is a general prevailing theory. Much like recent Word of the Day shivoo, which we learned about in June, shivaree is likely a corruption of the French term charivari. Charivari is also of obscure origin but may derive, via Late Latin carībaria “headache,” from Ancient Greek karēbaría, equivalent to kárā or kárē “head,” barýs “heavy,” and the abstract noun suffix -ía. The logic is that a noisy, boisterous celebration would cause quite the headache! An alternative theory is that shivaree, again like shivoo, derives instead from the French phrase chez vous “at your home.” Shivaree was first recorded in English in the early 1800s.

how is shivaree used?

Encouraging cake mashing, like a host of other awful wedding customs, from shivaree (a noisy mock serenade on the wedding night) to tying a tin can to the newlyweds’ getaway car, is one last chance for the couple’s friends to indulge in the game of “X and Y, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.”

Charles Perry, "Cake Smashing," Los Angeles Times, February 26, 1997

Whooping and hollering, boarders, parents, neighbors, and friends filled the room. Cowbells rang, guitars and fiddles sang out, and tin pots were beaten with sticks—a din that announced the beginning of the old custom of shivaree, a traditional way of celebrating a wedding in the mountains.

Michael R. Bradley, It Happened in the Great Smokies: Stories of Events and People that Shaped a National Park, 2020

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