Word of the Day

Sunday, August 05, 2018

vespine

[ ves-pahyn, -pin ]

adjective

of or relating to wasps.

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What is the origin of vespine?

English vespine is a straightforward borrowing from the Latin noun vespa “wasp” plus the adjective suffix -ine, from Latin -īnus, and one could reasonably–but wrongly–conclude that wespā was the original Proto-Indo-European word for wasp. The original form was wepsā, wopsā, and Latin and English (among other languages) simply metathesized (or transposed) the consonants. Old English has many different forms for the insect: wæfs, wæps, wæsp, etc. The other Germanic languages also display the -ps- and -sp- forms. Outside Germanic, the extremely conservative Baltic languages have vapsvà (Lithuanian) and wobse (Old Prussian), both meaning “wasp.” The Baltic forms, especially the Old Prussian, also show more clearly the Proto-Indo-European root behind wasp and vespa: webh-, wobh- “to weave” (from the nests that wasps construct). Vespine entered English in the 19th century.

how is vespine used?

From above the cubicles looked like a magnified insect battery, a nest uncovered by mistake, a glimpse of geometrically precise rows of pods, lines of tiny vespine heads, shining with black Sony ovals, trembling with larval energy on T-shirt thoraces.

Rana Dasgupta, Tokyo Cancelled, 2005

The trees had turned a vespine yellow, as if trying to terrify what would eat them.

Bennett Sims, A Questionable Shape, 2013
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Saturday, August 04, 2018

squiz

[ skwiz ]

noun

a quick, close look.

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What is the origin of squiz?

The noun squiz is a piece of slang used in Australian and New Zealand. Most slang terms are of uncertain origin, and squiz is no exception: it is possibly a blend of quiz and squint. Squiz entered English in the 20th century.

how is squiz used?

He’d been at me for months to come in and have a squiz at the work he’d done, but I really didn’t care that much, and kept putting him off.

Peter Doyle, The Devil's Jump, 2001

She shrugged–which sort of annoyed me too–and I led her clomping to the front room where the sun was streaming in, and I had another squiz.

Anne Kennedy, The Last Days of the National Costume, 2013
Friday, August 03, 2018

arctophile

[ ahrk-tuh-fahyl ]

noun

a person who is very fond of and is usually a collector of teddy bears.

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What is the origin of arctophile?

Arctophile means just “bear loving, bear lover,” but in modern English specifically a lover of teddy bears, not grizzlies. The suffix -phile “lover of, enthusiast for” is completely naturalized in English, as in cinephile, audiophile. The element arcto- comes from Greek árktos “bear,” the Greek result of a very widespread (and complicated in its development) Proto-Indo-European noun ṛ́tko- (earlier H₂ṛ́tko-) “bear” (the H₂ was possibly pronounced as in German Bach). Greek transposed the -tk- to -kt-. In Hittite the original H₂ṛ́tkos (spelled ḫartaggaš in the clumsy Hittite cuneiform) was probably pronounced hartkas, which is very close to the hypothetical form but is of uncertain meaning: the name of a predatory animal (?), a cult official (?). In the Indo-Iranian languages, Sanskrit ṛkṣa- and Avestan arša- are regular developments from ṛ́tko-. Italic (Latin) ursus has two problems: u- instead of o-, and the exact source of the first s. Celtic artos becomes art in Middle Irish, and arth in Welsh (Arthur in Welsh means “bear man”). Arctophile entered English in the 20th century.

how is arctophile used?

Unless you’re an arctophile, which is just a fancy way of saying a teddy bear devotee, the name likely doesn’t mean much, but it means a lot to collectors.

John J. Lamb, The Crafty Teddy, 2007

I am a past president of the American Society of Teddy Bear Collectors and have contributed dozens of articles to Teddy Bear Review and other arctophile journals.

Clifford Chase, Winkie, 2006
Thursday, August 02, 2018

nubilous

[ noo-buh-luhs, nyoo- ]

adjective

cloudy or foggy.

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What is the origin of nubilous?

The English adjective nubilous comes straight from Latin nūbilus, a derivative of nūbēs “cloud.” The uncommon Proto-Indo-European root sneudh- “fog, mist, cloud” lies behind the Latin words and appears as well in several Iranian languages, e.g., Avestan snaodha- “clouds” and Baluchi nōd “light clouds, fog”; Greek nythós “dark, dumb,” and Welsh nudd “mist, fog.” Nubilous entered English in the 16th century.

how is nubilous used?

… it seemed, in their arbitrary disposition of the world’s affairs, the Fates had ordained that Peyton’s sky should always be nubilous

Montgomery G. Preston, "An Eventful Evening," Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine," February 1876

Her azure eyes are nubilous.

Antoinette van Heugten, Saving Max, 2010
Wednesday, August 01, 2018

improbity

[ im-proh-bi-tee ]

noun

lack of honesty or moral scruples.

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What is the origin of improbity?

The English noun improbity comes from Latin improbitās (stem improbitāt-) “dishonesty, unscrupulousness,” a derivative of improbus “inferior, improper.” The parts of improbus break down fairly easily: the prefix im- is a variant of the Latin negative prefix in- used before labial consonants (e.g., b, p) from the same Proto-Indo-European source as Germanic (English) un-, Greek a-, an-, and Sanskrit a-, an-. The element pro- is from the very common (and complicated) Proto-Indo-European prefix and preposition per “forward, through, in front of, early, first.” The -bus is the same ending as in the Latin adjective superbus “proud, haughty” (the ultimate source of English superb) from the Proto-Indo-European root bheu- “to be, exist, grow,” source of Germanic (English) be, Latin fuï “I was, have been” (the perfect of esse “to be”), and Slavic (Polish) być “to be.” The original sense of probus would be “going well, growing well,” and improbus “not going well.” Improbity entered English in the late 16th century.

how is improbity used?

But apart from these hurtful factors, the Ring itself radiated improbity. It had but recently been said by Henry Ward Beecher that perhaps the government of the City of New York did more harm to its people than all the churches together did good.

Edgar Fawcett, A New York Family, 1891

“Beelzebub” had been floundering in the sea of improbity, holding by a slender life-line to the respectable world that had cast him overboard.

O. Henry, "The Remnants of the Code," Cabbages and Kings, 1904
Tuesday, July 31, 2018

hagridden

[ hag-rid-n ]

adjective

worried or tormented, as by a witch.

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What is the origin of hagridden?

The hag in hagridden has always meant “evil spirit (in female form), ghost, woman who deals with the Devil, a witch; an ugly, repellent, malicious old woman.” The noun is very rare in Middle English (hegge appears once in the 13th century, and hagge once in the 14th) and becomes common only in the 16th century as heg, hegge. Hag is generally believed to descend from Old English hægtesse, hægtis “a fury, witch,” akin to Old High German hagazissa, German Hexe (cf. hex signs on barns, especially in Amish country), from West Germanic hagatusjōn-. Hagridden entered English in the 17th century.

how is hagridden used?

We are a simple people, but we are hagridden by our fear of darkness.

Jack Whyte, The Saxon Shore, 1995

Alas, poor devil! spectres are appointed to haunt him: one age he is hag-ridden, bewitched; the next priestridden, befooled; in all ages, bedevilled.

Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, 1836
Monday, July 30, 2018

contextomy

[ kon-teks-tuh-mee ]

noun

the practice of misquoting someone by shortening the quotation or by leaving out surrounding words or sentences that would place the quotation in context.

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What is the origin of contextomy?

Contextomy is a blend of the words context and -tomy, a Greek suffix meaning “cutting.” In was first recorded in English in 1965–70.

how is contextomy used?

Contextomy can be used to create a false impression of a source’s attitudes in the service of motives as harmless as selling movie tickets or as harmful as character assassination, which is typical of its employment in political advertising.

Joseph McGlynn III, Matthew S. McGlone, "Language," Encyclopedia of Deception, Volume 2, 2014

They engage in what writer Milton Mayer once called “contextomy“: cutting a statement out of context (e.g. John Adams on religion) in order to give a completely misleading impression what what some famous person believes.

Paul. F. Boller, Jr., John H. George, "Preface," They Never Said It, 1989

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