Word of the Day

Saturday, March 16, 2019

viator

[ vahy-ey-tawr, -ter ]

noun

a wayfarer; traveler.

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What is the origin of viator?

Viator comes straight from Latin viātor “traveler,” formed from the noun via “track, road” and the noun suffix -tor signifying agency. Many occurrences of viātor are on epitaphs on Roman tombs from the “occupant,” asking travelers passing by not to deface the tomb with graffiti, or warning, “Look out! Your turn is coming!” Viātor was also a title of Mercury, the patron and protector of travelers and the escort of the dead to the underworld. A viātor was also an agent employed on official errands for magistrates, other public officers, and professional organizations. Viator entered English in the early 16th century.

how is viator used?

… how long he was a viator or traveler in his course of obedience no man knows.

Samuel Rutherford,  The Covenant of Life Opened, 1654

… these are so graciously concealed by the fine trees of their grounds, that the passing viator remains unappalled by them …

John Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, 1875

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Friday, March 15, 2019

fantods

[ fan-tods ]

noun

a state of extreme nervousness or restlessness; the willies; the fidgets (usually preceded by the): We all developed the fantods when the plane was late in arriving.

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What is the origin of fantods?

In chapter eight of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Huck, hiding on Jackson’s Island, spots a man sleeping on the ground: “It most give me the fantods.” Here the meaning of fantods is plain enough: “acute distress, fear, panic”; the meanings of fantods range between irritability, tension, an emotional fit or outburst, and physical or mental disorder—not at all specific. Fantods has no reliable etymology: it may be a jocular formation based on fantasy or fantastic. Fantods entered English in the 19th century.

how is fantods used?

It gave me the fantods to discover myself cooped up in that narrow room with such a ghastly figure beside me, which I’ll describe to you as best I can.

Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616), The Dialogue of the Dogs, translated by David Kipen, 2008

What would Mr. Gorey make of his status as an All Hallows’ Eve grand ghoul were he alive to see it?

“That would have given Gorey himself the fantods,” said Mark Dery, using one of the antiquated words the artist loved to collect and trot out in his books.

Steven Kurutz, "Edward Gorey Was Eerily Prescient," New York Times, October 30, 2018
Thursday, March 14, 2019

upper crust

[ uhp-er kruhst ]

noun

the highest social class.

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What is the origin of upper crust?

The noun phrase upper crust is perfectly plain, self-explanatory: it is the top crust on a loaf of bread or a pie, a meaning the phrase has always had. Other meanings have come and gone, e.g., “exterior layer or surface of the earth” (from the mid-16th through the mid-18th centuries), “a person’s head; a hat” (from about 1825 to 1850). The most common meaning of upper crust, “the highest social class,” was originally an Americanism dating from the 19th century. Upper crust entered English in the 15th century.

how is upper crust used?

… the 1922 edition of Etiquette promised its readers that they could learn to fit in among intimidating elites, or just emulate the American upper crust within their own circles.

Laura Miller, "To the Manners Born," Slate, April 19, 2017

From his perspective, graffiti forced the upper crust to reckon with the names and the fugitive dreams of a forgotten underclass …

Hua Hsu, "The Spectacular Personal Mythology of Rammellzee," The New Yorker, May 28, 2018
Wednesday, March 13, 2019

diffidence

[ dif-i-duhns ]

noun

the quality or state of lacking confidence in one's ability, worth or fitness; timidity.

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What is the origin of diffidence?

Diffidence is a straightforward borrowing from the Latin noun diffīdentia “distrust, mistrust, lack of confidence.” In the Vulgate, the Latin version of the Bible prepared chiefly by Saint Jerome at the end of the 4th century a.d., diffīdentia also meant “lack of faith, disobedience (to God).” The original sense of diffīdentia, “distrust of other people,” is obsolete; the current sense “distrust of one’s own ability or worth,” shading off to “modesty, retiring nature,” dates from the mid-16th century. Diffidence entered English in the 15th century.

how is diffidence used?

For an artist, insofar as modesty implies diffidence, an unwillingness to exhibit oneself or one’s work, it’s a virtue so dubious as to be a handicap.

Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Conversation of the Modest," The Wild Girls, 2011

I write with great diffidence, but it seems to me that there is no unfairness in punishing people for their misfortunes, or rewarding them for their sheer good luck …

Samuel Butler, Erewhon, 1872
Tuesday, March 12, 2019

facetiae

[ fuh-see-shee-ee ]

plural noun

amusing or witty remarks or writings.

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What is the origin of facetiae?

Facētiae is a Latin plural noun meaning “skillfulness, cleverness, wittiness.” It is a derivative of the adjective facētus “clever, good-humored, whimsical,” which has no reliable etymology. In the olden days, in less enlightened and progressive times than our ownsay about 1850facetiae was used in book catalogs as a euphemism for pornography (now also called erotica). Facetiae entered English in the 16th century.

how is facetiae used?

Even the facetiae of the gallant expressman who knew everybody’s Christian name along the route, who rained letters, newspapers, and bundles from the top of the stage … failed to interest me.

Bret Harte, "A Night at Wingdam," The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Tales, 1871

… you had better beware how you excite that comic vein to its fullest current of facetiae.

Thomas Peckett Prest, The Brigand; or, The Mountain Chief, 1851
Monday, March 11, 2019

myopic

[ mahy-op-ik, -oh-pik ]

adjective

unable or unwilling to act prudently; shortsighted.

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What is the origin of myopic?

Myopic ultimately comes from the Greek noun myōpía “nearsightedness,” which in Greek has no extended or metaphorical meaning. (The suffix –ic is English, not Greek, i.e., there is no Greek adjective myōpikós.) Myōpía is a compound formed of the verb mýein “to close the eyes or mouth,” which is close kin to the Latin mūtus “inarticulate, dumb, silent” (English mute). The same mýein appears in the noun mystḗrion “secret, secret rite” (English mystery) and its adjective mystikós “connected with the mysteries” (English mystic). The second element of myopia, –ōpía, is a combining form of ṓps (stem ōp-) “eye, face, countenance.” Myopic in its original sense entered English at the end of the 18th century; the sense “unable or unwilling to act prudently” developed in English at the end of the 19th century.

how is myopic used?

The belief that simply running a data set will solve for every challenge and every bias is problematic and myopic.

Yael Eisenstat, "The Real Reason Tech Struggles With Algorithmic Bias," Wired, February 12, 2019

Science provides us with a new perspective on our place in the cosmos and a better understanding of ourselves as human beings. It helps us overcome our otherwise myopic preconceptions about how the world works.

Lawrence M. Krauss, "What Is Science Good For?" The New Yorker, April 21, 2017
Sunday, March 10, 2019

temporize

[ tem-puh-rahyz ]

verb

to be indecisive or evasive to gain time or delay acting.

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What is the origin of temporize?

The current, somewhat negative, meaning of temporize, “to be indecisive or evasive to gain time or delay acting,” is a relatively modern development of Middle French temporiser “to pass the time, await one’s time,” from Medieval Latin temporizāre “to delay,” equivalent to Medieval Latin temporāre “to delay, put off the time.” All of the medieval words are derivatives of Latin tempor-, the inflectional stem of tempus “time,” which has no certain etymology. Temporize entered English in the 16th century.

how is temporize used?

I’ll temporise till we are all dead and buried.

Charles Reade, A Perilous Secret, 1884

He is as likely as any man I know to temporize—to calculate what will be likely to promote his own reputation and advantage …

Alexander Hamilton to James A. Bayard, January 16, 1801, in Letters of Alexander Hamilton, Volume 25, 1977

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