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

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