Word of the Day

Sunday, April 11, 2021

vibrissa

[ vahy-bris-uh ]

noun

one of the stiff, bristly hairs growing about the mouth of certain animals, as a whisker of a cat.

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What is the origin of vibrissa?

Vibrissa, “one of the stiff hairs growing about the mouth of an animal, such as a cat’s whisker,” is restricted pretty much to (human) anatomy, ornithology, and zoology. Vibrissa is the singular of the Late Latin plural noun vibrissae, a word that occurs only once, in a work by Sextus Pompeius Festus, a Roman grammarian and lexicographer who flourished in the late 2nd century a.d. Festus defines vibrissae as “the nose hairs of a human being, so called because when they are pulled out, the head shakes (caput vibrātur)” (vibrissae does in fact derive from the Latin verb vibrāre “to shake”). This “human” sense is the original meaning in English in the late 17th century, but it is no longer common; the more general zoological and ornithological meaning arose in the first half of the 19th century. The singular form vibrissa first appears in English in the first quarter of the 19th century.

how is vibrissa used?

I stroked his splendid vibrissae, the stiff, sensitive whiskers that a walrus uses to search for bivalves through the seabed’s dark murk, and that feel like slender tubes of bamboo.

Natalie Angier, "The Walrus: Smart, sophisticated and ever closer to the edge," New York Times, May 20, 2008

Whiskers – technically called vibrissae in mammals – are an important part of my cats’ sensory arrays. When Margarita abruptly tears across the apartment for reasons I can only speculate about, her whiskers can tell her if she’s cutting to[o] close to a wall so that she doesn’t run headlong into the doorway.

Riley Black, "Dinosaur Whiskers?" National Geographic, March 27, 2015

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Saturday, April 10, 2021

putative

[ pyoo-tuh-tiv ]

adjective

commonly regarded as such; reputed; supposed.

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What is the origin of putative?

Putative, “supposed, so called, commonly regarded,” ultimately comes from Late Latin putātīvus “considered, reckoned, presumptive,” a derivative of the Latin verb putāre “to think, consider,” originally a farming or country word meaning “to trim, prune (trees), scour or clean (wool); purify, refine (gold).” In Latin putāre is not much used in its original senses, but it is very common in its developed senses, “to go over in the mind, ponder; to go over in words, discuss; estimate, deem, consider.” Putative entered English in the 15th century.

how is putative used?

The putative black hole would have to be feeding at one-millionth of its potential rate if it were there at all, Dr. Gultekin said.

Dennis Overbye, "Missing: One Black Hole With 10 Billion Solar Masses," New York Times, January 19, 2021

Jules had to remember: Oh right, Ibsen, the putative reason Ash had gone to Oslo. Isben’s Ghosts.

Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings, 2013

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Friday, April 09, 2021

behoove

[ bih-hoov ]

verb (used with object)

to be worthwhile to, as for personal profit or advantage.

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What is the origin of behoove?

Behoove, also spelled behove in British English, nowadays is an impersonal verb meaning “it is necessary or proper (for someone to do something).” Behoove comes from Middle English bihoven “to need, be constrained; to be needed or required.” Bihofen, already mostly used as an impersonal verb in Middle English, comes from Old English behōfian, bihōfian “to need, require,” used both personally and impersonally. Behoove entered English before the end of the 9th century.

how is behoove used?

The current pandemic, which has curtailed normal interaction, throws into dramatic relief the central importance of teaching not only for our students’ learning, but also for their overall well-being. It behooves us all, after COVID-19, to build a more resilient system that includes rewards and support that encourage collaboration toward our common educational goal.

Lisa M. Di Bartolomeo and Pablo García Loaeza, "Teaching and Tenure: Part 1," Inside Higher Ed, March 29, 2021

In this troll-saturated context, it’s hard to care about street-level trolls and their movie boycotts. In fact, it would probably behoove us to stop caring about “trolls” at all.

Emma Grey Ellis, "Trolls Are Boring Now," Wired, March 13, 2019

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