Word of the Day

Sunday, December 01, 2019

vicissitudes

[ vi-sis-i-toodz, -tyoodz ]

plural noun

successive, alternating, or changing phases or conditions, as of life or fortune; ups and downs: They remained friends through the vicissitudes of 40 years.

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What is the origin of vicissitudes?

Vicissitudes, the plural of vicissitude, is about ten times more common than the singular. Vicissitude comes via Middle French from Latin vicissitūdō (inflectional stem vicissitūdin-) “change, reversal, regular change or succession, reciprocity.” Vicissitūdō derives from vicissim “in turn, for a change, reciprocally,” a fossilized accusative noun used as an adverb, from the noun vicis “a turn, change, interchange.” Vicis (stem vic-) is the genitive singular of vix, a noun form that does not exist in Latin. The element –cissim is a combining form of the adverb cessim “giving way, yielding,” a derivative of cēdere “to go, proceed.” Vicissitude entered English in the second half of the 16th century.

how is vicissitudes used?

These are people who imagine their boutique blend of gold and goodness can protect them from the vicissitudes of life, even as their dynasty dissipates with each passing generation.

Ron Charles, "Is the end of an American dynasty a real tragedy?" Washington Post, April 29, 2019

The marble faces, which stand innumerable along the walls, and have kept themselves so calm through the vicissitudes of twenty centuries, had no sympathy for his disappointment ….

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, 1860
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Saturday, November 30, 2019

roman

[ raw-mahn ]

noun

French.

a novel.

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What is the origin of roman?

The noun roman “a novel, a tale of adventure or chivalry” has a complicated history. The English noun comes from Middle French roman (French roman) and referred to a popular work written in the vernacular to be read for pleasure (as opposed to serious legal or scholarly writing, which would be in Latin). Middle French roman comes from Old French romans, romanz, ronmanz (and other spellings) “a popular story in verse or prose written in the vernacular, a Romance language, the Romance languages.” The Old French forms derive from the Medieval Latin adverb Rōmānicē “in the popular language, in Romance” (as opposed to Lātīnē “in Latin”). Rōmānicē itself is a derivative of the Latin adjective Rōmānicus “in the Roman style or manner.” The French noun roman meaning “(a) novel,” was adopted by other Germanic languages during the 17th and 18th centuries. The noun roman entered English in the second half of the 16th century.

how is roman used?

Red Harvest is often cited as the first hard-boiled American crime novel, but the fact that it might also constitute the first American roman noir draws attention to the close relationship between what we might tentatively call these different subgenres of writing.

Andrew Pepper, "The American roman noir," American Crime Fiction, 2010

Some of the romans, for example, produce the impression of a succession of short stories rather than of one continuous long story with succeeding chapters.

Agnes Rutherford Riddell, Flaubert and Maupassant, 1920
Friday, November 29, 2019

corybantic

[ kawr-uh-ban-tik, kor- ]

adjective

frenzied; agitated; unrestrained.

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What is the origin of corybantic?

The English adjective corybantic comes from the Greek adjective Korybantikós, a derivative of the noun Korýbās (inflectional stem Korýbant-) “a corybant, a priest of the goddess Cybele in Phrygia (now in west central Turkey),” and in Greek also meaning “drunken person, enthusiast.” Further etymology is risky: apart from Korýbās and its derivatives being non-Greek, not much can be said. Phrygian is an obvious choice, but the Phrygians themselves borrowed a great deal from other peoples of ancient Anatolia (Asian Turkey). Corybantic entered English in the 17th century.

how is corybantic used?

It penetrates the mind, filling it with a babel of distractions news items, mutually irrelevant bits of information, blasts of corybantic or sentimental music, continually repeated doses of drama that bring no catharsis, but merely create a craving for daily or even hourly emotional enemas.

Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy, 1945

There was obviously no enthroned authority here, no bejeweled king to pacify when emotions ran wild, but complete freedom to embrace joy with corybantic abandonment.

Frank Belknap Long, "The Man from Time," Fantastic Universe, March 1954

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