Word of the Day

Word of the day

Thursday, February 06, 2020

vis-à-vis

[ vee-zuh-vee; French vee-za-vee ]

preposition

in relation to; compared with: income vis-à-vis expenditures.

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What is the origin of vis-à-vis?

The mere fact that vis-à-vis functions as an adverb, adjective, preposition, and noun all but guarantees many meanings, all semantically related: as an adverb the phrase means “face to face”; as an attributive adjective “face-to-face”; as a preposition “compared with; in relation to”; and as a noun “a person face to face with or opposite another one; a date at a social affair; a person of equal rank or authority.” The still obviously French term vis-à-vis has at least as many meanings as the English one. The French noun vis comes from Vulgar Latin vīsus “face,” from Latin vīsus “sight, vision, faculty of sight, form, appearance.” Vīsus is a derivative of the verb vidēre “to see, see with the mind’s eye, notice.” Vis-à-vis entered English in the mid-18th century.

how is vis-à-vis used?

Until recently, at least in the United States, our notions of privacy have been rooted in the Fourth Amendment’s delineation of the federal government’s powers vis-à-vis the individual citizen.

Glenn S. Gerstell, "I Work for N.S.A. We Cannot Afford to Lose the Digital Revolution." New York Times, September 10, 2019

I’m a stockbroker, and … my timing has been off lately vis-a-vis the market …

Tom Robbins, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, 1994
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Word of the day

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

philippic

[ fi-lip-ik ]

noun

any speech or discourse of bitter denunciation.

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What is the origin of philippic?

The adjective and noun philippic come from Latin Philippicus “of or pertaining to King Philip II of Macedon” (the father of Alexander the Great), from Greek Philippikós with the same meaning. Philippikós is usually used in the plural, Philippikói, with the plural noun lógoi “speeches” understood. The original Philippikói lógoi were three speeches delivered by the Athenian statesman Demosthenes against King Philip of Macedon between 351 and 341 b.c. The second set of philippics were the 14 orations that the Roman statesman and man of letters Marcus Tullius Cicero delivered against Mark Antony between 44 and 43 b.c. Cicero himself called these speeches (ōrātiōnēs) Philippicae “Philippic (orations).” The speeches not unnaturally enraged Mark Antony, who ensured that Cicero’s name stood at the head of the list of proscriptions. The adjective sense of philippic entered English in the mid-16th century.

how is philippic used?

Ms. Goldstein’s book is meticulously fair and disarmingly balanced, serving up historical commentary instead of a searing philippic.

Alexander Nazaryan, "Exorcising Ghosts From Classrooms," New York Times, August 24, 2014

… his philippic against King Leopold for the atrocities he sanctioned called the attention of the whole world to conditions that constituted a disgrace to modern civilization.

Archibald Henderson, Mark Twain, 1911
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Word of the day

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

desuetude

[ des-wi-tood, -tyood ]

noun

the state of being no longer used or practiced.

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What is the origin of desuetude?

Desuetude comes from French désuétude, a borrowing of Latin dēsuētūdo “disuse,” a derivative of the verb dēsuēscere “to lay aside a habit or custom” and the abstract noun suffix –tūdō. Dēsuēscere is a compound verb composed of the preposition and prefix , -, here indicating negation, and the verb suēscere “to become accustomed to, to make accustomed.” In suēscere the suffix –ēscere indicates an inchoative or inceptive meaning (“to begin to…”). Desuetude entered English in the 15th century.

how is desuetude used?

A very few people, not appearing to be up to much, sat far apart at desks in a dimly lighted panorama of desuetude.

Peter Schjeldahl, "The Village Voice's Magic Mirror," The New Yorker, September 2, 2018

The practice of “leaving a calling card” may have fallen into desuetude among human beings, but as a description of pet behavior the phrase continues to have legs.

Cullen Murphy, "Anticipation," The Atlantic, November 1998
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