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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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
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
Monday, February 03, 2020

caucus

[ kaw-kuhs ]

noun

U.S. Politics. a local meeting of party members to select candidates, elect convention delegates, etc.

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What is the origin of caucus?

“You pays your money, and you takes your choice” when it comes to the origin of caucus. The true answer is that the origin of caucus is unknown, which naturally leads to many folk etymologies. The word first appears in the Boston Gazette (1760) and is spelled Corcas. The modern spelling caucus appears in 1788, and the citation reads “More than fifty years ago [therefore about 1735], Mr. Samuel Adams’s father, and twenty others…, used to meet, make a caucus.” A possible source of caucus is the Late Latin noun caucus “drinking cup,” from Greek kaûkos with the same meaning. The trouble with Latin caucus is that there is no evidence for this development of meaning, and that Latin caucus occurs only once, in a work by St. Jerome. A second etymology, closer to home, so to speak, claims that caucus is an Algonquian word, from Virginia Algonquian Cawcawwassough, specifically, and means “elders of the Chickahominy people.” Cawcawwassough dates from 1608, but again there is no “chain of evidence” connecting Cawcawwassough to political clubs in Boston.

how is caucus used?

The Iowa caucuses are never simple. Voters spend hours in high school gymnasiums or public libraries, starting their night by declaring support for their preferred presidential candidate.

Alexandra Jaffe, "New Iowa caucus rules could spark clashing claims of victory," Washington Post, January 16, 2020

The caucuses were supposed to be less important this time. But they still might pick the winner.

Ross Douthat, "Will Iowa Decide the Democratic Nomination?" New York Times, January 14, 2020
Sunday, February 02, 2020

gree

[ gree ]

noun

Chiefly Scot.

the prize for victory.

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What is the origin of gree?

The senses of the very rare noun gree “superiority, mastery; prize for victory” are either obsolete or Scottish. The Middle English spellings include gre and gree; in Middle English the word means “a step, flight of steps; victory in combat; a prize for such a victory; rank, position, dignity,” from Old French gré, grei “a step, degree.” The Old French forms are regular phonetic developments of Latin gradus “a step (literal and metaphorical), pace, stair, rung (of a ladder), tier (of seats), (musical) interval.” Gradus, a derivative of the verb gradī “to walk, step, proceed,” is the ultimate source of English grade, gradual, graduate, and degree. Gree entered English in the early 14th century.

how is gree used?

And here to win gree happily for ever …

James I, "The Kingis Quair," The Poetic Remains of Some of the Scotish Kings, 1824

A false usurper wan the gree, / Who now commands the towers and lands …

Robert Burns, "The Bonie Lass of Albanie," Second Commonplace Book, 1787–90
Saturday, February 01, 2020

fictile

[ fik-tl; British fik-tahyl ]

adjective

of or relating to pottery.

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What is the origin of fictile?

Some of the meanings of the rare adjective fictile are “capable of being molded; made of earth or clay by a potter; pertaining to pottery.” Fictile comes straight from Latin fictilis “made of or pertaining to earthenware, pottery, terra cotta,” a derivative of fictus, the past participle of the verb fingere “to shape (from clay, wax, molten metal, etc.), create, produce, transform.” Also from fic-, a variant of the Latin root fig-, Latin has fictiō (stem fictiōn-) “act of shaping or molding; pretense, personification; supposition, legal fiction” (English fiction). From fig– Latin has the nouns figūra “form, shape, composition, makeup” (English figure) and figmentum “something formed or devised; a fiction or invention” (English figment). Fictile entered English in the 17th century.

how is fictile used?

… in the fictile arts we can not approach the French and Italian potters of the sixteenth …

Henry Van Brunt, "Growth of Conscience in the Decorative Arts," The Atlantic, August 1878

The chief function of clay in the fictile arts is its partial fusion upon firing, and upon this and the skill of the artisan who fires the kiln depends the product, which is wonderfully varied by the mixtures of fluxes and tempering material.

Robert T. Hill, "Clay Materials of the United States," Mineral Resources of the United States, 1893
Friday, January 31, 2020

sagacious

[ suh-gey-shuhs ]

adjective

having or showing acute mental discernment and keen practical sense; shrewd: Socrates, that sagacious Greek philosopher, believed that the easiest way to learn was by asking questions.

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What is the origin of sagacious?

Sagacious derives straightforwardly from the Latin adjective sagāx (stem sagāc-) “having keen (mental) perception or senses (especially of smell)” and is a derivative of the verb sagīre “to perceive keenly.” The Latin forms come from a Proto-Indo-European root sāg-, “to trace, track down, investigate,” from which Greek derives hēgeîsthai (dialect hāgeîsthai) “to go before, guide,” and English derives “seek.” Sagacious entered English in the early 17th century.

how is sagacious used?

This also preserves the long-standing archetype of the infallible, unflappable and sagacious physician.

Jalal Baig, "Why crying over a terminal patient made me a better doctor," Washington Post, February 24, 2019

It was the service of a trained and sagacious mind, a cool and sure judgment.

"Mr. Root as Secretary of War," New York Times, July 23, 1899

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