• Word of the day
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    Friday, July 13, 2018

    vitiate

    verb [vish-ee-eyt]
    to impair or weaken the effectiveness of.
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    What is the origin of vitiate?

    The English verb vitiate comes directly from the Latin past participle vitiātus “spoiled, impaired,” from the verb vitiāre, which is a derivative of the noun vitium “defect, fault,” a word of uncertain etymology. Vitium is the source of Old French vice, English vice. Vitiate entered English in the 15th century.

    How is vitiate used?

    ... some infinitesimal excess or deficiency, some minute accession of heat or cold, some chance adulteration in this or that ingredient, can vitiate a whole course of inquiry, requiring the labour of weeks to be all begun again ... Charles Lever, One of Them, 1861

    In his mad odyssey through the dark side — waterboarding, secret rendition, indefinite detention, unnecessary war and manipulation of C.I.A. analysis — Dick Cheney did his best to vitiate our system of checks and balances. His nefarious work is still warping our intelligence system more than a decade later. Maureen Dowd, "The Spies Who Didn't Love Her," New York Times, March 11, 2014

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  • Word of the day
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    Thursday, July 12, 2018

    eggbeater

    noun [eg-bee-ter]
    Slang. a helicopter.
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    What is the origin of eggbeater?

    Eggbeater in the sense “small, hand-operated rotary appliance used for beating eggs” has existed in English since the 1830s. Eggbeater in the sense “helicopter” was originally an American slang term used by pilots of fixed-wing aircraft for the newfangled helicopter, the rotary action of whose blades looked to them somewhat like the rotary action of the familiar kitchen appliance. Eggbeater in the aircraft sense dates from the 1930s.

    How is eggbeater used?

    With all aboard, the door of the egg-beater was closed. Harry Lever, "Helicopter Ambulance," Flying, April 1953

    Just keep that eggbeater you're flying below sixty-five thousand feet and you'll be just fine. Dick Couch and George Galdorisi, Out of the Ashes, 2014

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  • Word of the day
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    Wednesday, July 11, 2018

    solecism

    noun [sol-uh-siz-uhm, soh-luh-]
    a nonstandard or ungrammatical usage, as unflammable and they was.
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    What is the origin of solecism?

    The noun solecism ultimately derives from Greek soloikismós “incorrect use of (Attic) Greek; incorrect use of language” (whether of individual words or in syntax), later “incorrect reasoning in logic,” and finally, “awkwardness.” Soloikismós is a derivative of the adjective sóloikos “speaking incorrectly, speaking broken Greek,” then “having bad manners, in bad taste, awkward.” Sóloikos traditionally derives from Sóloi, a colony on the southern shore of modern Turkey, not far from Tarsus where St. Paul was born. Sóloi, however, was not founded by the Athenians (who spoke Attic Greek) but by the Argives and Rhodians, who spoke Doric dialects. Perhaps whichever Athenian colonists were there originally wound up speaking a mixed dialect, or perhaps the Sóloikoi have been getting an undeserved bum rap for the past few millennia. Solecism entered English in the 16th century.

    How is solecism used?

    ... Lee finds in the solecism of “less” for “fewer”—catnip for pedants, and familiar to anyone who has stood in a grocery-store express lane—the inspiration for a beautiful poem about growing old ... Dan Chiasson, "'The Undressing': Poetry of Passion Laid Bare," The New Yorker, March 19, 2018

    And a single word couldn’t be a dead giveaway either, no matter how much people would like to portray the use of pled rather than pleaded as an obvious Trumpian solecism, especially when Dowd himself has been documented using pled at least once. Ben Zimmer, "Can Forensic Linguistics Pin Down the Author of a Trump Tweet?" Atlantic, December 8, 2017

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  • Word of the day
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    Tuesday, July 10, 2018

    makebate

    noun [meyk-beyt]
    Archaic. a person who causes contention or discord.
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    What is the origin of makebate?

    The rare noun makebate comes from the common English verb make and the uncommon, obsolete noun bate “strife, discord,” a derivative of the Middle English verb baten “to argue, contend; (of a bird) to beat the wings” (cf. abate), a borrowing from Old French batre “to beat.” Makebate entered English in the 16th century.

    How is makebate used?

    ... he was no makebate or stirrer up of quarrels; he would rather be a peacemaker. Sir Walter Scott, A Legend of Montrose, 1819

    Trying to set you against me, the spiteful old make-bate, and no one knows how long she will be here ... Charlotte Mary Yonge, Under the Storm, 1887

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  • Word of the day
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    Monday, July 09, 2018

    ullage

    noun [uhl-ij]
    the amount by which the contents fall short of filling a container, as a cask or bottle.
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    What is the origin of ullage?

    If ever there was a Scrabble word, ullage is that word. In Anglo-French the word is spelled ulliage; Old French records many spellings, e.g., ouillage, (h)eullage, œillage; Middle English has ulage, oylage. The French noun ultimately comes from ouil “eye,” also “bunghole,” from Latin oculus “eye.” The very common Romance suffix -age, prolific in English, comes from Late Latin -agium, a suffix for forming nouns, a derivation of Latin -āticum, the neuter of the adjective suffix -āticus. The suffix -āticus is an extension of -ātus, the past participle ending of first conjugation verbs. Ullage entered English in the 15th century.

    How is ullage used?

    "And what about the ullage?" she said. We both looked at her. ... "The ullage. The part of the bottle that's empty, under the cap." Ethan Canin, A Doubter's Almanac, 2016

    ... inspectors stroll casually from hatch to hatch, measuring ullage (the air space between the top of the oil and the top of the tank) with a long rule. Richard F. Dempewolff, "A Super-Tanker Feeds Oil-Thirsty America," Popular Mechanics, August 1950

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  • Word of the day
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    Sunday, July 08, 2018

    bravura

    noun [bruh-vyoor-uh, -voor-uh]
    a display of daring; brilliant performance.
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    What is the origin of bravura?

    The noun bravura is still unnaturalized in English. The word is obviously Italian, ultimately derived from the adjective bravo, which French borrowed from Italian as brave (English brave comes from French). Further etymology of bravo is unclear: some claim it to be from an assumed Vulgar Latin brabus (Latin barbarus) “barbarian” (Roman authors remarked on the impetuous bravery of Celtic and Germanic warriors). The Italian suffix -ura (-ure in French) comes from the Latin noun suffix -ūra. Bravura entered English in the 18th century.

    How is bravura used?

    "Nothing wins more loyalty for a leader than an air of bravura," the Duke said. "I, therefore, cultivate an air of bravura." Frank Herbert, Dune, 1965

    The acting, though by no means homogeneous, has its share of bravura. John Simon, "False 'Messiah,' Fake 'Diamonds'," New York, January 7, 1985

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  • Word of the day
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    Saturday, July 07, 2018

    plantigrade

    adjective [plan-ti-greyd]
    walking on the whole sole of the foot, as humans, and bears.
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    What is the origin of plantigrade?

    The adjective plantigrade comes from the Latin noun planta “sole (of the foot)” and the verb gradī “to take steps, step, walk.” The Proto-Indo-European root ghredh- “to step, stride” is not very common, and all current English words are borrowings from Latin, e.g., gradual, grade, and verbs ending in -gress, e.g., ingress, regress, transgress. Planta, however, is another story: it shows the infix n, but its Proto-Indo-European root is the very common plat-, plet-, plot- “flat, broad.” Plat- is the source of the Lithuanian adjective platùs “wide, broad,” the all but identical Greek adjective platýs “flat, wide” (as in platypus "flatfoot"), the English adjective and noun flat, the noun flet (also flett) “dwelling, hall,” familiar to readers of Beowulf and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (probably the same crowd), and flan (the Spanish custard). Plantigrade entered English in the 19th century.

    How is plantigrade used?

    When later the old man slipped back into the night, the bear lifted itself and nosed briefly about its prison and the open gate, then walked out favoring one leg, its plantigrade shuffle derelict and comic in the darkness. Robert Herring, McCampbell's War, 1986

    Cats and many other carnivores walk upright on their toes, a stance known as digitigrade, as opposed to the plantigrade stance found in humans and bears. Kevin Hansen, Bobcat: Master of Survival, 2007

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