Word of the Day

Word of the day

Friday, December 17, 2021

volant

[ voh-luhnt ]

adjective

engaged in or having the power of flight.

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What is the origin of volant?

Volant “engaged in or having the power of flight” is a borrowing from French, in which it means “flying” and is the present participle of the verb voler “to fly, steal.” Voler derives from Latin volāre “to fly,” which is of mysterious and uncertain origin. Some linguists derive volāre from a Proto-Indo-European root, gwel- “to raise the arm, throw, reach,” under the assumption that the definition could have shifted from “to raise the arm” to “to spread one’s wings,” but this hypothesis is not universally accepted. If volāre does come from this root, it is a cognate of Ancient Greek ballein “to throw” (as in ballistic, parabola, problem, and symbol). Volant was first recorded in English in the first decade of the 1500s.

how is volant used?

More than 160 million years ago, the forests of ancient China were home to a bizarre predator: a tiny dinosaur that glided from tree to tree with leathery, bat-like wings. The newfound fossil, unveiled today in the journal Nature, is just the second feathered dinosaur found with signs of large membranes on its wings ….“The most exciting thing, for me, is that it shows that some dinosaurs evolved very different structures to become volant,” or capable of some form of flight, says lead study author Min Wang, a paleontologist at China’s Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

Michael Greshko, “New species of bat-wing dinosaur discovered,” National Geographic, May 8, 2019

Bats get a bad rap. From horror films to tabloid pages to Halloween, media and cultural depictions of our planet’s only volant, or flying, mammals have long generated and reinforced unfounded fear …. Such hostile attitudes make it harder to conserve bats and thereby safeguard the many critical benefits they provide us. What’s more, persecuting bats because of the diseases they harbor could easily backfire.

Timothy Treuer, Ricardo Rocha, and Cara Brook, "Bats Are Not Our Enemies," Scientific American, May 15, 2020
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Word of the day

Thursday, December 16, 2021

angst

[ ahngkst, angst ]

noun

a feeling of dread, anxiety, or anguish.

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What is the origin of angst?

Angst “a feeling of dread, anxiety, or anguish” is a borrowing from German, in which the noun is capitalized, from Old High German angust. If you are wondering whether angst is related to anxiety and anguish, your suspicion is correct; all three words ultimately derive from a Proto-Indo-European root, angh- “tight, painful,” which is the source of numerous pain-related terms beginning with ag-, ang-, or anx-. From Old English, derivatives include hangnail (originally agnail, but altered by association with hang). Via Old Norse angr “sorrow, grief,” English has borrowed anger. Through Latin angere “to strangle” (stem anx-) and angustus “narrow,” we have anxiety and anguish. Last, from Ancient Greek anchónē “strangling,” English has inherited angina “an attack of painful spasms.” Angst was first recorded in English in the 1840s.

how is angst used?

It can be hard to tell the difference, in the midst of a crisis, between normal levels of angst and those that indicate we might be edging into serious psychological problems. Key signs of declining mental health include changes in appetite or sleep patterns that last more than a week …. Having more trouble concentrating than usual or being unable to enjoy things you used to enjoy may also indicate that your mental health is declining and that you need to try new coping strategies.

Melinda Wenner Moyer, “You Can Get through This Dark Pandemic Winter Using Tips from Disaster Psychology,” Scientific American, December 21, 2020

My motherly intuition senses that my baby is an old soul, recalling many past lives and really feeling them. According to her doctor, she’s teething and has gas. This may be true on a basic level, but I am certain that she’s also a highly advanced nascent human with acute existential angst. I’ve lived long enough to know flatulence from the unbearable dread of existence.

Carla Ciccone, "My Baby’s Existential Angst," The New Yorker, August 12, 2020
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Word of the day

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

atoll

[ at-awl, -ol, -ohl ]

noun

a ring-shaped coral reef or a string of closely spaced small coral islands, enclosing or nearly enclosing a shallow lagoon.

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What is the origin of atoll?

Atoll “a ring-shaped coral reef enclosing a shallow lagoon” is an adaptation by way of French from Divehi atoḷu. Divehi is the official language of the Maldives, an archipelago country in the northern Indian Ocean comprising more than two dozen atolls, and belongs to the Indic group of Indo-European languages. Atoḷu may derive from Sanskrit ántara “within,” a distant cognate of interior (via Latin) and entero- “inside” (via Ancient Greek). An alternative theory is that atoḷu derives from aḍal “a sinking reef,” which is a term from Malayalam, a Dravidian language unrelated to the Indo-European language family. Atoll was first recorded in English circa 1620.

how is atoll used?

For the Marshall Islands, climate change isn’t some distant, future danger: It is already wreaking havoc across the Pacific country’s more than 1,100 low-lying atolls …. As sea levels rise around the islands, bigger waves will flood farther inland than ever before. If enough of these waves hit in succession, flooded saltwater will irreparably taint the islands’ freshwater supplies …. one of the Marshall Islands’ atolls—and potentially thousands of other islands—could become uninhabitable when sea levels rise by 16 inches, which could happen as soon as midcentury.

Michael Greshko, “Within Decades, Floods May Render Many Islands Uninhabitable,” National Geographic, April 25, 2018

In the film “The Island of the Colorblind,” Sacks tells this story while visiting the small Micronesian atoll of Pingelap, where an unusually large portion of the population is affected by complete achromatopsia, or total color blindness. Whereas an estimated one in forty thousand people worldwide are afflicted with this condition, among the Pingelapese, by some estimates, it’s closer to one in ten—a contained community of people who see the world in shades of gray.

Max Campbell, "Revisiting Oliver Sacks’s 'Island of the Colorblind,' in Photographs," The New Yorker, July 11, 2017

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