Word of the Day

Friday, November 13, 2020

volte-face

[ volt-fahs, vohlt-; French vawltuh-fas ]

noun

a turnabout, especially a reversal of opinion or policy.

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What is the origin of volte-face?

Volte-face “a turnabout, reversal of opinion or policy, an about-face,” comes via French volte-face from Italian volta-faccia (also voltafaccia), a compound of volta, the imperative singular of the verb voltare “to turn” and the noun faccia “face.” Voltare comes from an unrecorded Vulgar Latin volvitāre, equivalent to Latin volvere “to turn, roll.” Faccia (and face) likewise come from the Vulgar Latin noun facia, from Latin faciēs “outward appearance, looks, face.” Volte-face entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is volte-face used?

Grubman had shocked the rest of Wall Street by upgrading A.T. & T., a company he had criticized for years, from neutral to buy. He tried to justify his volte-face by saying that the phone giant’s purchase of a big cable company, Telecommunications Inc., had transformed its prospects, but this explanation was greeted with skepticism.

John Cassidy, "The Investigation," The New Yorker, March 31, 2003

In the manner of the high school teacher he once was, Riordan begins with faint praise (“there are things I like about this adaptation”) before an abrupt volte face. “Having said that, here’s the bad news: The script as a whole is terrible,” he wrote, in a letter so beloved by his fans that it’s even been given dramatic readings.

Allison Flood, "Rick Riordan: 'I feel very protective of my fans. I am aware of my responsibility to make them feel safe,'" Guardian, October 26, 2020

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Thursday, November 12, 2020

modicum

[ mod-i-kuhm, moh-di- ]

noun

a moderate or small amount.

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What is the origin of modicum?

Modicum in Latin means “a small, modest amount,” specifically of money, if we may be so crass. Modicum is a noun use of the neuter singular of the adjective modicus “(used for) measuring, moderate, restrained, slight,” a derivative of the noun modus “measured amount or quantity, limit, measure, time, melody.” Modus is a derivative of the verb meditārī “to think about, ponder, meditate,” from the Proto-Indo-European root med-, mēd-, mod-, mōd– “to measure, take proper measures, judge, cure.” Further Latin derivatives from this set of roots include medērī “to heal, cure,” medicus “physician,” medicīna “the art of medicine, the practice of medicine, the administration of medicines,” remediāre “to treat (successfully), cure,” and its derivative noun remediātiō (stem remediātiōn-), source of English remediate and remediation. The variant mod– also yields Latin modestus “restrained, temperate,” and its opposite immodestus “unrestrained, licentious,” English modest and immodest. Modicum entered English in the second half of the 14th century.

how is modicum used?

But by relieving himself of his secret he discovers at least a modicum of peace.

Paul Morton, "The March of Progress Is Never Neat: Merle Miller's On Being Different," The Millions, November 15, 2012

Anxiety and depression naturally arise when we perceive we have no power over a situation. Doing something, such as documenting seasonal changes, is a way to restore a modicum of control and a sense of well-being.

Theresa Crimmins, "To Ease Climate Anxiety, Reconnect with the Rhythms of the Seasons," Scientific American, January 5, 2020

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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

fidelity

[ fi-del-i-tee, fahy- ]

noun

loyalty.

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What is the origin of fidelity?

Fidelity “loyalty, faithfulness” comes via Middle English and Old French from the Latin noun fidēlitās (inflectional stem fidēlitāt-), a derivative of the adjective fidēlis (familiar to Americans from the Marine Corps motto, Semper Fidelis “Always Faithful”). Fidēlis is a derivative of the noun fidēs “trust, assurance, guarantee.” The Latin forms come from the Proto-Indo-European root bheidh-, bhoidh-, bhidh– “to trust.” The variant bheidh– is the source of Latin fīdus “faithful, loyal,” fīdere “to trust, have confidence in,” Greek peísesthai “to trust, rely on, obey, be persuaded,” and Greek Peithṓ “(the goddess of) persuasion.” Bhoidh– is the source of Latin foedus “formal agreement, league, treaty” (source of English federal, federate, and confederate); the variant bhidh– forms Latin fidēs and Greek pístis “faith, trust, authentication,” and pistós “faithful, reliable, credible.” The English noun faith comes from Middle English feith, faith, from Old French feid, feit, fei, from Latin fidem, the accusative singular of fidēs. (The English pronunciation of faith is all but identical to that implied by the Old French forms, quite different from the modern French pronunciation.) Fidelity entered English in the early 16th century.

how is fidelity used?

Through it all he’s shown a deep and abiding fidelity to one of our cherished ideals as a people and that is equal justice under the law.

Barack Obama, "Remarks on the Resignation of Eric H. Holder, Jr., as Attorney General," speech, Washington D.C., September 25, 2014, The American Presidency Project.

The chiefs of staff of the Army, Navy and Air Force issued similar messages, reinforcing their fidelity to the Constitution and pledging to battle racism in their ranks.

Doyle McManus, "Trump finds an unexpected center of resistance: the Pentagon," Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2020

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