Word of the Day

Word of the day

Friday, September 17, 2021

wampum

[ wom-puhm, wawm- ]

noun

cylindrical beads made from shells, pierced and strung, used by North American Indians as a medium of exchange, for ornaments, and for ceremonial and sometimes spiritual purposes.

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What is the origin of wampum?

Wampum is a shortened form of wampumpeag, also spelled variously as wampampeak and wampompeage, and was borrowed from the Massachusett language, in which it roughly meant “white strings.” Massachusett was one of the original Indigenous languages of New England, along with Narragansett, Mohegan, Mahican, Maliseet, and Abenaki, among others; of all these, only Abenaki and Maliseet survive today. However, a dialect of Massachusett, Wampanoag (also known as Wôpanâak), is currently undergoing revitalization. These languages belong to the greater Algonquian family, which includes Cree and Ojibwe in Canada, Arapaho and Cheyenne in the Plains, and even Delaware and Powhatan along the East Coast. Wampum entered English in the early 1600s.

how is wampum used?

Wampum is Indigenous, sacred and symbolic. Made from the purple and white shells of the quahog and whelk, the beads carry the history, culture and name of the Wampanoag people of Massachusetts, whose ancestors met the passengers of the Mayflower in 1620 and ensured their survival.

"'Wampum: Stories from the Shells of Native America' Joins Mayflower 400 Exhibition This Summer at The Box In Plymouth, UK", ArtfixDaily, April 25, 2021

Cornplanter’s Pipe was gifted by Washington, between 1790 and 1794, most likely in 1792, during one of the Seneca delegation’s meetings in Philadelphia. It was a part of an elaborate exchange of medals, pipes, wampum and other tangible symbols of amity between the Haudenosaunee and the U.S. An integral part of Treaty making and diplomacy, gifts were vital signs of heroic labor to achieve and maintain peaceful relations.

Suzan Shown Harjo, "Three-century whodunnit: Gifted, burned, stolen and mailed. Cornplanter’s Pipe comes home," Indian Country Today, March 31, 2019

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Word of the day

Thursday, September 16, 2021

azure

[ azh-er ]

adjective

of or having a light, purplish shade of blue, like that of a clear and unclouded sky.

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What is the origin of azure?

Azure derives via Old French from Arabic al-lāzuward, with the initial l- in lāzuward disappearing because of confusion between Arabic and French grammar: a widespread assumption arose that this initial l- was part of the Arabic definite article al- “the” or that it was a Romance definite article such as le in French, il in Italian, or el in Spanish. Either way, Romance language speakers chopped that l- off accordingly, and the new spelling stuck. This process is called metanalysis in linguistics, and a similar misdivision happened in English; because of confusion with the definite articles a and an, words such as apron and umpire lost their initial n-, while words such as newt and nickname gained an initial n- when they originally had none. Lāzuward is a borrowing of Persian lāzhuward “lapis lazuli,” a dark blue stone, after the area in Central Asia where it was mined, perhaps corresponding to a location in Badakhshan, a region split among modern-day Afghanistan, China, and Tajikistan. Azure entered English in the late 1200s or early 1300s.

how is azure used?

Neighbors recall promises that the eerie azure lake known as “Little Blue” would be made into a recreational jewel, complete with swimming, bike trails, and sailboats. But the sprawling pond, its blue somewhat faded in recent years, delivered more blight than benefits to its rural surroundings near the West Virginia border in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Rachel Cernansky, “Largest U.S. Coal Ash Pond to Close, But Future Rules Still Undecided,” National Geographic, August 10, 2012

After twenty miles or so Bill had a spectacular view clear across the Moray Firth to the Grampians. The mountains pushed apart land, sea and sky with nonchalant grandeur; their peaks stark white, their flanks hazed white and blue and azure.

Will Self, "Tough Tough Toys for Tough Tough Boys," Paris Review, Spring 1998

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Word of the day

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

repentance

[ ri-pen-tns, -pen-tuhns ]

noun

deep sorrow, compunction, or contrition for a past sin, wrongdoing, or the like.

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What is the origin of repentance?

Repentance ultimately derives via Old French from Latin paenitēre “to regret, be sorry.” Other derivatives of paenitēre include penance, penitence, and penitentiary. Although paenitēre is of uncertain origin, it was frequently confused with the similar-sounding noun poena “punishment, penalty,” a borrowing from Ancient Greek poinḗ. Poena is the source of numerous words related to crime and its consequences, such as subpoena, penalty, punish, punitive, and even pain; while these words are likely unrelated to repentance, they all share a p-vowel-n root and refer to the aftermath of a mistake or unfortunate choice. Repentance first appeared in English in the early 1300s.

how is repentance used?

And if only fate would have sent him repentance—burning repentance that would have torn his heart and robbed him of sleep…! Oh, he would have been glad of it! Tears and agonies would at least have been life. But he did not repent of his crime.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment, 1866

There is no greater opportunity for a pop star than repentance—the chance to rise again after a self-inflicted downfall. Much of Kanye West’s genius, for instance, lies in his ability to withstand his own occasional demise and to orchestrate a subsequent triumph.

Carrie Battan, "Redemption Song," The New Yorker, November 22, 2015

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