Word of the Day

Word of the day

Saturday, January 09, 2021

whithersoever

[ hwith-er-soh-ev-er, with- ]

conjunction

to whatever place.

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What is the origin of whithersoever?

Whithersoever, now archaic, meaning “to whatever place,” comes from Middle English whider-so-evere, whidersere, whidursever, an adverb phrase that could be spelled as two or three words; the one-word spelling first appears in the first half of the 17th century. Etymologists break down whithersoever in several ways: whitherso (by itself meaning “whithersoever”) + ever; whither + so + ever; whider + so-ever; and whiderso + ever. Old English has the adverb phrase swā hwider swā, which means the same thing as the Middle English forms but is not their direct ancestor. Whithersoever entered English in the first half of the 13th century.

how is whithersoever used?

Though you may cross vast spaces of sea … your faults will follow you whithersoever you travel.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c4 b.c.–a.d. 65), "On Travel as a Cure for Discontent," Seneca: Ad Lucilium epistulae morales, translated by Richard M. Gummere, 1917

From wheresoever they come and whithersoever they afterward go, all ships that use the canal will pass through the Caribbean.

Alfred Thayer Mahan, "The United States Looking Outward," The Atlantic, December 1890

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Word of the day

Friday, January 08, 2021

bel-esprit

[ bel-es-pree ]

noun

a person of great wit or intellect.

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What is the origin of bel-esprit?

Bel-esprit “a person of great wit or intellect” is a French term. It means literally “beautiful mind, fine mind, wit,” and by extension “person of wit and intelligence.” Bel is the regular French development of Latin bellus “nice, pretty, handsome, charming,” a diminutive adjective formed from bonus “good, good at (something), morally good.” The French noun esprit “spirit, mind” comes from Latin spiritus “breath, breathing, vital principle, soul.” Bel-esprit entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is bel-esprit used?

She was a bel esprit, and a dreadful Radical for those days.

William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair, 1847–48

Though I would prefer to be dubbed an aristophren, someone of superior intelligence, or a bel-esprit, a person of refined intellect and graceful wit, the proper term for me is lexiphanes (lek-SIF-uh-neez), a showoff with words.

Charles Harrington Elster, "Naming Names," New York Times, August 4, 1996

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Thursday, January 07, 2021

prolixity

[ proh-lik-si-tee ]

noun

a tendency to speak or write at great or tedious length.

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What is the origin of prolixity?

Prolixity “a tendency to speak or write at great or tedious length, long-windedness” ultimately comes from Latin prōlixitās (inflectional stem prōlixitāt-) “extension in space or time,” a derivative of the adjective prōlixus “having extensive growth, luxuriant; tall, big; (of time) extended; (of people) generous, warm-hearted, liberal; (of writing) lengthy, detailed.” In classical Latin none of the terms mean long-windedness, which is a meaning that first appears in Late Latin. Old French prolixité kept and passed along the negative meaning “verbosity, long-windedness” (in addition to the original Latin meanings) to Middle English. Prolixity first appears in English in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (ca. 1395): For fulsomnesse of his prolixitee “Because of the excess of its long-windedness.”

how is prolixity used?

First Barack Obama gave a very long opening answer; then when the consecutive interpreter started in, Obama acted surprised, apologized for his prolixity, and said he would have broken the answer into shorter chunks if he had understood that the interpreter was going to wait until he was done.

James Fallows, "Language Screwup at the Hu-Obama Presser? Maybe Not," The Atlantic, January 19, 2011

Because of its customers’ social-media prolixity, the brand has gathered a wealth of data about their preferences and, Brett hopes, their brand loyalty will extend to staying in West Elm Hotels.

Amy Merrick, "West Elm Gets Into Hotels and Gender Politics," The New Yorker, September 27, 2016

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