Word of the Day

Word of the day

Friday, December 24, 2021

wistful

[ wist-fuhl ]

adjective

pensive, especially in a melancholy way.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of wistful?

Wistful “pensive in a melancholy way” is likely a compound of the adjective whist (also wist) “quiet, silent, attentive” and the suffix -ful, perhaps because of the influence of the adjective wishful. As an interjection, whist is used to mean “hush! silence! be still!” Whist is likely of imitative origin and belongs to a class of similar-sounding interjections, along with hist, hush, and sh, that are used to demand silence. The sibilant sounds s and sh appear to be universal sounds indicating silence that appear in disparate languages, from Latin st to Finnish hys and Swahili usu. These widespread, common sounds are not the result of baby talk, as with the recent Word of the Day selection babushka; rather, they are onomatopoeic. Alternatively, wistful could simply be an alteration of the adverb wistly “with close intention.” Wistful was first recorded circa 1610.

how is wistful used?

On holidays, it’s natural to feel a longing for times gone by—a childhood spent singing carols or meals spent with now departed loved ones. Recently scientists have explored the bittersweet feeling of nostalgia, finding that it serves a positive function, improving mood and possibly mental health …. [W]hen subjects were induced to experience wistful reverie via sentimental song lyrics or memories, they reported greater self-continuity …. [N]ostalgia boosted self-continuity by increasing a sense of social connectedness. Sentimental recollections often include loved ones, which can remind us of a social web that extends across people—and across time.

Matthew Hutson, “Why Nostalgia Is Good for You,” Scientific American, November 1, 2016

The novelty of those days, of breaking the routine, of delighting in the outdoors and connecting with nature instead of sitting in a classroom, casts a wistful resonance all these years later. With a few details changed, my kids, now 10 and 12, have roughly mirrored this routine each winter themselves … until their canceled snow day earlier this school year .… Even for the small minority of students who require or prefer remote learning, the value of a surprise snow holiday is still something to be embraced.

David Zweigh, “In Defense of Snow Days,” Wired, May 14, 2021
quiz icon
WHAT'S YOUR WORD IQ?
Think you're a word wizard? Try our word quiz, and prove it!
TAKE THE QUIZ
arrows pointing up and down
SYNONYM OF THE DAY
Double your word knowledge with the Synonym of the Day!
SEE TODAY'S SYNONYM
Word of the Day Calendar

Word of the day

Thursday, December 23, 2021

cavort

[ kuh-vawrt ]

verb (used without object)

to behave in a high-spirited, festive manner; make merry.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of cavort?

Cavort “to behave in a high-spirited, festive manner,” earlier cavault, is of uncertain origin. One hypothesis is a connection to curvet “a leap of a horse from a rearing position”; curvet ultimately derives via Italian corvette and French courbette from the Latin adjective curvus “crooked, bent, curved.” An alternative hypothesis is a link to vault, in the sense “to leap over,” which follows a path similar to that of curvet above: vault comes by way of French volter and Italian voltare, both meaning “to turn,” from Latin volvere, of the same meaning. Whether cavort is simply a corruption of curvet, an elaboration of vault, or a compound of curvet and vault remains unclear. Cavort was first recorded in English circa 1790.

how is cavort used?

Boise is home to Basque Block, a visually striking, albeit compact, corridor of Basque restaurants, murals, and a museum in the middle of downtown. Once every five years, the block comes alive with Jaialdi, a massive, six-day celebration that takes over West Grove Street …. Dancers from across the country cavort to the sounds of the txirula, while other Basque-Americans show off their skills in farm competitions like milk-can carrying, wagon lifting, and hay bale throwing. Standing in the audience, you’re likely to hear as much Basque as English.

Alex Schechter, “Looking for Basque country in Idaho? Just follow the sheep,” National Geographic, November 1, 2019

Visitors to Great Ormond Street Hospital this Christmas are in for a woolly surprise. The local postbox, on the corner with Queen Square, has been decorated with this festive tableau. Elves, reindeer and gingerbread people cavort around a Christmas tree, all on top of a traditional postbox. A note around the pillar (and a bit of sleuthing) reveals this to be the work of Sabine Oakley in the Random Acts of Crochet Kindness group on Facebook. She placed the topper on 10 November, and it’s still looking bright and cheerful one month on.

Matt Brown, "Crocheted Christmas Post Box Brings Joy To Great Ormond Street," Londonist, December 9, 2021
Word of the Day Calendar

Word of the day

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

encumber

[ en-kuhm-ber ]

verb (used with object)

to impede or hinder; hamper.

learn about the english language

What is the origin of encumber?

Encumber “to impede or hinder” derives via Middle English from the Anglo-French noun combre “dam, weir”; just as encumber involves restricting action, the purpose of a dam is to restrict the movement of water. Combre ultimately comes from unattested Gaulish comberos “confluence, bringing together,” which may derive from two Proto-Indo-European roots: kom “with” (compare the Latin-derived prefix co- “together”) and bher- “to carry, bring” (compare English bear and the -fer element in the Latin-origin verbs prefer, refer, and transfer). Encumber was first recorded in English in the early 1300s.

how is encumber used?

Around half of all people with these mutations depend on blood transfusions throughout their entire lives. The quality of that life is encumbered, and its length might be curtailed. The only cure is a transplant of blood stem cells from a close relative or preferably an identical twin. As you might imagine, that’s not always possible and even when it is, it’s a risky procedure with no guarantee of success.

Ed Yong, “Gene therapy saves patient from lifetime of blood transfusions,” National Geographic, September 15, 2010
[W]hile the maker of television documentaries [Fred W. Friendly] has the means of recording with great precision what appears in front of his cameras, the very equipment that enables him to do this also encumbers him in his attempt to depict every situation truly. A conventional journalist can go into a room, get interviews with some of the people present, and then depart without having noticeably intruded upon the proceedings. The arrival of a network television camera crew, however, is an event in itself, and for many people in a room may overshadow in importance anything else that is taking place there.

Thomas Whiteside, "The One-Ton Pencil," The New Yorker, February 9, 1962
Word of the Day Calendar

Get A Vocabulary Boost In Your Inbox

Get the Word of the Day in your inbox every day!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Word of the Day Calendar