Word of the Day

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

withershins

[ with-er-shinz ]

adverb

Chiefly Scot.

in a direction contrary to the natural one, especially contrary to the apparent course of the sun or counterclockwise: considered as unlucky or causing disaster.

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What is the origin of withershins?

All you have to remember is that withershins (or widdershins) is the exact opposite of deasil, and you’ll get back home all safe and sound. Withershins is an adverb meaning “going contrary to the natural direction, contrary to the course of the sun, counterclockwise (and therefore unlucky).” Deasil, from Scots Gaelic and Irish Gaelic deiseal “to the right, clockwise, following the sun,” is restricted to Scots. Withershins comes from Middle Low German weddersins, weddersinnes “against the way, in the opposite direction,” formed from wider “back, again” (cognate with the prefix with– in withstand) and sinnes, the genitive case (used as an adverb) of sin “way, course, direction.” Withershins entered English in the first half of the 16th century.

how is withershins used?

The fishermen, when about to proceed to the fishing, think they would have bad luck, if they were to row the boat “withershins” about.

The New Statistical Account of Scotland, Vol. XV, 1845

Abel had walked slowly around the outside of the building, first clockwise and then withershins, but there was still no sign of his quarry, and the rest of the lower hollow was just as empty. 

Kate Sedley, The Brothers of Glastonbury, 1997

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

ad hominem

[ ad hom-uh-nuhm -nem, ahd‐ ]

adjective

attacking an opponent's character or motives rather than answering the argument or claim.

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What is the origin of ad hominem?

The phrase ad hominem, literally “to a person,” originally meant in rhetoric and logic “by appealing to the audience’s feelings, emotions, or interests, not to their intelligence or reason.” Nowadays the usual meaning of ad hominem is “by attacking an opponent’s character or motives, not their arguments.” Hominem, the object of the preposition ad “to,” is the accusative singular case of the Latin noun homō (inflectional stem homin-) “human being (of either sex), individual, person.”Homō is also used colloquially in Roman comedy (Plautus): Mī homō et mea mulier, vōs salūtō, literally “My man and my woman, I greet you.” In the example from Plautus we can clearly see that homō “man” is contrasted with mulier “woman.” In fact, all the Romance languages use a form of homin– to mean “man” as opposed to woman, e.g., Italian uomo, Spanish hombre (dissimilated from omne, which is contracted from omine), Portuguese homem, Catalan home, French homme, Sardo (Sardinian) omine, and Romanian om. The unpleasant counterpart ad fēminam “appealing to one’s personal feelings about or prejudices against women,” appeared in the 19th century. Ad hominem entered English in the 16th century.

how is ad hominem used?

In the case of online harassment, that instinctive preference for “free speech” may already be shaping the kinds of discussions we have, possibly by discouraging the participation of women, racial and sexual minorities, and anyone else likely to be singled out for ad-hominem abuse.

Kefela Sanneh, "The Hell You Say," The New Yorker, August 3, 2015

Greta Thunberg, at age 16, has quickly become one of the most visible climate activists in the world. Her detractors increasingly rely on ad hominem attacks to blunt her influence.

Scott Waldman, E&E News, "Climate Deniers Launch Personal Attacks on Teen Activist," Scientific American, August 9, 2019

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Monday, June 22, 2020

lassitude

[ las-i-tood, -tyood ]

noun

weariness of body or mind from strain, oppressive climate, etc.; lack of energy; listlessness.

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What is the origin of lassitude?

The primary meaning of lassitude is “weariness of mind or body, listlessness,” but lassitude has a second meaning, “indolent indifference.” The immediate source of the English word is Middle French lassitude, which, as in English, may be pleasant or unpleasant fatigue. French lassitude comes from Latin lassitūdō, which in Latin always has an unpleasant sense. Lassitūdō is a derivative of the adjective lassus “tired, weary, exhausted,” a derivative of the Proto-Indo-European root -, – “to let go, go slack,” extended with –d (lēd-, ləd-). The same root yields Greek lēdeîn “to be tired,” Albanian lodhem “to become tired,” and Germanic lētan, which in Old English becomes lǣtan “to allow, permit, suffer” and let in English. Lassitude entered English in the 16th century.

how is lassitude used?

it occurred to me, as I ate another astringent chip, that this lassitude, the trouble focusing, the sleep difficulties, my exhaustion: Oh yes, I thought, I remember this. I was grieving.

R. O. Kwon, "Trouble Focusing? Not Sleeping? You May Be Grieving," New York Times, April 9, 2020

Heavy lassitude settled upon me as I walked away from Peter Kanarjian. There had been too much excitement in the past eighteen hours, and I had had little sleep.

Walter A. Roberts, The Mind Reader, 1929

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