Word of the Day

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

ylem

[ ahy-luhm ]

noun

the hypothetical initial substance of the universe from which all matter is derived.

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Why we chose ylem

Today's word was submitted by one of our readers as part of our Word of the Day Giveaway Sweepstakes! The winner, Matthew Winter, told us: "It makes me think about how everything is connected. All living and inanimate things originate from the same source; we are all ylem." Congrats, Matthew!

What is the origin of ylem?

The modern definition of ylem is “the hypothetical initial substance of the universe from which all matter is derived, originally conceived as composed of neutrons at high temperature and density.” The spelling of ylem comes from John Gower’s 33,000-line poem Confessio Amantis (A Lover’s Confession) finished in 1390: “That matere universall / Which hight Ylem in speciall” (“That universal matter which is called Ylem in particular”). Gower’s ylem is one of several Middle English spellings (also ile, ilem, ylem) from Medieval Latin hȳlēm or ȳlēm, the accusative singular of hȳlē or ȳlē, from Greek hȳ́lē “forest, woodland, wood, firewood”; Aristotle uses the phrase prṓtē hȳ́lē “primary stuff, matter, material.” In 1948 Robert Herman and Ralph Asher Alpher, associates of Russia-born U.S. nuclear physicist George Gamow, adopted the medieval word because, as Alpher said,” it seems highly desirable that a word of so appropriate a meaning be resurrected.”

how is ylem used?

One can call the mixture of particles ylem ( pronounced eelem ) -the name that Aristotle gave to primordial matter.

George Gamow, "Modern Cosmology," Scientific American, 1954

The Ylem is the primordial—the Ur-stuff—out of which everything else is made.

Jeremy Bernstein, "Out of My Mind: The Birth of Modern Cosmology," American Scholar, Vol. 55 No. 1, 1986

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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

iwis

[ ih-wis ]

adverb

Obsolete.

certainly.

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What is the origin of iwis?

Iwis is an obsolete, archaic adverb meaning “certainly, surely.” The very many Middle English spellings of the adverb include wisse, iwise, jwis(se), gwisse, ewis, awis, iwesse…, all of which come from the Old English adverb gewis “certainly, indeed, truly.” Old English gewis shows its close kinship with German gewiß (also spelled gewiss) “certainly, surely” (as in Ja, gewiß! “Yes, certainly!” in lesson 3 of German 101). During the 14th century the spellings i-wis, i-wisse (with other variants) began appearing in manuscripts, and in the second half of the 15th century, I wise appears as well, which shows that the writers or scribes no longer knew exactly what iwis meant, but thought it was a subject pronoun followed by the  (nonexistent) verb wis “know”; thus I wis was misinterpreted to mean “I know.” Iwis entered English before 900.

how is iwis used?

There be fools alive, iwis, / Silver’d o’er; and so was this.

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 1600

For there by magic skill, iwis, / Form of each thing that living is / Was limned in proper dye.

Sir Walter Scott, The Bridal of Triermain, 1813

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Monday, April 27, 2020

soi-disant

[ swa-dee-zahn ]

adjective

French.

calling oneself thus; self-styled.

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What is the origin of soi-disant?

The adjective soi-disant “calling oneself, self-styled, would-be” usually has a whiff of pretense or deception. The phrase is French, pure and simple, formed from the third person reflexive pronoun soi “oneself, him-, her-, itself,” and disant “saying,” the present participle of the verb dire “to say.” The pronoun soi comes from Latin , the accusative of the third person singular and plural reflexive pronoun; dire comes from Latin dīcere “to say.” Soi-disant entered English in the mid-18th century.

how is soi-disant used?

Franzen is railing against is not mere tech obsession but, rather, the intellectual and spiritual poverty, the weakness and the obedience, of soi-disant “creatives” who buy what they’re told rather than rage against the machine, who are too infatuated with their wonderful little toys even to look up from them while the world burns.

Maria Bustillos, "Jonathan Franzen, Come Join Us!" The New Yorker, September 18, 2013

I know of plenty of soi disant progressives who don’t really think we have a serious problem here, or else who think it’s a problem that can and should be solved almost entirely through the levers of education policy.

Matthew Yglesias, "Liberaltarianism?" The Atlantic, December 5, 2006

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