Word of the Day

Word of the day

Monday, November 16, 2020

zeitgeber

[ tsahyt-gey-ber ]

noun

an environmental cue, as the length of daylight or the degree of temperature, that helps to regulate the cycles of an organism's biological clock.

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What is the origin of zeitgeber?

Zeitgeber “an environmental cue, such as the length of daylight, that helps regulate the biological clock of an organism,” comes from German Zeitgeber, literally “time giver,” a compound of Zeit “time” (cognate with English tide) and Geber, an agent noun from the verb geben “to give” (cognate with English give). The German term is formed on the analogy of Taktgeber “electronic synchronization device, timer, metronome.” Takt and Zeit are near synonyms except that Takt is more narrowly applied to music and rhythm. Zeitgeber entered English in the late 1950s.

how is zeitgeber used?

Natural light is the best-known, though not the only, zeitgeber that syncs human sleep patterns up with the Earth’s 24-hour day. 

Julie Beck, "The Caves of Forgotten Time," The Atlantic, November 9, 2015

Night-shift workers also struggle, he says, because they don’t get the environmental and social cues that help adjust the circadian clock. The most important of these cues, called zeitgebers (German for ”time givers”) is sunlight.

Tara Parker-Pope, "Before Sunrise," New York Times, November 20, 2011 

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Sunday, November 15, 2020

friable

[ frahy-uh-buhl ]

adjective

easily crumbled or reduced to powder; crumbly.

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What is the origin of friable?

The English adjective friable comes from Middle French friable from Latin friābilis “easily crumbled, crumbly,” a derivative of the verb friāre “to break into small pieces, crumble.” Friāre is akin to the verb fricāre “to rub, chafe” (source of English friction) and the adjective frīvolus “worthless, trashy” (English frivolous). In the Olden Days, when studying Latin in high school was routine, some clever wag would reinvent for the millionth time the saying Sīc friat crustulum “Thus crumbles the cookie.” Friable entered English in the second half of the 16th century.

how is friable used?

In some places, the limestone was so friable that, if you brushed a finger against it, it ran like sand through an hourglass.

Lauren Collins, "On the Roof of Notre-Dame, Before It Burned," The New Yorker, April 15, 2019

In autumn, the days are pleasant, the soil friable, and there is a good choice of desired rose varieties.

Cynthia Westcott, "Tis Possible to Plant Roses This Fall," New York Times, September 13, 1970

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Saturday, November 14, 2020

triclinium

[ trahy-klin-ee-uhm ]

noun

Roman History.

a dining room, especially one containing a couch extending along three sides of a table, for reclining on at meals.

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What is the origin of triclinium?

The uncommon noun triclinium comes from Latin trīclīnium, straight from Greek triklī́nion “dining room.” A triklī́nion was more precisely an arrangement of three chaise longues in the shape of a capital Greek pi (Π) on three sides of a central table for dining (the fourth side was left open for servants or busboys). Triklī́nion is a compound made up of the Greek (and Latin) combining form tri– “three,” as in triangle (a “three-cornered” geometric figure), triathlete, and tripod (literally “three-footed”). Klī́nion is a derivative of klī́nē “couch, bed, sickbed,” source of English clinic and clinical. Lying on couches while dining was introduced into Greece in the early seventh century b.c. from Asia Minor (now western Turkey). The Romans adopted the Greek custom via the Etruscans, and the Etruscans (and Romans) scandalized the Greeks by allowing citizen women (such as wives), to participate in banquets. Triclinium entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is triclinium used?

Ancient Romans could recline on the triclinium’s long benches, discussing music, literature and other refined topics, while contemplating a vista of ecstatic abandon.

Karen Rosenberg, "Pompeii Style, B.C.E. (Before Catastrophic Eruption)," New York Times, October 23, 2008

The most elegant type of Hellenistic derivation has a curving headrest or fulcrum at one end; but a true triclinium evidently required a matching set of three fitted together …

Katherine M. D. Dunbabin, The Roman Banquet, 2003

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