Word of the Day

Word of the day

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

zeitgeist

[ tsahyt-gahyst ]

noun

the spirit of the time; general trend of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time.

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What is the origin of zeitgeist?

Zeitgeist, “the spirit of the time; general trend of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period,” comes straight from German Zeitgeist. In German, the noun dates from the late 18th century; it is a compound of Zeit “time, age, epoch” (related to English tide, which waits for no man) and Geist “spirit, mind, intellect” (related to English ghost). The English translation of Zeitgeist as “Time-Spirit” appears in English in Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus (1834). Time-spirit still occurs in English publications, but nowadays zeitgeist, spelled without a capital z in English, is becoming common (in German all nouns are capitalized, e.g., Zeit, Geist, Butter “butter,” Milch “milk,” and Eier “eggs”). Capitalizing important words (not only nouns) was also formerly the custom in English, as in the preamble to our Declaration of Independence: “When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another….” Zeitgeist entered English toward the middle of the 19th century.

how is zeitgeist used?

Khan represents the zeitgeist at a time when politicians on the left and right say tech giants have too much power and half of Americans say they should be more regulated.

Andrew Ross Sorkin, Jason Karaian, Sarah Kessler, Stephen Gandel, Michael J. de la Merced, Lauren Hirsch and , "Robinhood Looks Beyond Its Big Fine," New York Times, July 1, 2021

Likewise, board games and stuffed animals are a product of the Industrial Age. These objects taught kids to see themselves in ways that aligned with the zeitgeist of a particular time and place.

Jordan Shapiro, "Screen Time for Kids Might Not Be Such a Bad Thing," Scientific American, December 13, 2018

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Word of the day

Monday, July 12, 2021

velleity

[ vuh-lee-i-tee ]

noun

a mere wish, unaccompanied by an effort to obtain it.

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What is the origin of velleity?

Just the mere sound of velleity makes one loath to leave one’s hammock. A velleity is a mere wish, unaccompanied by an effort to obtain it, too weak even to be a desire, a perfect word for a July afternoon. Velleity comes from Medieval Latin velleitās (inflectional stem velleitāt-), a noun made up of the Latin verb velle “to be willing, want to” (from the same Proto-Indo-European source as English will) and the abstract noun suffix –itās, which via Old French –ité becomes the naturalized English suffix –ity. The odd thing about velleity is that its earlier occurrences, from the first half of the 17th century through the mid-18th, are in theological controversies, gradually yielding to philosophical arguments during the early 18th. Velleity entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is velleity used?

Kim felt a desire to sail the little boat. It was one of those desires doomed to remain a velleity.

Monica Quill, And Then There Was Nun, 1984

To want to in that way is to have a desire without attaching it to any foreseeable action—desire without hope, I guess it is. I believe the word for that sort of desire is velleity.

Sam Savage, Glass, 2011

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Word of the day

Sunday, July 11, 2021

gormless

[ gawrm-lis ]

adjective

lacking in vitality or intelligence; stupid, dull, or clumsy.

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What is the origin of gormless?

The British adjective gormless, “lacking in vitality or intelligence; stupid, dull, or clumsy,” with the variant spellings gaumless and gawm(b)less, is probably a respelling of gaumless by r-less speakers. Gaumless comes from the Northern English and Scots noun gaum “heed, attention,” from Old Norse gaumr, with the same meaning. Gormless entered English in the mid-18th century.

how is gormless used?

[Matilda’s] mind was so nimble and she was so quick to learn that her ability should have been obvious even to the most half-witted of parents. But Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood were both so gormless and so wrapped up in their own silly little lives that they failed to notice anything unusual about their daughter.

Roald Dahl, Matilda, 1988

Lockdown is lifting—hooray. But oh, no. Back come the phombies, and more gormless than ever. You remember the phone zombies. Maybe you call them wexters, people who walk and text simultaneously, oblivious to traffic or the old ladies they knock into bus shelters because they must reply to “U out l8er?” right here, right now.

Carol Midgley, "The phone zombies are back, dafter than ever," The Times, April 17, 2021

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