Word of the Day

Thursday, February 25, 2021

zeugma

[ zoog-muh ]

noun

the use of a word to modify or govern two or more words when it is appropriate to only one of them or is appropriate to each but in a different way, as in On his fishing trip, he caught three trout and a cold.

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What is the origin of zeugma?

The grammatical and rhetorical term zeugma “the use of a word to modify or govern two or more words when it is appropriate to only one of them,” is a favorite of grammar enthusiasts (if of no one else). Zeugma appears once in Old English (spelled zeuma, a Medieval Latin spelling) in the Enchiridion (“Handbook”), a scientific and mathematical textbook by the Anglo-Saxon scholar Byrhtferth of Ramsey (c.970-c.1020). Byrhtferth only defines zeuma and translates it into Old English (gefeig “a joining”). Zeuma next appears three times in an anonymous Middle English grammatical treatise from the mid-15th century. The author defines zeuma and gives easy examples in Latin. Zeugma comes via Latin zeugma from Greek zeûgma “something used for joining, a yoking, a bond, zeugma” a derivative of the verb zeugnýnai “to yoke, bind fast.”

how is zeugma used?

The sentence He fished for compliments and trout involves zeugma because it indicates that the word fished should be understood both metaphorically and literally.

Karen Sullivan, Mixed Metaphors, 2018

Hilda and Graham Heap stayed at a lodge in New Zealand where one of the guest-book entries from the 1960s was: ‘Time and sand flies.’ It is a zeugma, from the Greek, ‘to yoke’, a figure of speech in which a word applies to two others in different senses.

John Rentoul, "The Top Ten: Zeugmas," Independent, August 16, 2015

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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

frumious

[ froo-mee-uhs ]

adjective

very angry.

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What is the origin of frumious?

The adjective frumious is one of Lewis Carroll’s whimsical creations, appearing in his nonsense poem “Jabberwocky” in Through the Looking Glass (1871). Carroll, in a preface he wrote to a later poem, The Hunting of the Snark (1876), where frumious is also used, etymologized frumious as a blend of fuming and furious.

how is frumious used?

Beware the Jabberwock, my son! / The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! / Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun / The frumious Bandersnatch!

Lewis Carroll, "Jabberwocky," Through the Looking Glass, 1871

As the weeks passed, the frumious language that his supporters used all sounded more and more like the outcry of people sure that they would be cheated of their due and ready to strike the hardest blow that a well-turned period would allow.

Mark Wahlgren Summers, The Ordeal of the Reunion, 2014

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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

polyglot

[ pol-ee-glot ]

adjective

a person who speaks, writes, or reads a number of languages.

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What is the origin of polyglot?

Polyglot “one who speaks, writes, or reads several languages,” comes from the Attic Greek polýglōttos “many-tongued (i.e., of an oracle); speaking many languages,” a compound of the prefix poly– “much, many” (from the neuter adjective polý) and familiar in English, for example, in polychrome, polygamous, and polygon. The combining form –glōttos “having a tongue, using a specific tongue or language” is a derivative of glôtta “tongue.” Attic Greek is one of the four Greek dialects in which serious literature is composed, the other dialects being Ionic (Herodotus’ Histories, for example), Aeolic (the lyric poetry of the poets Sappho and Alcaeus), and Doric (the traditional dialect of choral odes in tragedy). The other dialects have the form polýglōssos and the noun glôssa, source of English gloss “a marginal or interlinear translation or explanation of an unusual or difficult word or phrase.” Polyglot entered English in the mid-17th century.

how is polyglot used?

There is a thriving online community of ardent linguaphiles who are, or who aspire to become, polyglots

Judith Thurman, "The Mystery of People Who Speak Dozens of Languages," The New Yorker, August 27, 2018

A taxi cuts you off in Rome. A Mumbai merchant spurns your best offer. A maitre d’ snubs you in Beirut. At times like these, words can fail even the most seasoned polyglot.

James Gibney, "The World's Rudest Hand Gestures," The Atlantic, September 17, 2011

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