Word of the Day

Word of the day

Monday, August 16, 2021

zugzwang

[ tsook-tsvahng ]

noun

in chess, a situation in which a player is limited to moves that cost pieces or have a damaging positional effect.

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What is the origin of zugzwang?

Zugzwang means “compulsion to move” in German, and the first element of the word is cognate to the English word tug “a forceful pull.” Zugzwang is one of several terms that we Anglophones have borrowed to describe moves, people, and actions related to chess. Also from German, we’ve adopted patzer, a casual, amateurish chess player. Meanwhile, Italian gives us fianchetto, a move that involves developing the bishop by moving a pawn out of the way, and French gives us en prise, which describes when a piece is likely to be captured. With a game as universally beloved as chess is, it’s not surprising that terms related to the game have crossed, recrossed, and criss-crossed linguistic divides.

how is zugzwang used?

In chess, there’s a position called zugzwang, like being forced to hurt yourself. Being put in zugzwang means a player is obliged to move even though moving means losing a piece. If the player didn’t have to move, the situation wouldn’t be so dire. It always takes place at the endgame; it’s a position that seals the truth, which is that losing is inevitable.

Zoé Valdés, The Weeping Woman, 2016

As in debates over the budget at the federal level, there is an element of what chess players call zugzwang: since any specific solution over deficit reduction is likely to be fairly unpopular, the first mover or perceived aggressor is often at a disadvantage.

Nate Silver, “Decoding the Wisconsin Polls,” New York Times, February 23, 2011

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Word of the day

Sunday, August 15, 2021

saltigrade

[ sal-ti-greyd, sawl- ]

adjective

moving by leaping.

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What is the origin of saltigrade?

Saltigrade means “moving by leaping” and refers to a family of jumping spiders. The first element, salti-, derives from Latin saltāre “to jump about; dance,” frequentative of salīre “to jump.” The second element, –grade, meaning “walking; moving,” derives from Latin gradī “to walk, step, go.” Saltigrade first appears in English in the early part of the 19th century.

how is saltigrade used?

It paused momentarily for one final examination of its surroundings. It felt no signals and sensed no activity within its range of perception. It felt secure in moving. It moved its saltigrade legs slowly at first, being very alert to possible detection. […] It was fully aware of each movement of its legs. It had the flexibility to move easily over the jagged landscape, and it could balance its entire body on any leg.

Gary L. Bennett, The Star Sailors, 1980

Manic existence is at the mercy of a sequence of jumps over reality, constituting a saltigrade present marked by flitting restlessness.

Guilherme Messas, The Existential Structure of Substance Misuse: A Psychopathological Study, 2021

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Word of the day

Saturday, August 14, 2021

fustian

[ fuhs-chuhn ]

adjective

pompous or bombastic, as language.

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What is the origin of fustian?

The noun fustian has several meanings: “a stout fabric of cotton and flax; fabric of stout cotton or of cotton and low-quality wool; inflated or turgid rhetoric.” Middle English has the forms fustian, fustain, fustein (and still others), all from Old French fustai(g)ne. The Middle English word means only “a kind of cloth made from cotton, flax, or wool (not necessarily coarse or of poor quality); a coverlet of such cloth to be spread over a bed or mattress.” As with many widespread cultural items, such as cloth and clothing, luxury items (wine, perfume), weapons, and foods (rice, turkey), the etymology of fustian is complicated. The Middle English and Old French words come from Medieval Latin fūstāneum, fūstiānum, fūstānum, which may be a derivative of Latin fūstis “stick, cudgel,” used as a loan translation of Greek xýlina lína “cotton,” literally, “wood linen” (the cotton plant is woody, unlike flax, the source of linen). Another suggested source for fūstāneum is Fostat, a suburb of Cairo, where fustian was manufactured. Fustian entered English about 1200. The adjective is derived from the noun.

how is fustian used?

It was said of my friend Molan, and I think it was fairly said, that he has a fustian style that babbles inanities; that obscures issues, swelling empty spaces which if lanced, only an abscess of superficiality comes out[.]

Adamu Kyuka Usman Lilymjok, The Mad Professor of Babeldu, 2012

Dewey Ward’s first novel, “The Unsheltered,” is almost fustian in its melodrama. Though the setting isn’t Egdon Heath or gaslit London but a grim island off the coast of Maine, its granite rocks, turbulent winds and pounding surf intrude into its highly intricate fabric.

Rollene Saal, "Revenge in the Victorian Manner," New York Times, May 12, 1963

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