Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 1, 2016 is:
Beltane \BEL-tayn\ noun
: the Celtic May Day festival
Although Beltane celebrates the approach of summer, those attending the Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, are warned to dress for the cool weather that is typical of early spring there.
"It's believed that when the goddess wakes from a long winter's sleep in March, she thaws the Earth and starts its life cycle anew. This rebirth, so to speak, is what sets the stage for the Pagan holiday Beltane, a fertility festival that occurs one month later." — Sara Coughlin, Refinery29 (refinery29.com), 18 Mar. 2016
Did you know?
To the ancient Celts, May Day was a critical time when the boundaries between the human and supernatural worlds were removed and people needed to take special measures to protect themselves against enchantments. The Beltane fire festival originated in a spring ritual in which cattle were herded between two huge bonfires to protect them from evil and disease. The earliest known mention of Beltane (formerly spelled beltene, belltaine, and beltine) is in an Old Irish dictionary commonly attributed to Cormac, a king and bishop who lived in Cashel, Ireland, toward the end of the first millennium. The Beltane spelling entered English in the 15th century by way of Scottish Gaelic.
On this day in 1931, President Herbert Hoover officially dedicates New York City’s Empire State Building, pressing a button from the White House that turns on the building’s lights. Hoover’s gesture, of course, was symbolic; while the president remained in Washington, D.C., someone else flicked the switches in New York.
The idea for the Empire State Building is said to have been born of a competition between Walter Chrysler of the Chrysler Corporation and John Jakob Raskob of General Motors, to see who could erect the taller building. Chrysler had already begun work on the famous Chrysler Building, the gleaming 1,046-foot skyscraper in midtown Manhattan. Not to be bested, Raskob assembled a group of well-known investors, including former New York Governor Alfred E. Smith. The group chose the architecture firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon Associates to design the building. The Art-Deco plans, said to have been based in large part on the look of a pencil, were also builder-friendly: The entire building went up in just over a year, under budget (at $40 million) and well ahead of schedule. During certain periods of building, the frame grew an astonishing four-and-a-half stories a week.
At the time of its completion, the Empire State Building, at 102 stories and 1,250 feet high (1,454 feet to the top of the lightning rod), was the world’s tallest skyscraper. The Depression-era construction employed as many as 3,400 workers on any single day, most of whom received an excellent pay rate, especially given the economic conditions of the time. The new building imbued New York City with a deep sense of pride, desperately needed in the depths of the Great Depression, when many city residents were unemployed and prospects looked bleak. The grip of the Depression on New York’s economy was still evident a year later, however, when only 25 percent of the Empire State’s offices had been rented.
In 1972, the Empire State Building lost its title as world’s tallest building to New York’s World Trade Center, which itself was the tallest skyscraper for but a year. Today the honor belongs to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower, which soars 2,717 feet into the sky.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 30, 2016 is:
decorous \DECK-er-us\ adjective
: marked by propriety and good taste : correct
Before making her daily announcements, the principal mentioned how proud she was of the students' decorous conduct at their prom.
"When, during the constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1787, the discussion, polite and decorous till then, grew rather heated, Benjamin Franklin implored the delegates as follows: 'It has given me a great pleasure to observe that till this point … our debates were carried on with great coolness and temper. If anything of a contrary kind has on this occasion appeared I hope it will not be repeated….'" — Emanuel Epstein, The Davis (California) Enterprise, 5 Feb. 2016
Did you know?
The current meaning of decorous dates from the mid-17th century. One of the word's earliest recorded uses appears in a book titled The Rules of Civility (1673): "It is not decorous to look in the Glass, to comb, brush, or do any thing of that nature to ourselves, whilst the said person be in the Room." Decorous for a time had another meaning as well—"fitting or appropriate"—but that now-obsolete sense seems to have existed for only a few decades in the 17th century. Decorous derives from the Latin word decorus, an adjective created from the noun decor, meaning "beauty" or "grace." Decor is akin to the Latin verb decēre ("to be fitting"), which is the source of our adjective decent. It is only fitting, then, that decent can be a synonym of decorous.
On this day in 1945, holed up in a bunker under his headquarters in Berlin, Adolf Hitler commits suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule and shooting himself in the head. Soon after, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allied forces, ending Hitler’s dreams of a “1,000-year” Reich.
Since at least 1943, it was becoming increasingly clear that Germany would fold under the pressure of the Allied forces. In February of that year, the German 6th Army, lured deep into the Soviet Union, was annihilated at the Battle of Stalingrad, and German hopes for a sustained offensive on both fronts evaporated. Then, in June 1944, the Western Allied armies landed at Normandy, France, and began systematically to push the Germans back toward Berlin. By July 1944, several German military commanders acknowledged their imminent defeat and plotted to remove Hitler from power so as to negotiate a more favorable peace. Their attempts to assassinate Hitler failed, however, and in his reprisals, Hitler executed over 4,000 fellow countrymen.
In January 1945, facing a siege of Berlin by the Soviets, Hitler withdrew to his bunker to live out his final days. Located 55 feet under the chancellery, the shelter contained 18 rooms and was fully self-sufficient, with its own water and electrical supply. Though he was growing increasingly mad, Hitler continued to give orders and meet with such close subordinates as Hermann Goering, Heinrich Himmler and Josef Goebbels. He also married his long-time mistress Eva Braun just two days before his suicide.
In his last will and testament, Hitler appointed Admiral Karl Donitz as head of state and Goebbels as chancellor. He then retired to his private quarters with Braun, where he and Braun poisoned themselves and their dogs, before Hitler then also shot himself with his service pistol.
Hitler and Braun’s bodies were hastily cremated in the chancellery garden, as Soviet forces closed in on the building. When the Soviets reached the chancellery, they removed Hitler’s ashes, continually changing their location so as to prevent Hitler devotees from creating a memorial at his final resting place. Only eight days later, on May 8, 1945, the German forces issued an unconditional surrender, leaving Germany to be carved up by the four Allied powers.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 29, 2016 is:
mulct \MULKT\ verb
1 : to punish by a fine
2 a : to defraud especially of money : swindle
b : to obtain by fraud, duress, or theft
Francis was finally barred from the securities industry when it was discovered he'd been mulcting investors for years.
"Attacking these firms is a crowd-pleasing sport for lawmakers, in part because every constituent has a story about being mulcted by a card issuer." — Michael Hiltzik, The Los Angeles Times, 4 May 2009
Did you know?
A fine assessed as a penalty for an infraction is generally considered justifiable. Fraud, on the other hand, is wrong—it's just the sort of thing that deserves a fine. So in mulct we have a unique word, one that means both "to fine" and "to defraud." The "fine" sense came first. Mulct was borrowed from the Latin word for a fine, which is multa or mulcta. The "fine" sense is still in use, mostly in legal contexts ("the court mulcted the defendant for punitive damages"), but these days mulct is more often used for an illegal act. It has been speculated that the use may have come about by association with the verb milk, in its sense "to exploit, to coerce profit from" (as in "she was milked by the lawyers for everything she had"), but that speculation has never been proven.
On April 29, 2004, the National World War II Memorial opens in Washington, D.C., to thousands of visitors, providing overdue recognition for the 16 million U.S. men and women who served in the war. The memorial is located on 7.4 acres on the former site of the Rainbow Pool at the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The Capitol dome is seen to the east, and Arlington Cemetery is just across the Potomac River to the west.
The granite and bronze monument features fountains between arches symbolizing hostilities in Europe and the Far East. The arches are flanked by semicircles of pillars, one each for the states, territories and the District of Columbia. Beyond the pool is a curved wall of 4,000 gold stars, one for every 100 Americans killed in the war.An Announcement Stone proclaims that the memorial honors those “Americans who took up the struggle during the Second World War and made the sacrifices to perpetuate the gift our forefathers entrusted to us: A nation conceived in liberty and justice.”
Though the federal government donated $16 million to the memorial fund, it took more than $164 million in private donations to get it built. Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who was severely wounded in the war, and actor Tom Hanks were among its most vocal supporters. Only a fraction of the 16 million Americans who served in the war would ever see it. Four million World War II veterans were living at the time, with more than 1,100 dying every day, according to government records.
The memorial was inspired by Roger Durbin of Berkey, Ohio, who served under Gen. George S. Patton. At a fish fry near Toledo in February 1987, he asked U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur why there was no memorial on the Mall to honor World War II veterans. Kaptur, a Democrat from Ohio, soon introduced legislation to build one, starting a process that would stumble alongthrough 17 years of legislative, legal and artistic entanglements. Durbin died of pancreatic cancer in 2000.
The monument was formally dedicated May 29, 2004, by U.S. President George W. Bush. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it received some 4.4 million visitors in 2005.