Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 2, 2016 is:
foliage \FOH-lee-ij\ noun
1 : a representation of leaves, flowers, and branches for architectural ornamentation
2 : the aggregate of leaves of one or more plants
3 : a cluster of leaves, flowers, and branches
A trip to the local conservatory was just the thing to beat my winter blues—the bright flowers against the backdrop of verdant foliage was rejuvenating.
"The builders are charging up to $100 million for apartments that offer helicopter views of lush foliage, jagged skylines, soothing rivers and angelic clouds." — Max Frankel, The New York Times, 31 Dec. 2015
Did you know?
The English language has its share of common but disputed usages. One such example is the pronunciation of foliage as FOH-lij or, even more irksome to some, FOY-lij. The first of these two pronunciations, though frequently disparaged, is consistent with the pronunciation of the -iage ending in marriage and carriage, as well the less common but widely accepted pronunciation of verbiage as VER-bij. The second of these is often more fiercely denounced, in part because of its association with the nonstandard spelling foilage. Oddly enough, foliage traces back to Middle French foille ("leaf"), which is also the source of the English word foil (as in "aluminum foil"). When adopted by Middle English speakers, foil originally meant "leaf."
On this day in 1887, Groundhog Day, featuring a rodent meteorologist, is celebrated for the first time at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. According to tradition, if a groundhog comes out of its hole on this day and sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather; no shadow means an early spring.
Groundhog Day has its roots in the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas Day, when clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter. The candles represented how long and cold the winter would be. Germans expanded on this concept by selecting an animal–the hedgehog–as a means of predicting weather. Once they came to America, German settlers in Pennsylvania continued the tradition, although they switched from hedgehogs to groundhogs, which were plentiful in the Keystone State.
Groundhogs, also called woodchucks and whose scientific name is Marmota monax, typically weigh 12 to 15 pounds and live six to eight years. They eat vegetables and fruits, whistle when they’re frightened or looking for a mate and can climb trees and swim. They go into hibernation in the late fall; during this time, their body temperatures drop significantly, their heartbeats slow from 80 to five beats per minute and they can lose 30 percent of their body fat. In February, male groundhogs emerge from their burrows to look for a mate (not to predict the weather) before going underground again. They come out of hibernation for good in March.
In 1887, a newspaper editor belonging to a group of groundhog hunters from Punxsutawney called the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club declared that Phil, the Punxsutawney groundhog, was America’s only true weather-forecasting groundhog. The line of groundhogs that have since been known as Phil might be America’s most famous groundhogs, but other towns across North America now have their own weather-predicting rodents, from Birmingham Bill to Staten Island Chuck to Shubenacadie Sam in Canada.
In 1993, the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray popularized the usage of “groundhog day” to mean something that is repeated over and over. Today, tens of thousands of people converge on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney each February 2 to witness Phil’s prediction. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club hosts a three-day celebration featuring entertainment and activities.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 1, 2016 is:
abject \AB-jekt\ adjective
1 : sunk to or existing in a low state or condition
2 a : cast down in spirit : servile, spiritless
b : showing hopelessness or resignation
3 : expressing or offered in a humble and often ingratiating spirit
The organization is dedicated to alleviating the suffering of those living in abject poverty.
"Harvey, the comedian and TV-radio host, offered abject apologies after first saying Miss Colombia had won, then later Miss Philippines—to the world’s shock and amazement." — Ken Stone, MyNewsLA.com, 21 Dec. 2015
Did you know?
Abject comes from abjectus, the past participle of the Latin verb abicere, meaning "to cast off." Its original meaning in English was "cast off" or "rejected," but it is now used to refer more broadly to things in a low state or condition. Abject shares with mean, ignoble, and sordid the sense of being below the normal standards of human decency and dignity. Abject may imply degradation, debasement, or servility ("abject poverty"). Mean suggests having such repellent characteristics as small-mindedness or ill temper ("mean and petty satire"). Ignoble suggests a loss or lack of some essential high quality of mind or spirit ("an ignoble scramble after material possessions"). Sordid is stronger than all of these in stressing physical or spiritual degradation and lowness ("a sordid story of murder and revenge").
On this day in 1884, the first portion, or fascicle, of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), considered the most comprehensive and accurate dictionary of the English language, is published. Today, the OED is the definitive authority on the meaning, pronunciation and history of over half a million words, past and present
Plans for the dictionary began in 1857 when members of London’s Philological Society, who believed there were no up-to-date, error-free English dictionaries available, decided to produce one that would cover all vocabulary from the Anglo-Saxon period (1150 A.D.) to the present. Conceived of as a four-volume, 6,400-page work, it was estimated the project would take 10 years to finish. In fact, it took over 40 years until the 125th and final fascicle was published in April 1928 and the full dictionary was complete–at over 400,000 words and phrases in 10 volumes–and published under the title A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles.
Unlike most English dictionaries, which only list present-day common meanings, the OED provides a detailed chronological history for every word and phrase, citing quotations from a wide range of sources, including classic literature and cookbooks. The OED is famous for its lengthy cross-references and etymologies. The verb “set” merits the OED’s longest entry, at approximately 60,000 words and detailing over 430 uses.No sooner was the OED finished than editors began updating it. A supplement, containing new entries and revisions, was published in 1933 and the original dictionary was reprinted in 12 volumes and officially renamed the Oxford English Dictionary.Between 1972 and 1986, an updated 4-volume supplement was published, with new terms from the continually evolving English language plus more words and phrases from North America, Australia, the Caribbean, New Zealand, South Africa and South Asia.In 1984, Oxford University Press embarked on a five-year, multi-million-dollar project to create an electronic version of the dictionary. The effort required 120 people just to type the pages from the print edition and 50 proofreaders to check their work. In 1992, a CD-ROM version of the dictionary was released, making it much easier to search and retrieve information.Today, the dictionary’s second edition is available online to subscribers and is updated quarterly with over 1,000 new entries and revisions. At a whopping 20 volumes weighing over 137 pounds, it would reportedly take one person 120 years to type all 59 million words in the OED.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 31, 2016 is:
sumptuous \SUMP-shuh-wus\ adjective
: extremely costly, rich, luxurious, or magnificent
The hotel's most sumptuous suite overlooks the lush gardens and includes a palatial marble bathroom with a spa and a commodious, intricately tiled walk-in shower.
"On Thanksgiving, guests dine at a sumptuous table of traditional foods, sweet potatoes, green salads, squash, corn, beans, wine and pumpkin pie. But here, the turkey sits at the head of the table, enjoying their own plate of food." — Paula Poundstone, speaking on NPR, 10 Oct. 2015
Did you know?
The word sumptuous can be used to describe both lush surroundings and rich desserts, and it has an equally rich history. The word, which appeared in English in the 15th century, derives via Middle English from the Latin noun sumptus, meaning "expense." Sumptus is related to the Latin verb sumere, which means "to take" or "to spend" and from which we get a treasure trove of useful verbs: consume ("to use up or spend"), subsume ("to include or place in something larger"), resume ("to take up again"), presume ("to take to be true without proof"), and assume ("to take upon oneself"). Another sumere descendant is our adjective sumptuary, which commonly precedes law to describe legislation designed to regulate extravagant expenditures or habits.
U.S. President Harry S. Truman publicly announces his decision to support the development of the hydrogen bomb, a weapon theorized to be hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II.
Five months earlier, the United States had lost its nuclear supremacy when the Soviet Union successfully detonated an atomic bomb at their test site in Kazakhstan. Then, several weeks after that, British and U.S. intelligence came to the staggering conclusion that German-born Klaus Fuchs, a top-ranking scientist in the U.S. nuclear program, was a spy for the Soviet Union. These two events, and the fact that the Soviets now knew everything that the Americans did about how to build a hydrogen bomb, led Truman to approve massive funding for the superpower race to complete the world’s first “superbomb,” as he described it in his public announcement on January 31.
On November 1, 1952, the United States successfully detonated “Mike,” the world’s first hydrogen bomb, on the Elugelab Atoll in the Pacific Marshall Islands. The 10.4-megaton thermonuclear device, built upon the Teller-Ulam principles of staged radiation implosion, instantly vaporized an entire island and left behind a crater more than a mile wide. The incredible explosive force of Mike was also apparent from the sheer magnitude of its mushroom cloud–within 90 seconds the mushroom cloud climbed to 57,000 feet and entered the stratosphere. One minute later, it reached 108,000 feet, eventually stabilizing at a ceiling of 120,000 feet. Half an hour after the test, the mushroom stretched 60 miles across, with the base of the head joining the stem at 45,000 feet.
Three years later, on November 22, 1955, the Soviet Union detonated its first hydrogen bomb on the same principle of radiation implosion. Both superpowers were now in possession of the “hell bomb,” as it was known by many Americans, and the world lived under the threat of thermonuclear war for the first time in history.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 30, 2016 is:
herald \HAIR-uld\ verb
1 : to give notice of : announce
2 a : to greet especially with enthusiasm : hail
b : publicize
3 : to signal the approach of : foreshadow
The first real snowfall heralded the arrival of skiing season.
"… the transportation agency's initiative has been heralded as a new way to approach transportation planning because it will take factors such as neighborhood vitality and pedestrian connectivity into account." — Brandon Formby, The Dallas Morning News, 30 Dec. 2015
Did you know?
The exact origin of herald is uncertain, but it is thought to derive from Germanic roots. Specifically, etymologists believe that herald developed from an assumed Frankish compound whose first component is akin to the Old High German heri-, meaning "army," and whose second component is akin to the Old High German word waltan, meaning "to rule." When herald first appeared on the scene in the 14th century, it referred to an official at a tournament of arms whose duties included the making of announcements. The verb forms, extending the "announcement" idea, soon followed.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the political and spiritual leader of the Indian independence movement, is assassinated in New Delhi by a Hindu fanatic.
Born the son of an Indian official in 1869, Gandhi’s Vaishnava mother was deeply religious and early on exposed her son to Jainism, a morally rigorous Indian religion that advocated nonviolence. Gandhi was an unremarkable student but in 1888 was given an opportunity to study law in England. In 1891, he returned to India, but failing to find regular legal work he accepted in 1893 a one-year contract in South Africa.
Settling in Natal, he was subjected to racism and South African laws that restricted the rights of Indian laborers. Gandhi later recalled one such incident, in which he was removed from a first-class railway compartment and thrown off a train, as his moment of truth. From thereon, he decided to fight injustice and defend his rights as an Indian and a man. When his contract expired, he spontaneously decided to remain in South Africa and launched a campaign against legislation that would deprive Indians of the right to vote. He formed the Natal Indian Congress and drew international attention to the plight of Indians in South Africa. In 1906, the Transvaal government sought to further restrict the rights of Indians, and Gandhi organized his first campaign of satyagraha, or mass civil disobedience. After seven years of protest, he negotiated a compromise agreement with the South African government.
In 1914, Gandhi returned to India and lived a life of abstinence and spirituality on the periphery of Indian politics. He supported Britain in the First World War but in 1919 launched a new satyagraha in protest of Britain’s mandatory military draft of Indians. Hundreds of thousands answered his call to protest, and by 1920 he was leader of the Indian movement for independence. He reorganized the Indian National Congress as a political force and launched a massive boycott of British goods, services, and institutions in India. Then, in 1922, he abruptly called off the satyagraha when violence erupted. One month later, he was arrested by the British authorities for sedition, found guilty, and imprisoned.
After his release in 1924, he led an extended fast in protest of Hindu-Muslim violence. In 1928, he returned to national politics when he demanded dominion status for India and in 1930 launched a mass protest against the British salt tax, which hurt India’s poor. In his most famous campaign of civil disobedience, Gandhi and his followers marched to the Arabian Sea, where they made their own salt by evaporating sea water. The march, which resulted in the arrest of Gandhi and 60,000 others, earned new international respect and support for the leader and his movement.
In 1931, Gandhi was released to attend the Round Table Conference on India in London as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress. The meeting was a great disappointment, and after his return to India he was again imprisoned. While in jail, he led another fast in protest of the British government’s treatment of the “untouchables”–the impoverished and degraded Indians who occupied the lowest tiers of the caste system. In 1934, he left the Indian Congress Party to work for the economic development of India’s many poor. His protege, Jawaharlal Nehru, was named leader of the party in his place.
With the outbreak of World War II, Gandhi returned to politics and called for Indian cooperation with the British war effort in exchange for independence. Britain refused and sought to divide India by supporting conservative Hindu and Muslim groups. In response, Gandhi launched the “Quit India” movement it 1942, which called for a total British withdrawal. Gandhi and other nationalist leaders were imprisoned until 1944.
In 1945, a new government came to power in Britain, and negotiations for India’s independence began. Gandhi sought a unified India, but the Muslim League, which had grown in influence during the war, disagreed. After protracted talks, Britain agreed to create the two new independent states of India and Pakistan on August 15, 1947. Gandhi was greatly distressed by the partition, and bloody violence soon broke out between Hindus and Muslims in India.
In an effort to end India’s religious strife, he resorted to fasts and visits to the troubled areas. He was on one such vigil in New Delhi when Nathuram Godse, a Hindu extremist who objected to Gandhi’s tolerance for the Muslims, fatally shot him. Known as Mahatma, or “the great soul,” during his lifetime, Gandhi’s persuasive methods of civil disobedience influenced leaders of civil rights movements around the world, especially Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States.