Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 26, 2016 is:
milquetoast \MILK-tohst\ noun
: a timid, meek, or unassertive person
Brian was such a milquetoast that he agreed to work extra hours on Sunday even though he had already told his boss that he needed that day off.
"Aristotle said that virtue is the mean between the extremes of deficiency and excess. When someone steals your parking spot, you're virtuous if you're neither a milquetoast nor a madman, but something in between...." — Ruth Chang, The San Francisco Chronicle, 22 Nov. 2015
Did you know?
Caspar Milquetoast was a comic strip character created in 1924 by the American cartoonist Harold T. Webster. The strip, called "The Timid Soul," ran every Sunday in the New York Herald Tribune for many years. Webster, who claimed that Milquetoast was a self-portrait, summed up the character as "the man who speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick." The earliest examples for Milquetoast used as a generic synonym for "timid person" date from the mid-1930s. Caspar's last name might remind you of "milk toast," a bland concoction of buttered toast served in a dish of warm milk.
The first copies of the classic vampire novel Dracula, by Irish writer Bram Stoker, appear in London bookshops on this day in 1897.
A childhood invalid, Stoker grew up to become a football (soccer) star at Trinity College, Dublin. After graduation, he got a job in civil service at Dublin Castle, where he worked for the next 10 years while writing drama reviews for the Dublin Mail on the side. In this way, Stoker met the well-respected actor Sir Henry Irving, who hired him as his manager. Stoker stayed in the post for most of the next three decades, writing Irving’s voluminous correspondence for him and accompanying him on tours in the United States. Over the years, Stoker began writing a number of horror stories for magazines, and in 1890 he published his first novel, The Snake’s Pass.
Stoker would go on to publish 17 novels in all, but it was his 1897 novel Dracula that eventually earned him literary fame and became known as a masterpiece of Victorian-era Gothic literature. Written in the form of diaries and journals of its main characters, Dracula is the story of a vampire who makes his way from Transylvania–a region of Eastern Europe now in Romania–to Yorkshire, England, and preys on innocents there to get the blood he needs to live. Stoker had originally named the vampire “Count Wampyr.” He found the name Dracula in a book on Wallachia and Moldavia written by retired diplomat William Wilkinson, which he borrowed from a Yorkshire public library during his family’s vacations there.
Vampires–who left their burial places at night to drink the blood of humans–were popular figures in folk tales from ancient times, but Stoker’s novel catapulted them into the mainstream of 20th-century literature. Upon its release, Dracula enjoyed moderate success, though when Stoker died in 1912 none of his obituaries even mentioned Dracula by name. Sales began to take off in the 1920s, when the novel was adapted for Broadway. Dracula mania kicked into even higher gear with Universal’s blockbuster 1931 film, directed by Tod Browning and starring the Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi. Dozens of vampire-themed movies, television shows and literature followed, though Lugosi, with his exotic accent, remains the quintessential Count Dracula. Late 20th-century examples of the vampire craze include the bestselling novels of American writer Anne Rice and the cult hit TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 25, 2016 is:
jeopardize \JEP-er-dyze\ verb
: to expose to danger or risk : imperil
Jerry was warned that a continued decrease in his sales performance could jeopardize his chances for a promotion.
"The bill grew out of a problem that has developed in north central Connecticut, where cracking foundations have jeopardized the stability of more than 150 homes, according to homeowners who have filed complaints with state officials." — Kathleen McWilliams, The Hartford (Connecticut) Courant, 8 Apr. 2016
Did you know?
It may be hard to believe that jeopardize was once controversial, but in 1870 a grammarian called it "a foolish and intolerable word," a view shared by many 19th-century critics. The preferred word was jeopard, which first appeared in print in the 14th century. (The upstart jeopardize turned up in 1582.) In 1828, Noah Webster himself declared jeopardize to be "a modern word, used by respectable writers in America, but synonymous with 'jeopard,' and therefore useless." Unfortunately for the champions of jeopard, jeopardize is now much more popular.
On this day in 1977, Memorial Day weekend opens with an intergalactic bang as the first of George Lucasâ blockbuster Star Wars movies hits American theaters.
The incredible success of Star Warsâit received seven Oscars, and earned $461 million in U.S. ticket sales and a gross of close to $800 million worldwideâbegan with an extensive, coordinated marketing push by Lucas and his studio, 20th Century Fox, months before the movieâs release date. âIt wasnât like a movie opening,â actress Carrie Fisher, who played rebel leader Princess Leia, later told Time magazine. âIt was like an earthquake.â Beginning withâin Fisherâs wordsââa new order of geeks, enthusiastic young people with sleeping bags,â the anticipation of a revolutionary movie-watching experience spread like wildfire, causing long lines in front of movie theaters across the country and around the world.
With its groundbreaking special effects, Star Wars leaped off screens and immersed audiences in âa galaxy far, far away.â By now everyone knows the story, which followed the baby-faced Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) as he enlisted a team of alliesâincluding hunky Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and the robots C3PO and R2D2âon his mission to rescue the kidnapped Princess Leia from an Evil Empire governed by Darth Vader. The film made all three of its lead actors overnight stars, turning Fisher into an object of adoration for millions of young male fans and launching Fordâs now-legendary career as an action-hero heartthrob.
Star Wars was soon a bona-fide pop culture phenomenon. Over the years it has spawned five more feature films, five TV series and an entire industryâs worth of comic books, toys, video games and other products. Two big-screen sequels, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and The Return of the Jedi (1983), featured much of the original cast and enjoyed the same successâboth critical and commercialâas the first film. In 1999, Lucas stretched back in time for the fourth installment, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, chronologically a prequel to the original movie. Two other prequels, Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005) followed.
The latter Star Wars movies featured a new castâincluding Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensenâand have generally failed to earn the same amount of critical praise as the first three films. They continue to score at the box office, however, with Revenge of the Sith becoming the top-grossing film of 2005 in the United States and the second worldwide.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 24, 2016 is:
stolid \STAH-lid\ adjective
: having or expressing little or no sensibility : unemotional
The stolid detective spoke to the witness in a precise, unequivocal manner.
"A modest woman of great heart and spirit, Deirdre, perhaps more than any other member of the family, has weathered the storms she and her husband have endured with a stolid equanimity…." — Charles Isherwood, The New York Times, 19 Feb. 2016
Did you know?
Stolid derives from stolidus, a word that means "dull" or "stupid" in Latin. It is also distantly related to the word stultify, meaning "to cause to appear or be stupid, foolish, or absurdly illogical." The earliest examples of usage for stolid, dating back to the early 17th century, indicate that it too was originally associated with a lack of smarts; it was used to describe people who were considered dull or stupid because they didn't wear their emotions on their sleeves. By the 1800s, however, stolid was frequently appearing without the connotation of foolishness, and it continues to be free of such overtones today.
After 14 years and 27 deaths while being constructed, the Brooklyn Bridge over the East River is opened, connecting the great cities of New York and Brooklyn for the first time in history. Thousands of residents of Brooklyn and Manhattan Island turned out to witness the dedication ceremony, which was presided over by President Chester A. Arthur and New York Governor Grover Cleveland. Designed by the late John A. Roebling, the Brooklyn Bridge was the largest suspension bridge ever built to that date.
John Roebling, born in Germany in 1806, was a great pioneer in the design of steel suspension bridges. He studied industrial engineering in Berlin and at the age of 25 immigrated to western Pennsylvania, where he attempted, unsuccessfully, to make his living as a farmer. He later moved to the state capital in Harrisburg, where he found work as a civil engineer. He promoted the use of wire cable and established a successful wire-cable factory.
Meanwhile, he earned a reputation as a designer of suspension bridges, which at the time were widely used but known to fail under strong winds or heavy loads. Roebling is credited with a major breakthrough in suspension-bridge technology: a web truss added to either side of the bridge roadway that greatly stabilized the structure. Using this model, Roebling successfully bridged the Niagara Gorge at Niagara Falls, New York, and the Ohio River at Cincinnati, Ohio. On the basis of these achievements, New York State accepted Roebling’s design for a bridge connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan–with a span of 1,595 feet–and appointed him chief engineer. It was to be the world’s first steel suspension bridge.
Just before construction began in 1869, Roebling was fatally injured while taking a few final compass readings across the East River. A boat smashed the toes on one of his feet, and three weeks later he died of tetanus. He was the first of more than two dozen people who would die building his bridge. His 32-year-old son, Washington A. Roebling, took over as chief engineer. Roebling had worked with his father on several bridges and had helped design the Brooklyn Bridge.
The two granite foundations of the Brooklyn Bridge were built in timber caissons, or watertight chambers, sunk to depths of 44 feet on the Brooklyn side and 78 feet on the New York side. Compressed air pressurized the caissons, allowing underwater construction. At that time, little was known of the risks of working under such conditions, and more than a hundred workers suffered from cases of compression sickness. Compression sickness, or the “bends,” is caused by the appearance of nitrogen bubbles in the bloodstream that result from rapid decompression. Several died, and Washington Roebling himself became bedridden from the condition in 1872. Other workers died as a result of more conventional construction accidents, such as collapses and a fire.
Roebling continued to direct construction operations from his home, and his wife, Emily, carried his instructions to the workers. In 1877, Washington and Emily moved into a home with a view of the bridge. Roebling’s health gradually improved, but he remained partially paralyzed for the rest of his life. On May 24, 1883, Emily Roebling was given the first ride over the completed bridge, with a rooster, a symbol of victory, in her lap. Within 24 hours, an estimated 250,000 people walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, using a broad promenade above the roadway that John Roebling designed solely for the enjoyment of pedestrians.
The Brooklyn Bridge, with its unprecedented length and two stately towers, was dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world.” The connection it provided between the massive population centers of Brooklyn and Manhattan changed the course of New York City forever. In 1898, the city of Brooklyn formally merged with New York City, Staten Island, and a few farm towns, forming Greater New York.