Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 16, 2016 is:
lavation \lay-VAY-shun\ noun
: the act or an instance of washing or cleansing
"… we cannot keep the skin healthy without frequent lavations of the whole body in pure water. It is impossible to calculate the benefits of this simple practice." — Walt Whitman, "Bathing, Cleanliness, Personal Beauty," June 1846
"In Maycomb County, it was easy to tell when someone bathed regularly, as opposed to yearly lavations…." — Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960
Did you know?
It sounds logical that you would perform a lavation in a lavatory, doesn't it? And it is logical: both words come from Latin lavare, meaning, appropriately, "to wash." English picked up a few other words from this root as well. In medicine, the therapeutic washing out of an organ is lavage. There is also lavabo (in Latin, literally, "I shall wash"), which in English can refer to a ceremony at Mass in which the celebrant washes his hands, to the basin used in this religious ceremony, or to other kinds of basins. Even the word lavish, via a Middle French word for a downpour of rain, comes to us from lavare.
The embattled Chinese Communists break through Nationalist enemy lines and begin an epic flight from their encircled headquarters in southwest China. Known as Ch’ang Cheng—the “Long March”—the retreat lasted 368 days and covered 6,000 miles, nearly twice the distance from New York to San Francisco.
Civil war in China between the Nationalists and the Communists broke out in 1927. In 1931, Communist leader Mao Zedong was elected chairman of the newly established Soviet Republic of China, based in Kiangsi province in the southwest. Between 1930 and 1934, the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek launched a series of five encirclement campaigns against the Soviet Republic. Under the leadership of Mao, the Communists employed guerrilla tactics to resist successfully the first four campaigns, but in the fifth, Chiang raised 700,000 troops and built fortifications around the Communist positions. Hundreds of thousands of peasants were killed or died of starvation in the siege, and Mao was removed as chairman by the Communist Central Committee. The new Communist leadership employed more conventional warfare tactics, and its Red Army was decimated.
With defeat imminent, the Communists decided to break out of the encirclement at its weakest points. The Long March began at 5:00 p.m. on October 16, 1934. Secrecy and rear-guard actions confused the Nationalists, and it was several weeks before they realized that the main body of the Red Army had fled. The retreating force initially consisted of 86,000 troops, 15,000 personnel, and 35 women. Weapons and supplies were borne on men’s backs or in horse-drawn carts, and the line of marchers stretched for 50 miles. The Communists generally marched at night, and when the enemy was not near, a long column of torches could be seen snaking over valleys and hills into the distance.
The first disaster came in November, when Nationalist forces blocked the Communists’ route across the Hsiang River. It took a week for the Communists to break through the fortifications and cost them 50,000 men—more than half their number. After that debacle, Mao steadily regained his influence, and in January he was again made chairman during a meeting of the party leaders in the captured city of Tsuni. Mao changed strategy, breaking his force into several columns that would take varying paths to confuse the enemy. There would be no more direct assaults on enemy positions. And the destination would now be Shensi Province, in the far northwest, where the Communists hoped to fight the Japanese invaders and earn the respect of China’s masses.
After enduring starvation, aerial bombardment, and almost daily skirmishes with Nationalist forces, Mao halted his columns at the foot of the Great Wall of China on October 20, 1935. Waiting for them were five machine-gun- and red-flag-bearing horsemen. “Welcome, Chairman Mao,” one said. “We represent the Provincial Soviet of Northern Shensi. We have been waiting for you anxiously. All that we have is at your disposal!” The Long March was over.
The Communist marchers crossed 24 rivers and 18 mountain ranges, mostly snow-capped. Only 4,000 troops completed the journey. The majority of those who did not perished. It was the longest continuous march in the history of warfare and marked the emergence of Mao Zedong as the undisputed leader of the Chinese Communists. Learning of the Communists’ heroism and determination in the Long March, thousands of young Chinese traveled to Shensi to enlist in Mao’s Red Army. After fighting the Japanese for a decade, the Chinese Civil War resumed in 1945. Four years later, the Nationalists were defeated, and Mao proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. He served as chairman until his death in 1976.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 15, 2016 is:
waggish \WAG-ish\ adjective
1 : resembling or characteristic of a wag : displaying good-humored mischief
2 : done or made for sport : humorous
"A warm person who enjoys banter with often-waggish reporters, [Elizabeth] Brenner joked that her next move would be to take a newspaper-carrier route in Pewaukee. 'No, that's not what I'm going to do,' she quickly added. 'Can't get up that early.'" — Rick Romell, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 17 May 2016
"The waggish reaction to Guaranteed Rate's name and arrow logo is like the feedback Energy Solutions received when its name replaced that of Delta Air Lines on the Utah Jazz's arena a decade ago. Energy Solutions' business—disposing of low-level nuclear waste in the Utah desert—led to people calling the arena the Dump, the Isotope and Radium Stadium." — Richard Sandomir, The New York Times, 25 Aug. 2016
Did you know?
One who is waggish acts like a wag. What, then, is a wag? Etymologists think wag probably came from waghalter, a word that was once used for a gallows bird (that is, a person who was going to be, or deserved to be, hanged). Waghalter was apparently shortened to wag and used jokingly or affectionately for mischievous pranksters or youths. Hence a wag is a joker, and waggery is merriment or practical joking. Waggish can describe the prank itself as well as the prankster type; the class clown might be said to have a "waggish disposition" or be prone to "waggish antics."
Mata Hari, the archetype of the seductive female spy, is executed for espionage by a French firing squad at Vincennes outside of Paris.
She first came to Paris in 1905 and found fame as a performer of exotic Asian-inspired dances. She soon began touring all over Europe, telling the story of how she was born in a sacred Indian temple and taught ancient dances by a priestess who gave her the name Mata Hari, meaning “eye of the day” in Malay. In reality, Mata Hari was born in a small town in northern Holland in 1876, and her real name was Margaretha Geertruida Zelle. She acquired her superficial knowledge of Indian and Javanese dances when she lived for several years in Malaysia with her former husband, who was a Scot in the Dutch colonial army. Regardless of her authenticity, she packed dance halls and opera houses from Russia to France, mostly because her show consisted of her slowly stripping nude.
She became a famous courtesan, and with the outbreak of World War I her catalog of lovers began to include high-ranking military officers of various nationalities. In February 1917, French authorities arrested her for espionage and imprisoned her at St. Lazare Prison in Paris. In a military trial conducted in July, she was accused of revealing details of the Allies’ new weapon, the tank, resulting in the deaths of thousands of soldiers. She was convicted and sentenced to death, and on October 15 she refused a blindfold and was shot to death by a firing squad at Vincennes.
There is some evidence that Mata Hari acted as a German spy, and for a time as a double agent for the French, but the Germans had written her off as an ineffective agent whose pillow talk had produced little intelligence of value. Her military trial was riddled with bias and circumstantial evidence, and it is probable that French authorities trumped her up as “the greatest woman spy of the century” as a distraction for the huge losses the French army was suffering on the western front. Her only real crimes may have been an elaborate stage fallacy and a weakness for men in uniform.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 14, 2016 is:
nemesis \NEM-uh-siss\ noun
1 a : one that inflicts retribution or vengeance
b : a formidable and usually victorious rival or opponent
2 a : an act or effect of retribution
b : a source of harm or ruin : curse
"My nemesis was a young woman who, at the end of the film, had the honour of sending me to my doom at the bottom of a well. Her name meant nothing to me then: Jennifer Aniston." — Warwick Davis, Dailymail.com, 10 Apr. 2010
"The leaves were pale … and, upon closer inspection, the stems had small nibble marks on them. I immediately suspected slugs since they've been my nemesis in the past so I sprang into action." — Susan Mulvihill, The Spokesman Review (Spokane, Washington), 21 Aug. 2016
Did you know?
Nemesis was the Greek goddess of vengeance, a deity who doled out rewards for noble acts and punishment for evil ones. The Greeks believed that Nemesis didn't always punish an offender immediately but might wait generations to avenge a crime. In English, nemesis originally referred to someone who brought a just retribution, but nowadays people are more likely to see animosity than justice in the actions of a nemesis.
U.S. Air Force Captain Chuck Yeager becomes the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound.
Yeager, born in Myra, West Virginia, in 1923, was a combat fighter during World War II and flew 64 missions over Europe. He shot down 13 German planes and was himself shot down over France, but he escaped capture with the assistance of the French Underground. After the war, he was among several volunteers chosen to test-fly the experimental X-1 rocket plane, built by the Bell Aircraft Company to explore the possibility of supersonic flight.
For years, many aviators believed that man was not meant to fly faster than the speed of sound, theorizing that transonic drag rise would tear any aircraft apart. All that changed on October 14, 1947, when Yeager flew the X-1 over Rogers Dry Lake in Southern California. The X-1 was lifted to an altitude of 25,000 feet by a B-29 aircraft and then released through the bomb bay, rocketing to 40,000 feet and exceeding 662 miles per hour (the sound barrier at that altitude). The rocket plane, nicknamed “Glamorous Glennis,” was designed with thin, unswept wings and a streamlined fuselage modeled after a .50-caliber bullet.
Because of the secrecy of the project, Bell and Yeager’s achievement was not announced until June 1948. Yeager continued to serve as a test pilot, and in 1953 he flew 1,650 miles per hour in an X-1A rocket plane. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1975 with the rank of brigadier general.