Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 09, 2014 is:
billingsgate \BIL-ingz-gayt\ noun
: coarsely abusive language
A steady stream of billingsgate could be heard coming from the basement after my father hit his thumb with his hammer.
"Today, billingsgate rules the waves; the airwaves, that is, thanks to George Carlin and the other First Amendment activists who have followed him on stage." From an article by David Rossie in the Press & Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, New York), March 11, 2012
Did you know?
From the time of the Roman occupation until the early 1980s, Billingsgate was a fish market in London, England, notorious for the crude language that resounded through its stalls. In fact, the fish merchants of Billingsgate were so famous for their swearing that their feats of vulgar language were recorded in British chronicler Raphael Holinshed's 1577 account of King Leir (which was probably Shakespeare's source for King Lear). In Holinshed's volume, a messenger's language is said to be "as bad a tongue as any oyster-wife at Billingsgate hath." By the middle of the 17th century, "billingsgate" had become a byword for foul language.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 08, 2014 is:
cleave \KLEEV\ verb
1 : to divide by or as if by a cutting blow : split 2 : to separate into distinct parts and especially into groups having divergent views 3 : to penetrate or pass through something by or as if by cutting
The ship's bow cleaved through the water.
"Of course, single-item restaurants are nothing new. .... But they don't usually serve something so divisive as polenta. You see, the slow-cooked dish of maize cleaves opinion like a Justin Bieber concert. You either love it or loathe itand ever has it been so." From an article by Samuel Muston in The Independent (London), January 31, 2014
Did you know?
"Cleave" has two homographs. There is "cleave" meaning "to adhere firmly and closely or loyally and unwaveringly," as in "The family cleaves to tradition." That "cleave" comes from Old English "clifian" ("to adhere"). The second "cleave" (our featured word today) derives from Old English "cleōfan," meaning "to split." It inflects similarly to the verb "speak": "cleaved," "clove," "cloven," and "cleaving" (with the occasional past tense "cleft"). The other "cleave" inflects regularly, with the exception of "clove" or "clave" as options to denote the past.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 07, 2014 is:
froward \FROH-erd\ adjective
: habitually disposed to disobedience and opposition
The nanny informed the parents that she would seek employment elsewhere if the froward child could not be compelled to be more obedient.
"I first saw [the great-tailed grackles] during that amazing week in Texas three years ago and looked forward to renewing our acquaintance. By the end of the trip I was happy to be rid of thempushy, froward little party-crashing beasts that make rude, high-pitched squeals and constantly invite themselves to dinner, filching from unattended plates." From an article in the Lewiston Morning Tribune (Idaho), September 30, 2010
Did you know?
Once upon a time, in the days of Middle English, "froward" and "toward" were opposites. "Froward" meant "moving or facing away from something or someone"; "toward" meant "moving or facing in the direction of something or someone." (The suffix "-ward" is from Old English "-weard," meaning "moving, tending, facing.") "Froward" also meant "difficult to deal with, perverse"; "toward" meant "willing, compliant, obliging." Each went its own way in the end: "froward" lost its "away from" sense as long ago as the 16th century and the "willing" sense of "toward" disappeared in the 18th century. A third relative, "untoward," developed in the 15th century as a synonym for "froward" in its "unruly or intractable sense, and later developed other meanings, including "improper or indecorous."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 06, 2014 is:
soothsayer \SOOTH-say-er\ noun
: a person who predicts the future by magical, intuitive, or more rational means : prognosticator
The host of the radio show jokingly introduced the pundit as "a soothsayer of the old-fashioned sort, possessed of a mystical ability to predict the winner of any election."
"New York Fashion Week kicks off Thursday, which means hundreds of women will trot about the city in weather-inappropriate shoes, and fashion soothsayers will scrutinize every stitch on the catwalks to make their trend predictions." From an article by Christopher Muther in The Boston Globe, February 6, 2014
Did you know?
The origins of today's word are straightforward: a "soothsayer" is someone who says sooth. You may, however, find that less than enlightening! "Sooth" is an archaic word meaning "truth" or "reality" that dates from Old English and was used until about the first half of the 17th century. (It is believed to share an ancestor with words suggesting truthfulness and reality in Old Norse, Greek, Old High German, Sanskrit, Latin, and Gothic languages.) "Soothsayer" itself has been documented in print as far back as the 14th century. Today, it is also a moniker of the insect the mantis, whose name means "prophet" in Greek.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 05, 2014 is:
disinterested \diss-IN-truss-tud\ adjective
1 a : not having the mind or feelings engaged : not interested b : no longer interested 2 : free from selfish motive or interest : unbiased
To avoid any conflicts of interest, the company hired disinterested consultants to determine how to reorganize the company most efficiently.
"It received only four sparsely attended performances in Handel's lifetime because Protestant Londoners were disinterested in a heroine who was a Roman Catholic saint and they missed the uplifting choruses and jubilant interludes featured in earlier oratorios like 'Messiah.'" From a music review by Vivien Schweitzer in The New York Times, February 4, 2014
Did you know?
"Disinterested" and "uninterested" have a tangled history. "Uninterested" originally meant "impartial," but this sense fell into disuse during the 18th century. About the same time, the sense of "disinterested" describing someone not having the mind or feelings engaged also disappeared, only to have "uninterested" take its place. The original sense of "uninterested" is still out of use, but the original ("not interested") sense of "disinterested" revived in the early 20th century. The revival has come under frequent attack as an illiteracy and a blurring or loss of a useful distinction. However, actual usage shows that writers and speakers use these words with intention. For instance, a writer may choose "disinterested" in preference to "uninterested" for emphasis, as in "a supremely disinterested child." Further, "disinterested" has developed a sense meaning "no longer interested," which is clearly distinguishable from "uninterested."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 04, 2014 is:
magnum opus \MAG-num-OH-pus\ noun
: a great work; especially : the greatest achievement of an artist or writer
Moby-Dick is widely regarded as Herman Melville's magnum opus.
"The 'visual album' came to us intimately, a surprise delivered in the night without PR apparatuses or label hype machines, with a magical, delectable set of videos to match. That it's already been hailed by almost every critical body as a magnum opus is no wonder, considering both the delightful unexpectedness of its delivery and its stunning, detailed lushness." From a review by Devon Maloney in The Village Voice, January 15, 2014
Did you know?
You probably recognize "magnum" ("great") as a Latin word that shows up in altered forms in several English words, and perhaps you can also come up with a few that are related to "opus" ("work"). "Magnitude," "magnanimous," "opulent," and "operate" are some obvious relations of the two. "Magnum opus," which entered English in the late 18th century, retains the original Latin spelling and the literal meaning "great work." Although the term most often refers to literary productions, it has been used to describe many kinds of great works, including paintings, movies, construction projects, and even surgical techniques.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 03, 2014 is:
decoct \dih-KAHKT\ verb
1 : to extract the flavor of by boiling 2 : boil down, concentrate
The author has tried to decoct the positions the players in this complex situation have taken into two camps: those who are for the changes and those who are against them.
"Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is far better known as a bottled astringent than a native shrub. Its medicinal uses date back to the Native Americans, who taught Europeans how to identify the plant and decoct its leaves and stems into the now-familiar tonic." From an article by David Taft in the New York Times, December 1, 2013
Did you know?
"Decoct" boils down to a simple Latin origin: the word "decoquere," from "de-," meaning "down" or "away," and "coquere," meaning "to cook" or "to ripen." "Decoct" itself is quite rare. Its related noun "decoction," which refers to either an extract obtained by decocting or the act or process of decocting, is slightly more common but still much less recognizable than some other members of the "coquere" family, among them "biscuit," "biscotti," "cook," and "kitchen." Other "coquere" descendants include "concoct" ("to prepare by combining raw materials" or "to devise or fabricate"), "concoction" ("something concocted"), and "precocious" ("exceptionally early in development or occurrence" or "exhibiting mature qualities at an unusually early age").
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 02, 2014 is:
cerebral \suh-REE-brul\ adjective
1 a : of or relating to the brain or the intellect b : of, relating to, affecting, or being the cerebrum 2 a : appealing to intellectual appreciation b : primarily intellectual in nature
The movie is a cerebral thriller that rewards the viewer's careful attention with intricate plot turns.
"When Beadles was at Utah, he played left tackle. At Denver, he's moved inside as a guard. But he still plays with the same cerebral approach that has helped build a fine career with the Broncos." From an article by Gordon Monson in the Salt Lake Tribune, January 25, 2014
Did you know?
English borrowed its word "cerebrum" directly from the Latin word for "brain," but the adjective "cerebral" took a slightly more circuitous route into our language, reaching English by way of French "cerebral." "Cerebrum" has been used in our language as a name for the brain since the early 1600s, though the more specific scientific sense, referring just to the large upper part of the brain, didn't develop until later. "Cerebral" has been appearing in print in English since at least 1816. Other brainy descendants of "cerebrum" in English include "cerebellum" (the part of the brain between the brain stem and the back of the cerebrum) and "cerebrate," which arrived in English in 1915 with the meaning "to use the mind" or "to think."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 01, 2014 is:
plaintiff \PLAYN-tif\ noun
: a person who brings a legal action
In the end, the jury found for the plaintiff, and ordered the company to pay a significant amount in damages.
"Together, Prince's lawyers allege, these websites 'constitute an interconnected network of bootleg distribution which is able to broadly disseminate unauthorised copies of Prince's musical compositions and live performances.' The plaintiffs cited shared bootlegs such as Prince's 24 March 2011 performance in Charlotte, North Carolina ." From an article by Sean Michaels at guardian.co.uk, January 27, 2014
Did you know?
We won't complain about the origins of "plaintiff," although "complain" and "plaintiff" are distantly related; both can be traced back to "plangere," a Latin word meaning "to strike, beat one's breast, or lament." "Plaintiff" comes most immediately from Middle English "plaintif," itself an Anglo-French borrowing tracing back to "plaint," meaning "lamentation." (The English word "plaintive" is also related.) Logically enough, "plaintiff" applies to the one who does the complaining in a legal case.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 28, 2014 is:
cheeseparing \CHEEZ-pair-ing\ noun
1 : something worthless or insignificant 2 : miserly economizing
"My wants were few, and I had no more desire for personal spending than had Ambrose, in his time, but this cheeseparing on the part of my godfather induced in me a sort of fury that made me determined to have my way and use the money that was mine." From Daphne du Maurier's 1951 novel My Cousin Rachel
"While many charities have undergone painful downsizing, they fear that their operating model won't survive the relentless cheeseparing the government is indulging in." From an article by Randeep Ramesh in The Guardian (London), May 15, 2013
Did you know?
Those familiar with William Shakespeare's history play Henry IV may recall how the portly Falstaff remembered the thin Justice Shallow "like a man made after supper of a cheese-paring." Falstaff's unusual food simile is one not easily forgotten, and people began to associate "cheese-parings" (bits of cheese trimmed off a larger portion) with other things of little significance and value. In the 19th century, the meaning of "cheeseparing" was extended to "miserly economizing." (Presumably, the practice of paring off the rind so as to waste the minimum of cheese was viewed as an excessive form of frugality.)
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 27, 2014 is:
zeitgeber \TSYTE-gay-ber\ noun
: an environmental agent or event that provides the stimulus setting or resetting a biological clock of an organism
"Food availability seems to be a weaker zeitgeber than light. Although food is more essential than light for an animal's survival, light exerts a finer control than food availability over the activity rhythm." From Roberto Refinetti's 2006 book Circadian Physiology, Second Edition
"Night-shift workers also struggle, he says, because they don't get the environmental and social cues that help adjust the circadian clock. The most important of these cues, called zeitgebers is sunlight. But a zeitgeber could also be a scrambled-egg breakfast or children coming home from school in the afternoon." From an article by Tara Parker-Pope in New York Times Magazine, November 20, 2011
Did you know?
Zeitgebers are nature's alarm clocksboth biologically and etymologically. The word "zeitgeber" derives from a combination of two German terms, "Zeit," which means "time," and "Geber," which means "giver"so a "zeitgeber" is literally a "time giver." In nature, zeitgebers tend to be cyclic or recurring patterns that help keep the body's circadian rhythms operating in an orderly way. For plants and animals, the daily pattern of light and darkness and the warmer and colder temperatures between day and night serve as zeitgebers, cues that keep organisms functioning on a regular schedule. For humans, societally imposed cycles, such as the schedule of the work or school day and regular mealtimes, can become zeitgebers as well.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 26, 2014 is:
picayune \pik-ee-YOON\ adjective
: of little value : paltry; also : petty, small-minded
Jeanne only had picayune criticisms in regard to the new ad campaign, but that didn't stop her from voicing them at the meeting.
"Currently, in our gridlocked federal government, we've read numerous accounts about legislators who won't work together because they don't like one another or suffered some kind of picayune slight." From an article in Suburban Trends (Morris, New Jersey), January 12, 2014
Did you know?
In the 19th century, in Louisiana and other southern states, a picayune was a small coin (specifically, a Spanish half real) with a low monetary value. The coin's name derives from "picaioun," a word that means "small coin" in Occitan (a language spoken in Southern France). It ultimately derives from the Occitan word "pica," which means "to jingle" and which was created to mimic the sound of coins jingling. The real as a monetary unit fell out of use, however, and "picayune" joined "two bits" in the category of small amounts of money whose name eventually came to be used instead for things that are paltry and small.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 25, 2014 is:
solatium \soh-LAY-shee-um\ noun
: a compensation (as money) given as solace for suffering, loss, or injured feelings
The judge ordered the company to pay a solatium to each of the unjustly fired workers.
"The amount of cash a politician was required by tradition to dispense regularly in the form of wedding gifts and funeral solatiums for people in his ever-expanding constituency was now, by itself, enough to bankrupt most wealthy men." From Robert Whiting's 1999 book Tokyo Underworld : The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan
Did you know?
In legal circles, a solatium is a payment made to a victim as compensation for injured feelings or emotional pain and suffering (such as the trauma following the wrongful death of a relative), as distinct from payment for physical injury or for damaged property. Like many legal terms, "solatium," which first appeared in English in the early 19th century, is a product of Latin, where the word means "solace." The Latin noun is related to the verb "solari," which means "to console" and from which we get our words "solace" and "console."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 24, 2014 is:
sashay \sa-SHAY\ verb
1 : to make a chassé 2 a : walk, glide, go b : to strut or move about in an ostentatious or conspicuous manner c : to proceed or move in a diagonal or sideways manner
A parade of fashion models sashayed down the catwalk in the designer's latest creations.
"Marching bands, such as the Baltimore City Entertainers, brought cheers from the crowd as dancers clad in white, turquoise and purple sashayed through the street." From an article by Julie Scharper in The Baltimore Sun, January 21, 2014
Did you know?
The French verb "chassé" ("to make a sliding dance step") danced into English unaltered in the early 19th century, but as the word gained popularity in America people often had difficulty pronouncing and transcribing its French rhythms. By 1836, "sashay" had begun to appear in print in American sources. Authors such as Mark Twain, Zora Neale Hurston, and John Updike have all since put their names on the word's dance card and have enjoyed the liveliness and attitude "sashay" adds to descriptions of movement. They and many, many others have helped "sashay" slide away from its French dance origins to strut its stuff in descriptions of various walks and moves.