Friday, August 1st
Shot in the Arm Word of the Day:
We observe Immunization Awareness Month (yes, it's finally here!) with a salute to jab — a word of Scots origin that mainly means "poke" or "stab," but that has the informal meaning of an injection: especially of the kind that protects you against tiny pathogens.
Saturday, August 2nd
Go Ballistic Word of the Day:
Don't overlook this one when organizing your next mock medieval battle: it's a crossbow with a special pull-back mechanism for projecting deadly missiles. The last part of the word shares an ancestor with ballistic — namely, ballista, yet another medieval death-dealing machine.
Sunday, August 3rd
Wintry Word of the Day:
Once you've rejected the ordinary wintry as a characterization for the season, the choice gets all literary and Latinate. Brumal is probably the rarest and least used of a trio of English adjectives characterizing winter, the other two being hibernal and hiemal.
Monday, August 4th
Our Father Word of the Day:
It's a prayer! It's a device! It's both! The word is Latin for "our father," and refers to the Christian prayer that begins thus. From there, the word came to mean a regularly recurring bead on a rosary when said prayer was to be recited and from there, the word was used to denote a continuous lift or elevator with platforms, because of its resemblance to a rosary.
Tuesday, August 5th
High and Dry Word of the Day:
Words beginning with the Greek-derived prefix xero- ("dry") may well enjoy a renaissance, as global warming and other factors give us more deserty things to talk about. A xerophyte is a desert plant, or a plant that will thrive in desert conditions. The other part of the word, -phyte, is Greek for "plant."
Wednesday, August 6th
Stake Your Claim Word of the Day:
English has a small handful of verbs from Latin rogare ("ask, propose"), all of them worth knowing because of their particular, rather narrow meanings. This one, arrogate, means "claim (as one's own) unwarrantedly or unjustifiably." You might want to look at its cousins as well: abrogate, derogate, interrogate, and surrogate.
Thursday, August 7th
License to Misbehave Word of the Day:
This adjective is used rather sparingly and hardly ever to refer to oneself, because it is so unflattering: "lacking in moral discipline." The rather innocent root is the same that gives us license, in the sense that means "freedom to deviate."
Friday, August 8th
Down Under Word of the Day:
This verb occupies much of the same semantic ground as its cognate submerge: they both mean "put under water," though submerge also enjoys some intransitive use. It's our honoree today, the 50th anniversary of the announcement that the nuclear powered Nautilus submarine had traveled below the North polar ice cap.
Saturday, August 9th
Kickback Word of the Day:
If you think of this word as synonymous with "stubborn as a mule" you will have stored a clue about its etymology — the little-used verb recalcitrate, from Latin for "kick backwards," a skill at which equines excel.
Sunday, August 10th
Cuckoo-inspired Word of the Day:
Most folks know that this is the technical name for the tailbone. Fewer are confident about its spelling or pronunciation. Fewer still know that the word comes from the Latin for cuckoo (because the human coccyx is said to resemble the cuckoo's bill).
Monday, August 11th
Truth Be Told Word of the Day:
It would be a Good Thing if all etymologies (word histories) were true, because the root of the word — etymos in Greek — means "truth." That root also gives us one of our favorite words, etymon, or loosely, "word ancestor." The idea is that of the essential meaning of a word.
Tuesday, August 12th
Multi-Purpose Word of the Day:
Here's a handy adjective that should never be far from the grasp of the with-it writer or speaker because of its many meanings — none of which is very often kind. The root is Latin gratuitus, "freely given," and one of its meanings is indeed "free." More often, however, it denotes something lacking a reason, cause, or justification.
Wednesday, August 13th
For Discerning Tastes Word of the Day:
All fields of endeavor need experts at the top to discern subtleties, and thus we have connoisseurs — a word whose correct spelling almost requires that you be a connoisseur of French loans in English. The ultimate Latin root, cognoscere, also gives us cognition by a different route.
Thursday, August 14th
Bare Cupboards Word of the Day:
Here's one you don't hear everyday — an early 17th-century word for a miser. The word developed from nautical slang, first characterizing food that was insufficient for the body's needs, then designating a person who would deny another sufficient food.
Friday, August 15th
Handcrafted Word of the Day:
This word for a skilled craftsman is used these days to impart cachet to everything from handbags to loaves of bread. It reached English from Italian via French, and shares an ending with two other words similarly derived: courtesan and partisan.
Saturday, August 16th
Worth a Laugh Word of the Day:
The Silly Season is presumed to be in progress in many countries now, since most legislatures are out of session — so we salute this Latinate verb meaning "laugh boisterously." It is purportedly of imitative origin, as is guffaw, a Scots word, which leads one to wonder whether the Scots laugh in a completely different way than the Romans did.
Sunday, August 17th
Make Mine Short Word of the Day:
We'd all be tongue-tied without it — the commonest vowel sound in English, represented by an inverted 'e' and ready to spring into action in almost any unstressed syllable. The word is from Hebrew, where it denotes a diacritical mark meaning "no vowel."
Monday, August 18th
Buy the Book Word of the Day:
You rack your brain, wondering: how to reduce "antiquarian bookseller" to a single word. Voilà! Bibliopole to the rescue! It's a little-used but handy Greek-derived concoction. The biblio- part is familiar in many other words related to books; the —pole part is also seen in monopoly.
Tuesday, August 19th
Extraordinary Word of the Day:
This adjective, from Latin roots meaning "beyond nature," has a niche in English that separates it from its synonyms (see wordmap). Folks are most likely to use it with nouns like calm, confidence, and awareness. Curiously, they also modify it with "almost," something that they don't do with its synonym extraordinary.
Wednesday, August 20th
Takes One to Know One Word of the Day:
Chances are you've been called worse, but has your dog? In this case, the label applies equally: eutherians are mammals that have a placenta, and thus comprise all mammals except the marsupials and a small and primitive order that includes echidnas and duckbilled platypi.
Thursday, August 21st
In the Bag Word of the Day:
There are handbags, and then there are reticules — if you want to get old-fashioned about it. This word has several relatives in English, all having to do with a net pattern (reticle, reticulate, reticulation), since reticule originally described a handbag made of net fabric.
Friday, August 22nd
Make Me a Map Word of the Day:
Several delightful words in English begin iso- and denote lines on maps. This one marks gradients in atmospheric pressure and is related to barometer in the same way that isotherm (line marking temperature gradients) is related to thermometer.
Saturday, August 23rd
Set in Stone Word of the Day:
It's an odd quirk that a word for a mineral highly associated with Native Americans comes from a word that means "Turkish" — especially when Turkey doesn't actually produce any of said mineral. Perhaps it's proof that globalization started a long time ago! The mineral was traded in Turkish bazaars long before the North American cache came under the covetous gaze of Europeans.
Sunday, August 24th
Bad Seed Word of the Day:
Long before there was air-rage and road-rage, folks still really lost it from time to time, occasioning the need for adjectives in English denoting apparent possession by evil. This one pretty much reveals its roots, and goes back to Middle English.
Monday, August 25th
Man of the Hour Word of the Day:
In a broad sense, it means "popular approval"; more narrowly, it denotes a voting method in which shouts or applause, rather than ballots, determine the winner. We salute it today, in recognition of the US Democratic National Convention, which begins in Denver.
Tuesday, August 26th
Fine-toothed Word of the Day:
For occasions when an ordinary nightgown won't do — these would mostly be literary occasions — you may want to don a peignoir, and only then practice the pronunciation in order to impress your friends. Though it looks like noir ("black") might be lurking in this word, the root is actually peign ("to comb"), with -oir doing suffix duty.
Wednesday, August 27th
Out on a Limb Word of the Day:
If you remember that Arbor Day is about trees, you've got a handy mnemonic for a host of impressive words with meanings related to these leafy giants. This adjective can mean simply "of trees," but more specifically means "living in trees."
Thursday, August 28th
Side-by-Side Word of the Day:
It's a happy noun that can boast being the source of a verb by backformation, because that's usually a sign that people really, really like it. So it is with juxtaposition, a Latin-French hybrid from the 17th century. The verb didn't come along till the mid-19th century, when folks deemed it useful to have a verb that meant "place side by side."
Friday, August 29th
History Lesson Word of the Day:
This word, which may conjure something Chinese, oranges, civil servants, or porcelain, is a good example of a word with legs. It was, first and foremost, a designation for a high-ranking Imperial official in China — but the word comes not from Chinese but from Portuguese and Malay.
Saturday, August 30th
From the Top Word of the Day:
This noun meaning the highest point of something has been so burlesqued in cartoon company names that one hardly dares to use it literally these days — especially when so many synonyms are available. Acme is a direct import from Greek, and thus has a certain pedigree of purity not enjoyed by near synonym zenith, which traveled through two other languages on its way to English from Arabic.
Sunday, August 31st
Take Your Lumps Word of the Day:
Lumps are usually a Bad Thing when circulating in the blood; this is the official name they go by. The word's origins are Latin and Greek from a verb that means "throw" and that, curiously, also gives us the word "emblem."