Thursday, January 1st
Let it Shine Word of the Day:
This adjective from Latin is derived from a verb than means "glow" and is related to both candle and candid; it describes the capacity to emit light as a result of heat. We salute it today as a kind of farewell: the sale of incandescent light bulbs in the Republic of Ireland is henceforth banned.
Friday, January 2nd
Cry Uncle Word of the Day:
This probably wasn't on your Christmas list, but still one can think of uses: a device that measures pain sensitivity caused by pressure. The Greek root -algos turns up in a number of nouns about painful conditions ending in -algia, and also in analgesic.
Saturday, January 3rd
Under one Roof Word of the Day:
The circumflex accent on this word (often discarded) is a clue to two things about the word's meaning: first, it signals a vanished s for words cognate with it (in this case, castle), and second, if you fancy that the accent looks like a roof, it's a no-brainer to remember that this word refers to a building — a rather opulent residential one.
Sunday, January 4th
Trading Places Word of the Day:
This rhetorical figure is all the rage now, what with its appearance in a film title. It refers to a substitution of terms in which the part denotes the whole, or vice versa. The pronunciation is not what you'd guess by looking at the word. Roots are Greek.
Monday, January 5th
Port of Call Word of the Day:
Places lend their names to all sorts of things. In the case of argosy, it's an Italian merchant ship of a kind originally made in Ragusa (which is today Dubrovnik and not in Italy at all). Though the vowels have all morphed, the consonants remain the same. Argosy can also refer to a fleet of such ships, or a rich supply of something.
Tuesday, January 6th
Sharply Pointed Word of the Day:
This genus of plants in the agave family is a good candidate for a spelling bee; it comes from an Italian toponym (today spelled Sansevera). The common name of the plant, however incorrect politically, is far more common: mother-in-law's tongue.
Wednesday, January 7th
It's a Gift Word of the Day:
This dialect word for a small gift can boast three languages in its background, despite being first attested only in the 19th century. It comes to English via Louisiana French, respelling Spanish la ñapa — a word that was originally Quechua yapa, meaning "that which is added."
Thursday, January 8th
Everlasting Word of the Day:
Like its synonym everlasting, this Latinate adjective fits neatly into a line of iambic poetry, as it consists of two stressed-unstressed metrical feet. The roots are semper, "always," and ternus, a suffix for many temporal adjectives.
Friday, January 9th
Fur-bearing Word of the Day:
Followers of fashion will want to add one of these to the walk-in closet: it's a cape lined or trimmed with fur, or alternatively, a woman's ankle-length cloak with slits for sleeves. Both are extremely popular on BBC-period drama sets. The root is Latin pellis, "skin," which also gives us pelt.
Saturday, January 10th
Warm and Fuzzy Word of the Day:
Whether your mind goes first to sheets, jammies, or some other article, chances are that the soft surface of this fabric is somewhere in the picture. The word goes back to Middle English and may be one of the few words from Welsh to make it into the English mainstream, though the jury is still out on whether that language is the original ancestor.
Sunday, January 11th
Three's a Crowd Word of the Day:
Who knew there were so many ways to say "group of three"? This wordmap has a few eye-openers, including ternion itself. The word is used mainly in mathematics and shares the consonants t and r that are found in that order in many words for "three" — in English and other Indo-European languages.
Monday, January 12th
Hard-Bitten Word of the Day:
This low-frequency color word follows the pattern of its peers: the less frequently used a color word is, the less agreement you'll find about what color the word actually represents. All dictionaries agree that this one is a dark color, but list red, purple, or brown as its near relatives. It's from the Latin word for "flea" — if you know what color they are, you've nailed it.
Tuesday, January 13th
Along for the Ride Word of the Day:
Though "suckerfish" is a more user-friendly term for this family of fish with built-in hitches, its family name is not without interest: it's from Latin for "delay," suggesting the likely result of having one of these stuck to you. A Google image search turns up amusing diversions.
Wednesday, January 14th
Great Scot Word of the Day:
Yeah, it's a castle and all that, but don't overlook the fashions: it's also a brimless hat and a laced walking shoe — meaning that you could wear a balmoral and balmorals, all at the same time. The Scottish place name is the source of the other meanings.
Thursday, January 15th
O My Stars! Word of the Day:
We raise our eyes to this adjective for all things pertaining to stars today, the inauguration of the International Year of Astronomy. English benefits from two other adjectives pertaining to stars; each seems to occupy its own semantic territory. Astral has been largely co-opted for paranormal phenomena, and starry for poetic and informal use.
Friday, January 16th
Now We Are Two Word of the Day:
There's nothing like a Middle English adverb to get the blood flowing, and this one is a special treat, meaning "into separate parts." Its range of collocates is small: rend, tear, rip, and split are its most frequent companions. Asunder is from the Old English verb sunder, now rare but still used, and is a relative of modern German sondern.
Saturday, January 17th
Might Bite Word of the Day:
This French loaner and its equivalent Spanish import picante label an agreeable sharp or spicy taste in food. The ultimate Latin root, meaning "prick," shows up in a number of other English words: pick, picket, picot, pike, and pique.
Sunday, January 18th
Bar-Lowering Word of the Day:
The silent g in this verb throws you off the scent of its relatives, though one of them is nearly always contained in its definition — that is, dignity. Condescend is a serviceable synonym, or if you want to go the all-Anglo-Saxon way, stoop. Deign comes ultimately from Latin dignus, which also gives us dignity, indignant, and condign.
Monday, January 19th
Two-for-One Word of the Day:
English has economically, if confusingly, settled on this spelling for two different things derived from different toponyms. You can choose the decorated horizontal band around the top of a room (ultimately from Phyrgia) or the coarse woolen fabric (ultimately from Frisia, though etymologists are still arguing about this one).
Tuesday, January 20th
Spare Some Expense Word of the Day:
This adjective describing restrictiveness in spending or behavior has fallen out of fashion in the modern age, and perhaps just as well: it looks confusingly similar to sumptuous, whose meaning is opposite in spirit. Both words are derived from Latin sumptus, "expense."
Wednesday, January 21st
Be My Guide Word of the Day:
Seeing "Cicero" in this Italian import doesn't help a lot with the meaning: it refers to a tourist guide. The classical philosopher is indeed the inspiration for the word: it's an allusion — perhaps humorously intended — to his knowledge and eloquence.
Thursday, January 22nd
Accounting for Taste Word of the Day:
This adjective properly refers only to taste in the literal sense — the kind you do with your tongue — but it often gets extended figuratively to other matters of taste, just as most words relating to the physical sense of taste do. The root is Latin gustare, "taste," which also turns up, curiously, in disgust.
Friday, January 23rd
Perhaps Too Long Word of the Day:
A look at this adverb's wordmap gives a good indication of why English was pretty much finished with it by the beginning of the 20th century: why use four syllables when two will do just as well? Peradventure leapt over to English from French par aventure. Its components live on in adventure, and in some other adverbs and other words beginning per- and par-.
Saturday, January 24th
Can We Talk? Word of the Day:
The parl- part may clue you up that this has got something to do with talk and so it does: it's a noun and a verb for talk that takes place between enemies or those seeking agreement. It shouldn't be confused with parlay, also a noun and verb but separately derived and involving talk, but not depending on it.
Sunday, January 25th
Common Touch Word of the Day:
The Roman designation for the common folks, plebs, survives in this adjective designating (in an unflattering way) anything common, ordinary, or vulgar. When not used to refer to the actual Romans, it seems to occur most frequently in writing about the arts these days — suggesting, perhaps, that art critics imagine themselves rather above it all!
Monday, January 26th
Well-Rounded Word of the Day:
This adjective is confusingly similar to annual ("yearly") but bears no relation to it. Rather, it refers to an annulus, that is, something ring-shaped. We give it a nod today, when an annular solar eclipse will be visible across Indonesia and a big expanse of empty ocean in a line heading southwest of there.
Tuesday, January 27th
Now Hear This Word of the Day:
You're excused if the highly successful software is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see this word, but it does have other meanings: mainly, a prophecy, one who delivers it, or the place where this happens. The root is Latin orare, "speak," and appears also in adore, oration, and oratory.
Wednesday, January 28th
Healed Over Word of the Day:
Scar works as both a noun and a verb, but if you want to get technical or literary about it, you can try this Latin-derived verb that means "form a scar." Its only modern English relative is cicatrix, a noun meaning "scar."
Thursday, January 29th
Take a Break Word of the Day:
This verb is far less used than its famed adjective cousin (intermittent) but the meanings are not far apart: intermittent means "happening at intervals"; Intermit means "stop temporarily," or in other words "be intermittent."
Friday, January 30th
Extraordinary Word of the Day:
Nothing gets your attention like something that's not normal, and when it does, you can slip in this adjective if you wish to avoid the negative connotations of abnormal. The Greek root means "irregular." Related words often begin with homo- or homeo-: anomalous lost the h.
Saturday, January 31st
I See France Word of the Day:
Those who long for the good old days may be given pause by the definition of this noun for a coarse woolen cloth "formerly used for undergarments and dyed bright red." Wearers of such garments were typically monastics; no explanation is given for the color, though perhaps it brightened drab cells on cold winter days.