Sunday, February 1st
Winners Take All Word of the Day:
The sweep in this word came from the original and now obsolete meaning: a sweepstake was one who "sweeps the stakes" — that is, wins the whole prize in a lottery or contest with multiple contributors. During the 18th century the word (usually in plural form) came to represent any such contest in which all stakes are divided among winners.
Monday, February 2nd
Accounts Receivable Word of the Day:
And you thought today was just Groundhog Day! North of the border (that would be the England/Scotland border) today is better known as one of the quarter days, the four of which divide the year into quarters and on which certain payments were historically due.
Tuesday, February 3rd
It's a Boy! Word of the Day:
Though rarely appearing outside of medical contexts, this adjective pertains to a fairly common — and has two equally technical relatives in English: puerpera (new mother) and puerperium (period after childbirth). Its relation to puerile is courtesy of the Latin root puer, "boy."
Wednesday, February 4th
Shadowy Word of the Day:
This word for a brown pigment or the color that it produces came to English from French or Italian, but the ultimate root is Latin umbra, "shadow," which has other descendants in English: penumbra, umbrella, and adumbrate, to name only a few.
Thursday, February 5th
Don't Try This at Home Word of the Day:
"Artery" probably springs to your mind immediately upon seeing this word, and for good reason: it has almost no other companions. The root is from a Greek verb meaning "stupefy" — since compression of the carotid artery can lead to a loss of consciousness.
Friday, February 6th
Only for the Erudite Word of the Day:
Wheel this one out only when all other attempts have failed to impress: its synonyms, coeval and contemporaneous are more common ways to describe something of similar age or duration. The OED's citations stop in the 19th century, but these days lofty writers still slip it in from time to time.
Saturday, February 7th
Forked Tongue Word of the Day:
The pre- part of this Latinate verb meaning "deviate from strict truth" can throw you off since we have no "varicate." The Latin original meant "act in collusion," or literally, "straddle." Its only relative in modern English is the rather obscure divaricate, "branch off."
Sunday, February 8th
Way Back When Word of the Day:
You weren't around in the 1970s? Oh well, it's never too late to celebrate an old craze. This one — an object made of knotted cords, or the art of doing this — first appeared in English in the 19th century, but got a big boost 100 years later. Immediate origins are French or Italian, but the ultimate ancestor is Arabic.
Monday, February 9th
Hard to Track Word of the Day:
Mayo is the easy way out if spelling doubts arise about the name of this tasty fat-filled spread. This French word has enjoyed a handful of spellings since its first 19th-century appearance and merits an etymology of nearly 300 words in the OED, the gist of which is "origin uncertain."
Tuesday, February 10th
But of Course Word of the Day:
Save this one for those occasions where there can be no doubt: it means "necessarily true or logically certain." The Greek root verb behind apodictic (deiknynai, "show") also finds its way, with various permutations into diction, digit, and paradigm.
Wednesday, February 11th
Flash on This Word of the Day:
This Latinate verb is doomed to a career of marginal use because it has no sound sense: its sound doesn't suggest anything about its meaning, whereas its homegrown (in English, that is) synonyms, sparkle and flash, seem to call up their meaning more successfully. Points to note: no relation to corrugate, and spelled with only one r.
Thursday, February 12th
Nature's Way Word of the Day:
We salute this term from biology today, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the man who observed the phenomenon in nature and named it. It's the engine that drives evolution and is sometimes contrasted with artificial selection, the process by which breeders select traits in species that they find desirable.
Friday, February 13th
Bedtime Story Word of the Day:
This helpful hormone is in the news again, as a possible aid in reducing diabetes risk. It's named on the same pattern as serotonin with the mela- part derived from Greek for "black" — presumably in connection with darkness, night, and sleep, the activity that melatonin promotes best.
Saturday, February 14th
On Your Feet Word of the Day:
It's a rare word from Tarascan that makes it into English, but this one, designating a sandal with the upper made of woven leather straps, is certainly the poster child. The language, increasingly called P'urhépecha these days, is a linguistic isolate spoken by about 100,000 people in the Mexican state of Michoacán.
Sunday, February 15th
Get the Point Word of the Day:
This German loaner designates a type of dog comprising several breeds, from Keeshond to Pomeranian. A pointed muzzle and ears are the hallmarks of the aptly-named pooches: spitz means "pointed" in German, and also shows up in spitzer, a kind of pointed bullet.
Monday, February 16th
Heads Up Word of the Day:
You're not far off the mark if you see "mantle" in this word — they share a common ancestor in Latin mantellum. Mantilla is a diminutive from Spanish manta with a specific meaning in English: a head covering or shawl worn by women. A Google image search will give you a pretty good rundown of the styles.
Tuesday, February 17th
User-Friendly Word of the Day:
We salute this natural, intuitive, and user-friendly way of representing a thing on the day that it suffers another blow: analog TV broadcast is replaced by digital broadcast in the US today, following digital's trumping of analog in other fields already, like clock faces and music recordings. The word is from Greek for "proportionate."
Wednesday, February 18th
Big Fish Word of the Day:
It's just as well that this fish doesn't surface too often: its spelling and pronunciation are both counterintuitive. Once thought to be extinct, it now turns up from time to time in the world's oceans. Its name is a coinage from Greek roots meaning "hollow" and "spined."
Thursday, February 19th
Now Sing Praise Word of the Day:
If you're a practitioner of the activity described by this word, you can probably figure out what it means: "worship of words." The verb- part is from Latin verbum, "word." -latry is a productive suffix from Greek meaning (in modern English) "worship."
Friday, February 20th
From Whole Cloth Word of the Day:
This Scottish toponym (from the town of Paisley, in Renfrewshire) refers to a fabric design that was massively manufactured there in the 19th century, but the design itself is Middle Eastern in origin, having traveled to Europe in the colonial period and become so popular that import could not meet demand.
Saturday, February 21st
Them's Fightin' Words Word of the Day:
Keep this one in store to hurl the next time you encounter someone who deserves it: a logomach is someone who disputes over words and their meanings. The roots are from Greek for "word" and "fight."
Sunday, February 22nd
50-50 Word of the Day:
If you're of a Christian turn of mind, note this special Sunday that has a special name — Quinquagesima, the Latin word for fiftieth, denoting the 50th day before Easter and the last Sunday before Lent. The root turns up in two other delightful but woefully underused words: quinquagenarian (a 50-something person), and quinquagenary (a fiftieth anniversary).
Monday, February 23rd
Wool Gathering Word of the Day:
Scrabble players and knitters, this one's for you: it's an imperfection in yarn, or (as a verb) the action of twisting and extending fibers for spinning. It's got that Old Englishy look to it, but in fact only goes back to the 19th century, with obscure origins.
Tuesday, February 24th
Way Up There Word of the Day:
It's probably a good time to brush up on big numbers, now that billions and even trillions are bandied about as if they were mere dozens. A quadrillion is one followed by 15 zeroes. If you're looking for a mnemonic, the root word (here quad, "four,") refers to the number of groups of 3 zeroes that follow 1,000.
Wednesday, February 25th
Gimme 12 Word of the Day:
The -gon part may clue you up that this is a geometric figure so it remains only to explain the dodeca part. That's do = 2 + deca = 10. All roots are from Greek. Other places you can use this: try dodecaphonism (musical composition using the 12-tone technique) or dodecastyle (having 12 columns on a side — it describes certain temples of antiquity).
Thursday, February 26th
O Sole Mio Word of the Day:
This adjective is derived from Greek aktin, "ray," and that's what it's about: light in the form of rays, especially in so far as it is able to induce chemical changes. Favorite companions are "light," "damage," and "keratosis," a precancerous skin condition caused by sun exposure.
Friday, February 27th
Fall in Line Word of the Day:
This noun for a line dance is part of the rich set of cultural terms on the trail from Africa to the New World. It's the feminine form of Congo, an American Spanish word for "African" inspired by the part of Africa that carries this name.
Saturday, February 28th
That Old Saw Word of the Day:
We're most familiar with the past participle of this verb, serrated, used to describe a notched surface. The verb, not widely used, means "mark with notches," or serrations, as they are called. The root is the Latin word for "saw," which appears also in the Spanish loaner sierra — denoting (originally) a range of serrated mountain peaks.