Sunday, March 1st
Unfair Trade Word of the Day:
This noun and verb, of Spanish origin, contains the jumbles "O grab me," "mob rage," and "go bar 'em," all of which were used by satirists of the day against the unpopular 1807 Embargo Act, repealed on this day 200 years ago by Thomas Jefferson. Its meaning — a ban on trade — evolved from the original meaning, "arrest."
Monday, March 2nd
Weigh This! Word of the Day:
When all you mean is "skimpy" but you need a more elegant-sounding adjective, here's exiguous to the rescue — ready to describe whatever seems particularly sparse in quantity or amount. The Greek root means "weigh" and also appears, somewhat altered and not obviously, in exact and exigent.
Tuesday, March 3rd
Good to Know Word of the Day:
You can use this handy adjective to clear a ten-foot circle around you at most cocktail parties — unless you frequent the kind of party where folks banter about epistemology, the philosophy of knowledge. The roots are from the Greek word for knowledge. Cognitive is the nearest Latinate synonym.
Wednesday, March 4th
Open Wide Word of the Day:
Today is the perfect day to showcase this verb from French because its meaning is a homonym for the date: "march forth." The bouch part is from the word for "mouth," the idea being of going from a confined place to an open place.
Thursday, March 5th
Got You Covered Word of the Day:
File under "protective coverings." Carapace is tech talk for the shell that covers various animals, from turtles to crustaceans. The word is most immediately from Spanish, but merits the phrase "of doubtful origin" beyond that language. It may be related to Latin capa, which gives us "cape."
Friday, March 6th
Least Expected Word of the Day:
Of all the Latinate -vene words (contravene, convene, intervene, subvene), supervene is among the less frequently used. It means "to result or follow unexpectedly." A common root of all these words, Latin venire, means "come."
Saturday, March 7th
Always Accompanied Word of the Day:
Crenels (or crenelles, if you like fancy spelling) are the sorts of things never found alone: they're always accompanied by merlons. Imagine a battlement, and you get the picture: the merlons are the solid bits, the crenels are the spaces between them. The word is from an old French word for "notch."
Sunday, March 8th
What You Said Word of the Day:
This noun has expanded slightly from its Biblical origins (Judges xii. 4-6), but all its meanings have to do with things that distinguish one group of people from another. It was originally a test word: those who could not pronounce the initial sound were deemed to be foreigners.
Monday, March 9th
Over the Top Word of the Day:
It started out simply enough, lumping together full and -some, but this adjective, which once simply meant "copious," now has a negative connotation and usually denotes something excessive or needlessly lavish. Favorite collocate: praise. "Fulsome praise" is usually the kind that has some ulterior motive.
Tuesday, March 10th
Not With You Word of the Day:
This verb is entitled to its old-fashioned ring: it's been around since the 14th century. It's a good choice if you want to avoid Latinate dispute, its nearest synonym. The origins of gainsay are transparent and English all the way; the gain bit also appears in against.
Wednesday, March 11th
For Shame Word of the Day:
Back in the day before Internet flame wars were even a glimmer in the eye of their practitioners, this wooden device was the best way to make sure that those deserving censure got it: it's a frame for immobilizing a person, erected in a public place where others could scorn them. Origins are ultimately obscure, but immediately from French.
Thursday, March 12th
Sad Song Word of the Day:
English has several words for music to accompany sad occasions; all are lofty sounding, and none more than this one, from two Greek roots: one of them also gives us ode; the thren part is distantly related to drone.
Friday, March 13th
Three's a Crowd Word of the Day:
The tri part may clue you up that this is something about three (it is), so it remains only to explain ptych — which is from the Greek word for "fold." A triptych is a painting in three panels. Related words are diptych (you guessed it, two panels), and the rare polyptych, a painting on four or more panels.
Saturday, March 14th
Blue Streak Word of the Day:
This noun — one of dozens in English for excessive speech — is, rather exotically, from Portuguese, but ultimately descended from Latin and related to parable. It's far more common in British than American English; click on the pronunciation if you don't know it: it's not what you'd expect!
Sunday, March 15th
I'll Drink to That Word of the Day:
You expect excess as soon as you see the maniac part. The dipso part is from Greek for "thirst"; the word labels, nontechnically and a bit euphemistically, a drunk. The dipso- root turns up in a few other somewhat obscure words: adipsia (loss of thirst), polydipsia (excessive thirst), and dipsosaurus (a genus of desert-dwelling lizards).
Monday, March 16th
Bad Vibe Word of the Day:
A large handful of English nouns have the habit of always being in the predicate, rather than the subject of a sentence, and this is one of them: it refers to something or someone that is detested, loathed, cursed, or condemned. It's from Greek, prefix ana (= "against") + tithenai (= "place, set"). The latter root appears in more than a dozen English words ending in -thesis.
Tuesday, March 17th
Up on the Roof Word of the Day:
This word is, etymologically, the sum of its parts — pan + tile. It's a tile, s-shaped in profile that is typically made of terracotta and adorns many millions of European roofs. The pan bit is probably inspired by the concave bit of the tile. A Google image search is instructive if you can't quite picture it.
Wednesday, March 18th
Sit a Spell Word of the Day:
Porch is plebeian and verandah might suggest a warm breeze, but lanai is the best word choice if you really want a tropical feel. It's the Hawaiian word for verandah, and our honoree today, the 50th anniversary of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's signing of the bill that led to Hawaii's admission to the Union.
Thursday, March 19th
Good Books Word of the Day:
This verb can be usefully stored in the same memory box as adjective propitious (meaning "favorable"), to which it is related. Propitiate means "make peace with" or "regain the favor of." Its object is nearly always someone more powerful than its subject.
Friday, March 20th
Off the Job Word of the Day:
Of all the reasons not to be at work, this one ranks close to the bottom, near "layoff," because there's usually no pay involved. It goes way back in English (17th century) and has Dutch and German origins before that. Add only one syllable and you get furbelow, a completely unrelated but much more fun word from French.
Saturday, March 21st
First in Line Word of the Day:
This is one of those troublesome words that we recognize as having to do with architecture, without having a clear idea of what it is. Think columns, and think of the lowermost beam resting on them: that's the architrave. The etymology is a big help: the roots mean "chief" (as in most important) and "beam."
Sunday, March 22nd
Flag-waving Word of the Day:
You probably don't know anyone who uses the dated expression "by Jingo!" but if you did you could rightfully call them jingoistic. Its more common meaning, "fanatically patriotic," arose from the use of the phrase in a political song supporting the use of British forces against Russia in 1878.
Monday, March 23rd
Told You So Word of the Day:
Most simply put, this is what an augur (soothsayer, fortune teller) does; it can also refer to a thing indicative of what is to come. The root is Latin augur, a guy who actually had the official job of doing this, long before the day of crystal balls and storefront psychic readings.
Tuesday, March 24th
I Hear a Symphony Word of the Day:
Unlike its related noun (counterpoint), this adjective didn't get updated and Anglicized via Italian or French and so retains its very Latinate looks. It simply means "relating to counterpoint," or, to look at it from a different angle, polyphonic.
Wednesday, March 25th
Baby's Got a New Set of Clothes Word of the Day:
It's a kind of word that might make your eyes glaze over, but etymology comes to the rescue in providing some interest. Layette is a set of clothes for a newborn; the ette part is the familiar French diminutive suffix; the lay part is from an old French word for "box," related to Germanic words that, via different routes, have given us load and laden.
Thursday, March 26th
Seeing is Believing Word of the Day:
It's all right if your thoughts go to pointy ears before anything else, but we honor Vulcan today as the 150th anniversary of the declaration of the existence of the planet Vulcan, thought to orbit the sun closer than Mercury. This proved to be folly, when Einstein's theory of relativity explained the wobble in Mercury's orbit by other means. Mr. Spock's Vulcan, of course, is still out there.
Friday, March 27th
See You in Church Word of the Day:
If you can remember that trans- sometimes conveys the idea of "cross," you've nailed this one: it's the cross part in a cross-shaped church, the other (usually longer) part being the nave.
Saturday, March 28th
Speaking in Tongues Word of the Day:
Poly- is usually a sign that more than one is involved, and so it is here: more than one language. Polyglot, a noun and adjective, contrasts with the less frequent monoglot, referring to a single language or the speaker of one. The glot part, from Greek for tongue, also shows up in glottal, pertaining to sounds made with the tongue.
Sunday, March 29th
Let's be Frank Word of the Day:
This noun and verb with French and Latin origins has picked up a handful of meanings during its 700-year history in English. The noun can refer to both your local Dunkin' Donuts and the right to vote; some dictionaries list a dozen meanings. Latin francus, "free," is the ultimate ancestor, and also gives us the noun and verb frank.
Monday, March 30th
Step Outside Word of the Day:
The opposite of this word, endogenous, is for some reason far more frequent in English, though they represent complementary ideas: exogenous means "caused from without"; endogenous means "caused from within." The gen- part, from Greek for "birth," is found in hundreds of English words beginning gen- or ending -genous and -gony.
Tuesday, March 31st
Say it with Flowers Word of the Day:
This delightful word refers to a wreath of flowers and is perhaps a testament to humanity, since no other creature would bother making one. It has cognates in most other European languages, yet belongs to a small class of words about which the OED says "no satisfactory origin has yet been suggested for it."