Wednesday, April 1st
You Must Be Joking Word of the Day:
It's a mark of laughter, appropriate for April Fool's Day, but it's also a sunken fence that serves to mark a boundary without defacing the landscape. One etymology of this meaning: "said to be from the cry of surprise on suddenly encountering such an obstacle." No witnesses survive to confirm this account, and we wonder if it wasn't in fact a cry of mirth -- from the members of the encountering party who didn't get there first!
Thursday, April 2nd
Look, Mom, Two Hands! Word of the Day:
This adjective takes an ordinary meaning of manual -- requiring the hands -- and doubles it: bimanual describes things involving or requiring both hands. It is used typically in medical contexts, describing things that doctors do to you. Often appears before the word "examination."
Friday, April 3rd
Lend a Hand Word of the Day:
You don't have to be named Steve to be one (the word means "docker" or "longshoreman") but the spelling of the English given name probably influenced the modern appearance of this word, from Spanish estivar "stow a cargo." The ultimate root is Latin; archaic English verb steeve, "stow," is a relative.
Saturday, April 4th
Bubble Up Word of the Day:
When air is trapped in water there's only one way to go -- up -- and that's what causes this phenomenon, ultimately from a Latin verb for "boil." Its use in English is mainly technical and literary since there's already a perfectly useful native imitative word with the same meaning: fizz.
Sunday, April 5th
That Old Chestnut Word of the Day:
The appearance of bromid- in this word is not useful with reference to the chemical element bromide, but the figurative meanings of bromide come to your aid in remembering it: bromidic means "given to uttering bromides," that is, banalities. Rodgers and Hammerstein memorably used it in their lyric to "A Wonderful Guy": "I'm bromidic and bright as a moon-happy night pourin' light on the dew!"
Monday, April 6th
Snuggle Up Word of the Day:
This verb has the sound and feel of a word that's not entirely serious: it means, in somewhat technical terms, "fondle affectionately." Its first appearance is in US English in the 19th century. The OED ventures nothing more than "origin obscure"; US dictionaries suggest it might be a blend of caress and noodle, or derive from an English dialect word.
Tuesday, April 7th
Little Big Man Word of the Day:
Ultimately from a Persian word denoting a provincial ruler, this word today usually refers to a subordinate official -- often in a disparaging way, or as the OED has it, "suggesting an imputation of tyranny or ostentatious splendour." Checked out the decor in your boss's office lately?
Wednesday, April 8th
Lumped Together Word of the Day:
If you want to denote a jumble of things in a literary way, congeries is a pretty good bet. Its Latin ancestor also gives us congest. The only warning label with congeries is that the singular and plural form are identical, and thus there is no such thing as a congerie. Most typical use: to describe a group of things brought together without success: "a congeries of rules, canons, and theories."
Thursday, April 9th
It Takes Two Word of the Day:
English has more ways of saying "two" than you can easily keep track of, but the ones beginning with tw-, like twain (now largely obsolete) carry a handy mnemonic. We salute it today, the 150th anniversary of the day that Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) was licensed as a riverboat captain on the Mississippi.
Friday, April 10th
For the Birds Word of the Day:
Many birds get their name from human approximation of their calls, and the kittiwake is one of them, with a call that sounds like "kitti-waak." The word is originally from Scots English. The bird, not surprisingly, is a gull found in the world's northern oceans, nesting on steep cliffs.
Saturday, April 11th
Rags to Riches Word of the Day:
Not many words go from "origin obscure" to trademark status, but this one fills the bill. Its trademark status is now lapsed, and today it denotes generically what it once denoted proprietarily: pet food. Its immediate source is the identical verb kibble, "grind coarsely," but the origins of the verb remain obscure.
Sunday, April 12th
Word Nerd Word of the Day:
If you can make this one slide off your tongue without blinking you're probably a genuine word nerd: it denotes the quality (in words) of having more than one sense or meaning. The Greek roots (poly, "many," and sema, "sign") are scattered all over English.
Monday, April 13th
Simple Song Word of the Day:
You might start feeling all Renaissance-y when you see this word, and for good reason: it denotes a song for several voices, but especially one that dates from the Renaissance. The immediate root is Italian but the word goes back, curiously, to Latin matrix, "womb," and mater, "mother," from branches of those words that came to mean "simple."
Tuesday, April 14th
Knee-High Word of the Day:
Brits usually have this noun in their active vocabulary to denote a traffic barrier in the form of a post. It hasn't caught on so much in US English, where such things as traffic cones and Jersey walls are the order of the day. The original bollard is a low post along the edge of a dock or wharf, where boats can tie on.
Wednesday, April 15th
Newly Arrived Word of the Day:
You may be lulled by the pleasant sound of this noun from French but it's typically used disparagingly, to denote someone newly in possession of wealth or power, and perhaps not up to using either of them wisely. It's a past participle of parvenir, "arrive."
Thursday, April 16th
Doctor Knows Best Word of the Day:
Thank Dr. Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), who took it upon himself to clean up Shakespeare, for bequeathing English this verb: it means "to remove the offending parts from." It's rarely used appreciatively, the implication usually being that the bowdlerizer has an agenda contrary to the interests of the reader.
Friday, April 17th
It All Adds Up Word of the Day:
Geeks and computer nerds will have no trouble with this 20th century word -- a name that designates an error-checking mechanism in data transmission. Apart from being the elegant sum of its parts "check" and "sum," checksum has done immeasurable service to English by finally providing a rhyme for the Welsh town of Wrexham.
Saturday, April 18th
Stereotypical Behavior Word of the Day:
If you saw someone mounting a bench in a public place would you think they were up to no good? That's how mountebank came to denote a huckster or charlatan: it's from Italian montimbanco, "one who climbs on a bench." Probably worth thinking about the next time you're tempted.
Sunday, April 19th
Airs and Graces Word of the Day:
Be sure to practice the pronunciation on this noun, so you can drop it witheringly when the next opportunity arises. It's a French loaner: literally, the quality of being high, but closely akin semantically to haughtiness or, more informally, uppityness.
Monday, April 20th
Spring Bouquet Word of the Day:
This spring-blooming European bulb is a suitable candidate to salute in spring. The name is from Greek; the ancient belief that asphodels were the favorite food of the dead resulted in their being planted near graves. Modern daffodil, though a different plant, is derived from the word asphodel.
Tuesday, April 21st
That Never Happened Word of the Day:
You'll probably see nul (from Latin nullum, "nothing") at the core of this word, and that's a good clue to its meaning: the underlying verb, annul, originally meant "reduce to nothing" and developed into "make ineffective." We salute it today, the 400th anniversary of the ascent of Henry VIII to the English throne. He found annulment so convenient and successful that he practiced it multiple times!
Wednesday, April 22nd
Explosive Evidence Word of the Day:
Only those with the Advanced Word Detective merit badge might notice the resemblance but this word is in fact related to pomegranate, and for a good reason: it denotes a syrup made from the juice of that fruit. Another more obviously related word is grenade, since early versions of that explosive device were allegedly pomegranate-shaped.
Thursday, April 23rd
Good for a Laugh Word of the Day:
You're forgiven for thinking this word means "an ability to rise." In fact it means "readiness to laugh." Its etymology is somewhat obscured by the conjugation of its Latin root (ridere), which also gives us deride and ridiculous.
Friday, April 24th
Puzzling Word of the Day:
Reasonable guess: gift of a tropical resort holiday, delivered electronically. Actual meaning: a Chinese puzzle made from shapes of wood that fit together as a square. A Google image search on this one is easily worth a thousand words. Etymology of the word is unknown, leaving it wide open for speculation.
Saturday, April 25th
Floats My Boat Word of the Day:
Like its cousin boatswain (pronounced "bos'n"), coxswain has a surprising pronunciation in relation to its spelling, with /w/ sound disappearing and the vowel in the second syllable reduced to a schwa. The swain part is from a word for "servant." Cox is from cok, a small boat.
Sunday, April 26th
Double Your Pleasure Word of the Day:
You could go back to high school algebra for this one, but its other meaning is closer to home: a two-part name that belongs to the system of distinguishing individual biological species. It's the most basic thing you have in common with your neighbor, a fellow homo sapiens.
Monday, April 27th
Sisters are Doin' It Word of the Day:
The more usual meaning of this noun (ultimately from a Latin verb meaning "avenge") is akin to exoneration but we celebrate its other meaning today, "defense," to mark the 250th anniversary of Mary Wolstonecraft, author of the 1792 tract A Vindication of the Rights of Woman which is viewed by many as one of the founding documents of feminism.
Tuesday, April 28th
Worth Coining Word of the Day:
You may get an urge to dress up in period clothing when you see this word -- it denotes a gold coin used in many European countries for centuries, up until the early 20th. The origin is Italian ducato ("Doge"), because of the face of one that appeared on the original. English duke is a related word.
Wednesday, April 29th
Border Invasion Word of the Day:
This adjective and noun associated with loyalty, perseverance, and hard work doesn't immediately give up its origins, but if you see a resemblance to worth in the final syllable you're on the right track: it's a Scots English form of stalworth. The Scots form was popularized by none other than Sir Walter Scott, before it was displaced by stalwart.
Thursday, April 30th
All Dark Word of the Day:
This noun denotes a practice generally deemed to be a Bad Thing -- a policy of withholding knowledge from the public or from others who may need to know. Some might find that a particularly relevant word these days. Its obvious relationship to obscure ensures that this word cannot ever be self-exemplifying.