Thursday, November 1st
You Be the Judge Word of the Day:
This formal and technical verb means "settle as a judge". If your English instincts are even moderately developed you probably guessed a good part of that from the form of the word. Better than 90% of English words containing the sequence -jud- trace their roots to either Latin words related to judging and courts, or to Greek Ioudaios, "Jew."
Friday, November 2nd
PTL Word of the Day:
The great thing about words in English from languages that don't use the Roman alphabet is that you can spell them more than one way and probably still be right. This one (from Hebrew "praise the Lord") is pretty well settled in English now as spelled above, but still competes in some contexts with alleluia.
Saturday, November 3rd
Full Color Word of the Day:
Many English words ending -escent mean "reflecting or emitting light" of a particular kind. If you're clued up that irid comes from the word for "rainbow" in Latin, then you've got this one nailed: "reflecting various colors"
Sunday, November 4th
Quickly Descending Word of the Day:
English is blessed with many words (see wordmap) that mean roughly "dusk," but when you want to set a poetic tone, this one from Latin is pretty hard to beat. We salute it today, the first day when Anglophone North Americans will notice crepuscule creeping up quickly, now that daylight savings time is put to bed for the season.
Monday, November 5th
Deceptively Similar Word of the Day:
Despite being a tropical fruit and having its ultimate linguistic source in Malay, the apple-sized fruit called mangosteen has no relation, taxonomically or etymologically, to the more commonly found mango. A Google image search sorts them out nicely.
Tuesday, November 6th
Love My Stuff Word of the Day:
This word today usually denotes the kit that accompanies a particular activity and is sometimes used with an ironic twist, perhaps to characterize equipment as excessive or silly. Its origins, however, were no joke: the Greek roots mean essentially "besides the dowry" and denoted a woman's property that was not part of the marriage deal.
Wednesday, November 7th
Lessons of History Word of the Day:
We don't normally associate atomic bomb tests with the names of garments, but this one's an exception. The skimpy two-piece bathing suit is named after the Pacific atoll of the same name, where an atomic bomb was exploded in 1946. Island and garment alike were deemed to be "explosive."
Thursday, November 8th
Flying Through the Air Word of the Day:
It's a star! It's a bone! But at it's most basic, it's a four-sided figure with only two sides (or sometimes no sides) parallel. If acrobats are flying through your mind, there's a good reason: trapeze comes from the same root, and is probably based on the shape formed by the roof, the bar, and the two ropes that connect them.
Friday, November 9th
Eyes of the Beholder Word of the Day:
This optical toy that produces symmetrical patterns gets its name from classical Greek, though the Greeks never used the word themselves: it was coined by the toy's 19th century inventor, from words meaning "look at beautiful forms."
Saturday, November 10th
Name That Sound Word of the Day:
This word, denoting a low indistinct sound (among other things), has many companions in English that are (1) imitative in origin, and (2) reduplicative. Some fellow travelers include tut-tut, pooh-pooh, susurrus, and splish-splash.
Sunday, November 11th
Confidential Agent Word of the Day:
The pronunciation of this noun obscures the fact that it contains secret but the etymology is unmistakable: a secretary was originally a confidential assistant or someone who was entrusted with a secret. Even today, it's probably a rare secretary who doesn't harbor a secret or two!
Monday, November 12th
Long Way Around Word of the Day:
This verb, meaning "to introduce or suggest indirectly," has a couple of cousins in English: one of them not very helpful (sinus) and the other more related in meaning: sinuous, "curved": the common meaning element is the choosing of a route other than the most direct one.
Tuesday, November 13th
Dye, Dye, My Darling Word of the Day:
This little word comes from an early designation (azote) of the gas we now call nitrogen and designates a molecular formation containing nitrogen. Azo compounds tend to be brightly colored, and are used in dyes and printing, along with their cousins, the diazo compounds, which have two azo groups.
Wednesday, November 14th
Train of Thought Word of the Day:
The OED has its first cite for this imitative word referring to the sound of a train in 1926. We tip our hat to it today, along with all other fanciful extensions of the verb "click," (also imitative in origin) in the hope that the long-awaited completion of the high-speed train line from London St. Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord will be on schedule and run for the first time today.
Thursday, November 15th
Highbrow Word of the Day:
Here's something to think about the next time you raise your eyebrows: this adjective, meaning "haughty," or "disdainful," comes from the Latin word for "eyebrow." Perhaps it was applied originally to folks who raised their eyebrows a bit too often, or for the wrong reasons!
Friday, November 16th
Headcount Word of the Day:
English has more homegrown ways of saying "for each person," but this Latinate way of doing it (literally "by heads") now has a permanent place when you want to throw statistics around. It's been used in this way since the 17th century and shows no signs of slowing down.
Saturday, November 17th
In Case You're Wandering Word of the Day:
When behavior departs from the norm, aberrant is at hand to describe it if you want to set a formal, or even scientific tone to the discussion. Its cousins in English, error and errant, also have double -r- and denote something that's either not wanted or not expected. The Latin root means "wander."
Sunday, November 18th
Watchdog Word of the Day:
One good reason to get one of these stocky black dogs is that you'd have an excellent motive for remembering how to spell its name. It's originally Dutch dialect and is related to the word skipper -- the dogs were originally used as watchdogs on barges.
Monday, November 19th
High Street Fashion Word of the Day:
This word for a wide or fashionable street has French written all over it for most speakers, but earlier origins are Picard and Walloon, to designate a road built on a rampart. Somewhat surprisingly, boulevard shares an ancestor with the all-Germanic bulwark.
Tuesday, November 20th
Widely Felt Word of the Day:
It's a pretty good bet that English words beginning pan- come from Greek roots and have a meaning in which the notion of "all," or total inclusiveness is present. So with pandemic, a very widely dispersed epidemic. We salute it today, along with St. Edmund the Martyr whose feast day is November 20th; he's the patron saint of pandemics.
Wednesday, November 21st
In the Loop Word of the Day:
At last, you'll have a word for it: the U-shape created by a cord hanging from two fixed points. Real cords always have some real-world imperfections; the idea of the catenary, in mathematics anyway, is based on an ideal cord that hangs with no irregularities. The origins are Latin for "chain."
Thursday, November 22nd
Downsizing Word of the Day:
Listen to the pronunciation, say it ten times really fast, and you'll probably end up doing it: that is, create a shortened version of a word by chopping off the end. It's the method by which many words enter languages, especially informal ones like delish, indie, and natch -- which you can say are apocopated.
Friday, November 23rd
Fine-Grained Word of the Day:
Pasta shapes tend to end in i and e, since most of them are simply Italian plurals that end in these letters -- but this one is singular, from the Italian word for barley (which orzo resembles). Many folks think of orzo as looking like rice rather than barley, and there's the curious fact that the Spanish word for rice is arroz...
Saturday, November 24th
Cook it Yourself Word of the Day:
Russian words in English are a small but unfailingly interesting group, including this one: a metal urn with a spigot, for boiling tea water. The Russian roots mean "self cooking." A Google image search will fix this indispensable appliance in your mind.
Sunday, November 25th
Good Points Word of the Day:
Sure, you take it for colds, but what does the word really mean? Surprisingly, it goes back eventually to the Greek for hedgehog, because of the pointy disk flowers in the plant that the extract is made from. Echinoderm (the phylum of sea urchins) is a related word in English.
Monday, November 26th
Unidentified Flying Object Word of the Day:
Dictionaries hate to resort to "origin uncertain" but a few of them do in their etymologies at puck, denoting the small rubber disk used in ice hockey. A theory with a few adherents is that it is related to the verb poke. Its toehold in history got firmer footing 90 years ago today, when the National Hockey League was formed.
Tuesday, November 27th
Three in One Word of the Day:
It's a monk! It's a monkey! It's a cup of coffee! Well, not quite, but related words all go back to the Capuchins, an order of Catholic friars founded in the Middle Ages. Their pointed hoods (Italian: capuccio) gave their name by visual analogy both to the capuchin monkey, and the coffee with lots of milk in it.
Wednesday, November 28th
Just an Old-fashioned Churl Word of the Day:
Old words in English tend to accumulate meanings like old rocks accumulate barnacles, and this one's no exception. These days most folks use it as an elegant variation on "male admirer," but originally it denoted a rustic or peasant.
Thursday, November 29th
Got the Shirt Word of the Day:
These days, clad is a somewhat elegant variation on clothed, but it wasn't always so. It was, in fact, what you might call an improvement on clothed -- a contraction of it that left out the most difficult-to-pronounce consonant. The verb clothe eventually became regular again but both participles are in use today.
Friday, November 30th
All Wrinkly Word of the Day:
You probably think of cardboard or metal as a companion to this word, which originally meant "wrinkled," but now is used more narrowly to describe regular, parallel wrinkles or grooves. Its lone relative in modern English is the technical and literary term rugose, which still means "wrinkled."