Visual Thesaurus Word of the Day
Tuesday, January 1st Postern Open Wide Word of the Day :
This word, which has a relative in posterior, is out of fashion these days as a word to denote a back door, or a door other than the main one. We salute it today on the first day of January, the month named after Janus, the Roman God of doorways.
Wednesday, January 2nd vignette Through the Grapevine Word of the Day:
The winding path taken by this word from its original meaning ("small vine") to its most popular current meaning ("brief description") could probably fill out a lengthy essay. The common element running through all its meanings, past and contemporary, is a smallish thing that represents, usually in an artful way, a larger thing.
Thursday, January 3rd prolix Wordy Word of the Day:
In the spectrum of English words that mean "long-winded," this adjective is on the polite and somewhat abstract end. It usually describes writing, and sometimes speech, that is way longer than it needs to be. The -lix part is related to both liquor and liquid, and shares the idea of "flowing."
Friday, January 4th leprechaun Small is Beautiful Word of the Day:
You don't have to be in Ireland to see one of these, but it helps. The word is from Old Irish roots than mean "small body" and denotes a small, mischievous human-like creature undocumented by science.
Saturday, January 5th krummhorn Curve-throwing Word of the Day:
If period instruments are your bag you'll know about this one, a Renaissance woodwind with a curving tube. The krumm- part means "curve" in German and is related to a less common word that has made it into English, krummholz: a high-altitude, stunted forest.
Sunday, January 6th epiphany Worth Checking Out Word of the Day:
This word from Greek has a number of meanings, all denoting something sudden, remarkable, or both. Its ordinary meaning these days is to denote a sudden insight, but it also denotes a divine appearance: suitable enough today, the feast of Epiphany in the Christian calendar, celebrating the day when the three kings of yore visited the baby Jesus.
Monday, January 7th sommelier Cellar Dweller Word of the Day:
When drawing up the list of domestic staff you would like to command one day, be sure to include one of these: a wine steward. Most mortals encounter one only in a hotel or restaurant, where they keep tabs on the wine stock. The word is ultimately from a French root that meant "burden."
Tuesday, January 8th casque Heads-Up Word of the Day:
No medieval costume of armor was complete without one: a helmet, usually with some face protection included. The word survives intact in French today as the word for "helmet," though its older roots are Spanish.
Wednesday, January 9th presbyopia All a Blur Word of the Day:
This one's on the list of ailments that you can look forward to when you reach middle age or so: farsightedness that is a natural result of aging. The presby- part means "old," and also appears, most familiarly, in Presbyterian.
Thursday, January 10th imago Fully Formed Word of the Day:
What do you call a larva when it isn't a larva any more? Insect is probably what comes to mind, but if you want to be proper and technical about it, imago is the term for the adult form of an insect, as opposed any other stage: egg, larva, or chrysalis.
Friday, January 11th fustian From Whole Cloth Word of the Day:
The commonest use of this very old English word today is to designate pompous language, but it originally denoted a kind of strong fabric. It shares a tiny corner of the language with bombast, another word originally associated with fiber that now mainly characterizes words.
Saturday, January 12th austral Down Under Word of the Day:
This one's pretty easy to get a grip on if you remember where Australia is: south. It's from the Latin word for South, and is complementary to boreal, from Latin for north. The words appear in modern English aurora australis and aurora borealis, the Southern Lights and Northern Lights.
Sunday, January 13th nuncio Father Sent Me Word of the Day:
This one fills in the blank in "ambassador is to country as __________ is to Vatican." Nuncios, where they are welcomed, enjoy the same status as ambassadors. The word has many cognates in English, most notably "announce."
Monday, January 14th diamante See How They Shine Word of the Day:
This word, a relative of diamond, denotes small sequin-like ornaments, or the use of such ornaments generally. Its typical use today is adjectival before an article of clothing, tipping you off that it's covered in glittery things.
Tuesday, January 15th organdie Thin and Crisp Word of the Day:
Store this one in your memory location for fabric words: it's a thin muslin with a stiff finish. The word came into English from French but before that the trail goes cold, and dictionaries must resort to "origin obscure."
Wednesday, January 16th derrick Hang On Word of the Day:
Is there another man's name that doubles as a piece of heavy machinery, as this one does? The reason for it is a bit macabre: a crane with a movable arm is so named for its resemblance a gallows, once called a derrick with reference to a Mr. Derrick who was a hangman in England around the turn of the 17th century.
Thursday, January 17th spelunker Caveman Word of the Day:
This word may seem to have German written all over it but it's actually Latinate: from spelunk, "cave." The word designates an explorer of caves and is used mostly in American English, in preference to the more technical and refined speleologist.
Friday, January 18th sang-froid In Cold Blood Word of the Day:
Cold blood is usually thought to be a Bad Thing, but in this case the tables are turned: sang-froid denotes an admirable evenness of temper under stress, despite the fact that it's literally "cold blood" in French.
Saturday, January 19th carboy Hold the Bottle Word of the Day:
If you guessed "young gearhead" you'd be a little off in this case. A carboy is a special bottle for holding corrosive liquids, often secured in a special container. The word is from Persian.
Sunday, January 20th flummery All Mush Word of the Day:
This word has sound sense, in that it sounds a lot like what it is: insincere talk or flattery. It's from a Welsh word denoting a kind of porridge, and thus shares a niche in English with pablum, another porridge word that also has a disparaging meaning pertaining to language.
Monday, January 21st gypsum Many Uses Word of the Day:
Not much fiddling was involved in deriving this word from Greek gypsos, "chalk." We salute the word today, "gypsum day" in the French revolutionary calendar, and applaud the inescapability of this mineral which not only gives us chalk but is also used in plaster of Paris, drywall, tofu, fertilizer, and Portland cement.
Tuesday, January 22nd kaffiyeh Got You Covered Word of the Day:
You don't have to be Middle Eastern to wear one but it helps: a square of cloth folded diagonally and secured over the top of the head with a circle of cord. Some etymologists declare that kaffiyeh and coif are descended from a common ancestor, but the jury will probably remain out on that one.
Wednesday, January 23rd narthex See You in Church Word of the Day:
Of all church architectural terms, this one is perhaps the most mysterious in origin: it denotes a portico at the Western end of a church, but it comes from a Greek word meaning "giant fennel." Etymologists speculate about how it got from one meaning to the other, but none of the stories seems very convincing.
Thursday, January 24th malinger Phone it in Word of the Day:
This is one of those misdeeds you're more likely to be accused of than to own up to: it's a verb that means "feign illness to avoid responsibility." Its roots are French, and while not related to linger (a word with Germanic roots), the spelling of it was probably influenced by linger to some extent.
Friday, January 25th lexeme Word Lover's Word of the Day:
Those who truly love words will want to master this one: it's a minimal unit in a language to which meaning can be assigned, and in many cases is synonymous with word. Lexeme's companions, all worth mastering as a devotional act, are grapheme, phoneme, and morpheme.
Saturday, January 26th nescience Tabula Rasa Word of the Day:
This delightful and underused word means "absence of knowledge." Most folks go with ignorance instead, but nescience avoids most of the pejorative associations of that word, while having an air of mystery about it by being so seldom seen or heard.
Sunday, January 27th flummox Confounding Word of the Day:
This verb, meaning "bewilder or confuse," exemplifies its meaning in one respect: etymologists are flummoxed as to where it came from. All agree, however, that it's an English dialect word. The OED's first citation, somewhat adding to the mystery, is from Dickens: "He'll be what the Italians call reg'larly flummoxed."
Monday, January 28th orthographic The Write Stuff Word of the Day:
This is the adjectival form of orthography, which is all about writing right. Orthographic can refer either to writing systems, spelling, or the rules for correctness in either one.
Tuesday, January 29th syncretism All Together Now Word of the Day:
The syn- part will probably clue you up that this word is about joining things. The -cret part is a red herring, since it's from Cretans, for historical reasons. The essential meaning is the union or reconciliation of opposing views, or, in a more limited context, of variant linguistic forms.
Wednesday, January 30th piccolo Pipe Up Word of the Day:
This word is in the fairly extensive group of Italian words that designate musical instruments. It's a small flute that plays an octave higher than an ordinary one; the word comes, appropriately enough, from the Italian for "small."
Thursday, January 31st crinoline Hair Ware Word of the Day:
This stiff fabric, formerly made with horsehair, had dozens of uses back in the day when women demanded garments way wider than they were; it also designated a number of garments made from it. A Google image search on the word will put you in the picture.
previous next
day view week view month view