Visual Thesaurus Word of the Day
Saturday, March 1st oneiric Mr. Sandman Word of the Day:
This adjective comes in handy because its more familiar equivalent, dreamy, is somewhat tainted by mushy associations. The root is Greek oneiros, "dream." Film critics get pretty good mileage out of it, to characterize movie scenes or movies generally.
Sunday, March 2nd deracinate Gone for Good Word of the Day:
English is pretty well stocked with words that mean "remove once and for all" and we prefer uproot for its economy — but deracinate has lots of fans as well. Like extirpate, yet another synonym, deracinate is from Latin.
Monday, March 3rd collet Whatchamacallit Word of the Day:
Unless you work in a machine shop you're excused for not knowing this one: it's a chuck used for holding pieces on a lathe — along with several other tool-related tasks. It's a collar-like thing, and collar is a related word. A Google image search is worth way more than a thousand words on this one.
Tuesday, March 4th spavined Old Gray Mare's Word of the Day:
When horses get long in tooth they also tend to get spavined -- that is, unable to walk because of leg swelling. The word goes way back in English (15th century) but is ultimately from French. By extension, it can mean "old, decrepit, over-the-hill."
Wednesday, March 5th gemmation Best of Buds Word of the Day:
Corals do it best: self-reproduction via a bud or gemma that then grows to a separate adult. The Latin root means "bud" but also "jewel," explaining the use of Gemma as a female given name.
Thursday, March 6th samsara Mortal Cycle of the Day:
Before it was an expensive perfume, this word designated the endless round of death and rebirth that, according to Hinduism and Buddhism, we mortals are subject to. The word is originally Sanskrit and means "passing through."
Friday, March 7th fungible One's as Good as Another Word of the Day:
Whether as noun or adjective, this word applies to things viewed as interchangeable for purposes of commerce — including all things that we normally call commodities. The word is from Latin for "perform" and is related to both function and defunct.
Saturday, March 8th flocculent Soft and Fluffy Word of the Day:
If you can discern a connection to flock in this word, you're on the right track: it means "wool-like." These days it makes few appearances outside of scientific contexts, where it describes growths that have a woolly look. It's tempting to see fleece as a relative, but that word is separately derived.
Sunday, March 9th moue No Laughing Cow Word of the Day:
From the lips of an English speaker it may be hard to distinguish this word from what cows do, but cows don't actually do one of these: a "disdainful, pouting grimace." The French, on the other hand, do one quite well, and it is they who have bequeathed us this word.
Monday, March 10th caryatid Max Headroom Word of the Day:
Nothing about the shape of this word suggests its meaning: a supporting column on a building in the shape of a person. The originals were priestesses at Caryae in Ancient Greece. Nowadays caryatids can be seen on many stately buildings, or failing that, via a Google image search.
Tuesday, March 11th WYSIWYG Seeing is Believing Word of the Day:
The OED has got this one dated to 1982 at present: the initialism for "what you see is what you get." Less settled is the earliest citation of the phrase spelled out in full, though most agree that its heyday was in the 1970s. WYSIWYG is an early example of a now common practice of reducing technology-related initialisms to single words.
Wednesday, March 12th Ginkgo A Thing So Lovely Word of the Day:
It's Arbor Day today in China and so we salute this best known of Chinese trees, a deciduous conifer that is also a living fossil. The word ginkgo passed through Japanese before getting to English; the Chinese name means "silver apricot." The misspelling gingko is ubiquitous because it resembles the pronunciation. Remember that both syllables begin with a g!
Thursday, March 13th catamaran All at Sea Word of the Day:
Not many English words come from Tamil but this one is on the list: originally a simple boat with two hulls made from tied tree trunks (from kattu "to tie" + maram, "tree"), it now designates any multihulled boat.
Friday, March 14th glasnost Now We See Word of the Day:
This Russian word, which literally means "publicity," got new life in the late 20th century with the meaning of "transparency." It caught on quick in English because it looks like glass, though the Slavic root is from a word for "voice."
Saturday, March 15th mackinaw Got You Covered Word of the Day:
This word variously refers to a boat, a blanket, and a jacket, but it's the last one that comes first to most folks' minds. All three meanings go back to an important trading post on the Great Lakes, where all three items were available.
Sunday, March 16th matinee Can We Reschedule? Word of the Day:
Fans of Old French may note the presence of the word for "morning" (matin) in this word and wonder why it denotes performances in the afternoon. Rescheduling is the answer: it seems that we no longer have time for morning entertainments and they've all been put back a few hours.
Monday, March 17th chloasma Gone Green Word of the Day:
This medical condition is characterized by brownish spots appearing on the skin, from any of a number of causes. Strange then that the Greek roots of the word mean "turn green." Chlorophyll is one of many related, mainly technical words in English.
Tuesday, March 18th deodar Top Timber Word of the Day:
Reports of trees in heaven must be speculative at best, but this Asian cedar might be one of them: its name, from Hindi, means "wood of the gods." A less likely candidate for heavenly growth is ailanthus, another tree from roots in another Asian language that means "sky tree."
Wednesday, March 19th desuetude Out to Pasture Word of the Day:
Hardly anyone uses desuetude these days and so this noun, to some degree, exemplifies its meaning: "disuse." the -tude part is seen in other English words such as attitude and solitude; the -sue- part, not very obviously, is related to custom: their common ancestor is suescere, Latin for "accustom."
Thursday, March 20th cathexis Hold Tight Word of the Day:
We don't often recommend that certain words be left to the professionals, but this one fits that small category: it's the emotional charge that you invest a particular activity or person with. The word is from psychoanalysis and has roots in Greek that mean "hold fast." It's a coined word, meant to translate Freud's German word Besetzung.
Friday, March 21st Rhapsody A Stitch in Rhyme Word of the Day:
The Greek roots of this word mean "stitch" and "sing" -- it referred originally to the recitation of epic poetry, and now denotes epic poetry generally. We salute it today, World Poetry Day, on which all language lovers are encouraged to rhapsodize randomly.
Saturday, March 22nd surreptitious Cloak and Dagger Word of the Day:
This useful adjective denotes secret or cleverly concealed activity and has remained true to its Latin roots through many centuries: it's from a word that means "snatch secretly." Its many relatives in English include rapacious, rapid, raptor, and usurp.
Sunday, March 23rd dashiki Flair Wear Word of the Day:
If you like your shirts loose, colorful, and long, this is the garment for you. This mainly men's pullover garment is a staple wherever West Africans are found; the word is modified from Yoruba, a Nigerian language.
Monday, March 24th ecchymosis Black and Blue Word of the Day:
Doctors have an obscuring name for just about everything: this is the one for bruise. The word's Greek roots mean "force out juice," the juice in this case being your blood. A related word in English is chyme.
Tuesday, March 25th narcolepsy Bedtime Word of the Day:
You may think you've got it after lunch everyday, but if you're actually falling asleep before you finish the meal, then it may be time to use narcolepsy, that is, a pathological inability to stay awake. It's from a Greek root meaning "sleep" (also the source of narcotic), and is formed on the pattern of epilepsy.
Wednesday, March 26th in loco parentis Three's a Crowd Word of the Day:
This useful Latin phrase, used originally and still primarily in legal contexts, means "in place of the parents" and usually refers to a person or institution who has parentlike responsibility for a minor.
Thursday, March 27th anhinga Three-for-one Word of the Day:
These splendid birds with very long necks are found throughout the tropical Americas. They're attractive to people with limited memory capacity, because you can store the taxonomic binomial handily in the same slot where you keep the bird's name: officially it's called Anhinga anhinga. The word is from Tupi, a native South American language.
Friday, March 28th Jonquil Every Bloomin' Thing Word of the Day:
This close relative of the fragrant daffodil arrived in English from French jonquille; it eventually goes back to Latin for "little reed." It's our honoree today, Jonquil Day in the French Revolutionary Calendar, and surely a day when jonquils are blooming in many places in the world.
Saturday, March 29th withers Tall in the Saddle Word of the Day:
Horsy folks will know this word as denoting the high point on a horse's back, where the shoulder bones meet. It's an old word in English and it maintains a dignified silence about its true origins, and why it's a plural denoting a single thing.
Sunday, March 30th garrulous Because I Care Word of the Day:
Of the many words in English that mean "talkative," this one can usually be used to characterize someone without causing offense. Its Latin root is from a verb that means "chatter," a root that is also, somewhat distantly, the source of the verb care.
Monday, March 31st feint Gotcha Word of the Day:
Football players do it all the time, though for some reason we tend to use the more colloquial "fake" or "dodge": that is, a deceitful movement that makes someone misinterpret your intentions. The related verb, both in meaning and etymology, is feign; no relation to the homonym faint.
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