Visual Thesaurus Word of the Day
Thursday, May 1st Mayday It's About Me Word of the Day:
This internationally recognized distress signal, pressed into easy English spelling and pronunciation, is from French m'aidez or m'aider ("help me!"). We salute it today, on May Day, a day for various celebrations in countries around the world.
Friday, May 2nd innuendo Nod and a Wink Word of the Day:
When it's too indelicate to say directly, you can resort to innuendo, that is, an indirect way of making your point. The Latin root is from a verb that means "nod," though innuendo today is more often done with speech than gesture.
Saturday, May 3rd soupçon Detectable Levels Word of the Day:
It's hard for English speakers not to think of soup when they see this word, especially since it can mean a trace of something (such as a flavor), but the ancestor of soupçon is the same one that gives us suspicion and suspect: the common theme is that of an idea formed from scant evidence.
Sunday, May 4th abalone Not a Sausage Word of the Day:
It hardly seems fair that this large mollusk, which yields mother of pearl, is only one syllable away from being baloney. English, like all languages, has economical pronunciation rules that force odd mergers. Abalone is from a Native American word; baloney is a sound spelling of the Italian bologna.
Monday, May 5th playwright Good Wrighting Word of the Day:
Of the half dozen English words ending in -wright in use today, playwright is the only one in which the creative act is writing, and the latest coinage (17th century) of them all. The -wright part is from very old English and denotes a maker of something, as in shipwright.
Tuesday, May 6th reveille Up and At 'Em Word of the Day:
This word is a modification of French réveillez, which means "wake up, y'all." Appropriate enough then that it denotes a bugle call meant to accomplish this.
Wednesday, May 7th kelpie In the Drink Word of the Day:
Cultures the world over have found a place for water spirits, but if you're in Scotland, these are the ones to get on the good side of, since they're thought to either drown you or warn you of the danger of it. The word's origins are obscure, but may be Gaelic.
Thursday, May 8th heifer That Old Cow Word of the Day:
This word, without known relatives inside or outside English, is an old reliable for spelling bees because of its unusual spelling of the "short e" sound. Its first spelling in English (circa 900) was heahfore, which is not necessarily worse than what we have today. No matter how you spell it, it's an old word for a young cow.
Friday, May 9th tendentious Dangerous Tendencies Word of the Day:
It's not hard to see a connection to tendency in this word, but what sort of tendency? Usage has bequeathed us with a somewhat negative meaning: tendentious usually means marked by a strong tendency, such as a bias or prejudice.
Saturday, May 10th lucubrate Burning the Midnight Oil Word of the Day:
Try this one at home! It's a verb meaning to flesh out an idea in writing, usually in a scholarly way. The Latin root means "work by lamplight," as scholars of the pre-laptop era were obliged to do.
Sunday, May 11th Emanation Got Wisdom? Word of the Day:
This verbal noun from emanate (Latin root: "flow out") has a particular meaning in Christian theology to denote the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, a key event in the formation of the Christian church. We salute it today, Pentecost Sunday, which marks the anniversary of that event oh-so-many years ago.
Monday, May 12th nudnick Full Bore Word of the Day:
This delightful word from Yiddish denotes a person who is considerably less interesting than average: in other words, a bore (especially an annoying one)! It's a 20th-century coinage; the roots are Polish, ultimately from a noun that means 'boredom.'
Tuesday, May 13th Doughty Soldier On Word of the Day:
This very old (pre-12th century) English adjective is a good alternative for those who would avoid Latinate brave, courageous, valiant, or intrepid. It's a synonym for all of them. British journalists like it these days, often to describe one who perseveres in adversity.
Wednesday, May 14th malapropism Not What I Meant to Say Word of the Day:
This noun belongs to the select set of English words derived from the names of fictional characters. Mrs. Malaprop, from Sheridan's 18th century play The Rivals, rarely missed an opportunity to use the wrong word, to great comic effect. Slips of the tongue today pay homage to her.
Thursday, May 15th persimmon Tale of Two Continents Word of the Day:
This sugary orange fruit gets its English name from an American Indian language because of the variety of persimmon that is native to North America — but many languages of the world have adopted the Japanese name kaki, because of the species of it that is native to Asia.
Friday, May 16th posse Tall in the Saddle Word of the Day:
This word for an impromptu police force can easily conjure up a whole Western, complete with saloons, poker tables, and Colt 45s, so it's a little surprising to learn that the word is actually Latin: a clipping of posse comitatus, a term used in common law as early as the 17th century.
Saturday, May 17th scimitar Slice and Dice Word of the Day:
The trail goes cold on this word for a curved sword with its edge on the convex side. Its immediate ancestors are French and Italian, but it's likely that a Middle Eastern language lurks further in its background: that's the region in which the sword first became known to Westerners.
Sunday, May 18th Bourbon I'll Drink to That Word of the Day:
The word, French in origin, is the family name of a ruling dynasty, but the whiskey bearing this name is all-American, being named Bourbon County, Kentucky. We salute it today, the 200th anniversary of the death of Elijah Craig, the Baptist minister credited with inventing the libation.
Monday, May 19th exodus We're Out of Here Word of the Day:
This word for mass departure applies most famously to the Israelites leaving Egypt, but can refer to any instance of everybody leaving at once. The Greek roots mean "out" and "road"; the -odos- part also appears, partially, in odometer ("road measure").
Tuesday, May 20th malfeasance My Bad Word of the Day:
Lots of folks do it (that is, something wrong), but when a public official is the perpetrator, malfeasance is the name for the action. The mal- part means "bad" in many English words; the -feasance part, ultimately from Latin facere ("do") also shows up in many English words, including affect, fact, and surfeit.
Wednesday, May 21st voracious Bon Appetit! Word of the Day:
The -vor- syllable in this word may cause its cousins (such as carnivore, herbivore, and omnivore) to pop into your mind: voracious means eating or tending to eat vast quantities. The Latin root means "devour."
Thursday, May 22nd jeremiad I've Got Troubles Word of the Day:
If you've got a long list of complaints you might want to characterize them, somewhat literarily, as a jeremiad. The word, an 18th-century entry into English, is inspired by Jeremiah, the Old Testament fellow who found much not to his liking in Lamentations.
Friday, May 23rd chortle Make Me Laugh Word of the Day:
The endlessly inventive Lewis Carroll (in Through the Looking Glass) gets credit for this 19th century addition to English which has stuck because it has good sound sense: as noun or verb it's a synonym of chuckle, and was probably inspired by blending chuckle and snort.
Saturday, May 24th umlaut It's About Sound Word of the Day:
Properly speaking, only German words have these two dots over a vowel to indicate changed pronunciation (as in doppelgänger), but loosely, people sometimes refer to its twin, the dieresis (as in naïve) as an umlaut. The word is German and literally means "about sound."
Sunday, May 25th calabash Well-Traveled Word of the Day:
Nouns that travel through many languages on their way to English often denote useful objects, and this one's no exception: it's a container made from a dried gourd, or the gourd itself. The word is originally Persian but traveled through French and Spanish on its way to English.
Monday, May 26th Requiem Rest Easy Word of the Day:
This loan from Latin ("rest") is the first word of the Requiem Mass and has many related meanings in English, including an act or token of remembrance. We salute it today, Memorial Day in the United States.
Tuesday, May 27th threshold Step On It Word of the Day:
This useful noun, from the earliest period of English, has never yielded up the whole secret of its origins: the -old part remains unexplained. From the beginning it has also enjoyed figurative use, denoting a level at which something becomes effective.
Wednesday, May 28th zodiac Look Up in the Sky Word of the Day:
Your first association with today's word may be horoscopes, but its origins are higher than that; in the heavens in fact, for zodiac referred originally (and still does) to the circle of constellations that take up the whole circle of the sky and that become visible at different times throughout the year. Zodiac is distantly related to zoo, reflecting the fanciful animal component in the shapes of some of the constellations.
Thursday, May 29th lanolin Rub It In Word of the Day:
Latin roots provide a smooth sound for this word denoting a substance that is less elegantly known as wool grease. Its original coiner (late 19th century) perhaps avoided calling it lanoleum, since the word linoleum had been coined a few years before.
Friday, May 30th heartthrob Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love Word of the Day:
There are no etymology points to be scored with today's word. The first cited definition of heartthrob (1839 in the OED) was simply "a pulsation of the heart." It wasn't long, however, until this definition morphed into something that causes the heart to throb (perhaps abnormally so), and soon thereafter, into someone who causes a heart throb: that's what we usually mean by heartthrob today.
Saturday, May 31st shaman Magic Man Word of the Day:
This word designating an intermediary between gods and ordinary folks among many tribal peoples has the distinction of being the only common English word from Evenki, a language of Siberia. Travelers first introduced it to English.
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