Tuesday, April 1st
Big and Ugly Word of the Day:
It's not taxing to guess that monstrous means "like a monster," but it also means "abnormally huge," perhaps because we do not typically designate small things as monsters unless they are behaving very badly. The pattern of monstrous (where "monsterous" might be expected) is a regular transformation in many words, including disastrous and lustrous.
Wednesday, April 2nd
Have You Heard? Word of the Day:
It's the 75th anniversary of the birth of Motown singer Marvin Gaye, who died in 1984. His 1968 single, "I Heard it through the Grapevine" spent seven weeks at the top of the Billboard chart. The figurative sense of grapevine, "word-of-mouth, gossip," originally denoting an unfounded rumor, developed during the American Civil War and was firmly established by the end of the 19th century.
Thursday, April 3rd
Bon Appetit! Word of the Day:
Of all the words beginning gastr-, today's is probably the only one that comfortably accompanies an appetite — something that gastrectomy and gastroduodenal fail at miserably. The gastr- bit is from a Greek root meaning "stomach," which makes today's word seem to mean "laws governing the stomach." In fact, gastronomy is the art or science of cooking and eating.
Friday, April 4th
Shocking Details Word of the Day:
Today's adjective doesn't have anything to do with scurrying, despite appearances; the words are separately derived. Scurrilous, ultimately from a Latin root meaning "buffoon," means obscenely abusive or slanderous. Favorite followers of the adjective are attack, rumor, allegation, and accusation. It's a word much beloved by soft journalists, such as those specializing in the comings and goings of celebrities.
Saturday, April 5th
Sweet! Word of the Day:
Two hundred and fifty years ago today the British Parliament passed the Sugar Act, a revenue raiser that imposed a tax on sugar and other goods imported from New World colonies, while also fomenting the movement that eventually became the American Revolution. In honor of the anniversary we salute glucose, a natural sugar that occurs in fruits, vegetables, and animal tissues. The word is from Greek for "sweet" with the addition of the suffix -ose, which identifies all sugars.
Sunday, April 6th
Bad Boy's Word of the Day:
Judged purely on the basis of sound, today's word has a nice ring to it and has pleasant rhymes in melon and Magellan. But make no mistake, a felon is not something you want to be when you grow up. It denotes one who has been convicted of a serious crime (a felony) and derives from an Anglo-French word that meant "evildoer." The adjective felonious also has a rather melodious sound, but may not be part of a song you want to sing.
Monday, April 7th
Down by the Seashore Word of the Day:
You could be stranded on a strand with strands of your hair blowing about. With all that, you'd be required to produce only two etymologies, because the first two strands, of Germanic origin, are commonly descended. A strand is a shore or beach. To be stranded, especially of a boat, is to run aground. The meaning was extended to mean "leave in an undesirable and inescapable position." The other strand is of uncertain origin.
Tuesday, April 8th
Breathe Easy Word of the Day:
Those who must be resuscitated were presumably, at some point, already suscitating or suscitated, even though that verb is missing in English. To find the next of kin you have to go to the small family that contains cite, excite, incite, and recite, which are all the spawn of Latin citare, "put in motion, rouse." So to resuscitate someone is to make them lively again, after they've gone rather quiet.
Wednesday, April 9th
Leaves of Grass Word of the Day:
Humans make a rather poor imitation of plants, but when we sit passively in front of the TV, modern usage says that we vegetate. Plants treat the word differently; for them, it simply means "grow like a vegetable." More common than the finite use of the verb is the participle vegetated, which has come to mean "covered with plants," in phrases like sparsely vegetated or densely vegetated.
Thursday, April 10th
Go With the Flow Word of the Day:
No Scrabble player worth his or her salt will be unaware of today's word, a lifesaver for those holding a Q with no U in hand. Qi (also spelled chi and ki) is the vital energy held to be inherent in living things in some Eastern schools of thought. The word is Chinese in origin and means air' or breath.' It appears in compound loanwords such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong.
Friday, April 11th
I See Red Word of the Day:
Many an eponym is camouflaged by the simple addition of -ia to the end of it. So it is with poinsettia, named for US diplomat Joel Poinsett to denote a Latin American plant with tiny yellow flowers surrounded by petallike bracts that come in scarlet, cream, and dozens of shades in between. Mr. Poinsett is said to have discovered' the plant while visiting Mexico in 1828.
Saturday, April 12th
Truly Floored Word of the Day:
English has mnemonically unhelpful adjectives for lying on your stomach (prostrate) and lying on your back (supine), since neither of them (except to the Latin scholar) suggests an easy way to remember and distinguish them. Supine is from a Latin word for "bent backwards." You can cheat if you like and recall that when supine you can look up at the pine trees; something impossible to do when you are prostrate.
Sunday, April 13th
Reality Test Word of the Day:
Accusations of dishonesty or untruthfulness are often touchy affairs, so you may want to enlist today's adjective veridical to cast matters in a delicate light. Veridical means 'coinciding with reality,' something that the truth inevitably does. It's from Latin verus, "true," an etymon that provides English with a handful of other words: verdict, verify, verity, and very.
Monday, April 14th
Been There, Done That Word of the Day:
We've all been there — but did we have a $50 word for reporting on the experience? If ennui is in your lexicon, you at least have the comfort of being to talk about "boredom" (the nearest synonym of ennui) with a certain flair. Ennui (be sure to click on the pronunciation if you don't know it) is a direct French import, from an older root that meant "annoy" or "vex."
Tuesday, April 15th
Tough Job Word of the Day:
Those who truly hate their jobs may take some comfort in the etymology of today's word, which combines the notions of work and torment in a single noun and verb. The rather grisly ancestor of the word in Latin was the name of an instrument of torture. French got no further than simply acceepting travail as their verb for work, but in English travail has connotations of painful and exhausting work, and by extension, anything torturous.
Wednesday, April 16th
Wrong Direction Word of the Day:
Prepositions in English don't conventionally have negations; more usually they have opposites, such as up/down, in/out, for/against, and so forth. Today's word untoward picked up its negative prefix back in the day when it was used as an adjective, a job that it has largely retired from. Untoward means, in a rather formal way, difficult to deal with, or marked by trouble and misfortune.
Thursday, April 17th
Reach Out and Touch Someone Word of the Day:
Modern hominids like ourselves are equipped with arms for reaching, but if you were an invertebrate you might have to content yourself with a tentacle, an elongated tactile or prehensile flexible organ conveniently placed near the head or mouth. Octopi are the classic bearers of these handy processes, which tend to occur in multiples. Tentacle is from a Latin root that also gives us the verb tempt via a different road into English.
Friday, April 18th
Looking Back Word of the Day:
Today's adjective retroactive ought to be the opposite of proactive, but usage has decided the roles of the two words somewhat differently. Retroactive has been around since the 17th century and designates operation with respect to something in the past, such as a retroactive law. Proactive, by contrast, only popped up in English in the early 20th century and usually designates preparation for, rather than operation in, the future.
Saturday, April 19th
Strange Bedfellow Word of the Day:
Whether as noun or adjective, today's word is all about one who has arrived — in an office, that is, and holds the position associated with that office, such as an incumbent governor. If something is incumbent on you, it is your duty or responsibility. Incumbent is derived from a Latin root that also gives us incubus, an evil spirit that slips into the beds of women in their sleep.
Sunday, April 20th
Bring It! Word of the Day:
Of the many -duce words that English derives from Latin (adduce, induce, produce, reduce, seduce), today's verb educe is perhaps the least frequent and most formal. It means "to bring out" and has many synonyms, such as evoke, elicit, extract, and extort, all of which can claim more semantic space as their own than educe. The productive root in Latin is ducere, "lead".
Monday, April 21st
Value Added Word of the Day:
It's the 150th anniversary of the birth of Max Weber, a German thinker who is regarded as one of the founders of sociology. His seminal work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is still widely read today. Capitalism, an idea that caught on fire in the 19th century, was borrowed into English from other European languages and is based on capital with the meaning "wealth that can be used to create more wealth."
Tuesday, April 22nd
Rock Solid Word of the Day:
Today's word skipped into English from German and designates a kind of metamorphic rock consisting of bands that differ in color and composition. The root from which gneiss is derived means "spark," perhaps suggesting a clever use for the mineral discovered by our Stone Age ancestors. Gneiss, as pronounced in English,is a homophone of nice.
Wednesday, April 23rd
Write Like an Egyptian Word of the Day:
Today's noun hieroglyph denotes a symbol in a pictographic script or the script itself. Though a handful of these have come down to us from the ancient world, hieroglyphs are most frequently associated with ancient Egyptian culture. The word itself is of Greek origin and simply meant 'sacred writing,' which early observers of Egyptian writings judged them to be.
Thursday, April 24th
Lend a Hand Word of the Day:
If you see brass when you hear today's word it's probably because it has settled into a niche in English having to do with military types. An adjutant is a staff officer who assists a commanding officer. An adjutant general is an administrative officer. The underlying root is Latin juvare, "help," which gives us two other words via very different routes: aid and jocund.
Friday, April 25th
Squeezable Word of the Day:
If your main dialect is not British English, chances are you will know this word only from the obscure Beatles lyric, "plasticine porters with looking glass ties," from the song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." Plasticine (the word) is formed from plastic plus the chemical suffice -ine. American English has no exact functional equivalent, but Play-Doh comes pretty close.
Saturday, April 26th
All Together Now Word of the Day:
Fifty years ago today the African nations of Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged to form a union that was later named Tanzania. In honor whereof, we salute merger, a noun denoting an act of merging. Normal suffixation would suggest that merger was an agentive noun ("one who merges"); its use here is on the model of waiver and some other words in which a substantive is made of the French infinitive ending in -er.
Sunday, April 27th
Name-Calling Word of the Day:
Today's noun misnomer wears its meaning on its sleeve, with the mis- part meaning "wrong," as it often does, and the -nomer part related to such words as nominate, nominative, and denominate, which are all words having to do with naming. A misnomer is an incorrect or wrongly applied name. Those wishing to heighten the tone of their discourse often use misnomer when they simply mean "mistake" or "misunderstanding."
Monday, April 28th
Up for Grabs Word of the Day:
The adjective prehensile doesn't readily suggests its relatives but if you chop the -sile part you might arrive at apprehend, a clueful cousin. Prehensile means adapted for seizing or grasping, a quality apparent in the human hand and in the tails of some critters. The root of both prehensile and apprehend is Latin prehendere, "seize".
Tuesday, April 29th
Been There, Done That Word of the Day:
Few happy thoughts attach themselves to today's adjective, which means routine, superficial, or lacking enthusiasm. Its most frequent right-hand companions are manner and statement. Perfunctory is from a Latin root that meant 'done, accomplished,' which later morphed into a sense that meant 'careless.'
Wednesday, April 30th
Risk of Burning Word of the Day:
Today's adjective vitriolic clearly means "like vitriol" but the noun is a bit old-fashioned and may require unpacking. Vitriol, in its original sense, denoted the sulfate of various metals or sulfuric acid. The figurative extension of it is something with the quality of vitriol, like stinging or bitter speech.