Friday, May 1st
Pint-Sized Word of the Day:
The pronunciation of this adjective denoting something small, along with interference from the prefix mini-, often result in the misspelling miniscule. Remember that the word is related to minus and starts out the same way in order to safeguard yourself against the inexcusable.
Saturday, May 2nd
Clothes Call Word of the Day:
In choosing among old-fashioned words for clothing, English offers garb, apparel, and this word, which dates back to Middle English. An early form of the word, arrayment, gives a clue about its relatives.
Sunday, May 3rd
Preserve Word of the Day:
The -balm part of this word is the same balm that appears in balmy and in the names of various plants. The common element is that of making something smell good, and nowhere is that more desirable than where decaying organic matter is concerned: hence the contemporary meaning, preserve (a corpse) from decay.
Monday, May 4th
Hey Look Me Over Word of the Day:
The pronunciation of this adjective conceals two interesting bits of its history: first of all, that it shares an etymon with bishop, and secondly, that it comes from a Greek word meaning "overseer": epi- = "over" and -scopos = "see." These days it means "governed by bishops."
Tuesday, May 5th
Not So Quick Word of the Day:
Every language has a number of ways to avoid saying "the dead guy," and English enjoys two that come from the same root: deceased, a formal and impersonal way of designating one recently departed, and decedent, the version preferred when a lawyer is in the room. Both words are from Latin decedere, to die.
Wednesday, May 6th
Good as Gold Word of the Day:
This one qualifies as a value-added word: the French roots mean "ground gold" but the word denotes a gold-colored alloy of copper and zinc. The "grinding" part goes back ultimately to Latin molere and appears in many English words, such as meal, mill, and molar.
Thursday, May 7th
Red All Over Word of the Day:
It's not wrong to see red when you see this word, which denotes either a widely-used, bright red pigment, or the scale insect that produces the pigment. The word is from Spanish via French but its ultimate origins are obscure.
Friday, May 8th
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.
Saturday, May 9th
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."
Sunday, May 10th
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.
Monday, May 11th
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.
Tuesday, May 12th
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."
Wednesday, May 13th
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.
Thursday, May 14th
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.
Friday, May 15th
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.
Saturday, May 16th
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.
Sunday, May 17th
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.
Monday, May 18th
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."
Tuesday, May 19th
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.
Wednesday, May 20th
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."
Thursday, May 21st
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.
Friday, May 22nd
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.
Saturday, May 23rd
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.
Sunday, May 24th
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.
Monday, May 25th
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.
Tuesday, May 26th
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, May 27th
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, May 28th
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, May 29th
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, May 30th
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, May 31st
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."