Visual Thesaurus Word of the Day
Saturday, August 1st Weltschmerz What a World! Word of the Day:
Life got you down? If it comes from reflecting on the state of the world, at least you can give your ailment this name, a word on indefinite loan in English from German. Its components mean "world pain" and both have cognates in English: welt = world, schmerz = smart (the verb).
Sunday, August 2nd precocious Somethin' from the Oven Word of the Day:
This word started out referring to plants that matured early but since people do that as well, it was only a matter of time before the word got its more usual meaning: to characterize someone developed beyond their years in some capacity. The Latin roots, curiously enough, mean "pre-cooked."
Monday, August 3rd rampage Run Riot Word of the Day:
Most folks agree that this word has sound sense: it sounds like what it is, a bout of violent, destructive behavior. Curious then that its origins are somewhat obscure. It was a verb before it was a noun, and is probably related to the verb ramp, from which we also get rampant.
Tuesday, August 4th susurrus Whispering Campaign Word of the Day:
If you can get past the tricky spelling, this onomatopoetic word from Latin is a natural when you need to denote rustling or a whispering sound. Poets have a heyday with it, including Duncan Campbell Scott's "hear as now I hear/The thrill of life beat up the planet's margin/And break in the clear susurrus of deep joy."
Wednesday, August 5th bougainvillea In the Pink Word of the Day:
The name of this colorful South American vine defies good spelling sense, but all is forgiven when you see it — and a Google image search works if you don't live semitropically. The name is from the plant's "discoverer," Louis Antoine de Bougainville, a Frenchman who found the plant growing in Brazil.
Thursday, August 6th vice versa Turnabout Word of the Day:
Do the world a favor and memorize the spelling of this useful Latin phrase. Because of its pronunciation it is doomed to constant misspelling as visa versa. The vice part is the same one you see in vice president: it means "in place of." The versa part is from a verb that means "turn." The long-handed English equivalent is "the other way around."
Friday, August 7th paella Test Your Metal Word of the Day:
This Spanish dish of saffroned rice, usually with seafood and chicken thrown in, is ultimately from a Latin word for pan, and thus joins a number of foods in which a required cooking utensil forms part of the name of the dish: hotpot, hoecake, and spoon bread, to name a few.
Saturday, August 8th amanuensis Lend a Hand Word of the Day:
If you can't afford to pay him or her any more, you might flatter your stenographer by assigning this title: it denotes a person who takes dictation. The -manu- part, from Latin for "hand," appears in a couple of dozen other English words including mandate, manner, manual, and mortmain.
Sunday, August 9th oeil de boeuf Don't Be Cowed Word of the Day:
The spelling and pronunciation of this loanword from French are both formidable, but we haven't got a good native equivalent term to describe a circular or oval-shaped window. Literally it's "ox's eye."
Monday, August 10th obeisance Whatever You Say Word of the Day:
The fact that this word starts out sounding like obey is a good clue: both obey and obeisance go back to the same root. Obeisance is the act of showing deference or submission by slightly bowing, though it's often used to denote hierarchical relationships in the absence of any such outward behavior.
Tuesday, August 11th gouache Where There's Water Word of the Day:
This word for a technique of watercolor painting looks and sounds French and so it is, but its ancestor is Italian guazzo, "place where there is water," and if you hear an echo of Latin for water, aqua, you're right.
Wednesday, August 12th budgerigar Bird Word of the Day:
This small and colorful bird of Australian origin is popular wherever birds are caged. This proper name for it, however, has never quite caught on with Americans, who tend to designate the bird by its more general family name, parakeet.
Thursday, August 13th alchemy Old Gold Word of the Day:
Like many English words beginning with al-, this one's from Arabic, borrowed with the definite article al- intact. It denotes a medieval science concerned with transmuting base metals into gold. It's the forerunner of modern chemistry, and also the source of the word chemistry.
Friday, August 14th scythe Clean-cut Word of the Day:
This very old English word, first appearing before the year 800, has always designated a hand-held cutting tool. It's the most common of a small handful of English words that it both rhymes and shares a partial spelling with: kythe, stythe, tythe, and place name Hythe.
Saturday, August 15th torrid Get it While it's Hot Word of the Day:
Most folks recognize this word as a slightly elegant way of saying "too hot." Less well known is the fact that torrid has several tamer relatives in English: terrace, thirst, toast, and torrent. They all go back to Latin torrere, "burn."
Sunday, August 16th quarantine Work the Numbers Word of the Day:
If you were told that this word is based on a number and then instructed to let your mind run in a Romance direction, you'd probably get it: quarantine is from an older Italian word for 40: the number of days that were thought suitable for isolating infectious types.
Monday, August 17th meronym Partly True Word of the Day:
Words ending in -nym are all treasures for word lovers because they refer to classes of words with particular qualities. Meronyms (from Greek meros, "part") denote words that are a part of another thing: as "sleeve" and "cuff" are meronyms of "shirt."
Tuesday, August 18th lutetium We'll Always Have Paris Word of the Day:
The names of chemical elements often have colorful histories, and this one's no exception: it's a rare metal whose discoverer, a French scientist, used the Latin name for Paris, Lutetia, to honor the discovery.
Wednesday, August 19th loquacious Blue Streak Word of the Day:
The letter combos -loq- and -loc- in English words usually signal something about talking (thanks to Latin loqui), and so with this adjective that means "talkative." Its dozens of cousins include locution, colloquy, grandiloquent, ventriloquism, and obloquy.
Thursday, August 20th Caesura Mind the Gap Word of the Day:
If you want to get all literary about it, you can refer to a gap (in conversation, for example), as a caesura. The word has more technical but related meanings in prosody. The root is from a Latin verb that means "cut."
Friday, August 21st nasturtium The Nose Knows Word of the Day:
This familiar garden flower with an elegant name also denotes a genus of plants that include the cresses. A possible etymology is from Latin words for "nose" and "twist," with reference to the pungent smell of these plants — but not everyone buys into this origin.
Saturday, August 22nd bodkin Get the Point Word of the Day:
This old noun of obscure origin designates a number of things, all with a sharp point: a hairpin, a punching tool, and a dagger are among the meanings it enjoys. The -kin ending, suggestive of diminutives in German, is a red herring; the word may be from Celtic languages.
Sunday, August 23rd 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.
Monday, August 24th 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.
Tuesday, August 25th 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.
Wednesday, August 26th 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.
Thursday, August 27th 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.
Friday, August 28th 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.
Saturday, August 29th 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.
Sunday, August 30th 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.
Monday, August 31st 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.
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