Visual Thesaurus Word of the Day
Tuesday, September 1st 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.'
Wednesday, September 2nd 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, September 3rd 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, September 4th 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, September 5th 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, September 6th 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").
Monday, September 7th 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.
Tuesday, September 8th 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."
Wednesday, September 9th 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.
Thursday, September 10th 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.
Friday, September 11th 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."
Saturday, September 12th 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.
Sunday, September 13th 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.
Monday, September 14th 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.
Tuesday, September 15th 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.
Wednesday, September 16th 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.
Thursday, September 17th 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.
Friday, September 18th grandiose Over the Top Word of the Day:
The difference between grand and grandiose is only four letters, but those letters completely take the wind out of the sails of grand, by designating something that is too grand by half. Too bad that -iose is not a productive suffix in English! We could then do the same job with words like sweetiose, loveliose, or friendliose.
Saturday, September 19th mollusk Soft and Squishy Word of the Day:
It's a bit ironic that this term for a large phylum of invertebrates comes from a Latin word that means "soft," since many mollusks (or molluscs in Britspeak) have hard shells. The epithet is derived from the nature of the creatures' bodies, whether in shell (like a snail) or without (like a slug).
Sunday, September 20th botheration Oh Bother! Word of the Day:
When a Latinate suffix is tacked onto a non-Latin root, you should always suspect a lack of seriousness, and so it is with this word: a usually humorous variant of bother (whose roots are unknown but probably Irish and definitely not Latin). Botherance and botherment are in the same boat, though do not enjoy the dignity of a place in most dictionaries.
Monday, September 21st chiropodist Doctor My Foot Word of the Day:
This word, especially in American English, has been pretty nearly eclipsed by its synonym, podiatrist. The two words share the Greek root pod- ("foot"). A chiropodist was originally a "hand and foot" doctor, but in many parts of the world today chiropodist is used instead of podiatrist to designate a specialist in treating the feet.
Tuesday, September 22nd chiasmus Crossover Word of the Day:
Even if you recognize the root (from Greek for "mark with the letter chi"; roughly a cross shape), you have to make quite an intuitive leap to guess that this word denotes a rhetorical figure in which word order is reversed (or crossed over, if you will) in its second instance: as in "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."
Wednesday, September 23rd logion Did He Say That? Word of the Day:
This word, from Greek logos ("word") has a particular meaning in theology, denoting a saying of Jesus that is regarded as authentic, despite not appearing in canonical scriptures. It has the irregular plural logia, on the pattern of words like phenomenon.
Thursday, September 24th latte Smell the Coffee Word of the Day:
It's surely the greatest mark of success in a compound when it becomes so familiar that you can dispense with half of it and still be understood. Thus with latte, which simply means "milk" (in Italian) and is sufficient to convey that what you're really after is the caffe part.
Friday, September 25th diaeresis We're Not Together Word of the Day:
English moves ever more towards a language that dispenses with extra-alphabetical markings all together, so the diaeresis — two dots over a vowel indicating separate pronunciation — is pretty much in semiretirement these days. It would be naïve, however, to think that it will ever go away for good.
Saturday, September 26th gossamer Tangled Web Word of the Day:
This Middle English word denotes a film of fine cobwebs, either floating in the air or dew-covered on the ground. Dictionaries often preface their etymologies of it with "apparently" because of the unconvincing nature of what follows: from "goose" + "summer."
Sunday, September 27th koan One Hand Clapping Word of the Day:
The Japanese (and ultimately Chinese) roots of this word mean "public proposition," which may be something of a koan itself: since a koan is a paradox to be meditated upon — presumably in private, with the object of realizing the inadequacy of reason.
Monday, September 28th caldera Need to Vent Word of the Day:
It's what's left after a volcano has erupted and collapsed into itself. Some of the more ancient ones form mountains and valleys in the Rockies and elsewhere. A related word in English is cauldron, whose modern meaning (vessel for hot liquids) is not so far off the mark!
Tuesday, September 29th moxie Got Fortitude? Word of the Day:
This Americanism vaguely labels a host of desirable qualities: energy, courage, determination, gumption, and even expertise. The soft drink that bears this name is the source of the word; these days moxie can be found all over the place, but Moxie is mainly sold in New England.
Wednesday, September 30th auger Drill Time Word of the Day:
This noun for a helical drill, with roots in Old English, is one of the language's poster-child homophones, paired with augur (from Latin, referring to one able to foretell events by omens). Auger's little secret is that, but for wrong division with the preceding article a(n), it would have survived as nauger. Other words in this small class are adder (the snake), apron, and umpire.
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