Sunday, October 1st
One Trick Pony Word of the Day:
So many words beginning with mono- have relatives with a similar ending but beginning with duo-, trio-, oligo-, or poly-, allowing you to construct a little memory bucket for their elements of shared meaning. Not so with monotony, which is monotonously single in form. The literal meaning, constancy of tone or pitch, is far outnumbered in usage by the slightly figurative meaning: wearying lack of variety.
Monday, October 2nd
Beastly Word of the Day:
It's difficult to overestimate the contribution to knowledge and language of the great Swedish taxonomist Linnæus, and we have him to thank as well for fauna — a noun used to describe the animal life of a particular region. Fauna was the sister or consort of the Roman god Faunus, whose dominion was forests, plains, and fields. Fauna came into its present use with the publication of Linnæus' 1746 work Fauna Suecica.
Tuesday, October 3rd
Bearable Tension Word of the Day:
A large handful of English adjectives end in -ile and describe qualities of materials. Besides tensile there is ductile, fissile, and protractile, to name only a few. The -ile bit is a reduction of Latin -ilis. The tens- bit is best known by its appearance in the near relative "tense." Tensile means "capable of withstanding tension."
Wednesday, October 4th
Holy Transparent Word of the Day:
If the middle vowels in this verb were transposed you would have a better clue to its close relationship to sacred, but even without that, it's not too hard to hear an echo. Consecrate is a mashup of the common Latin prefix con- ("together") and sacrare, "sacred." The verb means "to make sacred."
Thursday, October 5th
On the Map Word of the Day:
Cartoonists take note: you, too, may have the opportunity to make an enduring contribution to English if you can draw a cartoon that goes viral the way that one did in the 19th century to give us gerrymander. The word is a blend of Gerry (from Massachusetts governor Eldridge Gerry) and salamander. The governor ordered the redrawing of a constituency to favor his party, and a cartoonist drew a map of the oddly contoured result to resemble a salamander. The rest is political and etymological history.
Friday, October 6th
Both Sides Now Word of the Day:
Ambi- may clue you up that his word has got something to do with the idea of "two" or "both" (as in amphibian, ambidextrous). The -guous part is a bit of a red herring because most words related to Latin agere, "drive," have the ending -gate in English. The literal upshot, "drive both ways," gave rise to the more common meaning today: subject to more than one interpretation.
Saturday, October 7th
Weeping and Wailing Word of the Day:
When an English verb begins with the prefix be- you can lay two fairly certain bets: you're dealing with an ancient verb, and it's probably transitive. Both of these bets pay off here: bemoan, first appearing before the 12th century, means "moan about," or in other words, "regret or lament strongly."
Sunday, October 8th
Poison Arrow Word of the Day:
You might associate poison arrows with primitive tribes of the Amazon, but it turns out the ancient Greeks let them fly as well — and a result, bequeathed to us the most common term in English designating something poisonous. The ultimate root of the adjective toxic is Greek toxicon pharmacon, "poison for arrows"; The root toxon means "bow."
Monday, October 9th
Round and Round Word of the Day:
It's a happy word that closely resembles its only relatives in form and meaning, and such is the case with whorl: it has intersecting lines in its history with whirl and whirligig. Whorl is a favorite with botanists, who use it to describe a circular arrangement of leaves, flowers, or petals around a central axis.
Tuesday, October 10th
Chew on This Word of the Day:
Rodents don't generally figure high on people's lists of furry friends, and one reason for this may be their tendency to chew things to bits. Latin had a word for that, corrodere, which gives us corrode. We use the verb for the natural effects of deterioration on stone or metal, but the end result is not so different from what chewing does. The rode bit on the end of corrode is the same one as at the front of rodent.
Wednesday, October 11th
I Disagree Word of the Day:
Three verbs in English form a handy trio with a common root and different prefixes: assent, consent, and dissent. The common -sent bit is based on Latin sentire, "feeling," and appears in more than a dozen English words, the most mnemonically handy being sentiment. Dissent is all about not feeling like everybody else does, or in other words, to withhold assent.
Thursday, October 12th
All-in-One Word of the Day:
The handful of words closely related to integrity in English — integer, integrate, integral, and entirety — don't exactly suggest what integrity means, but they all contain the idea of something whole, complete and undivided. That's pretty much what a person's integrity has to be, if it's still going to get that name.
Friday, October 13th
All Broken Up Word of the Day:
This handy verb of Latin origin doesn't give immediate clues as to its meaning because there is no corresponding verb molish. The main relative of the verb is the noun mole, which exists multiple times in English, with different derivations. Demolish's mole is the mole that means "a protective structure of stone or concrete." It's from a verb that means "construct."
Saturday, October 14th
Mysterious Past Word of the Day:
Your etymological instincts may tell you that this word, because of its small, compact shape and initial consonant combo, is more likely to be Germanic than Romantic. You're right! Just how Germanic, however, isn't entirely clear: it's the sort of word whose origins etymologists must qualify with "probably" or "perhaps." There are two main schools: those connecting it with an Old Norse word for "short-haired," and those connecting it with Low German and Dutch origins.
Sunday, October 15th
Ground Down Word of the Day:
The letters v and w often stand in for each other when words drift into other languages. Keeping that in mind is probably your best clue for tracking down the closest buddy of this verb in English: it's the noun powder. Pulverize, from Latin roots, means "reduce to powder."
Monday, October 16th
Not so Lofty Word of the Day:
Though many may aspire to be on one, the origins of pedestal do not suggest such a lofty place: it's from Italian piedestallo, "foot of a stall." It originally referred to the foundation of a column, and later expanded to include the base for a statue or other monument. The "stall" in question eventually gave rise to the stall in English, for an enclosed space for a horse or other animal.
Tuesday, October 17th
Worth a Try Word of the Day:
Though it differs from essay by only a single letter and is closely related to it, assay has taken a much quieter route through the history of English and is today a relatively infrequent word. It works both as a noun and verb to stand in slightly more elegantly for "try," but its main uses today are technical, for the chemical testing of substances such as ores.
Wednesday, October 18th
Praiseworthy Word of the Day:
This 15th-century verb has become wonderfully forgiving in modern times because most dictionaries admit two spellings: the original one, which you see here, and the more English-friendly extoll (owing to toll and perhaps to the completely unrelated atoll). While you can extol (that is, praise) just about anything or anyone, the things most likely to be extolled in these modern times are "virtues" and "benefits."
Thursday, October 19th
Not on Speaking Terms Word of the Day:
Every word type needs its poster child, and for eponyms a very good candidate is boycott. The verb came first: "to refuse to do business with, as a sign of disapproval." The inspiration was one Captain Charles Boycott (1832-97), an Irish land agent so treated in 1880, in an attempt by the Irish Land League to get a break on rent.
Friday, October 20th
One After the Other Word of the Day:
A little spelling trick somewhat obscures the nearest English relations of this word, but if you concentrate on sound rather than letters, you'll probably get there. Sequence and consequent are both closely related. Consecutive characterizes things that follow one after the other.
Saturday, October 21st
Past Its Prime Word of the Day:
How can something be superannuated if it was not annuated in the first place? English has somehow dispensed with the need for the possible verb annuate (which would probably mean "pass one year") but thanks to a Latin word meaning roughly "over a year," we get this adjective to describe something that is too old to be of use.
Sunday, October 22nd
Just Like Granddad Word of the Day:
It's a good thing that we have this elegant-looking word to refer to the reappearance of something from an earlier time, because if we relied on more familiar words to form the idea we would probably end up with something like "throwbackhood." Atavism and its related adjective atavistic come ultimately from a Latin word that means "ancestor" or "grandfather."
Monday, October 23rd
What She Said Word of the Day:
You're right on track if you guess that this word is related to dictate, dictator, contradict, and many others with the sequence -dict-. Dictum, a noun, is perhaps the simplest of the descendants in English of the Latin verb dicere, "say." Dictum is the neuter past participle of said verb and simply means "thing said." Its most common meaning today is "authoritative pronouncement."
Tuesday, October 24th
Let It All Hang Out Word of the Day:
Whether you're talking medicine or emotion, the idea behind this adjective is all about purging. It's true to its roots, from a Greek verb meaning "cleanse, purge," which is itself based on an adjective meaning "pure." As a noun, cathartic means a medicine that purges, or in other words, a laxative.
Wednesday, October 25th
You Make Me So Very Happy One Word of the Day:
There's ordinary happiness, and then there's beatitude: over-the-top, blissful happiness. That's the uncount meaning of beatitude. If you find more than one then you're probably dealing with the Beatitudes, a name applied to several sayings of Jesus of Nazareth in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-11), all of them beginning "Blessed are..." Though the word may look related to beauty, it is not.
Thursday, October 26th
From Around Here Word of the Day:
Even though not as much fun to say as its synonym autochthonous, indigenous is a busier word, being applied to all sorts of living things. It's from a Latin word meaning "native" — which is pretty much what indigenous means.
Friday, October 27th
Water, Water Everywhere Word of the Day:
Though few can boast having one of these at home, our exposure to castles through literature usually suffices to fix this easy word in most folks' vocabularies. It's easy to spell and pronounce and could be declared an entirely problem-free word if not for possible confusion its homonym mote. You might note that you can float a boat in a moat.
Saturday, October 28th
Bad Boy's Word of the Day:
Noxious ("injurious to health") bears an obvious relationship to today's adjective obnoxious — and it may be a little surprising to learn that obnoxious originally meant "exposed to something harmful." It picked up its current sense, "highly offensive," in the 17th century. Obnoxious's usual right-hand word is behavior, with jerk coming in second place.
Sunday, October 29th
Back of Beyond Word of the Day:
Today's noun may be an illustration of the fact that it's easier to borrow from relatives than from strangers. English borrowed this word from German, and its components hinter and land both have many other relatives in English. Land is the same word in both languages; hinter is the German equivalent of English hinder, an adjective that is now obsolete but lives on partially in behind.
Monday, October 30th
Within Grasp Word of the Day:
A handy trio of words in English have Latin prehendere, "grasp," lurking in their background. The other two are comprehend, and the less frequent reprehend. Apprehend, with the meaning of "seize" (with the mind, or physically), "Police apprehend suspect," as well as being a suitable headline, also showcases the verb with its two most frequent companions.
Tuesday, October 31st
On Your Tail Word of the Day:
The close resemblance of this verb to prosecute and the fact that they share a Latin root leads to their being confused and erroneously interchanged from time to time. It may be helpful to remember that prosecute is what a prosecutor does: bring legal action to seek justice. Anyone, on the other hand, can persecute, that is, harass with malicious intent. The shared Latin root, sequi, means "follow."