Sunday, December 1st
Heavenly Word of the Day:
No dependable reports come back about what heaven is like, but it's nice to think of it as a sweet spot, and English has a handful of adjectives for making that characterization. One is elysian, often capitalized, which is inspired by Elysium, the abode of the blessed after death in classical mythology.
Monday, December 2nd
Location, Location, Location Word of the Day:
Words ending in graphy are nearly always about the production of things that you can read or look at. Words beginning in topo- are all about places and locales. What's the upshot? Topography is the mapping or charting of features of a locality. In usage it differs from cartography in being specifically concerned with terrain, as opposed to man-made features of the landscape.
Tuesday, December 3rd
Oh, Deer! Word of the Day:
English likes to separate the names of animals from the fleshy bits of them that we feast on, with a typical distinction providing a Latinate word for the meat, a Germanic one for the animal. So it is with deer, those skittish ruminants that when killed and butchered, give us venison. The noun is from a Latin verb that means "hunt" and that also gives us the low-frequency word venery — the art or practice of hunting.
Wednesday, December 4th
Slightly Different Word of the Day:
Humans love distinctions, and so words that designate them are also a beloved little corner of the language. Nuance is one such word, a noun denoting a subtle difference. It came to English from French in the 18th century. Clever folks in the late 19th century decided that it was time to verb nuance (meaning: impart nuances to) and today nuanced things are all the rage — especially understanding, approaches, and performances.
Thursday, December 5th
High and Dry Word of the Day:
Ordinary birds have nests, but if you're a bird of prey you get a special moniker for the crib, and that word is aerie, also spelled aery, eyry, and eyrie. Birds with aeries typically build them very high, such as on clifftops, and aerie denotes more generally any very high nesting place or abode. The origins of the word aren't entirely clear but are probably from Latin. Acre may be a distant relative.
Friday, December 6th
Well I Swear! Word of the Day:
The -jury part of today's word is from the same source as the word jury but it's pretty hard to get at the meaning by composition. Jury is ultimately from a Latin verb that means "swear," and the per- bit, in this case, means "beyond the limits." So perjury is beyond the limits of swearing, when the swearing is the kind where you're supposed to be telling the truth under oath.
Saturday, December 7th
Step Lively Word of the Day:
Think about it: have you ever seen an octogenarian scamper? Probably not, because today's verb characterizes movement as nimble, quick, and playful. The subjects of scamper are usually children or animals. Scamper doesn't have a very Latin look and that's because its root, probably Latin excampare, spent quite a lot of time in Dutch before arriving in English.
Sunday, December 8th
It All Adds Up Word of the Day:
The handful of -endum words in English that have irregular -enda plurals are all direct Latin imports. Addendum is an easy case because without its ending it clearly reveals what it's about: adding. An addendum is a thing added. A typical use for the word is the plural addenda, designating things added to a publication after the main part of it is already printed.
Monday, December 9th
Stuff Happens Word of the Day:
Like most be- verbs in English, betide is a real old-timer and has now reached retirement age, taking only casual employment in the expression woe betide. In its heyday, betide had work every day as a transitive verb (with meaning similar to befall) and an intransitive verb, with the meaning "happen as if by fate." Shakespeare uses it like "become" in "If he were dead what would betide of me?" (Richard III)
Tuesday, December 10th
Happy Place Word of the Day:
Carefree lightheartedness is usually a Good Thing, unless those around you are expecting a bit more seriousness, in which case they may characterize you as blithe. The word is Germanic in origin and is related to bliss. The favorite companion of blithe is spirit: the two together are the title of a Noel Coward play. But blithe also attaches to disregard, assumption, and indifference.
Wednesday, December 11th
Tear Here Word of the Day:
Today's verb can look back on a distinguished career beginning in Old English. Rend has remained true to its original meaning, "tear by force," but in modern English it has settled into a more literary role than it began with. The past tense rent is irregular but in keeping with lookalike verbs such as send and bend. The adverb asunder is a regular companion of rent, also the past participle of rend.
Thursday, December 12th
Grand Finale Word of the Day:
Archery has supplied a handful of metaphors that find a home in mainstream English. Today's noun upshot is one of them. Its original meaning was a final shot in an archery match. From this it morphed in very little time to mean "consequence, result, outcome," all of these being things that happen after, and as a result of, something else. A surprising number of upshots are characterized as being "practical."
Friday, December 13th
Hold Tight Word of the Day:
English has a clunky native word that is a synonym of today's honoree: stick-to-itiveness. Tenacity is derived from the adjective tenacious, meaning "persistent." The noun and the verb have several synonyms since most folks agree that they designate a good thing. If you want to go one better than tenacity you can step up to pertinacity, meaning "thoroughly persistent."
Saturday, December 14th
Handle with Care Word of the Day:
Today's adjective, a low-frequency and old English word, rhymes coincidentally with one of its synonyms: wary. An archaic meaning of chary, "dear, treasured," is a little more helpful in pointing to its origins: chary is related to "care." A typical construction for chary is complementation with an of phrase: chary of committing oneself.
Sunday, December 15th
Not Altogether Clear Word of the Day:
Though not very frequent, today's adjective is well-connected: it can claim disturb, turbine, and turbulent as cousins. Turbid means "cloudy, opaque," when used to characterize liquids, and like its synonyms, and can also mean "unclear" in a figurative sense. Unlike many Latinate adjectives ending in -id, turbid has no corresponding noun ending in -or.
Monday, December 16th
That Really Helps! Word of the Day:
Help is nearly always appreciated, and words that characterize it abound in English. A lesser known one is adjuvant, with a meaning similar to auxiliary. Adjuvant is related to adjutant, and both are descended from the same Latin root. Adjuvant is used today mainly to characterize medical treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy.
Tuesday, December 17th
Got You Covered Word of the Day:
Would you feel claustrophobic in a cloister? You would have sound etymological reasons for doing so because the two words have a common root in Latin claustrum. A cloister was originally a place of monastic seclusion but today it more often designates a feature of such a place: a covered walk, typically one with a colonnade, that is open to a courtyard.
Wednesday, December 18th
Odd Character Word of the Day:
Back in the day, some alphabets did not contain letters and their characters were called runes instead. The day would be from about 200 to 1200 CE, and the alphabet would be the one used to write some Germanic languages, including English. Rune is from an Old English word that is related to round.
Thursday, December 19th
Sneaky Word of the Day:
Those who are furtive usually have something to hide, and that applies equally to those who inspired this 17th century English word — namely, thieves. The root of furtive is Latin furtum, "theft," from fur, "thieve." Furtive is usually followed by a noun denoting a mannerism or behavior, with glance being the most usual furtive thing.
Friday, December 20th
Not That Into You Word of the Day:
Among the fifty ways to leave your lover, spurn is perhaps the most straightforward and the least warm and fuzzy: it means to reject with scorn or disdain. People tend to spurn other things with greater frequency, however, and these include opportunities, offers, and advances. Spurn is from an Old English word but it has cognates in Romance languages as well.
Saturday, December 21st
Just Reward Word of the Day:
You probably shouldn't expect mercy from a mercenary, despite the two words being related via Latin merces, "wages, payment, reward." A mercenary is a soldier for pay. Mercenary as an adjective means "greedy, opportunistic." Mercy is not really an outlier in this picture; it is connected with the idea of heavenly reward.
Sunday, December 22nd
Dressing Down Word of the Day:
Don't try this at home unless someone has been very bad. Castigate means reprimand severely, or punish as a way of reforming. Subjects of castigate show no pattern but the objects of it are usually the media, one's opponents, or the government. Castigate comes from a Latin root that also spawned the synonym chasten, by a different route.
Monday, December 23rd
High and Lonesome Word of the Day:
If you suffer from acrophobia you should avoid a career as an acrobat, so as not to live constantly in fear. The common root in both words is acro- from Greek akros, "topmost." A related word is acme, meaning the highest point. As phobias go, acrophobia is a mainstreamer, having entered English with a host of other -phobia words in the 19th century.
Tuesday, December 24th
Down at Hell Word of the Day:
Whether as noun or adjective, today's word evokes the idea of something or someone well past their prime: it means "abandoned and neglected," or when used of a person, one without a home, job, or property. Close examination and a little guesswork reveals derelict's closest English relative: the verb relinquish. A Latin root gives rise to both.
Wednesday, December 25th
Major Scale Word of the Day:
When you want to coin a word that people will actually use you've got to have the gravitas to make it happen. So it was with mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot who coined the noun fractal (also an adjective) to denote shapes that are similar no matter what the scale. The word has only been around since 1975 and describes patterns found in nature and also generated computationally.
Thursday, December 26th
Side Dish Word of the Day:
If you already have an official amour, then you have the credentials to also have a paramour, a lover on the side. The word came to English from French more than 700 years ago from the phrase par amour, "for the sake of love." Instances of his paramour outnumber those of her paramour by about 15%, suggesting an imbalance in paramour acquisitions, or in talk thereof.
Friday, December 27th
The Thrill is Gone Word of the Day:
Remember Plato, the late and great Greek philosopher? It's OK if you don't, like many users of today's adjective platonic, who may give no thought to the old dead guy when they mention, e.g., a platonic friendship. This specific application of the adjective arises mainly from Plato's work Symposium, in which it is suggested that the most correct use of love of other human beings is to direct one's mind to love of divinity.
Saturday, December 28th
Who's Sorry Now? Word of the Day:
Although their relationship is slightly concealed by spelling shifts, there's good reason for you to store today's adjective penitent in the same box where you keep the verb repent: they're cousins, descended from a Latin verb that meant "cause or feel regret." Penitent is also used as a noun to denote a repentant person, or a Catholic who has submitted to penance.
Sunday, December 29th
Wear Away Word of the Day:
If you draw a blank trying to locate helpful friends for today's word, just stroll a bit further down the dictionary page till you come to detritus. Both detriment and detritus come from a Latin verb that meant ?wear away' or ?impair.' As a count noun detriment stands for a cause of injury or damage. As a noncount noun it's a near synonym of damage.
Monday, December 30th
No Place Like Home Word of the Day:
The adjective native serves many different purposes. Today's adjective autochthonous provides an opportunity to give one meaning of native a rest so you can employ a fifty dollar word in its place. Autochthonous is used to characterize rocks or organisms (including people) that are found in the place where they originated. It is used mainly in scientific literature.
Tuesday, December 31st
Rub It In Word of the Day:
Dialogue isn't a bad thing but diatribe (a vehement verbal attack) is not so widely appreciated. The two words share their opening gambit. The backend of diatribe is from a Greek root that meant "rub." It's distantly related to throw. Diatribe teams up with words that you might normally associate with weapons: launch often precedes it, against often follows it.