Wednesday, January 1st
Within You Word of the Day:
When you see -dem- in a word its worth giving a thought about whether people are involved: that's the case with, for example, democracy and pandemic. It's also the case with today's word, endemic, which originally meant "belonging to a particular people" and now is extended to mean "found in a particular place or population." The Greek root is demos, "people."
Thursday, January 2nd
Strait and Narrow Word of the Day:
Is it OK to experience anguish and angst without being redundant? The good news is "yes," because the two words, despite appearances and slight overlap of meaning, descend from different sources. Anguish is ultimately from a Latin root that means "narrow" while angst is German for "fear." Anguish is, however, related to two other bad feeling words in English: anger and anxious.
Friday, January 3rd
Light-Fingered Word of the Day:
Stealing comes in many varieties. When the object is small and of little value, and the procurement of it rather casual, there's no better verb for it than filch. The word is an English native, a slang word emerging in the 16th century with disputed and unclear origins. Popular items for filching, based on usage statistics, include money, documents, and information.
Saturday, January 4th
What's That Smell? Word of the Day:
You'll need to train your mind not to go to noise when you see noisome because the connection between the words is in appearance only. Noise, somewhat surprisingly, is related to nausea. Noisome, on the other hand, is related to annoy, and that verb gives the best clue to the meaning of noisome: highly offensive, especially to the senses, and even more especially to the sense of smell.
Sunday, January 5th
Just Like You! Word of the Day:
If today's adjective were true to its roots, it would only mean "like a human in form." It has a slightly more specialized meaning than that, applying to things that are not human but are described in human terms; as when we impute human feelings to animals, or conceive deities as being humanlike in form or action. You have to start from where you are!
Monday, January 6th
Looks Like an Angel Word of the Day:
Reports of the social order of heaven have to be viewed with some skepticism, but if you believe the things you hear, you'll know that there are cherubs up there — angels depicted as winged children — and such delightful creatures can be described as cherubic. Here on earth, it's usually young children who merit the adjective, which is typically used with "face" and "smile." Cherub is from the Hebrew of the Old Testament.
Tuesday, January 7th
Just Desert Word of the Day:
Today's verb doesn't carry any obvious etymological clues on its shirtsleeve but you might get a hint if you're an oenophile; the two English words most closely related to desiccate are both wine words. One is sack (a white wine), and one is sec, a French word meaning "dry." Desiccate means to dry up. If you desiccate food you remove the moisture from it, as a means of preservation.
Wednesday, January 8th
Dream a Little Dream Word of the Day:
Daydreaming is not generally smiled upon, especially if you are at your desk, but you can put a happier face on daydreaming by calling it reverie, the French loanword for the same thing. Older forms of the word in French meant "madness, delirium, wildness, rage," suggesting perhaps that daydreams have cleaned up their act somewhat in recent centuries.
Thursday, January 9th
Ham It Up Word of the Day:
The main thing to remember about today's word is that the melo- bit has nothing mellow about it: it's from a Greek word for ?song' and is related to melody. A melodrama is a play or film in which action and theatricality predominate over characterization. Does your life resemble this? Some people's do, and melodrama is also used to characterize behavior and real-life events that go overboard with drama.
Friday, January 10th
Ties That Bind Word of the Day:
Today's word is all about binding among tiny building blocks: atoms and molecules. Ligand is from a productive Latin root that shows up in many different English words, all of which have some relation to the idea of binding, whether in a literal or figurative way. There's ligature and ligament on the literal side, and oblige and league among the invisible bonds created by human minds.
Saturday, January 11th
In the Soup Word of the Day:
In that murky state between liquid and solid there are many words, many of them informal, to characterize things that flow slow. Ooze is among the most ancient of these words, traceable an English native in use before the 12th century.Verb use began in the 14th century. The favorite companion of the noun is primordial. Most oozes are yucky substances, not the kind that you would like spread on a cake.
Sunday, January 12th
Stir It Up Word of the Day:
Task number one for today's word is not to confuse it with ferment. Foment is a transitive verb that means "stir up" or "incite." The object is usually something undesirable: violence, war, unrest, revolution. The origin of foment is a Latin verb that meant "heat." Its only English relative is the technical word fomite, an inanimate object that can transmit infection.
Monday, January 13th
Approaching Zero Word of the Day:
There's clearly a naught (from an Old English word for nothing) in naughty, but what is it doing there? The earliest meaning of the word was 'possessing nothing.' Today's meaning, 'wicked,' developed in late Middle English and was much stronger in force than the contemporary meaning. We use naughty today mostly for mild wickedness, such as is observed in children and in the minor failings of adults.
Tuesday, January 14th
Charm Offensive Word of the Day:
It's a pretty safe bet to think 'transitive' when you see a verb beginning with be-, and it works here: beguile means to use guile on, or in other words, to influence by means of flattery, deception, trickery, and the like. The verb dates to the 12th century, sharing its ancient pedigree with many other such be- verbs. Remember Eve's response to a question from on high: "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat."
Wednesday, January 15th
Payback Word of the Day:
To understand the important part of unrequited, it's helpful to get a grip on the underlying verb. Requite is a little-used verb meaning repay — as for services, benefits, and the like. The quite part is not in fact related to quite, but is related to quit. Like its derived adjective, requite is used of love and other abstractions.
Thursday, January 16th
With Sprinkles Word of the Day:
You may have cast aspersions before without full awareness of what you were doing, but that won't happen again after today's word portrait. Aspersion (a disparaging remark)is from a Latin root that meant "scatter" or "sprinkle"; the underlying verb is asperse. The negative meaning that prevails today developed from analogy with the effects of spattering, as with mud some other pollutant.
Friday, January 17th
Little Helper Word of the Day:
The suffix -ling in English has two uses: one diminutive, the other meaning simply "associated with" and often with pejorative connotations. Today's word hireling is in the latter class, denoting one who is hired for something menial. Underling, princeling, starveling, and foundling all share the negative quality of things we don't aspire to be.
Saturday, January 18th
All in Fun Word of the Day:
You may know the rapper known by a homophone of today's word, but do you know the 300-year-old English word that inspired him? Listen up! Ludicrous is from a Latin root meaning "play" or "game" that also shows up in collude, interlude, and ludic. Ludicrous is a synonym of ridiculous and characterizes something that is laughable because of absurdity.
Sunday, January 19th
Beastly Word of the Day:
Today's noun gets a prize for remaining unchanged in meaning throughout the 800 years it has been in English. It has always denoted a wild and uninhabited area, as it does today. Etymologists can't decide whether it's from an Old English word that meant 'wild beast,' or from the obsolete adjective wilder ("wild, savage") with ness tacked onto it.
Monday, January 20th
Worth Keeping Word of the Day:
Don't hesitate in deciding whether to preserve the m on the end of embalm when you nominalize it, because embalm and embalmment are all about preserving. They're related to balsam, a word for an aromatic resin that played a role in early embalming attempts. Balsam has recognizable forebears in ancient languages and is similar in Hebrew and Arabic, reflecting its Semitic origins.
Tuesday, January 21st
Shine On Word of the Day:
Today's adjective combines the positive or neutral idea behind "shine" with the potentially negative idea behind "surface" to give us a concept suggestive of attractiveness in appearance only. The root is gloss, a word of mildly disputed origin that is probably related to words of similar meaning in other Germanic languages. As a noun, glossy refers to a photo or a magazine printed on shiny paper.
Wednesday, January 22nd
Pocket Change Word of the Day:
Though it started life as a noun designating a coin of small value, picayune is today an adjective synonymous with trivial, paltry or petty. The word is derived from Portuguese or Occitan but was introduced to English in the US, from the coin called a picayune being in circulation in colonial North America. The Times-Picayune, a newspaper in New Orleans, is named for the coin.
Thursday, January 23rd
Bon Appetit! Word of the Day:
A funny thing about today's food word, gruel, is that it is rarely used in any context in which pleasure plays a part. "Thin porridge" pretty much says it all, and when you add that to the sound of the word, which may conjure gruesome, grueling, and cruel, (all unrelated words) you've got a meal that is not exactly party food. Gruel is from Germanic roots and is distantly related to grout.
Friday, January 24th
Disreputable Word of the Day:
Today's word represents a destination that everyone would avoid if possible: dishonor, disgrace, and humiliation. Ignominy is from a Latin word with the same meaning, made up of the same negativizer you see in ignore and ignoble joined with the word for "name." Ignominy came to English in the 16th century; before that they probably just called it shame.
Saturday, January 25th
Reduced Salt Word of the Day:
Where the waters of the sea meet the waters of the land you get a mixture of fresh and marine. And since it exists, English has a word floating around for it somewhere. Water that is slightly salty is called brackish, such as the water found in river estuaries. Brackish is from an obsolete Dutch word brac, "salty."
Sunday, January 26th
Curmudgeon's Word of the Day:
You're right in thinking that today's word means "with crotchets," but wrong if you think those crotchets are quarter notes. Before crotchet picked up its musical designation it meant (and still does) an eccentric opinion or belief. Those with many of these?use your imagination here?are said to be crotchety. For those keeping score, crotchety old men outnumber women about 4 to 1 in usage.
Monday, January 27th
All Alone Word of the Day:
Unlike many kinship terms, orphan has neither the look nor feel of an English native, and that's because it's not: it's a Greek borrowing from the 15th century. The Greek root had the same meaning. In the 20th century orphan picked up some figurative meanings, the most common of which is to designate a printed word or line undesirably separated from the sentence or paragraph it belongs with.
Tuesday, January 28th
Unbelted Word of the Day:
You may have heard your dentist say today's word while her fingers were in your mouth and wondered what belts and teeth have in common. More than you would think! Buccal (relating to or toward the cheek) is a homophone of buckle. The really startling news is that both words are descended from the same root, via divergent paths. The noble ancestor is Latin bucca, "cheek."
Wednesday, January 29th
Power Failure Word of the Day:
It's a mystery why English chose to borrow today's word from French when it has quite serviceable synonyms like impotence and powerlessness, but borrow it did, in the distant mists of the 15th century, and so poets and literati alike have an additional metrical choice when searching for a noun to express the idea of having no power. The underlying root is Old French pussant, "able."
Thursday, January 30th
Scary Word of the Day:
The ghastliness of ghosts is no coincidence because ghastly and ghost are distantly related via a common Germanic root. A closer relative of ghastly is aghast, which you might think of as the way you feel when you see something ghastly. Like some other adjectives in English (such as horrible and gruesome), ghastly can characterize things that are disgusting as well as frightening.
Friday, January 31st
Feel the Buzz Word of the Day:
It's not rocket science to perceive rhapsody and rhapsodic lurking in today's word, and having done that you can probably sort out the predictable meaning of this verb from a Greek root with a Greek suffix tacked onto it. One who rhapsodizes speaks or writes rhapsodies, or more commonly, talks with great enthusiasm about a subject.