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."