Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Lilliputian \lil-i-PYOO-shuhn\ , adjective;
1. Extremely small; tiny; diminutive
2. Trivial

No need to consult the dictionaries for the etymology of this one! Jonathan Swift wrote about the people of Lilliput who were only 6" tall in Gulliver's Travels (1726). A story this iconic becomes part of our collective knowledge, so words and phrases are easily translated into our day-to-day speech without specifically mentioning its source. See frabjous for a similar type of word from C.S. Lewis.

Speaking of C.S. Lewis, this made me laugh.

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Tuesday, November 30

Monday, November 29, 2010


Impetrate \IM-pi-treyt\ , verb;
1. To entreat; ask for

According to the Oxford English Dictionary impetrate came from Latin impetrat-, which is the participial stem of impetrare ("to obtain by request or exertion, to procure, effect"). It is a combination of im- + patrare ("into, in, within; on, upon; towards, against" + "to bring to pass, accomplish, achieve").

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Monday, November 29

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Namaste \NUHM-uh-stey\ , noun;
1. A conventional Hindu expression on meeting or parting, used by the speaker usually while holding the palms together vertically in front of the bosom
2. A conventional Hindu expression on meeting or parting, frequently a part of yoga practice

According to Etymonline.com:
The word dates to 1948 in English, but in Hindi it is much older. It comes from Sanskrit namas ("bowing") + te (dative of tuam, singular "you"). It has been used as a word of greeting since 1967.

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Sunday, November 28

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Olio \OH-lee-oh\ , noun;
1. A mixture of heterogeneous elements; hodgepodge
2. A dish of many ingredients
3. A medley or potpourri, as of musical or literary selections; miscellany

According to Etymonline.com:
Olio was a 'medley dish of Iberian origin' and the word entered English around the 1640's. Exactly which language it entered from is up for debate. It was either from Spanish olla or Portuguese olha, both of which came from Latin olla meaning "pot, jar." The Oxford English Dictionary says it comes from Spanish.

If you try to look up a recipe for olio you will find a bunch for aglio e olio, which is Italian for garlic and oil. This recipe has many varieties, but it always includes spaghetti, olive oil, and garlic. Unfortunately, I don't think this is the same olio from which this word derived.
Real olio, or ollo podrida, is a thick stew with meat and fowl, bacon, pumpkins, cabbage, turnips, and other ingredients stewed or boiled together and highly spiced. Apparently ollo was used the way we use casserole, that is, it was a generic word referring to a type of dish, rather than a specific recipe. It also sounds like it was very similar to our casseroles in the sense that you just throw what you have into a container and cook it up.

For more on making olio click here.

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Saturday, November 27

Friday, November 26, 2010


Bonanza \buh-NAN-zuh\ , noun;
1. A source of great and sudden wealth or luck
2. A rich mass of ore, as found in mining

According to Etymonline.com:
This word is definitively American, related to our unique 'wild west' culture. Dating from 1844 bonanza is a Spanish word meaning "a rich load," but it originally meant "fair weather at sea, prosperity." It comes from Latin bonus ("good") via Vulgar Latin *bonacia. Bonus is also an antecessor to the prefix bene-.

If you read that and are wondering what on earth 'Vulgar Latin' is, you're in luck because I'm going to tell you.
Latin is a member of the Italic language family, which is one of the branches of Proto-Indo-European (If you haven't done so yet, go back and read my post on eke where I outline the PIE language tree). Latin was the language of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, which assimilated many peoples into its culture as it spread through Europe. Over time Latin changed, as languages always do, and a distinction was made between 'Classical' (high) and 'Vulgar' (low) Latin. Classical Latin was the written language which, much like modern written English, was idealized into the 'true' language that educated people were expected to speak. Vulgar Latin was the name given to any dialectal speech, much like our Spanglish or Ebonics (African American Vernacular English), and like our modern equivalents there was a general feeling that these were poor versions of the language. The truth is that all dialects and language are created equal in the sense that they are rule-based and equally complex, but the advent of written language gave us room to idealize "classroom" languages (the version you learn in school, whether it's your writing class or a foreign language) and look down on certain oral variations as sub-standard. It's worth noting that everyone speaks a dialect. Everyone. Even those of us from the Midwest who tend to think our speech is very 'neutral' (nothing like those Bostonians or Texans!). Have you ever heard someone say something like, "I'm going to the store, wanna come with?" This phrase breaks more than one classroom grammar rule, yet it's a phrase that I guarantee is uttered all over this nation of ours by people who might look down on a phrase like "Who she think she is?"
I digress, various versions of Vulgar Latin evolved and changed independently of each other and eventually became our modern Romance languages.

If you're bored, look up the video "American Tongues" (IMDB entry here). It's a really funny and interesting look at our linguistic prejudices in the United States.

One more thing: there was  television show in the 1960's and 70's named Bonanza that my dad liked, so he liked to watch the re-runs on TV Land when I was a kid. There was a recurring story arc that if one of the main characters in the show fell in love with a woman, she would eventually be killed off the show. One evening he was watching an episode where one of the female characters had just died and I walked in as the male character was walking around his house in anguish. Dad remarked, "Bet he burns the house down," to which I responded, "Who's Betty?"
And thus, the nickname "Betty" was established, mostly reserved for when I was suffering a "blonde moment," of which I have many.

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Friday, November 26

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Consanguineous \kon-san(g)-GWIN-ee-us\ , adjective;
1. Of the same blood; related by birth; descended from the same parent of ancestor

According to Etymonline.com:
This word dates to the 1600's and comes from Latin consanguineus or "of the same blood." It is a combination of com- + sanguineus ("together" + "of blood")

Happy Thanksgiving!
Now go spend time with your favorite people, consanguineous or otherwise!

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Thursday, November 25

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Heuristic \hyoo-RIS-tik\ , adjective;
1. Serving to indicate or point out; stimulating interest as a means of furthering investigation
2. Encouraging a person to learn, discover, understand, or solve problems on his or her own, as by experimenting, evaluating possible answers or solutions, or by trial and error
3. Of, pertaining to, or based on experimentation, evaluation, or trial-and-error methods
4. Denoting a rule of thumb for solving a problem without the exhaustive applications of an algorithm

According to Etymonline.com:
This word dates to 1821 and meant "serving to discover or find out" from an irregular formation of the Greek word heuretikos ("inventive"). Heuretikos is related to heuriskein ("to find") which is a predecessor of eureka.

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Wednesday, November 24

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Mithridate \MITH-ri-deyt\ , noun;
1. A confection believed to contain an antidote to every poison

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word entered English via Middle French and Latin, but it really comes from Hellenistic Greek as the name of Mithridates VI, king of Pontus, who was said to have made himself immune to poisons because of his constant use of antidotes.

Mithridates VI ruled Pontus from about 120 BC until his death in 63 BC and is remembered as one of the Roman Empire's most formidable and successful enemies. Oddly enough, this man who took extraordinary measures to make himself immune to poisons tried to commit suicide by poison after he was defeated and felt himself in danger of capture by Romans. It didn't work, of course, and he was killed with a sword.

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Tuesday, November 23

Monday, November 22, 2010


Enspirit \en-SPIR-it\ , verb;
1. To infuse life into; enliven

I know another word for this: coffee

Etymonline.com and the online Oxford English dictionary don't contain this word, but if the etymology is similar to enliven, which is probably is, then it's too boring and obvious to write about anyway.

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Monday, November 22

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Bamboozle \bam-BOO-zuhl\ , verb;
1. To deceive or get the better of (somebody) by trickery, flattery, or the like
2. To perplex; mystify

According to Etymonline.com:
Dating to 1703 this was originally a slang or cant word, perhaps from Scottish from bombaze ("perplex") which is related to bombast, or French embabuiner ("to make a fool of", literally "to make a baboon of").

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Sunday, November 21

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Weal \WEEL\ , noun;
1. Well-being, prosperity, or happiness
2. A raised mark on the surface of the body produced by a blow
3. Obsolete: the state or body politic

According to Etymonline.com:
This word actually has two different etymologies depending on the definition. The sense of "well-being" comes from the Old English word wela meaning "wealth" or "welfare, well-being" in late Old English). The word derives from West Germanic *welon from the Proto-Indo-European base *wel- ("to wish, will"), which is also related to the adverb well.
The second definition dates to 1821 and is an alteration of wale that comes from Old English walu, which derives from Proto-Germanic *walo. Walu originally meant "ridge" in the sense of earth or stone ridges, but it later meant something like "ridge made on flesh by a lash." Wale has worn many hats over the centuries: it referred to the "horizontal planks which extend along a ship's sides" from the 13th century, then later the ridges of textile fabrics in the 1580s, and now something like "raised line."

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Saturday, November 20

Friday, November 19, 2010


Hallow \HAL-oh\ , verb;
1. To make holy; sanctify; consecrate
1. Hallo
1. To shout or chase with cries of "hallo!"

According to Etymonline.com:
This word comes from Old English halgian ("to make holy, to honor as holy") which is related to halig ("holy"). Halig comes from Proto-Germanic *khailig which is also related to the modern English word health.

This word should have been last month, don't you think? Around Halloween perhaps?

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Friday, November 19

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Aoristic \ey-uh-RIS-tik\ , adjective;
1. Indefinite; indeterminate
2. In grammar: A tense of the verb indicating past action without reference to whether the action involved was momentary or continuous

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word is Greek. The first attribution the OED lists for the first definition is from 1846 by George Grote: "In the genuine Grecian epic, the theme was an unknown and aoristic past."

I had never heard of aoristic in English grammar and it turns out there's a good reason for that: it doesn't exist. Aoristic is another term for perfective aspect, which is the opposite of the imperfective aspect. The imperfective aspect describes an action from a specific viewpoint - sort of like background information. The perfective aspect, on the other hand views a situation as a simple whole and describes a completed action. We can sort of express these in English; in a narrative the imperfective would describe the setting (The sun was shining. The birds were singing. etc.) while the perfective would describe what's happening in the foreground (The young lovers went to the park and had a lovely picnic.)

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Thursday, November 18

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Idioglossia \id-ee-uh-GLOS-ee-uh\ , noun;
1. A private form of speech invented by one child or by children who are in close contact, as twins
2. A pathological condition in which a person's speech is so severely distorted that it is unintelligible

The etymology of this word is really not that interesting: idio- is used to indicate the individual or something attributed to the individual and -glossia is spoken language. The really interesting thing is it's implications in the tabula rasa/innatism debate, which is a language-specific aspect of nature v. nurture.  
Tabula rasa means "blank slate" and it was introduced by John Locke as a theory for how we acquire language. He argued that we are born 'blank' and language imprints on us from what we hear as a small child. Innatism is the opposite argument, stating that we are born with a structure for grammar (sort of like a rough outline) and we insert the language(s) we hear into that existing framework.
There are compelling arguments for both sides, but in my opinion there is just a little too much science backing innatism to really buy into tabula rasa. Take our word today, idioglossia, and what it refers too: one could argue that these are just altered versions of language that one has already learned, and they would have a point. However, this is not the only possible type of idioglossia. Consider born-deaf individuals who were not exposed to a formal sign language early in life. These people are deprived of all spoken language in their formative years, yet they are demonstrated to be able to communicate complex thoughts with others through forms of sign language they have developed over time. The famous case that linguists study is Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL), which was spontaneously created in the late 1970's and early 1980's in a school for the deaf. Prior to this time, deaf Nicaraguans were largely isolated and depended on 'homegrown' signs to communicate their needs. In 1977 a program was created for deaf students which quickly grew, serving over 400 students by 1983. The teachers attempted to connect with the students by using a finger-spelling system to teach them Spanish and lip reading, but it failed miserably. The students, however, started to develop their own way of communicating with each other which quickly took on the appearance of pidgin languages. In 1986, MIT linguists saw that younger students were starting to add grammar and conjugation to the pidgin of the older students, which is recognized as the second stage in the development of a new language.
Today NSL is considered a full-fledged signed language, though it is "unwritable" and "unspeakable", and it is still heavily studied by linguists because of it's unique status as a newly created language.
I would argue that NSL was formed when idioglossias between students began connecting to the idioglossias between other students until it became a large web that became increasingly interconnected and complex until it reached the status of pidgin and continued on until it became an independent, unique language.

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Wednsday, November 17

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Gest \JEST\ , noun;
1. A notable deed or exploit
2. Archaic: A metrical romance or history

According to Etymonline.com:
The word dates back to the 1300's and comes from Old French geste ("action, exploit, romance") which derives from Latin gesta ("actions, exploits"). Gesta is the neuter plural of gestus, the past participle of gerere, which means "to carry on, wage, perform." The English word jest comes from the same lineage.

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Tuesday, November 16

Monday, November 15, 2010

De Rigueur

De rigueur \duh ri-GUR\ , adjective;
1. Strictly required, as by etiquette, usage, or fashion

This word is obviously French: rigueur means "strictness," so de regueur means "of strictness" (literal) and conveys a meaning of "according to obligation of convention."

This word is kind of boring, so let me refer you to a website that is an excellent diversion from work: http://www.etiquettehell.com


*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Monday, November 15

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Emend \ih-MEND\ , verb;
1. To free from faults or errors; correct
2. To edit or change a text

According to Etymonline.com:
Dating from the 1400's, emend comes from Latin emendare ("to free from fault") which is a combination of ex- ("out") +  mendum "fault, blemish"). This word entered the English language about 100 years after amend did, although the latter took a slightly more circuitous route. It also comes from Latin emendare, but took on the Old French spelling amender. Both words have the same basic meaning, but amend can be used in more contexts (e.g. legislation) while emend can only be used in the context of written language.

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Sunday, November 14

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Debonair \deb-uh-NAIR\ , adjective;
1. Courteous, gracious, and having a sophisticated charm
2. Jaunty; carefree; sprightly

According to Etymonline.com:
Dating from the early 13th century, this word comes from Old French debonaire which derives from de bon'aire ("of good race"). It was originally used to refer to hawks, so it meant "thoroughbred" (antonym of demalaire, "of poor race"). The Middle English definition ("docile, courteous") became obsolete at some point, only to be revived with a sense of "pleasant, affable" in the 1680's.

I like this word because it makes me think of a bygone era - Don Draper style, if you will. I think that men should start wearing suits and hats again and be more debonair. Ladies, we might have to start wearing hats and heels, but that's a deal I'd shake on!

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Saturday, November 13

Friday, November 12, 2010


Alechemical \al-KEM-ik-uhl\ , adjective;
1. Pertaining to the transformation of something common, usually of little value, into a substance of great worth
2. Relating to a form of chemistry and speculative philosophy practiced in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance concerned principally with discovering methods for transmuting baser metals into gold

The etymology of alchemical obviously derives from the etymology of alchemy, so according to Etymonline.com:
Alchemy dates to the mid-14th century and comes from Old French alkemie which derives from Middle Latin alkimia. The Latin word comes from Arabic al-kimiya which comes from Greek khemeioa. Khemeioa is found in a 4th century text in a Diocletian decree that refers to "the old writings of the Egyptians." It is therefore plausible that the word has roots in Egypt, perhaps from Khemia which is an old name for Egypt that literally means "land of the black earth." Alternatively, it could come from Greek kymatos ("that which is poured out") from khein ("to pour"), which is also related to khymos ("juice, sap"). The most likely situation is that both influences combined to create the word that Latin later adopted. The al- is the Arabic definite article "the."

Most of us know that alchemy was a science that attempted to turn base metals into gold. This is, of course, impossible (at least according to atomic science as we now understand it) and it is not a very good definition of alchemy. In truth, it was a philosophical and spiritual discipline that also involved figuring out how to prepare the "elixir of longevity," and achieving ultimate wisdom. The whole idea of alchemy involved understanding, deconstructing, and reconstructing matter in a way that does not destroy it and therefore gives the alchemist control over that matter and a deep wisdom about it. Alchemy was a forerunner to modern scientific chemistry and gave rise to many substances and processes we still use today (metal working and cosmetics, for example)

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Friday, November 12

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Whilom \HWAHY-luhm\ , adjective;
1. Former; erstwhile
1. At one time

According to Etymonline.com:
The definition "at time past" is considered archaic and dates to the 1200's. It comes from Old English hwilum ("at times"), which is the dative case of while.

Dative case of while...scary, right? Anyone who has taken German or Russian or Latin knows about grammatical cases and how tricky they can be for Modern English speakers, but that wasn't always the case (pardon the pun...). Old English was fully inflected with five grammatical cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and instrumental), and also assigned masculine and feminine gender to all nouns. This really isn't surprising considering how closely related English and German are, so the interesting question is: why don't we use cases and gender anymore?

The short answer is: who knows? One theory is that in areas where Old English speakers heavily intermingled with Old Norse speakers, the use of cases started to decline and eventually disappeared. This could also explain why some of the modern languages that came from Old Norse also don't use case (Danish, Swedish), although some still do (Icelandic, Faroese, Norwegian). The loss of grammatical gender is more puzzling because it may be linked to the influence of Old Norse as well, but all modern Norse-derived languages still use gender. Why English would lose gender with case is uncertain, but the two are probably linked, whether the Old Norse theory is correct or not.
Remnants of our case system do still exist, but almost exclusively in our pronouns. Consider: "I want a soda, please give it to me." Both I and me refer to the first person singular, but they have different forms. In Old English, was nominative and was accusative and dative, and our current usage reflects those now-outdated uses.
Grammatical gender still exists as well, but in very weak forms. We don't use it at all in our definite and indefinite articles, unlike some other modern European languages. His/her/it and their various forms reflect gender (and case), but in a very straightforward way that is not really in line with true grammatical gender. In colloquial language things like boats and cars can be referred to as she/her, which definitely mimics grammatical gender, and other word pairings act in a similar way (consider: brother/sister, doe/buck, waiter/waitress).

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Thursday, November 11

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Ullage \UHL-ij\ , noun;
1. The amount by which the contents fall short of filling a container, as a cask or bottle
2. The quantity of wine, liquor, or the like, remaining in a container that has lost part of its contents by evaporation, leakage, or use
3. In rocketry, the volume of a loaded tank of liquid propellant in excess of the volume of the propellant; the space provided for thermal expansion of the propellant and the accumulation of gases evolved from it

According to Etymonline.com:
This word, with the first definition, dates to the late 15th century and comes from an Anglo-French 14th century word ulliage. Ulliage comes from a 13th century Anglo-Latin word oliagium, which derives from Old French ouillage. Ouillage comes from ouiller ("to fill up (a barrel) to the bung"), which is literally "to fill to the eye," which makes sense when you know that "eye" in Old French is ueil. Ueil, by the way, comes from Latin ochulus.

It is so strange to think about how a word like this can start in Latin and end up being used to describe something related to rocket science. That's the beauty of language folks, it's malleability and ability to be recycled over and over again!

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Wednesday, November 10

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Moue \MOO\ , noun;
1. A pouting grimace

According to Etymonline.com:
This word came directly from French (moue) around 1850. It derives from Old French moe or possibly from Middle Dutch mouwe, both meaning "pout."

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Tuesday, November 9

Monday, November 8, 2010


Demotic \dih-MOT-ik\ , adjective;
1. Of or pertaining to the common people; popular
2. Of or pertaining to the ordinary, everyday, current form of language; vernacular
3. Of, pertaining to, or noting the simplified form of hieratic writing used in ancient Egypt between 700 b.c. and a.d. 500

According to Etymonline.com:
The word dates to 1822 and comes from Greek demotikos ("of or for the common people, in common use") which derives from demos ("common people", originally "district"). Demos comes from Proto-Indo-European *da-mo- ("division"), from the base *da- ("to divide").

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Monday, November 8

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Palpitate \PAL-pi-teyt\ , verb;
1. To pulsate with unusual rapidity from exertion, emotion, disease, etc.; flutter
2. To cause to pulsate or tremble

According to Etymonline.com:
Palpitate dates from the 1620's and comes from Latin palpitatus, which is the past participle of palpitare ("to throb, to flutter").

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Sunday, November 7

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Nacreous \NEY-kree-uhs\ , adjective;
1. Resembling nacre (mother-of-pearl); lustrous; pearly

This word is so boring, I can't believe I'm even bothering to tell you what the etymology dictionary says:
From 1840, it means "resembling nacre" from nacre + -ous.

At least the nacre is slightly more interesting. According to Etymonline.com:
The word nacre dates to the 1590's and comes from Middle French meaning "type of shellfish that yields mother-of-pearl." The word probably entered the Romance language family via Italian from Arabic as naccaro (now nacchera). The Arabic word is nakara, meaning "to hollow out," in reference to the shape of the mollusk shell. The association between nacre and mother-of-pearl started around 1718.

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Saturday, November 6

Friday, November 5, 2010


Saccade \sa-KAHD\ , noun;
1. The movement of the eye when it makes a sudden change, as in reading
2. The act of checking a horse quickly with a single strong pull of the reins

According to Etymonline.com:
Dating to the mid-18th century, this word comes from French saccade ("a jerk"), which derives from saquer ("to shake, pull"). Saquer is an obscure word that is a dialectal variation on an Old French word, sachier, which is ultimately from Latin saccus, meaning "sack."

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Friday, November 5

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Brumal \BROO-muhl\ , adjectve;
1. Of winter

Well, well...how appropriate for this cold and rainy day. This morning was one of those mornings where you are supposed to hit snooze and sleep until noon. Supposed to, of course, doesn't mean you can so here I am, working. Oh well, tomorrow morning is supposed to be the same and I don't have to work, so I'll just look forward to that.

According to Etymonline.com:
Brumal meant "belonging to winter" as far back as the 1510's and comes from Latin brumalis, which derives from bruma, meaning "winter." Bruma is also the source of Brumaire, which is the second month in the calendar of the French Republic and is literally "the foggy month." Their second month does not correspond to ours, in fact we are currently in the month of Brumaire, which runs from our October 22 through November 20. "The foggy month" was coined in 1793 by Fabre d'Eglantine, who took it from French brume ("fog").

While I'm certainly no expert, I did study French for a long time, so I was surprised to see this French month that I've never heard of. Turns out, there's a good reason for that: it was only used for 12 years from 1793-1805 and in Paris for 18 days in 1871. The French Republican Calendar (also called the French Revolutionary Calendar) was part of a larger effort by revolutionaries to wipe out various aspects of the ancien régime, or Old Rule. Among the changes was a new social and legal system, a new system of weights and measures, and the new calendar. Some of the changes were more successful than others; the new system for weights and measures ultimately became the modern metric system, but the calendar was killed by Napoleon in 1806.

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Thursday, November 4

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Hyperbolic \hahy-per-BOL-ik\ , adjective;
1. Using hyperbole; exaggertaing
2. Of or pertaining to a hyperbola

According to Etymonline.com:
This word dates back to the 1640's and comes from the Greek hyperbolikos ("extravagant") which derives from hyperbole. Hyperbole literally means "a throwing beyond," but it really conveys a sense of "extravagance." Geometric hyperbolic began around the 1670's.

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Wednesday, November 3

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Thwart \THWAWRT\ , verb;
1. To oppose successfully; prevent from accomplishing a purpose
1. Passing or lying crosswise or across; transverse

I love words with kooky spellings like this. I mean, it makes perfect sense within our spelling rules, but it looks cool anyway. It would be even better (not to mention a fantastic Scrabble® word) if it was spelled like the pronunciation guide!

As is to be expected, a word with this kind of spelling definitely comes from the Germanic branch of the Proto-Indo-European tree. According to Etymonline.com:
The word dates to the 12th century and comes from Old Norse þvert ("across"), which was originally the neuter of thverr (an adjective meaning "transverse, across"). Thverr is a cognate with Old English þweorh ("transverse, perverse, angry, cross"), both coming from Proto-Germanic *thwerkhaz. The Proto-Germanic word was altered  from *therkh-, probably because of influences by *thwer- ("to turn"). The original Proto-Indo-European word was *twork- or *twerk-, meaning "twist." The verb definition dates from the mid-13th century.

The letter þ is called a thorn and is a letter that was in several Old and Middle languages in the Germanic family. In English, it eventually gave way to the 'th' digraph. It could either be the 'th' in that (voiced) or this (voiceless). Either way, it's a dental fricative (for those who took a phonetics class in college).

If you are feeling a bit lost in this Proto-Indo-European, Germanic family, etc. terminology, read the Eke post from October 26.

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010


Enceinte \en-SEYNT\ , adjective;
1. Pregnant; with child
1. A wall or enclosure, as of a fortified place

According to Etymonline.com:
Enceinte used to be spelled insente and dates to the 1600's. It comes from 12th century French enceinte ("pregnant"), which came from Late Latin incinta ("ungirt"). Incinta is a combination of Latin in- (a privative prefix) + cincta (the feminine of cinctus and the past participle of cingere, meaning "to grind"). The modern form of this word is from the 18th century and is possibly a reborrowing from French.

This use of 'reborrowing' is incorrect. In linguistics, if a word is adopted from a foreign language, phonologically adjusted to the new language, and then the new form is adopted by the original foreign language, it is 'reborrowed'. For clarification, here's an example: the Old French word tenez was adopted (and adapted) into English as tennis, which was adopted into Modern French as le tennis. The word came from French, went through an English filter, and re-entered the French language. Since enceinte originally entered the English language from French influences, it could not be 'reborrowed' in the linguistic sense. What I think they meant was that this word was adopted once as "pregnant" and then, after the French definition had shifted into the current noun version, it was adopted a second, separate, time.

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Monday, November 1, 2010