deltiology (del-tee-OL-uh-jee) noun|
The study or collecting of postcards.
[From Greek deltion, diminutive of deltos (writing tablet) + -logy.]
"Floyd Jerdon is one of those people who would never confuse deltiology with scrutinizing college Greek week or studying deposits at the mouth of a river." Barbara Dempsey; Postcards Send Him Back to Another Time; South Bend Tribune (Indiana); Feb 2, 2003. "(David) Brown, founder of the Institute of Deltiology, 300 W. Main Ave., has one of the largest postcard collections in North America." Collector to Exhibit Postcards on Nov. 12; The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania); Oct 31, 2002. This week's theme: words about collecting and study of things.
| Rubicon (ROO-bi-kon) noun|
A point of no return, one where an action taken commits a person irrevocably.
[Contrary to popular belief, Caesar salad is not named after Julius Caesar. But today's term does have a connection to him. In 49 BCE, Caesar crossed the Rubicon, a small river that formed the boundary between Cisalpine Gaul and Italy. As he crossed the river into Italy, he exclaimed "iacta alea est" (the die is cast) knowing well that his action signified a declaration of war with Pompey. Today when an action marks a situation where there is no going back, we say the Rubicon has been crossed.]
"The age-old Labour debate between universal and means-tested social benefits is being decisively resolved in favour of means-testing. Tony Blair's government has indeed crossed the Rubicon." The Universal Means Test; The Economist (London); Mar 6, 1999. "Why should one not say, for example, that the defendants in Boyle 'crossed the Rubicon' and were thus guilty of attempted burglary when they attacked the door of the house which they intended to burgle ..." R.A. Duff; Criminal Attempts; Oxford University; 1996. Full-text on Questia at http://www.questia.com/CM.qst?D=wotdrubicon
This week's theme: toponyms, or words derived from the names of places.
| gerrymander (JER-i-man-duhr) verb tr.|
To repartition an area in order to create electoral districts that give an unfair advantage of a political party. noun
1. An instance of gerrymandering.
2. One or more electoral districts, widely differing in size or population, created as a result to gerrymandering.
[A blend of Elbridge Gerry and salamander. Massachusetts Governor Gerry's party rearranged the electoral district boundaries and someone fancied the newly redistricted Essex County resembled a salamander. Gerry later served as a Vice President of the United States (1813-1814).]
"But the champion gerrymandering comes from Illinois. Chicago has two Hispanic areas. They are in different parts of the city, but that has not discouraged the good politicians of Illinois from creating a constituency consisting of these two areas only. They lie on either side
of a black part of the city like the bread of a sandwich. Worst of all is the state's extraordinary 17th District, which is a crab."
United States: How to Rig an Election, The Economist (London), Apr 27, 2002.
"The same tendency to duck and weave has characterized the campaign.
Because the parties mutually agree to gerrymander most of the country,
a shamefully small number of congressional districts are in play, along with some key Senate seats."
Fifty-Fifty, The Washington Post, Nov 3, 2002.
philogyny (phi-LOJ-uh-nee) noun
Fondness of women.|
[From Greek philogynia, from philo- (loving) + -gyn (woman).]
"`Hence I speculated,' he continued, `knowing you have been to the altar
more than once, I wondered if you were indicating that your personal
ontogeny recapitulated ... philogyny.' He wondered whether I was comparing
my personal history of fondness for women (or at least for marriage) to
the context of being representative of most men."
Jan Glidewell, I Think, Therefore I Mess Up, St. Petersburg Times (Florida), Feb 25, 1994.
"Applauding each leap or spin like a younger crowd might cheer on an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo, all-embracing L.A. seemed to audibly adore every
sexy nanosecond. An exhilarating evening of edgy pop vigor, philogyny and physicality? Of course. Cheesy, too? Certainly. Welcome to rock 'n'
roll." Chris Willman, The Joffrey and Prince: A Funky Pas de Deux,
The Los Angeles Times, Jul 24, 1993.
"I know the word for hatred of women is misogyny.
Can you tell me the opposite of this term?" I get this question in my mail often. Today's word answers it.
The counterparts of these words are misandry and philandry, hatred and love of men, respectively. And to complete the picture,
there is an equal-opportunity term misanthropy, meaning hatred of humankind, where one doesn't discriminate on the basis of sex.
A word of note: one who practices philandry is a philandrist, not a philanderer which has an altogether different sense. How
come we have two words with same roots but senses as opposite as Mars and Venus: philandry (love of men) vs. philander (to engage in
frivolous love of women)? The answer lies in the many organic ways in which language evolves. The latter term comes from Greek philandros
(loving of man), to refer to a woman who loves her husband. The term Philander was later used in literature to name a male character,
apparently from the mistaken belief that it refers to a man who loves, rather than one who loves a man.
lagniappe \LAN-yap\ (noun) : a small gift given a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase; broadly : something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure |
Example sentence: The Garcia family's store always has the best holiday- themed lagniappes; this year with a $10 purchase you receive a snowman figurine.
Did you know? "We picked up one excellent word," wrote Mark Twain in _Life on the Mississippi_ (1883), "a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word -- 'lagniappe'. . . . It is Spanish -- so they said."
Twain encapsulates the history of "lagniappe" quite nicely. English speakers learned the word from French-speaking Louisianians, but they in turn had adapted it from the American Spanish word "la napa." Twain went on to describe how New Orleanians completed shop transactions by saying "Give me something for lagniappe," to which the shopkeeper would respond with "a bit of liquorice-root, . . . a cheap cigar or a spool of thread." It took a while for "lagniappe" to catch on throughout the country, but by the mid-20th century, New Yorkers and New Orleanians alike were familiar with this "excellent word."
| Barmecidal \bar-muh-SYE-dul\ (adjective) : providing only the illusion of abundance |
Example sentence: The cast of the movie is replete with big-name actors, but the feast proves to be a Barmecidal one because the performances are so uninspired.
Did you know? "Barmecide" is the name of a family of princes in a tale from _The Thousand and One Nights_ (also known as _The Arabian Nights' Entertainment_). One prince in the family torments a beggar by inviting him to a fabulous feast, at which all the dishes are imaginary. The poor man plays along with his malicious host, pretending to get drunk on the imaginary wine; he then gets even by knocking down the patronizing royal.
kakistocracy \kak-uh-STAH-kruh-see\ (noun) :
government by the worst people |
The free election won't guarantee an end to kakistocracy,
because none of the candidates have any more integrity than the corrupt dictator currently in power.
Did you know? A reader of _Time_ magazine was once so surprised to find this rare and unusual word in the pages of that
publication that he decided the occasion warranted a letter to the editor. "Where in the name of Semanticus, did your writer come
up with that word 'kakistocracy,'" he wrote in a letter dated February 6, 1956. "Is it a government of parrots?" (A "kaka" is a New
Zealand parrot.) Good guess, but "kakistocracy" actually originated as a combination of the Greek "kakistos" (superlative of "kakos,"
which means "bad") and the English suffix "-cracy," meaning "form of government."
| acedia \uh-SEE-dee-uh\ (noun) : apathy, boredom |
Example sentence: Writer Gary Danko of _SF Weekly_, once described brunch as "a stupefyingly lavish buffet spread that will do nothing to erase your acedia."
Did you know? "Acedia" comes from a combination of the negative prefix "a-" and the Greek noun "kedos," meaning "care, concern, grief." (The Greek word "akedeia" became "acedia" in Late Latin, and that spelling was retained in English.) "Acedia" initially referred specifically to the "deadly sin" of sloth. It first appeared in print in English in 1607 describing ceremonies which could induce this sin in ministers and pastors, but that sense is now rare. It now tends to be used more generally to simply imply a lack of interest or caring, although it still carries overtones of laziness as well as apathy.
| perspicacious \per-spuh-KAY-shuss\ adjective : of acute mental vision or discernment : keen |
Example sentence: The average time for solving the puzzle was seven minutes, but some of the more perspicacious subjects did it in under three minutes.
Did you know? "Perspicacious" is similar in meaning to "shrewd" and "astute," but a sharp mind will discern subtle differences among them. All three mean acute in perception and sound in judgment, but "shrewd" stresses practical, hardheaded cleverness ("a shrewd judge of character"), whereas "perspicacious" implies unusual power to see through and comprehend what is puzzling or hidden ("the perspicacious general correctly determined the enemy's next move"). "Astute" suggests both shrewdness and perspicacity, as well as diplomatic skill ("an astute player of party politics").
| ennead \EH-nee-ad\ noun : a group of nine |
Example sentence: "An ennead of gorillas -- four bachelors on one side of a waterfall, a family of five safely on the other -- scuff their knuckles as they proudly prowl." (Richard Corliss, Time, April 20, 1998)
Did you know? To the ancients, nine was a very special number, one often associated with gods and divinity. Legends and literature have long characterized groups of nine as having a special, in some cases magical, significance. Ancient Egyptians organized their gods into groups of nine; even today, their principal group of gods (headed by sun god Re-Atum) is called the "Great Ennead of Heliopolis." The "Ennead" English speakers use in that name traces to "ennea," the Greek word for "nine."
"Ennead" is also used generally to refer to other groups of ancient gods. Furthermore, it is the name given to six sets of nine treatises
by Greek philosopher Plotinus that were collected and organized by his 3rd-century disciple, Porphyry.
inchoate \in-KOH-ut\ adjective : being partly in existence or operation; especially :
imperfectly formed or formulated : formless |
Example sentence: By the end of our first meeting, we had only an inchoate
idea of how we should market the new product.
Did you know? "Inchoate" derives from "inchoare," which means "to begin"
in Latin but translates literally as "to hitch up." "Inchoare" was formed from the prefix "in-" and the noun "cohum," which
refers to the strap that secures a plow beam to a pulling animal's yoke. The concept of implementing this initial step
toward the larger task of plowing a field can help provide a clearer understanding of "inchoate," an adjective used to
describe the imperfect form of something (as a plan or idea) in its early stages of development. Perhaps because it looks a
little like the word "chaos" (although the two aren't closely related), "inchoate" now not only implies the formlessness that
often marks beginnings, but also the confusion caused by chaos.
sagacious \suh-GAY-shuss\ adjective *1 : of keen and farsighted penetration and judgment :
2 : caused by or indicating acute discernment
Uncle Max tried to stump Abby with a series of riddles, but the sagacious child outwitted him every time with her clever answers.
Did you know? You might expect the root of "sagacious" to be "sage," which means "wise" or "wise man," but that wouldn't be a wise
conclusion. Despite their similarities, the two words are not all that closely related. "Sagacious" traces back to "sagire," a
Latin verb meaning "to perceive keenly." It's also related to the Latin adjective "sagus" ("prophetic"), which is the ancestor of our verb "seek."
Etymologists believe that "sage" comes from a different Latin verb, "sapere," which means "to taste," "to have good taste," or "to be wise."
*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.
| oligopsony \ah-luh-GAHP-suh-nee\ noun : a market situation in which each of a few buyers exerts a disproportionate influence on the market |
Fewer than 10 automakers worldwide dominate the industry, forcing suppliers into an oligopsony where the buyers can dictate prices.
Did you know? You're probably familiar with the word "monopoly," but you may not recognize its conceptual and linguistic relative, the
much rarer "oligopsony." Both "monopoly" and "oligopsony" are ultimately from Greek, although "monopoly" passed through Latin
before being adopted into English. "Monopoly" comes from the Greek prefix "mono-" (which means "one") and "polein" ("to sell"), while "oligopsony" derives from the combining form "olig-" ("few") and the Greek noun "opsonia" ("the purchase of victuals"),
which is ultimately from the combination of "opson" ("food") and "oneisthai" ("to buy"). It makes sense, then, that "oligopsony" refers to a "buyers' market" in which the seller is subjected to the potential demands of a limited pool of buyers. Another related word is "monopsony," used for a more
extreme oligopsony in which there is only a single buyer.
| hiatus \hye-AY-tus\ noun 1 :
a break in or as if in a material object : gap |
2 a : an interruption in time or continuity : break *b: a period when something (as a program or activity) is suspended or interrupted
Example sentence: After the summer hiatus (during which he mostly put his brain on hold),
Tony returned to school ready for some serious studying.
Did you know? "Hiatus" comes from "hiare," a Latin verb meaning "to gape" or "to yawn," and first appeared in English in the middle of the 16th century. Originally, the word referred to a gap or opening in something, such as a
cave opening in a cliff. Occasionally, it has been used to describe holes in clothing, as when Laurence Sterne wrote in _Tristram Shandy_ of "the hiatus in Phutatorius's breeches." These days, "hiatus" is usually used in a temporal sense to refer to a pause or interruption (as in a song), or a
period during which an activity is temporarily suspended (such as a hiatus from teaching).
*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example
| quidnunc \KWID-nunk\ (noun) :
a person who seeks to know all the latest news or gossip : busybody |
Example sentence: I lowered my voice when I noticed that Nancy,
the office quidnunc, was standing right next to my cubicle hoping to overhear what I was saying.
Did you know? "What's new?" That's a question every busybody wants answered. Latin-speaking Nosey Parkers might have used some version of the expression "quid nunc," literally "what now," to ask
the same question. Appropriately, the earliest documented English use of "quidnunc" to refer to a gossiper appeared in 1709 in Sir Richard Steele's
famous periodical, The Tatler. Steele is far from the only newsmonger to ply "quidnunc" in his prose, however. You can find the word among the pages
of works by writers including Washington Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne. But don't think the term is entirely relegated to old news — it sees some use
in current publications, too. *Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.
potemkin village (po-TEM-kin VIL-ij) noun.
An impressive showy facade designed to mask undesirable facts. [After Prince Potemkin, who erected cardboard villages for Catherine II's
visit to the Ukraine and the Crimea in 1787.] |
"And that raises the key question: is SBC serious? ... Or is this all a
Potemkin village, meant to impress regulators?" Seth Schiesel, SBC Is Going National With Its Local Service, The New York
Times, Oct 9, 2000.
Imagine a Hollywood set and you'd have a good idea of the original Potemkin village. In 1787,
when Catherine the Great visited the Ukraine and the Crimea, Prince Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin (1739-1791), a Russian army officer, statesman,
and her lover, decided to put up elaborate cardboard houses apparently full of splendor in the villages Catherine was shown. While this setup depicted
an illusion of prosperity, the real condition of the village was hidden behind this facade. A Potemkin village is, in other words, whitewash taken to the Nth degree.
While Potemkin is the subject of many a legend, Potemkin village is his claim to fame. Terms named after people, such as this one, are called eponyms.
| batrachomyomachy \bae-treh-keh-mi-OM-eh-ki\ (noun) - A fight over nothing; a storm in a teacup. |
"The noise from upstairs suggested that the children had started a new batrachomyomachy."
The Greek word means "The Battle of Frogs and Mice." It is the title of a mock-heroic epic poem that recounts a tiny struggle around a small pond using overblown terms that recall the siege of Troy. Originally attributed to Homer, it probably dates from the fifth century BC and contains batrachos "frog,"
mus "mouse," and "machia" fighting. Batrachos gives us "batrachian," pertaining to a frog or toad and
"batrachophagous," a synonym for "ranivorous." Mus, via Latin, gives us "murine," pertaining to mice;
Latin musculus "little mouse" gives us "muscle," presumably a reference to the rippling of a powerful
forearm. Finally, Greek machia comes from Proto-Indo-European *magh, meaning "power," which
has also given us "mighty," "machine," "magic," "magus" and "dismay."
opusculum \oh-PUSS-kyuh-lum\ noun : a minor work (as of literature) |
Between the publication of his two most famous novels, the author released a slim opusculum documenting his experiences
teaching English in Italy.
Did you know? "Opusculum" (which is often used in its plural form, "opuscula")
comes from Latin, where it serves as the diminutive form of the noun "opus," meaning "work." In English, "opus" can refer to any literary or artistic work (though it often specifically refers to a musical piece). Logically, then, "opusculum" refers to a short or minor work. ("Opusculum" isn't restricted to music though. In fact, it is most often used for literary works.) The Latin plural of "opus" is "opera," which gave us (via Italian) the word we know for a musical production consisting primarily of vocal pieces performed with orchestral accompaniment. We can also attribute to "opus" our verb "operate."
epiphany \ih-PIH-fuh-nee\ (noun) |
1 capitalized : January 6 observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi to Jesus at Bethlehem
*2 : a sudden striking understanding of something
Example sentence: As he looked out toward the lake, Detective Rudgate had an epiphany: the murderer must have arrived by boat.
Did you know? "Epiphany" made its first appearance in English in the 14th century, when it was used to name the Christian festival commemorating the coming of the Magi, the wise men who traveled to Bethlehem to pay homage to
Jesus. That festival, which is traditionally observed on January 6th, 12 days after Christmas, celebrates the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. To name it, English speakers looked to the very apt Greek verb "epiphainein," which means "to manifest." The Greek term is in turn based on the older
verb "phainein," meaning "to show," a word that is also the source of some other showy English words, including "fancy" and "fantasy."
*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.
| Wellerism \WEH-luh-rih-zum\ noun. : an expression of comparison comprising a usually well- known quotation followed by a facetious sequel |
Example sentence: Forgetful (but witty) Aunt Lynn's favorite Wellerism is, "'It all comes back to me now', said the Captain as he spat into the wind."
Did you know? Sam Weller, Mr. Pickwick's good-natured servant in Charles Dickens' _The Pickwick Papers_, and his father were fond of following well-known sayings or phrases with humorous or punning conclusions. For example, in one incident in the book, Sam Weller quips, "What the devil do you want with me, as the man said, w[h]en he see the ghost?"
Neither Charles Dickens nor Sam Weller invented that type of word play, but Weller's tendency to use such witticisms had provoked people to start calling them "Wellerisms" by 1839, soon after the publication of the novel. Some examples of common Wellerisms are "'Every one to his own taste,' said the old woman as she kissed the cow," and "'I see,' said the blind man."
| usufruct \YOO-zuh-frukt\ noun|
*1 : the legal right of using and enjoying the fruits or profits of something belonging to another
2 : the right to use or enjoy something
Example sentence: When they sold the land, the Arnolds retained the usufruct to pick the apples in the orchards they had planted.
Did you know? Thomas Jefferson said that "The earth belongs in usufruct to the living." He apparently understood that when you hold something in usufruct, you gain something of significant value, but only temporarily. The gains granted by "usufruct" can be clearly seen in the Latin phrase from which the word developed, "usus et fructus," which means "use and enjoyment." Latin speakers condensed that phrase to "ususfructus," the term English speakers used as the model for our modern
word. "Usufruct" has been used as a noun for rights that seem the legal equivalent of having your cake and eating it too since at least the 1630s. Any right granted by usufruct ends at a specific point, usually the death of the individual who holds it.
*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.
| cheval de bataille (shuh-VAL duh ba-TAH-yuh) noun. plural chevaux de bataille (shuh-VOH duh ba-TAH-yuh). A favorite topic; hobbyhorse. |
[From French, literally battle-horse.]
"By then (Kenneth) Neate was already singing much heavier roles, such as Florestan in Fidelio, Lohengrin and, the part that became his cheval de bataille, Tannhauser." Elizabeth Forbes; Obituary: Kenneth Neate; Independent (London, UK); Jul 1, 1997.
"Rossini's Stabat Mater was long castigated by churchmen and sober-minded critics for its supposed worldliness and operatic flamboyance. Even today it can cause raised eyebrows with its eclectic mix of styles, ranging from the austere, archaic Eja Mater and Quando Corpus Morietur to the full-blooded theatricality of the soprano aria Inflammatus, cruelly dubbed by George Bernard Shaw "the spavined cheval de bataille of obsolete prima donnas". Richard Wigmore; The Arts: Classical CD of the Week; The Daily Telegraph (London, UK); Dec 4, 1999.
| pidgin \PIH-jun\ noun. : a simplified speech used for communication between people with different languages
Example sentence: Creole, which is now spoken in parts of southern Louisiana, originated as a pidgin spoken between French-speaking colonists and African slaves.
Did you know? The history of "pidgin" begins about the early 19th century in the South China city of Guangzhou. Chinese merchants interacting with English speakers on the docks in this port sometimes pronounced the word "business" as "bigeon." By the century's end, "bigeon" had degenerated into "pigeon" and finally "pidgin," which then appropriately became the descriptor of the unique communication necessitated when people who speak different languages meet. Pidgins generally consist of a small vocabulary (Chinese Pidgin English has only 700 words), but some have grown to become the native language of a group. Examples include Sea Island Creole spoken in South Carolina's Sea Islands; Haitian Creole; and Louisiana Creole. The alteration of "bigeon" to "pigeon" also gave us "pigeon," meaning "an object of special concern" or "accepted business or interest."
| propitiate \proh-PIH-shee-ayt\ verb. : to gain or regain the favor or goodwill of : appease, conciliate |
Example sentence: The locals invited some of the tourists to participate in a traditional ceremony in which offerings were made to propitiate the region's deities.
Did you know? Like its synonym "appease," "propitiate" means "to ease the
anger or disturbance of," but there are subtle differences between the two terms as well. "Appease" usually implies quieting insistent demands by making concessions, whereas "propitiate" tends to suggest averting the anger or malevolence of a superior being. In fact, "propitiate" often occurs -- as in our example sentence -- in contexts involving deities, spirits, or other preternatural forces. You might "appease" your hunger, but to speak more colorfully, you could "propitiate the gods of hunger."
| ventripotent (ven-TRI-pot-ehnt) adjective. Having a large belly; gluttonous. |
[From French, from Latin ventri- (abdomen) + potent (powerful).]
The word ventriloquism, the art of speaking such that the voice seems to come from somewhere else, is derived from the same root. Ventriloquism is, literally speaking, speaking from the belly. -Anu
"This wight ventripotent was dining Once at the Grocers' Hall, and lining With calipee and calipash That tomb omnivorous -- his paunch." Horace Smith; The Astronomical Alderman; 19th century. (Calipee and calipash are parts of a turtle beneath the lower and upper shields, respectively)
"The actor must, at all costs, inflict upon you the well-oiled machinery of ventripotence, whereas, to the reader, it is his mind which drips fatness." James Evershed Agate; A View of "The Beggar's Opera"; 1922.
| dasypygal (da-si-PYE-gul) adjective. Having hairy buttocks. |
[From Greek dasy- (hairy, dense) + pyge (buttocks).]
A related word is dasymeter, an instrument for measuring the..., no, not that, rather the density of gases. Another related word is callipygian, having a beautiful behind. -Anu
"That way, if they will just turn their caps through 180 degrees, and the volume of their in-car stereos down a bit, and pull their trousers up over their dasypygal features, there might be hope, yet." Revel Barker; Open Eye: Fidel Castro And His Part in the Generation Game; Independent (London, UK); Sep 5, 2000.
This week's theme: words to describe your opponents, vituperation.
| tu quoque (too KWO-kwee) noun A retort accusing one's accuser of the same offense. |
[From Latin, literally thou also.]
"The Republicans sold access too: Mr Young's largesse won him meetings with Newt Gingrich, the speaker of the House, and Bob Dole, then Senate majority leader. This tu quoque attack on Mr Barbour begins to look like simple partisanship." Inside the Belly of the Beast; The Economist (London, UK); Jul 26, 1997.
"Showing that the critics and denigrators of those cultural traditions were themselves intellectual imposters, mountebanks, or monsters, as Kimball repeatedly does here, fails to solve the problem because it is
based on the tu quoque fallacy." Lloyd Eby; The Trouble With Looking Backward; The World & I (Washington, DC); Sep 1, 2001.
enervate \EH-ner-vayt\ verb|
to reduce the mental or moral vigor of
* 2 : to lessen the vitality or strength of
Prolonged exposure to the sun and dehydration enervated the shipwrecked crew, leaving them almost too weak to hail the passing vessel.
Did you know? "Enervate" is a word that some people use without really knowing what it means.
They seem to believe that because "enervate" looks a little bit like "energize" and "invigorate" it must share their meaning -- when it is actually their antonym. "Enervate" comes from the Latin "enervare," which is formed from the prefix "e-," meaning "out of," and "-nervare" (from "nervus," meaning "sinew, nerve"). So, etymologically at least, someone who is enervated is "out of nerve."
*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.
| proselytize \PRAH-suh-luh-tyze\ verb intransitive senses|
1 : to induce someone to convert to one's faith
2 : to recruit someone to join one's party, institution, or cause *transitive sense : to recruit or convert especially to a new faith, institution, or cause
Example sentence: Francesca is very strict about her own vegetarianism, but she never tries to proselytize meat eaters.
Did you know? "Proselytize" comes from the noun "proselyte" (meaning "a new convert"), which comes from the Latin noun "proselytus." "Proselytus" means "stranger" or "alien resident," and comes from a similar Greek word ("proselytos"). "Proselyte" is sometimes applied specifically to a convert to the Jewish religion -- that is, to one who has come to Judaism from another faith. When "proselytize" entered English in the 17th century, it had a distinctly religious connotation and meant simply "to recruit religious converts." This meaning is still common, but today one can also "proselytize" in a broader sense -- recruiting converts to one's political party or pet cause,
*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.
fatuous \FATCH-oo-us\ adjective : complacently or inanely foolish : silly |
Example sentence: No matter what I said to her, Jessy just sat there regarding me with a fatuous smile.
Did you know? "I am two fools, I know, / For loving, and for saying so / In whining Poetry," wrote John Donne, simultaneously confessing to both infatuation and fatuousness. As any love-struck fool can attest, infatuation can make fools of the best of us. So it should come as no surprise that the words "fatuous" and "infatuation" derive from the same Latin root, "fatuus," which means "foolish." Both terms have been part of English since the 17th century. "Infatuation" followed the earlier verb "infatuate," a "fatuus" descendant that once meant "to make foolish," but that now usually means "to inspire with a foolish love or admiration." "Fatuous" came directly from "fatuus." It's been used in English to describe the foolish and inane since at least 1633.
| diluvial \duh-LOO-vee-ul\ adjective : of, relating to, or brought about by a flood |
Example sentence: "Not since 1935 have Houstonians . . . seen the magnitude of diluvial disaster experienced the last few days in the wake of Tropical Storm Allison." (_The Houston Chronicle_, June 11, 2001)
Did you know? Late Latin "diluvialis" means "flood." It's from "diluere" ("to wash away") and ultimately from "lavere" ("to wash"). English "diluvial" and its variant "diluvian" initially referred to the Biblical Flood. Geologists, archaeologists, fossilists, and the like used the words, beginning back in the mid-1600s, to mark a distinct geological turning point associated with the Flood. They also used "antediluvian" and "postdiluvian" to describe the periods before and after the Flood. It wasn't until the 1800s that people started using "diluvial" for floods and flooding in general. American educator and essayist Caroline M. Kirkland, one early user of this sense, wrote, "Much of our soil is said to be diluvial -- the wash of the great ocean lakes as they overflowed towards the south," in her essay _Forest Life_ in 1850.
| vicarious \vye-KAIR-ee-us\ adjective |
acting for another
2 : done or suffered by one person on behalf of another or others *3 : experienced or realized through imaginative or
sympathetic participation in the experience of another
Example sentence: Armchair travelers receive much vicarious pleasure through reading about other people's journeys to far-off lands.
Did you know? If you act in someone's _stead_, you take his or her place, at least temporarily. The oldest meaning of "vicarious," which was first recorded in 1637, is "serving in someone or something's stead." The word "vicarious" derives from the Latin noun "vicis," which means "change," "alternation," or "stead." "Vicis" is also the source of the English prefix "vice-" (as in "vice president"), meaning "one that takes the place of."
*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.
sententious \sen-TEN-shuss\ (adjective) -
1 : given to or abounding in aphoristic expression or excessive moralizing
2 : terse, aphoristic, or moralistic in expression
"When her date launched into a sententious monologue on 'the deplorable decline of Western culture,' Carole wrote him off as an insufferable bore.
Nowadays, "sententious" is usually uncomplimentary, implying banality, oversimplification, and excessive moralizing. But that hasn't always been the case, nor is it universally so even now. The original Middle English sense of "sententious" was "full of meaning," a sense adopted from Latin "sententiosus" (from "sententia," meaning "sentence" or "maxim"). In Modern English, too, "sententious" has sometimes referred to what is full of significance and expressed tersely. Or sometimes "sententious" simply suggests an affinity for aphorisms, as when it refers to the likes of Ben Franklin's Poor Richard (of almanac fame), the homespun philosopher given to such statements as "early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."
hapax legomenon (HAY-paks li-GOM-uh-non) noun, plural hapax legomena. A word or form that has only one recorded use.
[From Greek hapax (once) + legomenon, from legein (to say).]
"Linda Tripp, the faithless friend, says to Monica Lewinsky about the President, `Right now I think he's a schwonk.' This qualifies as what biblical exegetes call a hapax legomenon, the only known use in print, which makes it difficult to define." William Safire, Where's the Poetry?, The New York Times, Nov 1, 1998.
"The entire Song of Songs is a hapax legomenon of its own, the Blochs say. It is unique in both the Old and New Testaments because it leaves
out God entirely. It never mentions Israel as a people or a nation. It is free of any talk of sin. And it is the only surviving example of secular love poetry from ancient Israel. Why such a romantic poem found its way into the biblical canon is something of a mystery." Laurie Goodstein, Translators Find Sensuality in Bible's `Song of Songs', The Minneapolis Star Tribune, Feb 21, 1998.
daedal \DEE-dul\ (adjective)
1 a : skillful, artistic *b : intricate
2 : adorned with many things
Example sentence: Without our map, we would have gotten completely lost in the city's daedal network of one-way streets.
Did you know? You might know Daedalus as the mythological prisoner who fashioned wings of feathers and wax to escape from the island of Crete with his son Icarus. But it was as architect and sculptor, one said to have designed a labyrinth for King Minos on Crete, that he earned his name. "Daedalus" (from Greek "daidalos") is Latin for "skillfully wrought." The same skillful Latin adjective also gave English the adjectives "daedel" (in use since the 16th century) and "Daedalian" (or "Daedalean"), a synonym of "daedal."
*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.
septentrion (sep-TEN-tree-on) noun. The north.
[From Latin septentrionalis, from septentrio, singular of septentriones, originally septem triones, the seven stars of the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear, from septem (seven) and triones (a team of three plow oxen). These are the principal stars of the Great Bear, which is located in the region of the north celestial pole. These stars are more commonly perceived as the Big Dipper.]
Some other words based on septem are septemfluous, flowing in seven streams; septemplicate, one of seven copies of a document; septenary, pertaining or relating to the number seven, or forming a group of seven, as in the number of days in the week; septenate, growing in sevens, having seven divisions; and Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, from Latin septem via septuaginta, seventy, for the traditional number of translators.
"The sky is one great emerald from south to septentrion." Paul Fort; Selected Poems And Ballads; Duffield and Company; 1921. (Translator: John Strong Newberry)
"Washed by the southern sea, and on the north
To equal length backed with a ridge of hills
That screened the fruits of the earth and seats of men
From cold Septentrion blasts."
John Milton; Paradise Regained; 1671.
This week's theme: words based on numbers
octothorpe (OK-tuh-thorp) noun. The symbol #.
[The symbol # is derived from a shorthand way of writing lb, the abbreviation for the Latin libra (balance), just as $ is a shorthand way of writing US. Octothorpe is an alteration, influenced by octo-, of earlier octalthorpe, probably a humorous blend of octal (an eight-point pin used in electronic connections) and someone whose last name was or ended in "thorpe", and whose identity is subject to speculation. It may be James Edward Oglethorpe,
an eighteenth century English philanthropist, but more likely it is an Olympic athlete, Jim Thorpe. In the early 1960s, Bell Labs introduced two special
keys in its innovative touch-tone telephone keypads, "#" and "*", for which it needed fresh names. Having eight points, "octo-" was an obvious first element. Since the engineer involved in introducing this innovation was active in a group seeking the return of Jim Thorpe's medals from Sweden, he whimsically added "-thorpe", creating octothorpe. (Jim Thorpe was disqualified because of his professional status, but his medals were restored posthumously.) The "#" is also known as a pound sign, crosshatch, number sign, sharp, hash, crunch, mesh, hex, flash, grid, pig-pen, gate, hak, oof, rake, fence, gate, grid, gridlet, square, and widget mark.]
Some other eight-based words, other than the obvious octagon, octave, and octopus, are octamerous, having eight parts or organs; octane, a type of hydrocarbon in fuel and solvents; octant, the eighth part of a circle; octonare and octapody, a verse of eight feet; and octonary, pertaining to the number eight.
"In Boise, Idaho, US West is testing a system it calls Voice Interactive Phone, or VIP. By dialing the octothorpe (#) and 44, then saying 'Messages,' a subscriber can retrieve voice mail." Gene Bylinsky and Alicia Hills Moore; Fortune (New York); At Last! Computers You Can Talk to; May 3, 1993.
myrmidon \MER-muh-dahn\ (noun) : a loyal follower; especially : a subordinate who executes orders unquestioningly or unscrupulously
Example Sentence: When DeVour, Inc. was accused of unsavory dealings, even company myrmidons like Bruce were held accountable.
Did you know? The Myrmidons, legendary inhabitants of Thessaly in Greece, were known for their fierce devotion to their king, Achilles, who led them in the Trojan War. "Myrmex" means "ant" in Greek, an image that evokes small and insignificant workers mindlessly fulfilling their duty. Whether the original Myrmidons were given their name for that reason is open to question. The "ant" association is strong, however. Some say the name is from a legendary ancestor who once had the form of an ant; others say the Myrmidons were actually transformed from ants. In any case, since the 1600s, we've employed "myrmidon" in its not-always-complimentary, ant-evoking, figurative sense.
nyctalopia (nik-tuh-LO-pee-uh) noun Night blindness: a condition in which vision is faint or completely lost at night or in dim light. [From Late Latin nyctalopia, from Greek nuktalops (night-blind), from nykt- (night) + alaos (blind) + ops, op- (eye).]
An opposite of today's word is hemeralopia (day blindness), a condition where eyes can see well during night or in dim light but poorly or not at all during the day or in bright light. And finally, a word from medicine that sounds scary, but isn't: haplopia (normal vision).
"Then there's Carsonogenous Monocular Nyctalopia, a case of left-sided night blindness caused by watching Johnny Carson and other TV lateniks from bed, with the right side of the face buried in the pillow." Victor Cohn, Odd Ailments: Symptoms of Modern Life, St. Petersburg Times (Florida), Mar 9, 1988.
ab ovo \ab-OH-voh\ (adverb) : from the beginning
Example sentence: The documentary presented the history of the city ab ovo, beginning with its inception as a frontier trading post in the 1800s and running through the present.
Did you know? "Ab ovo usque ad mala." That phrase translates as "from the egg to the
apples," and it was penned by the Roman poet Horace. He was alluding to the Roman tradition of starting a meal with eggs and finishing it with apples. Horace also applied "ab ovo" in an account of the Trojan War that begins with the mythical egg of Leda from which Helen (whose beauty sparked the war) was born. In both cases, Horace used "ab ovo" in its literal sense, "from the egg," but by the 16th century Sir Philip Sidney had adapted it to its modern English sense, "from the beginning": "If [the dramatic poets] wil represent an history, they must not (as Horace saith) beginne Ab ouo: but they must come to the principall poynt of that one action."
idoneous (i-DO-nee-uhs) adjective, also idonaeous. Appropriate, suitable, fit. [From Latin idoneus (fit).]
"A friend in Wyoming received a fund-raising flier from the Cheyenne Civic Center. It began, `Kudos is an idoneous name for the Cheyenne Civic Center's 1991-92 season.'" James J. Kilpatrick, The Vast Weltanschauung of Word Wavelengths, The Chicago Sun-Times, Feb 9, 1992.
dysphemism (DIS-fuh-miz-em) noun. The substitution of a harsher, deprecating or offensive term in place of a relatively neutral term. [From Greek dys- (bad) + -phemism (as in euphemism).]
"There are lots of epithets for people like this - Grammar Nazis, Usage Nerds, Syntax Snobs, the Language Police. The term I was raised with is SNOOT. The word might be slightly self-mocking, but those other terms are outright dysphemisms. A SNOOT can be defined as somebody who knows what dysphemism means and doesn't mind letting you know it." David Foster Wallace, Tense Present: Democracy, English, And the Wars Over Usage, Harper's Magazine (New York), Apr 2001.
"In 1945, shortly after the final victory over Japan, newsreels provided evidence of another holocaust, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Holocaust (the dysphemism chosen by Jewish historians to replace the Nazis' ghastly euphemism, The Final Solution) and the Nuclear Holocaust the one in the past, the other in the future were to hang over the next half-century like a mushroom cloud." Philip French, Hollywood and the Holocaust, The Guardian (London), Feb 13, 1994.
Dysphemism and its antonym, euphemism, are often two sides of the same coin. A guerrilla in neutral language might be called freedom-fighter by some while a terrorist by others. Novelist and story-writer Nathaniel Hawthorne summed it well when he wrote, "Words - so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them."
Laodicean \lay-ah-duh-SEE-uhn\ (adjective) : lukewarm or indifferent in religion or politics
Example sentence: In Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy describes Farmer Oak, a yawning, distracted churchgoer, as a man "who felt himself to occupy morally that vast middle space of Laodicean neutrality which lay between the Communion people of the parish and the drunken section."
Did you know? English speakers owe the word "Laodicean" to Chapter 3, verses 15 and 16 of the Book of Revelation, in which the church of Laodicea is admonished for being "neither cold nor hot, ... neither one nor the other, but just lukewarm" in its devotion. By 1633, the name of that tepid biblical church had become a general term for any half-hearted or irresolute follower of a religious faith. Since then, the
word's use has broadened to cover flimsy political devotion as well. For example, in comparing U.S. presidents, journalist Samuel Hopkins Adams compared "the fiery and aggressive Roosevelt" to "the timorous Laodicean Harding."
solecism (SOL-i-siz-ehm, SOA-li-) noun
1. A nonstandard usage or grammatical construction.
2. A violation of etiquette.
3. An impropriety, a mistake, or an incongruity.
[Latin soloecismus, from Greek soloikismos, from soloikizein, to speak incorrectly, from soloikos, speaking incorrectly after Soloi (Soli), an Athenian colony in Cilicia where a dialect regarded as substandard was spoken.]
"`Ah! Madam,' said Ovid, `how great a solecism would it be both in a lover and a poet if he did not look upon his mistress as the sublimest object of his thoughts!' Benjamin Boyce and Thomas Brown; The Adventures of Lindamira: A Lady of Quality; The University of Minnesota Press; 1949. Full-text on Questia at http://questia.com/CM.qst?D=wotdsolecism
"But the AAUP's (Association of American University Presses) guidelines go beyond correcting what it regards as solecisms to more drastic exercises in raising consciousness. Consider the traditional personification of ships as feminine. According to the AAUP task force, such usage is `quaint at best' and should be avoided: `it is preferred'. Along the same literalist lines, you should think twice before describing an important work by a woman scholar as `seminal'. Speech Therapy; The Economist (London); Jun 3, 1995.
This week's theme: toponyms, or words derived from the names of places.
sobriquet (SOO-bri-kay) noun, also soubriquet. A fancy nickname or a humorous name.
[From French sobriquet, from soubriquet (chuck under the chin). Probably from the fact that calling by a nickname affords one to cozy up to someone and tap under the chin.]
"His (British PM Tony Blair's) role as Bush's unwavering ally has already earned him a long list of unflattering sobriquets, including puppet, poodle, the US `foreign minister,' and the MP [member of Parliament] for Texas North." Mark Rice-Oxley, Tony Blair's Risky Stance on Iraq; Christian Science Monitor (Boston, Massachusetts); Feb 14, 2003.
"In a speech honoring the airmen waging the Battle of Britain -- `Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,' he (Churchill) said, coining the soubriquet (`the Few') by which the RAF pilots would forever be known ..."
sciolist (SAI-uh-list) noun. One who engages in pretentious display of superficial knowledge.
[From Late Latin sciolus (smatterer), diminutive of Latin scius (knowing), from scire (to know). Another example of the similar kind of word formation is the name of the bird oriole which is derived from the diminutive form of Latin aureus (golden).]
"Never was so brilliant a lecture-room as his evening banqueting-hall; highly connected students from Rome mixed with the sharp-witted provincial of Greece or Asia Minor; and the flippant sciolist, and the nondescript visitor, half philosopher, half tramp, met with a reception, courteous always, but suitable to his deserts." John Henry Newman; The Idea Of A University, University Life At Athens; 1854.
"On the other hand, judged strictly by the standard of his own time, (Francis) Bacon's ignorance of the progress which science had up to that time made is only to be equalled by his insolence toward men in comparison with whom he was the merest sciolist."
Thomas H. Huxley; Harvey Discovers The Circulation Of The Blood; History of the World. This week's theme: words to describe people.
vexillology (vek-si-LOL-uh-jee) noun. The study of flags. [From Latin vexillum (flag), diminutive of velum (covering) + -logy]
Can you identify three words that are related to today's word in the following sentence? "The bride removed the voile veil to reveal her lovely face." The words are voile, veil, and reveal, all of which are descendants of Latin velum and involve the idea of covering (or uncovering in case of "reveal").
"He (Whitney Smith) met his second wife in 1975 when he went to Suriname to see its new flag hoisted for the first time. When he began dating his third, and current, wife, he told her he was married to vexillology." Irene Sege; Banner Days: This Foremost Expert on Flags Has a Singular View of the World; Boston Globe; Nov 21, 2001.
"Until we can get past threats of boycott, unforgetting bumper stickers and back-room deals, why not an interim state flag that isn't the ugliest in 50 states and Canada, one that looks good and meets the vexillology test of meaningful symbols? A green dollar bill on a field of white." Jim Minter; Epitome of Ugliness: Let New Georgia Flag Wave Goodbye; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Jul 3, 2001. This week's theme: words about collecting and study of things.
ephemeral \ih-FEH-muh-rul\ adjective : lasting a very short time
Example sentence: The actor starred in several hit films in the 1980s, but success proved ephemeral and his career was soon on a downward spiral.
Did you know? The mayfly (Ephemeroptera) typically hatches, matures, mates, and dies within the span of a few short hours (though the longest-lived species may survive a record two days); poets sometimes use this insect to symbolize life's ephemeral nature. When "ephemeral" first appeared in print in English in the late 16th century, it was a scientific term used to describe things, such as insects, flowers, and fevers, that lasted only about a day. Soon after, it acquired an extended sense referring to anything that is fleeting and short-lived ("ephemeral pleasures"). The original use of "ephemeral" recalls its etymology -- it's derived from the Greek word "ephemeros," meaning "lasting a day" -- but the general extended sense is by far the more prevalent meaning today.
brumal (BROO-muhl) adjective. Occurring in or related to winter.
[From Latin brumalis (pertaining to winter), from brevima dies (shortest day or winter solstice), from brevis (short). Other words that are derived from the same Latin root are abbreviate, abridge, brevity, breve, and brevet.]
"Our motley platoon of snowmobiles was chewing up a rippled meadow high on the southwestern flanks of the Gore Range near Vail, Colo., four bundles of motorized mayhem zigzagging across a brumal landscape." Rick Lyman; It's Vail in the Winter. Who Needs Skis?; The New York Times; Jan 26, 2003.
"Now that we've been robbed of yet another blizzard, we're actually beginning to wish there were a little snow out there. Perhaps we'd feel more inclined to don our pricey new Christmas ski outfit if the landscape looked a tad more brumal." Christopher Muther; Space Oddity; Boston Globe; Jan 8, 2002.
potamic (po-TAM-ik) adjective Relating to rivers. [From Greek potamos (river). Hippopotamus comes from the same root -- it's literally a river horse: hippos + potamos.]
"This potamic civilization pulsated laboriously around every river meander and through every lift lock required to distribute the system's beneficence, and it followed rather slavishly the natural architecture of river valleys and watersheds." Michael P Conzen; The National Road, or, a Landward Salient For a Potamic People; Geographical Review (New York); Oct 1998.
"The Old World was then entering on the third of the three stages of civilization which Carl Ritter, the geographer, defined as (1) the potamic, -- developed in extensive river valleys, such as those of the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, and the Ganges; (2) the thalassic, -- nourished by the influences and commercial stimulations of a great inland sea, like the Mediterranean; and, (3) the oceanic, -- which opened to Europe when exploration of the broad Atlantic was launched from its western coast." Josephus Nelson Larned; English Leadership; C.A. Nichols Company; 1918.
conurbation (kon-uhr-BAY-shuhn) noun. A large urban area involving several contiguous communities, formed as a result of expansion of neighboring areas. [From con- (together, with) + Latin urb- (city) + -ation.]
"Anxious to consolidate St Petersburg as a conurbation, Peter the Great forced his nobles to build second houses on the plots of land he gave them just outside the city." Books And Arts: Country Life; The Russian Summer House; The Economist (London, UK); Jun 21, 2003.
"With the conurbation of shanty towns emerging in the area like mushrooms, very soon it might take hours to cross the area. And who says this is the way to develop a city or a nation?"
wellerism (WEH-luh-ri-zuhm) noun. An expression involving a familiar proverb or quotation and its facetious sequel. It usually comprises three parts: statement, speaker, situation.
Examples: "Everyone to his own liking," the old woman said when she kissed her cow.
"We'll have to rehearse that," said the undertaker as the coffin fell out of the car.
[After Sam Weller and his father, characters known for such utterances in Charles Dickens's novel
Pickwick Papers (1837).]
"All of the Shavian proverbs and most of the wellerisms have been recorded in a literary context ... Anyhow, 'So far so good,' as the boy said when he had finished the first pot of his mother's jam." W F H Nicolaisen; The Proverbial Bernard Shaw; Folklore (London, UK); 1998. This week's theme: words coined after someone's name.
batrachomyomachy \bae-treh-keh-mi-OM-eh-ki\ (noun) - A fight over nothing; a storm in a teacup.
"The noise from upstairs suggests that the children have started a new batrachomyomachy."
The Greek word means "The Battle of Frogs and Mice." It is the title of a mock-heroic epic poem that recounts a tiny struggle around a small pond using overblown terms that recall the siege of Troy. Originally attributed to Homer, it probably dates from the fifth century BC and contains batrachos "frog," mus "mouse," and "machia" fighting.
Ramadan \RAH-muh-dahn\ noun : the ninth month of the Islamic year observed as sacred with fasting practiced daily from dawn to sunset
Example sentence: Maliha explained that she couldn't join us for lunch because she was fasting for Ramadan.
Did you know? Because Islam adheres to a lunar calendar, Ramadan is observed 11 days earlier each year, so that in a cycle of about 33 years it passes through all the seasons. Supposedly, however, it was originally one of the hot months. Thus, it is ultimately derived from Arabic "ramada," meaning "to be heated or hot." Muslims are required to fast during Ramadan to commemorate the revelation of the Koran to Muhammad. Fasting during this month is also considered one of the five Pillars of Islam (the others are the profession of faith in Allah as the one God and in Muhammad as his prophet; prayer five times a day; the giving of alms to the poor; and the hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca). The first print usage of "Ramadan" in English dates from approximately 1595.
salubrious \suh-LOO-bree-uss\ adjective : favorable to or promoting health or well-being
Example sentence: "My health and spirits had long been restored, and they gained additional strength from the salubrious air I breathed." (Mary Shelley, _Frankenstein_)
Did you know? "Salubrious" and its synonyms "healthful" and "wholesome" all mean favorable to the health of mind or body. "Healthful" implies a positive contribution to
a healthy condition (as in French chef Jacques Pepin's _Simple and Healthy Cooking_, which features recipes using "more healthful ingredients"). "Wholesome" applies to something that benefits you, builds you up, or sustains you physically, mentally, or spiritually (as in centenarian Julia Bunch's recipe for longevity: "hard work and wholesome country living" --_Arkansas Democrat-Gazette_, August 12, 1985). "Salubrious" is similar to the other two, but tends to apply chiefly to the helpful effects of climate or air.
trichotillomania \trih-kuh-tih-luh-MAY-nee-uh\ noun : an abnormal desire to pull out one's hair
Example sentence: Randolph's affliction with trichotillomania left him with an unfortunate array of bald spots along the crown of his head.
Did you know? The word "trichotillomania" derives from the Greek "trich-" ("hair") and "tillein" ("to pull, pluck"), along with the suffix "-mania" (from "mainesthai," meaning "to be mad"). People suffering from trichotillomania will routinely pluck hair from the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes or other parts of the body, usually impulsively but sometimes with careful deliberation (such as by using tweezers). Some researchers believe that it may be a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The word for this condition first appeared in English around the dawn of the 20th century (it's generally thought to have been first coined in French by a dermatologist named Francois Hallopeau). It has been only recently, however, that the condition has been given significant attention by medical researchers.
diaphanous \dye-AF-uh-nus\ adjective
1 : characterized by such fineness of texture as to permit seeing through
*2 : characterized by extreme delicacy of form : ethereal
3 : insubstantial, vague
Example sentence: "The very mist on the Essex marsh was like a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded rises inland, and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds." (Joseph Conrad, _Heart of Darkness_)
Did you know? Can you guess which of the following words come from the same Greek root as "diaphanous"?
A. epiphany B. triumphant C. fancy D. phenomenon E. sycophant F. emphasis G. phase H. phantom
The Greek root "phainein" shows through more clearly in some of our quiz words than others, but it underlies all of them except "triumphant" (which derives from the Latin "triumphus"). The groundwork for "diaphanous" was laid when "phainein" (meaning "to show") was combined with "dia-" (meaning "through"). From that pairing came the Greek "diaphanes," parent of the Medieval Latin "diaphanus,"
which is the direct ancestor of our English word.
*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.