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608 Cards in this Set

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indefatigable
- adjective:

- Incapable of being fatigued; not readily exhausted; untiring; unwearying; not yielding to fatigue.

She was always seeking to add to her collection and was an indefatigable first-nighter at Broadway shows.
-- Meryle Secrest, Stephen Sondheim: A Life

For the next thirteen years, with indefatigable zeal he rummages the libraries for charts and details of the spice trade and Pacific voyages.
-- Alan Gurney, Below the Convergence

Ernest Hemingway was, luckily, an indefatigable letter-writer.
-- Carlos Baker, "A Search for the Man As He Really Was", New York Times, July 26, 1964

Indefatigable comes from Latin indefatigabilis, from in-, "not" + defatigare, "to tire out," from de-, intensive prefix + fatigare, "to weary."
dishabille \dis-uh-BEEL\, noun
1. The state of being carelessly or partially dressed.
2. Casual or lounging attire.
3. An intentionally careless or casual manner.

People meant to be fully clothed lounge around in dishabille.
-- John Simon, "Tangled Up in Blue", New York Magazine, March 26, 2001

But, unlike the Black Knights, Princeton . . . was in varying states of dishabille -- some players in warmups, some in uniform, some halfway between.
-- Daily Princetonian, December 13, 2000

She was dressed, that is to say, in dishabille, wrapped in a long, warm dressing-gown.
-- Alexandre Dumas, Twenty Years After

She imagines the shocked faces of Josiah or her father or her mother were any of them to come around the corner and catch her in her dishabille.
-- Anita Shreve, Fortune's Rocks

Dishabille comes from French déshabiller, "to undress," from dés-, "dis-" + habiller, "to clothe, to dress."
neologism \nee-OLL-uh-jiz-um\
1. A new word or expression.
2. A new use of a word or expression.
3. The use or creation of new words or expressions.
4. (Psychiatry) An invented, meaningless word used by a person with a psychiatric disorder.
5. (Theology) A new view or interpretation of a scripture.

The word "civilization" was just coming into use in the 18th century, in French and in English, and conservative men of letters preferred to avoid it as a newfangled neologism.
-- Larry Wolff, "If I Were Younger I Would Make Myself Russian': Voltaire's Encounter With the Czars", New York Times, November 13, 1994

If the work is really a holding operation, this will show in a closed or flat quality in the prose and in the scheme of the thing, a logiclessness, if you will pardon the neologism, in the writing.
-- Harold Brodkey, "Reading, the Most Dangerous Game", New York Times, November 24, 1985

The word popularizing was a relative neologism (the Review boasted five years later, "Why should we be afraid of introducing new words into the language which it is our mission to spread over a new world?").
-- Edward L. Widmer, Young America

The French word neologisme, from which the English is borrowed, is made up of the elements neo-, "new" + log-, "word" + -isme, -ism (all of which are derived from Greek).
toponyms
words derived from places.
shanghai
verb tr.: To recruit someone forcibly or by fraud into doing something.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Shanghai, a major seaport in east China. The term derives from the former practice (mid-1800s to early 1900) of luring men, by the use of drugs, liquor, or violence into serving on US ships destined for East Asia. People who recruited sailors in this manner were called crimps. The practice ended with The Seamen's Act of 1915 that made crimping a federal crime.

USAGE:
"I know that no one shanghais people into joining the police or becoming a medic, but it does us no harm to remind ourselves from time to time how off-the-scale gnarly these jobs are."
Caitlin Moran; Buttocks on the Skirting Board?; The Times (London, UK); Jan 25, 2010.
ne plus ultra \nee-plus-UL-truh; nay-\
1. The highest point, as of excellence or achievement; the acme; the pinnacle; the ultimate.
2. The most profound degree of a quality or condition.

He also penned a number of supposedly moral and improving books which . . . were the very ne plus ultra of tedium.
-- Richard West, "A life fuller than fiction", Irish Times, August 9, 1997

If you were a graduate student in the 80's and subject to the general delusion that held literary criticism to be the ne plus ultra of intellectual thrill, then you too probably owned one of these: an oversize paperback with an austere cover and small-type title that, grouped with three or more of its kind on your bookshelf, confirmed your status as an avatar of predoctoral chic.
-- Judith Shulevitz, "Correction Appended", New York Times, October 29, 1995

Ne plus ultra is from Latin, literally, "(go) no more beyond", from ne, "not" + plus, "more" + ultra, "beyond."
pelf \PELF\
Money; riches; gain; -- generally conveying the idea of something ill-gotten.

. . .a master manipulator who will twist and dodge around the clock to keep the privileges of power and pelf.
-- Nick Cohen, "Without prejudice", The Observer, February 20, 2000

She writes about those she might have known first-hand: teenage girls cowering in bunkers . . . friends making promises they can never keep . . . rich folk fattened on wartime pelf, poor folk surviving by wit alone.
-- Harriet P. Gross, "Author roots her stories in Vietnam War", Dallas Morning News, July 20, 1997

As so often happens, pelf is talking louder than principle at the Colorado legislature.
-- "Legislature Goes Belly Up", Denver Rocky Mountain News, April 27, 1997

In advertising, show business, and journalism, people work themselves to the nub for glitz and glory more than for pelf.
-- Ford S. Worthy, "You're Probably Working Too Hard", Fortune, April 27, 1987

Some of the rich classmates were keeping their pelf to themselves.
-- Nicholas von Hoffman, "The Class of '43 Is Puzzled", The Atlantic, October 1968

Pelf comes from Old French pelfre, "booty, stolen goods." It is related to pilfer.
maffick (MAF-ik)
verb intr.: To celebrate boisterously.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back formation from Mafeking (now Mafikeng), a town in South Africa, where a British garrison was besieged for 217 days during the Boer War. Lifting of the siege on May 17, 1900 sparked wild celebrations in London.

USAGE:
"Colin Milburn had a glazed look of stupefaction in his unseeing eyes and was completely oblivious to the mafficking going all around him in the wake of England's recently completed Test victory over Australia."
Frank Tyson; Driven by Natural Gifts; Sportstar (Chennai, India); Jul 4, 2009.

"Last year, about 300 people who like comics showed up ... It was a successful day of mingling, marketing, and mafficking."
Wayne Alan Brenner; Giant-Sized Annual; The Austin Chronicle (Texas); Mar 3, 2006.
oneiric \oh-NY-rik\
Of, pertaining to, or suggestive of dreams; dreamy.

On this score, the novel might easily drift off into an oneiric never-never land, but Mr. Welch doesn't let this happen.
-- Peter Wild, "Visions of Blackfoot", New York Times, November 2, 1986

Her large images, which are cloaked in an elegant oneiric mist, transport the viewer to an ideal world where bodies seem to have become weightless ghosts of themselves.
-- Simona Vendrame, "Nature and the solitary self, translated by Jacqueline Smith", Temaceleste

Some -- not all -- of Caravaggio's painting uniquely compels you to grope for words in order to describe the optical novelty and disturbing immediacy of the images. They're at once coldly precise, voluptuously real and strangely oneiric.
-- Peter Robb, "Candid camera", The Guardian, October 20, 2001

Oneiric comes from Greek oneiros, "dream."
bayonet
noun: A blade attached to the muzzle of a gun, used in close combat.
verb: To fight or kill with bayonet.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Bayonne, a town in southwest France, where the weapon originated or was first used in early 17th century. You'd think with modern high-tech gadgetry, a 17th century weapon would now be now obsolete, but the bayonet is still taken seriously.

USAGE:
"Although no tactician has taken the bayonet seriously since the Civil War, the Army sees bayonet training as a way of pumping up aggressiveness. On this morning, some of the women seemed tentative as they jabbed at dummies -- but no more so than an equal ratio of men, the sergeants said."
This Woman's Army With a `No Big Deal' Shrug, Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood Again Mixes Genders; St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Feb 26, 1995.
Munich
A shortsighted or dishonorable appeasement.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Munich, Germany, the site of a pact signed by Great Britain, France, Italy, and Germany on Sep 29, 1938 that permitted annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland by Nazi Germany. WWII began a year later; Sudetenland was restored to Czechoslovakia after the war.

NOTES:
The name Munich is an exonym (a name used by outsiders). The local name (endonym) for Munich is München, derived from Mönch (monk) as the city was founded by Benedictine monks in 1158.

USAGE:
"Neoconservatives, writes Jacob Heilbrunn, 'see new Munichs everywhere and anywhere'."
Andrew J. Bacevich; The Neocondition; Los Angeles Times; Jan 20, 2008.
disport \dis-PORT\
1. To amuse oneself in light or lively manner; to frolic.

transitive verb:
1. To divert or amuse.
2. To display.

If you confine the kids' drinking to the college area, they will disport there and lessen the problem of the drunken car ride coming back from the out-of-town bar.
-- William F. Buckley Jr., "Let's Drink to It", National Review, February 27, 2001

I had to laugh, picturing Stuart and me in a red enamel tub, disporting ourselves among the suds.
-- Jacquelyn Mitchard, The Most Wanted

Few of the "carriage ladies and gentlemen" who disport themselves in Newport during the summer months, yachting and dancing through the short season, then flitting away to fresh fields and pastures new, realize that their daintily shod feet have been treading historic ground, or care to cast a thought back to the past.
-- Eliot Gregory, Worldly Ways and Byways

. . .those dolphins and narwhals who disport themselves upon the edges of old maps.
-- Virginia Woolf, Night and Day

Disport derives from Old French desporter, "to divert," from des-, "apart" (from Latin dis-) + porter, "to carry" (from Latin portare) -- hence to disport is at root "to carry apart, or away" (from business or seriousness).
Babylon
noun: A place of great luxury and extravagance, usually accompanied with vice and corruption.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Babylon, an ancient city of southwestern Asia, on the Euphrates River. It was the capital of Babylonia and known for its opulence and culture. It was the site of Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

USAGE:
"Tsuyoshi Morimoto said that when the economic crisis hit the international market, many big companies turned to Iraq in hopes that it would save them. 'Big companies talked a lot about Iraq and paid a huge amount of attention to it. It is just like we suddenly built a Babylon, and now the Babylon is collapsing.'"
Qassim Khidhir; "Don't Expect Too Much From Iraq"; Kurdish Globe (Arbil, Kurdistan); Jan 16, 2010.
vanity fair
noun: A place characterized by frivolity and ostentation.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Vanity Fair, a fair that lasted all year long in the town of Vanity, in the novel Pilgrim's Progress by writer and preacher John Bunyan (1628-1688). In the fair were traded houses, honors, titles, kingdoms, pleasures, and much more -- sounds like an early version of eBay.

USAGE:
"[The Millionaire Fair] was a vanity fair of thin beautiful women sporting mink fur coats and low necklines decorated with glittering jewelry and dark-suited, elegant men shadowed by beefy bodyguards."
Maria Danilova; In Moscow, A Nouveau Riche Showcase; The Associated Press; Nov 3, 2006.

"In one corner was Karl Rove, presidential adviser and global-warming denier. In the opposite corner was the An Inconvenient Truth tag team of singer Sheryl Crow and documentary producer Laurie David. Their encounter took place Saturday night in Washington at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, a vanity fair for journalists, politicos, and celebrities."
The Lightning Round; The Philadelphia Inquirer; Apr 24, 2007.
scapegrace \SKAYP-grayss\
noun: A reckless, unprincipled person; one who is wild and reckless; a rascal; a scoundrel.

She intended to divide her fortune neither evenly nor proportional to need, but to ensure her own pleasure, bequeathing the bulk of it to her scapegrace nephew Rawdon Crawley, who had few virtues but much vitality; he amused her.
-- Randy Cohen, "The Heir Unapparent", New York Times Magazine, December 12, 1999

The Poggenpuhls consist of a widowed mother, three unmarried daughters, and two young soldier sons, one a model of rectitude and the other, Leo, a high-living scapegrace who, naturally, is everybody's favorite
-- Dennis Drabelle, "The Dickens of Berlin", The Atlantic, October 2000

He is a happy-go-lucky scapegrace of a boy, often a younger brother, who, by the exercise of cunning and a quick tongue but, above all, by good luck, overtakes his worthy betters to rise from rags to riches and get the girl as well.
-- Roland Huntford, "Nansen: The Explorer as Hero"

Scapegrace is from scape (a variant of escape) + grace.
Pygmalionism
1. The state of being in love with an object of one's own making.
2. The condition of loving an inanimate object such as a statue or image.

ETYMOLOGY:
In Greek mythology, Pygmalion was the king of Cyprus who carved a female figure in ivory so realistic and beautiful that he fell in love with her. The goddess Aphrodite took pity on him and responded by bringing the statue to life as Galatea. Pygmalion married her.

USAGE:
"Sarah Palin has been an exercise in Pygmalionism gone wrong. The most famous female politician in the world today is a vain and sanctimonious woman of boundless ambition and no vision."
Janet Bagnall; Setback for Women; The Gazette (Montreal, Canada); Feb 12, 2010.

"The aim was to show the reverse Pygmalionism of cinema, which takes live bodies and makes cool, untouchable idols of them."
Hold On to Your Popcorn; The Observer (London, UK); May 20, 2007.
empyrean
1. The highest heaven, in ancient belief usually thought to be a realm of pure fire or light.
2. Heaven; paradise.
3. The heavens; the sky.

adjective:
1. Of or pertaining to the empyrean of ancient belief.

She might have been an angel arguing a point in the empyrean if she hadn't been, so completely, a woman.
-- Edith Wharton, "The Long Run", The Atlantic, Feburary 1912

In the poem -- one he had the good sense finally to abandon -- he pictured himself as a blind moth raised among butterflies, which for a brief moment had found itself rising upward into the empyrean to behold "Great horizons and systems and shores all along," only to find its wings crumpling and itself falling -- like Icarus -- back to earth.
-- Paul Mariani, The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane

In my experience, the excitement generated by a truly fresh and original piece of writing is the rocket fuel that lifts Grub Street's rackety skylab -- with its grizzled crew of editors, publishers, agents, booksellers, publicists -- into orbit in the empyrean.
-- Robert McCrum, "Young blood", The Observer, August 26, 2001

Empyrean comes from Medieval Latin empyreum, ultimately from Greek empurios, from en-, "in" + pyr, "fire."
Sisyphean
adjective: Endlessly laborious and fruitless.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Sisyphus, a king in Greek mythology who was cursed to push a huge boulder to the top of a hill, only to watch it roll back down and to repeat this forever. Roll, rinse, repeat.

USAGE:
"Even making the bed together in the morning, an act that had hitherto struck me as Sisyphean, took on meaning."
Tim Page; Parallel Play; The New Yorker; Aug 20, 2007.
Old Man of the Sea
noun: A tiresome burden, especially a person, difficult to free oneself from.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Old Man of the Sea, the sea-god, who forced Sinbad to carry him on his shoulders and refused to dismount. In this story from The Arabian Nights, Sinbad the Sailor eventually released himself from his burden by getting the Old Man drunk. Also see albatross.

USAGE:
"Deirdre has Ken the Cardie Wearer ever at her side, an Old Man of the Sea she can't ditch. He grows daily more brain-sapping as he takes up local causes like t'cobbles in Coronation Street."
Molly Blake: The Mail's First Lady of TV; Evening Mail (Birmingham, UK); Dec 6, 2000.
Achates (uh-KAY-teez)
A trusty friend or companion.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Achates, the faithful companion and friend of Aeneas, in the epic poem Aeneid by the Roman poet Vergil (70-19 BCE). In the story, Achates is called fidus Achates (faithful Achates) and he accompanies Aeneas everywhere in his adventures.

USAGE:
"I was baffled by the lack of reference to the sleuth of Baker Street and his trusty Achates."
John Banville; Bloomsday, Bloody Bloomsday; The New York Times; Jun 13, 2004.
quisling \KWIZ-ling\
Someone who collaborates with an enemy occupying his or her country; a traitor.

I strung around rope and hoped to deter the deer from leaping but they sent in their quisling minions under the cover of darkness.
-- Chapel Hill Treehouse, May 1, 2006

This circle had already closed ranks around Tito in the prewar period of illegal struggle, and our ensuing sacrifices, our suffering, the exploits of both Party and people as they made war against the Nazi and Fascist occupiers and their quislings and supporters, had only further toughened and hardened the leaders.
-- Milovan Djilas, Fall of the New Class

A quisling is so called after Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945), Norwegian politician and officer who collaborated with the Nazis.
sass
noun: Impudent talk; back talk.
verb tr.: To talk disrespectfully, especially to someone older or in authority.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from sassy, alteration of saucy, from sauce, from Latin salsa, from sallere (to salt), from sal (salt). Ultimately from the Indo-European root sal- (salt) that is also the source of silt, sausage, salad, salami, salary, and salmagundi.

USAGE:
"Madea ran to the edge of the stage with a gun after thinking someone in the audience was sassing her."
Kevin C. Johnson; Love Him or Hate Him, Tyler Perry is All Over the Place; St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Apr 18, 2010.

"I raised you so you wouldn't talk back to me or sass me."
Lawanda Randall; Telling Tales: The Tree of Love; The World & I (Washington, DC); Feb 1995.
quash
1. (Law) To abate, annul, overthrow, or make void; as, "to quash an indictment."
2. To crush; to subdue; to suppress or extinguish summarily and completely; as, "to quash a rebellion."

The Shelby Globe attributed her death to acute heart failure and yellow jaundice and did its best to quash a curious town rumor that had her being poisoned by eating oyster sandwiches.
-- Tim Page, Dawn Powell: A Biography

The German-French entente made NATO intervention to quash the Balkan civil wars possible, and the collapse of the Soviet Union made NATO's intervention deep into the former Soviet sphere of influence permissible.
-- Thomas L. Friedman, "Was Kosovo World War III?", New York Times, July 2, 1999

[The law] . . . also installed newspaper censorship, enabling the government to quash anything "calculated to jeopardise the success of the operations of any of His Majesty's forces or to assist the enemy."
-- Philip Hoare, Oscar Wilde's Last Stand

Quash comes from Medieval French quasser, from Latin quassare, "to shake violently, to shatter," frequentative form of quatere, "to shake." Quash, "to annul," has been sense-influenced by Late Latin cassare, "to annul," from Latin cassus, "empty," whereas quash, "to crush," has been sense-influenced by squash.
valetudinarian \val-uh-too-din-AIR-ee-un; -tyoo-\
1. A weak or sickly person, especially one morbidly concerned with his or her health.

adjective:
1. Sickly; weak; infirm.
2. Morbidly concerned with one's health.

He is the querulous bedridden valetudinarian complaining of his asthma or his hay fever, remarking with characteristic hyperbole that "every speck of dust suffocates me."
-- Oliver Conant, review of Marcel Proust, Selected Letters: Volume Two 1904-1909, edited by Philip Kolb, translated by Terrence Kilmartin, New York Times, December 17, 1989

All this from a wasted valetudinarian, who . . . once referred to "this long convalescence which is my life."
-- Michael Dirda, "Devil or Angel", Washington Post, March 31, 1996

Other than the Holy Scripture, he cared for no book as well as the book of decay, its truths written in the furrows scored on the brows of old men and women; in the sagging timbers of decrepit barns; in the lichenous masonry of derelict buildings; in the mangy fur of a valetudinarian lion.
-- Simon Schama, Rembrandt's Eyes

Valetudinarian derives from Latin valetudinarius, "sickly; an invalid," from valetudo, "state of health (good or ill)," from valere, "to be strong or well."
accrete (uh-KREET)
accrete

verb tr., intr.: To grow gradually by accumulation.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from accretion, from accrescere (to grow). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ker- (to grow) that is also the source of words such as increase, recruit, crew, crescent, cereal, concrete, and crescendo.

USAGE:
"Protoplanets accrete more material and grow into full-sized planets."
Lisa Grossman; Saving the Earth With Dynamical Simulations; Science News (Washington, DC); Jan 8, 2010.
sesquipedalianism \ses-kwi-PEED-l-iz-uhm\
1. Given to using long words.
2. (Of a word) containing many syllables.

Quoting those who insist on engaging in sesquipedalianism (using “large words when smaller ones will do,”) Cavett romps and stomps over his subjects in a veritable malign-fest of the linguistically misguided.
-- Susie Berta, Susie's Year of Words - 2008 (Blog), April 14, 2008

It is very true that when the experiment of dictating is first tried, the luxury of the ease it gives is apt to be so great, that it tends to looseness and verbosity of style; for there is no better check on sesquipedalianism than the necessity of writing down one's sesquipedalian words for one's self.
-- Christian Examiner, Volume 72

More unreal even than the sesquipedalianism that returned to him — not as a matter for mockery but as a medium for expression — in his lesser works and in his later days, was his moral purpose.
-- Benedict Kiely, Poor scholar: a study of the works and days of William Carleton, 1794-1869

Sesquipedalianism appears in Horace's Ars Poetica, meaning "words a foot-and-a-half long," as an ironic criticism.
cerebrate
verb tr., intr.: To use the mind: to think, reason.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from cerebration (act of thinking), from cerebrum (brain). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ker- (horn or head) that is also the source of words such as unicorn, horn, hornet, rhinoceros, reindeer, migraine, carrot, carat, and Hindi sirdar (leader, from Persian sar: head).

USAGE:
"Since Galatea, Richard Powers has been cerebrating more than he's been feeling, but with his latest book, as if in wild overcompensation, he has led with his heart and entirely lost his head." Thomas Mallon; Going to Extremes; The Atlantic (Boston); Jan/Feb 2003.
callithump
noun:
1. A noisy, boisterous celebration or parade.
2. A mock serenade with pots, pans, kettles, etc., given for a newly married couple. Also known as charivari or shivaree.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from callithumpian, alteration of English dialect word gallithumpian (disturber of order at Parliamentary elections in 18th century).

USAGE:
"'Our clothes,' Bono said, 'got somewhat fusty in the rebels' little New Year's callithump."
M.T. Anderson; The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing; Candlewick Press; 2008.
cathect (kuh-THEKT)
verb tr.: To invest mental or emotional energy in an idea, object, or person.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from Greek kathexis (the investment of emotional energy in something). Ultimately from the Indo-European root segh- (to hold) that is also the source of words such as victory (to hold in a battle), hectic, scheme, and scholar.

USAGE:
"Mortimer divorced Jane Goodall's mother, Vanne, in 1950, consigning Jane to the fate of so many children who cathect with the animal kingdom to compensate for missing parents."
Judith Lewis; Observing the Observer: Jane Goodall, The Woman Who Redefined Man; Los Angeles Times; Nov 19, 2006.
asseverate (uh-SEV-uh-rayt)
.
verb tr.: To affirm solemnly.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin asseverare (to declare in earnest), from severus (serious). Ultimately from the Indo-European root segh- (to hold), which is also the source of words such as hectic, scheme, scholar, and cathect.

USAGE:
"I asseverate from experience that some of my correspondence opponents do make use of a program."
Peter Gibbs; Pastimes: Chess; Birmingham Post (UK); Oct 9, 2004.
scarper (SKAHR-puhr)
verb intr.: To flee, especially without paying one's bills.

ETYMOLOGY:
The term is a Briticism and its origin isn't confirmed. It's probably from Italian scappare (to escape), influenced by Cockney rhyming slang Scapa Flow, to go. Scapa Flow is an area of water off the northern coast of Scotland, in the Orkney Islands. It was the main British naval base during WW I & II, known for the scuttling of the German fleet.

USAGE:
"I am indebted to the British welfare state; the very one that Mr Cameron would like to replace with charity handouts. When my life hit rock bottom, that safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major's Government, was there to break the fall. I cannot help feeling, therefore, that it would have been contemptible to scarper for the West Indies at the first sniff of a seven-figure royalty cheque. This, if you like, is my notion of patriotism."
J.K. Rowling; The Single Mother's Manifesto; The Times (London, UK); Apr 14, 2010.
iatrogenic \ahy-a-truh-JEN-ik\,
adjective:
A malady induced inadvertently by a physician or surgeon or by medical treatment or diagnostic procedures.

Chronic insomnia thus becomes a self-perpetuating and/or iatrogenic condition as sufferers are prescribed (or acquire) hypnotics for transient sleeplessness, and then develop an ongoing problem getting to sleep without chemical aid.
-- New York Times, reader comment, April 2010

It is very common to see dogs develop iatrogenic Cushing's as a result of long term use of corticosteroids (Prednisone.)
-- www.dogforums.com

Iatrogenic stems from the Greek iatros, physician.
imbricate (adj: IM-bri-kit, -kayt; verb: IM-bri-kayt)
adjective: Having overlapping edges, as tiles on a roof or scales on a fish.

verb tr., intr.: To overlap as roof tiles or fish scales.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin imbricare (to cover with pantiles: semicylindrical tiles), from imbrex (pantile), from imber (rain).
perpend
verb:
1. To ponder; deliberate.
2. To be attentive; reflect.

noun:
1. A large stone passing through the entire thickness of a wall.

"So I do, madonna; but to read his right wits is to read thus: therefore perpend, my princess, and give ear.
-- William Shakespeare, Twelfth night, or, What you will

Let us each ponder the probity of global harmony. Might we perpend that tranquility can be more than a theory? When we cast a ballot, let us consider imminent combat and intentional communication. Which would you choose? Heed the call. Our children's future is in our hands.
-- Betsy Angert, Bethink.com: Clinton, Obama, Citizens; Our Children's Future is in Your Hands

While perpend as a noun means "a large stone passing through the entire thickness of a wall" (related to perpendicular), the verb form not only possesses a different pronunciation but also emerges independently from the Latin root perpendere, "to weigh carefully."
batten
1. verb: To fatten or to grow fat; to thrive and prosper at another's expense.
2. noun: A long strip of wood, metal, or plastic used for strengthening something.
3. verb: To fasten or secure using battens.

ETYMOLOGY:
For 1: From Old Norse batna (to improve). Ultimately from the Indo-European root bhad- (good), which is also the source of the words better and best.
For 2, 3: From Old French batre (to beat), from Latin battuere (to beat).

NOTES:
The term is often heard in the idiom "to batten down the hatches" meaning to prepare for a difficult situation or an impending disaster. It is nautical in origin. Literally speaking, to batten down is to cover a ship's hatch (an opening in the deck) with a tarpaulin and strips of wood in preparation for an imminent storm.

USAGE:
"Once-promising migrant visa plan shelved as U.S. battens down the hatches."
James Blears; Stuck in Limbo; Business Mexico (Mexico City); 2003.

"You've battened on me for a bitter-long day;
But I'm driving you forth, and forever and aye,
Hunger and Thirst and Cold."
Robert William Service; The Bohemian; 1914.
vellicate (VEL-i-kayt)
verb tr., intr.:
1. To twitch or to cause to twitch.
2. To pluck, nip, irritate, etc.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin vellicare, frequentative of vellere (to pull, pluck, or twitch).

NOTES:
The great lexicographer Samuel Johnson used this word in one of his definitions "Cough: A convulsion of the lungs, vellicated by some sharp serosity" and broke one of the premier commandments of dictionary making: don't define a word using a harder word (serosity refers to serum: watery fluid in an animal body).

USAGE:
"I have seen old folk flung to the ground by these paroxysmal and vellicating vehicles."
Paul Johnson; And Another Thing; The Spectator (London, UK); Jun 25, 2005.
eristic \e-RIS-tik\
adjective:
1. Pertaining to controversy or disputation; controversial.
2. Of argument for the sole purpose of winning, regardless of the reason.

noun:
1. Argument for the sole purpose of winning, regardless of the reason.
2. The art of disputation.

This factor is a leading characteristic that separates eristic dialogue from persuasion dialogue. In the quarrel, there is an appearance of paying attention to a logical assessment of the issue by weighing the arguments on both sides (as if the dialogue were, say, a critical discussion.) But this appearance is a sham.
-- Douglas N. Walton, Appeal to Popular Opinion

Both disputants attain their object in well-conducted argument, though not in eristic, for both cannot be victorious.
-- Aristotle

We're offered ways to seduce, avoid conflict, manipulate the present tense to succeed at work, write speeches and even use eristic techniques to stop a U.S. cop from issuing us with speeding fines.
-- Peter Kimpton, Review: Thank You For Arguing, Guardian.co.uk.

Eristic relates both to Eris, the Greek goddess of strife, as well as what Plato called eristic dialogue, a type of discourse with no reasonable goal beyond winning the argument.
muliebrity \myoo-lee-EB-ri-tee\
noun: The state of being a woman.

She was one of those women who was waiting in —what is the word?—muliebrity; She had courage and initiative and a philosophical way of handling questions, and she could be bored by regular work like a man.
-- H.G. Wells, The New Machiavelli

Lagerfeld's strongly conceived and modern designs throughout his incumbency ne'er compromised the supple muliebrity for which Chlo was renowned.
-- Leo Bonworth, Leo's Spaces blog

Muliebrity comes from Latin muliebris, "womanly", in contrast to maidenhood.
utopia (yoo-TOH-pee-uh)
noun:
1. An ideal place or state.
2. An impractical scheme for social or political reform.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Utopia, an imaginary ideal island in the book Utopia (1516) by Sir Thomas More, from Greek ou (not) + topos (place).

USAGE:
"As we believe simplicity contributes to a peaceful life, we have not bought into the utopia promised by consumerism."
Harry MacLure; Mush Register; The Hindu (Chennai, India); Mar 22, 2010.
cockaigne (kaw-KAYN)
noun: An imaginary land of luxury and idleness.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Middle French pais de cocaigne (land of plenty), from Middle Low German kokenje, diminutive of koke (cake). Cockaigne was a fabled place of ease and luxury, a land overflowing with milk and honey where food fell into your mouth by itself. It was an imaginary place a medieval peasant could aspire to, a place away from the harsh reality of life.

USAGE:
"This was a land of Cockaigne, a place of total self-indulgent enchantment where I sat alone for hours contemplating."
Christopher Moore; Broad Horizons; The Press (Christchurch, New Zealand); Jan 4, 1999.
sawyer \SAW-yer\
noun:
1. One that is employed in sawing wood.
2. Also called sawyer beetle. Any of several long-horned beetles, esp. one of the genus Monochamus, the larvae of which bore in the wood of coniferous trees.
3. A tree or a part of a tree that protrudes above the surface in a body of water.

He testified, also, that when he discovered that he could not remove the sliver with the stick he sought to signal the head sawyer to shut down the mill, but was unable to attract his attention; testifying further, and in this he is corroborated by experienced sawyers, that, when a silver gets caught in such a way as to rub the saw and cause it to heat, the saw becomes dangerous, as the heat loosens the shanks which hold the teeth thus letting them fly out, and causes the saw to become limber increasing its tendency to bend and break into pieces.
-- Alvah Littlefield Sawyer, Harkins v. J. A. Veness Lumber Co., Supreme Court of Washington decision

He found work in a saw mill, later becoming a sawyer, and continued thus employed until he had the misfortune to lose his right hand in 1856. He afterwards worked at various kinds of labor, continuing a resident of that place until 1882.
-- A history of the northern peninsula of Michigan and its people

Before it became a surname, sawyer was a common occupational title, from the Middle English sawier, "to saw."
Land of Oz
noun: An unreal or magical place.

ETYMOLOGY:
A mythical and magical place, first introduced in the children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) by L. Frank Baum (1856-1919). The legend that Baum came up with the name when he saw a filing cabinet drawer labeled O-Z (below the drawers A-G and H-N) is disputed. See here.

USAGE:
"Perhaps you were living in the Land of Oz if you had been expecting anything but what we were handed by an Ontario Government up to its snoot in red ink."
Tayler Parnaby; Don't Peek Behind the Curtain; Caledon Enterprise (Canada); Mar 30, 2010.
Garden of Eden
noun: A place of unspoilt happiness and beauty.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Hebrew eden (delight, pleasure). The Garden of Eden refers to the Biblical place where Adam and Eve lived before being expelled.

USAGE:
"Long before the Spaniards arrived in Palos Verdes, a nation of people lived in a veritable Garden of Eden. Lush and teeming with wild game and fish, life on the Peninsula for its native people, the Tongva, was rich and abundant."
Mary Scott; Paradise Lost -- And Found?; Peninsula News (California); Mar 25, 2010.
Shangri-la
noun: An imaginary, idyllic place that is remote and secluded.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Shangri-La, a Tibetan utopia in the novel Lost Horizon (1933) by James Hilton (1900-1954). From Shangri (a coined name) + Tibetan la (mountain pass).

USAGE:
"For just one hour you think you are living in dreamland, a Shangri-La, where if life is not yet quite perfect, it will be very soon."
Simon Hoggart; Budget 2010; The Guardian (London, UK); Mar 25, 2010.
Occam's razor
noun: The maxim that the simplest of explanations is more likely to be correct.

ETYMOLOGY:
After William of Ockham (c. 1288-1348), a logician and theologian, who is credited with the idea.

NOTES:
Ockham's razor states that "entities should not be multiplied needlessly". It's also called the principle of parsimony. It's the idea that other things being equal, among two theories the simpler one is preferable. Why razor? Because Ockham's razor shaves away unnecessary assumptions. Ockham's razor has applications in fields as diverse as medicine, religion, crime, and literature. Medical students are told, for example, "When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras."

USAGE:
"But not everyone in Washington is a believer in Occam's razor, so all manner of other theories flourished."
A DC Whodunit: Who Leaked And Why?; Reuters (UK); Sep 22, 2009.
majuscule \MAJ-uh-skyool\,
adjective:
1. Of letters written either as capitals or uncials.

noun:
1. A large letter, either capital or uncial, used in writing or printing.

The letter c is chiefly remarkable for the fact of there being two distinct majuscule forms, the more archaic of which is almost exclusively used to represent the numeral.
-- Philip Henslowe, Walter Wilson Greg, Henslowe's Diary: Commentary

This is the story not of my particular emotions but rather of Theory. Suffice it to say that the self-parody of the appellation, singular and majuscule as if affixed in Plato’s firmament, appeared to rule out all interpretations competing with that of shenanigan. So, too, did the buffoonery of the language, phraseology bloated past the point of grotesqueness.
-- Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, "Theory, Literature, Hoax," The New York Times

Majuscule derives from the Latin majuscula, related to "major."
Morton's fork
noun: A situation involving choice between two equally undesirable outcomes.

ETYMOLOGY:
After John Morton (c. 1420-1500), archbishop of Canterbury, who was tax collector for the English King Henry VII. To him is attributed Morton's fork, a neat argument for collecting taxes from everyone: those living in luxury obviously had money to spare and those living frugally must have accumulated savings to be able to pay.

USAGE:
"[Japan's political elites] face a Morton's fork between being ignored or being seen as a problem to which there is little solution."
Michael Auslin; Japan Dissing; The Wall Street Journal (New York); Apr 22, 2010.
suspire \suh-SPAHY-uhr\
verb: To utter with long, sighing breaths.

The beleaguered alligator will rise on his stubby legs, distend his body, open wide his cavernous jaws, suspire what is supposed to be a dreadful hiss but sounds more like a tired sigh, and then ferociously clash his jaws together.
-- Archibald Rutledge, Monsters of the Swamp

For, since the birth of Cain, the first male child,/ To him that did but yesterday suspire,/ There was not such a gracious creature born.
-- William Shakespeare, The life and death of King John

Suspire's origin is in the Latin suspirare, "to draw a long breath."
Achilles' heel
noun: A seemingly small but critical weakness in an otherwise strong position.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Achilles, a hero in the Greek mythology. When Achilles was a baby, his mother Thetis dipped him into the magical river Styx to make him immortal. She held him by the heel which remained untouched by the water and became his weak point. He was killed when the Trojan king Paris shot an arrow that pierced his one vulnerable spot: his heel. After him, the tendon in the lower back of the ankle is also known as the Achilles tendon.

USAGE:
"Economics, once the Coalition's strength, is in danger of becoming its achilles heel."
Laurie Oakes; Coalition Weak on Economics; Herald Sun (Melbourne City, Australia); Apr 3, 2010.
jactitation
jactitation

noun:
1. A false boast or claim that is intended to harm someone, especially a malicious claim by a person that he or she is married to a particular person.
2. Involuntary tossing and twitching of the body and limbs.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin jactitation (tossing, false declaration), past participle of jactitare (to throw out publicly, to boast), frequentative of jactare (to throw about), frequentative of jacere (to throw).

USAGE:
"Film actress Meera has filed a suit for jactitation of marriage against her alleged husband Attique Ur Rehman, seeking court directions to stop him from claiming her as his legal wife."
Meera Files for Marriage Jactitation; The Pak Banker (Pakistan); Feb 10, 2010.

"Tizanidine hydrochloride has been used for the treatment of jactitation."
How to Relieve Chronic Pain After Amputation; Pulse (UK); May 5, 2001.
cashier
verb tr.: To dismiss from service, especially with disgrace.
noun: An employee who handles payments and receipts in a store, bank, or business.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Dutch cassier or French caissier, both from French caisse (cashbox), from Latin capsa (case).

USAGE:
"Iraq is thick with bitter men. Some 400,000 were cashiered from the army."
Mideast Carnage Tests Our Resolve; Toronto Star (Canada); Aug 20, 2003.
regnant \REG-nuhnt\,
adjective:
1. Prevalent; widespread.
2. Reigning; ruling (usually used following the noun it modifies): a queen regnant.
3. Exercising authority, rule, or influence.

The mere fact that it was the regnant authority in the State of Louisiana at that time does not give validity or legality to its acts or its officers.
-- Isaac Grant Thompson, Irving Browne, The American Reports (Volume 20); Containing All Decisions of General Interest Decided in the Courts of Last Resort of the Several States

On the superlative opening track "Dance Yrself Clean" Murphy mutters over pattering percussion before erupting into a crisp, feel-good, electronic frenzy. "I miss the way the night comes/ With friends who always make it feel good/ This basement has a cold glow/ Though it's better than a bunch of others," he laments, foreshadowing the more sentimental tone regnant throughout.
-- Raghav Mehta, Review: LCD Soundsystem's "This is Happening" Minnesota Daily

Regnant relates to the Latin regnans, "to rule", a verb that is the ancestor of numerous related English words, such as reign.
bagman
noun:
1. One who collects or distributes money from illicit activities, for example, in a protection racket.
2. UK: A traveling salesman.
3. Canada: A political fundraiser.
4. Australia: A tramp; swagman.
5. Golf: A caddie hired to carry a golf player's clubs.

ETYMOLOGY:
From the literal senses of the words bag and man.

USAGE:
"Andres Butron confessed to being a bagman in a drug operation, transporting cash collected in drug sales to Mexico."
William Lee; 3 Men Found Dead; Chicago Tribune; May 19, 2010.

"Here is an account of how the hawker, the street peddler, the lowly bagman, evolved into the mighty selling and marketing gurus of today."
Birth of a Salesman; Financial Times (London, UK); May 22, 2004.

"The party also has turned a fundraising corner with its new and energetic bagman Rocco Rossi."
Barbara Yaffe; Struggling Ignatieff Needs Peter Donolo; The Ottawa Citizen (Canada); Nov 2, 2009.

"Anyone who wants to know just how the lot of the caddie has changed need only look at Steve Williams, Tiger Woods's bagman. He is frequently referred to as the highest-paid sportsman in New Zealand."
Nomadic Life Became Byrne's Bag; Irish Times (Dublin); Nov 21, 2009.
meiosis
noun:
1. Understatement for rhetorical effect.
2. The process of cell division in which the number of chromosomes per cell is reduced to one half.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek meiosis (lessening), from meioun (to lessen), from meion (less).

NOTES:
Meiosis is a figure of speech in which underemphasis is used to achieve a greater effect, for example, "It took a few days to build the Great Wall of China." Also see litotes.

USAGE:
"At times I have a problem with this understatement. Understatement is effective only when there is real purpose to the meiosis."
James Gardner; Cold Mountain; National Review (New York); Dec 31, 1997.

"I took two years of biology in secondary school and couldn't today tell you the difference between meiosis and mitosis without a little help from Google, yet no one's arguing that studying cellular processes is a waste of precious school resources."
Kate Sommers-Dawes; Foreign Language in High Schools is Worthwhile; Washington Post; May 13, 2010.
tabby
noun:
1. A domestic cat with a striped or brindled coat.
2. A domestic cat, especially a female one.
3. A spinster.
4. A spiteful or gossipy woman.
5. A fabric of plain weave.
6. A watered silk fabric.
7. A building material made of lime, oyster shells, and gravel.

ETYMOLOGY:
For 1-6: From French tabis, from Medieval Latin attabi, from Arabic attabi, from al-Attabiya, a suburb of Baghdad, Iraq, where silk was made, from the name of Prince Attab. Cats got the name tabby after similarity of their coats to the cloth; the derivations of words for females are probably from shortening of the name Tabitha.
For 7: From Gullah tabi, ultimately from Spanish tapia (wall).

USAGE:
"I was playing whist with the tabbies when it occurred, and saw nothing of the whole matter."
Charles James Lever; Jack Hinton, the Guardsman; 1857.

"Kay Sekimachi uses tabby and twill weaving to contrast black and beige linens."
Stunning 30-year Retrospective at San Jose Museum of Quilts Textiles; Independent Coast Observer (California); Jan 4, 2008.

"Mayor Carl Smith suggested that tabby fence posts be used around the cemetery's perimeter because the oyster-based concrete would better fit the island's character."
Jessica Johnson; Group Restoring Cemetery; The Post and Courier (South Carolina); Jan 21, 2010.
McKenzie
noun: Someone who attends a court trial as an adviser to one of the parties. This person works not as a legal representative, but as an informal adviser. Also known as a "McKenzie friend".

ETYMOLOGY:
The term arose from the 1970 divorce case McKenzie v. McKenzie in the UK. The man in this case didn't have a lawyer. An Australian barrister, Ian Hanger, wanted to help, but could not as he was not qualified to practise in the UK. The man represented himself; Hanger offered to sit with him and provide advice as a friend, but he was denied this by the court. The man lost the case, and this denial became the basis for appeal which affirmed the position that a litigant can, in fact, have someone attend the trial to help in a non-professional capacity. Given the role of the barrister Hanger, a better choice of coinage for this word would have been Hanger, instead of McKenzie.

USAGE:
"A measure, of benefit to women especially, would be to permit the litigant to have a McKenzie friend in the course of the case."
Chitra Narayan; On An Obstacle Course; Hindu (Chennai, India); Nov 17, 2005.
orrery
noun: A mechanical model of the solar system that represents the relative motions of the planets around the sun.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Charles Boyle, 4th Earl of Orrery (1676-1731), who was given one of those models by John Rowley, a London instrument-maker. They were invented by George Graham c. 1700. The device would have been better named either after its inventor, Graham, or its maker, Rowley.

USAGE:
"The lamp at the center of the orrery demonstrates the way the sun lends light to the planets."
James Fenton; Sheridan the Revolutionary; The New York Review of Books; Feb 4, 1999.

"Even the nation's attic couldn't contain a 650-yard-long model of the solar system, so the Smithsonian Institution has put it outdoors, on the National Mall. 'Voyage: A Journey Through Our Solar System', a new permanent installation, represents the solar system at one 10-billionth its actual size. ...
"The stations within this giant orrery also feature porcelain information plaques with high-resolution, full-color images of the planets."
Eric P Nash; A Smithsonian Spin Through the Cosmos; The New York Times; Feb 10, 2002.
philippic
noun: A bitter condemnation, usually in a speech.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek philippikos, the name given to orator Demosthenes's speeches urging Athenians to rise up against Philip II of Macedon.

USAGE:
"John McCain sat in the elegant ballroom of the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich and listened politely as President Putin delivered a full-throated rant against America and all that it stood for. Mr McCain has long been one of Mr Putin's most outspoken critics, but it was less a rush of anger that overwhelmed him as he listened to the Russian leader's philippic, and more a mounting sense of irony."
Gerard Baker; Support for War May Yet be the Undoing of John McCain; The Times (London, UK); Feb 15, 2007.
Buridan's ass
Buridan's ass

PRONUNCIATION:
noun: A situation demonstrating the impracticality of decision-making using pure reason, especially a situation involving two equal choices.

ETYMOLOGY:
Named after French philosopher Jean Buridan (1300-1358).

NOTES:
Imagine a hungry donkey standing equidistant from two identical piles of hay. The donkey tries to decide which pile he should eat first and finding no reason to choose one over another, starves to death. This paradox didn't originate with Buridan -- it's been found back in Aristotle's time. A hungry and thirsty man cannot decide whether to slake his thirst first or his hunger, and dies. Buridan, in his commentaries on Aristotle, chose a dog, but his critics, in their parody of Buridan, turned it into an ass. So Buridan's ass was named after a person who neither proposed the paradox nor picked that animal to discuss it.
Buridan studied under William of Ockham (of Ockham's razor fame).

USAGE:
"Unless we felt strongly enough to exert ourselves in one direction rather than another, we would do nothing, but would suffer the fate of Buridan's ass."
A.C. Grayling; Though Euphoria Will Fade, Hope Springs Eternal; The Canberra Times (Australia); Nov 12, 2008.
guillotine
noun: A device with a heavy blade that drops between two posts to behead someone.
verb: To execute by guillotine or to cut as if with a guillotine.

ETYMOLOGY:
After French physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814) who recommended its use. Ironically the instrument designed as a humane device has come to symbolize tyranny. Dr. Guillotin realized that hanging by rope or beheading by a sword were cruel and urged a more humane method of execution, one that was swift and relatively painless. Dr. Antoine Louis, secretary of the College of Surgeons, designed a device that was called a Louisette or Louison in the beginning, but eventually became known as a guillotine.

USAGE:
"It appears that the magnificent eagle may be making a resurgence in Essex County. Too bad we won't be able to enjoy them for long. Soon we will find them lying guillotined below the myriad wind turbines our illustrious premier and his gang believe are so good for us."
Mary Anne Adam; Turbines Going to Take Out Eagles; The Windsor Star (Canada); May 6, 2010.
taxis
axis

PRONUNCIATION:
(TAK-sis) plural taxes (TAK-seez)

noun:
1. Movement of an organism towards or away from a stimulus.
2. Order, arrangement, or classification.
3. The manual repositioning of a displaced body part to its normal position, in a case of hernia, for example.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek taxis (arrangement, order), from tassein (to arrange).

NOTES:
1. The word tropism is usually applied to plants. 2. The word for a public vehicle, taxi, is unrelated. A taxi is one which taxes, etymologically speaking. It's short for taximeter, the name of the device that calculates the fare. 3. Also see parataxis.

USAGE:
"I believe every action an insect makes is due to a reflex, a taxis or a tropism."
Poppy Adams; The Sister; Anchor; 2009.

"Dionysius wanted to see the entire cosmos as a taxis, in the sense of a hierarchy."
James H. Charlesworth; Jesus and Archaeology; Wm. B. Eerdmans; 2006.
Hobson's choice
noun: An apparently free choice that offers no real alternative.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Thomas Hobson (1544?-1630), English keeper of a livery stable, from his requirement that customers take either the horse nearest the stable door or none.

NOTES:
Hobson had some 40 animals in his rent-a-horse business and a straightforward system: a returning horse goes to the end of the line, and the horse at the top of the line gets to serve next. He had good intentions -- rotating horses so his steeds received good rest and an equal wear, but his heavy-handed enforcement of the policy didn't earn him any customer service stars. He could have offered his clients the option of choosing one of the two horses nearest the stable door, for instance, and still achieve nearly the same goal. More recently Henry Ford offered customers a Ford Model T in any color as long as it was black.

USAGE:
"There, many are given a legal Hobson's choice: Plead guilty and go home or ask for a lawyer and spend longer in custody."
Sean Webby; No Lawyer in Sight for Many Making Way Through System; San Jose Mercury News (California); Dec 30, 2009.
starets
(STAHR-its, -yits) plural startsy (STAHRT-see)

noun: A religious teacher or adviser.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Russian starets (elder). In the Eastern Orthodox Church a starets is a spiritual adviser who is not necessarily a priest.

USAGE:
"Grigori Rasputin, was neither mad nor a monk, but an unconventional starets."
Cecilia Rasmussen; Shadowed by Rasputin's Evil Reputation; Los Angeles Times; Oct 10, 1999.
congeries
(kon-JEER-eez, KON-juh-reez)

MEANING:
noun: A collection of miscellaneous things.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin congeries (heap), from congerere (to heap up), from con- (with) + gerere (to carry).

USAGE:
"What an unsightly congeries of mismatched assets the McGuinty government seems to have in mind."
David Olive; Ontario's Super-corporation Has Hallmarks of Trial Balloon; Toronto Star (Canada); Mar 9, 2010.
shambles
noun:
1. A state of great disorder.
2. A scene of carnage.
3. A slaughterhouse.

ETYMOLOGY:
From oak to acorn, from a little piece of furniture to a slaughterhouse. The word known today as shambles started out as scamnum (stool, bench). Over time the word's sense evolved to "a vendor's table", more specifically, a butcher's table. Eventually, the word came to be applied to a meat market or a slaughterhouse. From the state of disarray of such a place, today we use the word metaphorically to denote a place of complete disorder. That's the story of a slaughterhouse. To know what became of a fish market, see billingsgate.

USAGE:
"The program aims to rebuild a system in shambles before nearly 4,000 schools were destroyed."
$2 Billion Sought to Overhaul Ruined Haiti Schools; Associated Press; May 15, 2010.
kudos
noun: Praise, honor, or credit.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek kydos (praise, renown).

NOTES:
The word kudos is a relatively recent addition to the English language. It entered the language as university slang in Britain, in the early 19th century. It's a singular word, in Greek and in English, but its plural-like appearance prompted some to coin a singular form by dropping the letter s. Many dictionaries (including the OED) now list the word kudo, though marked with an "erroneous" stamp. If the current trends are any indication, chances are over time kudo will drop the black mark on its reputation and become a well-respected word in the language, just as no one today objects to using the word pea (instead of pease) or cherry (instead of cherise).

USAGE:
"The Indian economy continues to grow at a healthy 8%. You and your team deserves kudos for that."
Raj Chengappa; Dear Dr Manmohan Singh; The Tribune (Chandigarh, India); May 21, 2010.
aeolian or eolian
(ee-O-lee-uhn)
adjective: Relating to or caused by the wind.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Aeolus, god of the winds in Greek mythology. As keeper of the winds, he gave a bag containing winds to help with Odysseus's sailing.

USAGE:
"It would not be surprising if a few features -- even very large ones -- were sculpted by aeolian processes into the pyramidal forms we see."
Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan; The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark; Random House; 1995.
nescient
PRONUNCIATION:
(NESH-uhnt, NESH-ee-uhnt, NES-ee-uhnt)

MEANING:
adjective: Lacking knowledge or awareness.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin ne- (not) + scire (to know). Ultimately from the Indo-European root skei- (to cut or split) that has also given us schism, ski, shin, science, conscience, nice, scienter, adscititious, and sciolist.

USAGE:
"The most interesting character development occurs in Zeta-Jones's transformation from nescient wife to underground businesswoman as she tries to preserve her husband's business."
Matthew Hunt; Traffic; Richmond Times-Dispatch (Virginia); Jan 12, 2001.
ersnickety
adjective:
1. Fussy about minor details.
2. Snobbish.
3. Requiring keen attention to detail, as a job.

ETYMOLOGY:
Variant of pernickety (the spelling still used in the UK). Of unknown origin.

USAGE:
"My father and I are both persnickety. We don't like noise in the kitchen, and a few grains of salt on a tablecloth make us shiver."
Cedric Vongerichten; Le Fils; New York Magazine; Sep 20, 2009.

"And what will the filmmakers eventually get for more than 12 hours of painstaking persnickety work?"
Tina Maples; "Dillinger: Gangsters Hit the Library For a Long Shoot; Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin); May 28, 1990.
weathercock
noun:
1. A weathervane, especially one with the figure of a rooster on it.
2. One who changes readily or often.

ETYMOLOGY:
From weather + cock.

NOTES:
The words weathercock/weathervane are especially suitable for politicians who change according to prevailing winds. Quebec's legislature has gone so far as to impose a ban on their use.

USAGE:
"William was such a weathercock, how could one be sure?"
Barbara W. Tuchman; The Guns of August; Random House; 1962.
nimbus
nimbus

noun:
1. A rain cloud.
2. A halo or aura around the head of a person depicted in a piece of art.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin nimbus (cloud). Ultimately from the Indo-European root nebh- (cloud) that is also the source of nebula, nephometer (a device used in measuring the amount of cloud cover), and Sanskrit nabh (sky).

USAGE:
"The works take their cue from the perspective view one might see out an airplane window but become a curious exercise in painterly flatness, the white nimbuses butting up along the faint horizon."
Eric Banks; Georgia O'Keeffe: Abstraction; The Washington Post; Feb 20, 2010.

"He saw that at once; he took that also as the meed due his oil wells and his Yale nimbus, since three years at New Haven, leading no classes and winning no football games, had done nothing to dispossess him of the belief that he was the natural prey of all mothers of daughters."
William Faulkner; Collected Stories of William Faulkner; Vintage Books; 1995.
pluvial
adjective: Of or relating to rain, especially much rain.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin pluvia (rain), from pluere (to rain). Ultimately from the Indo-European root pleu- (to flow), that is also the source of flow, float, flit, fly, flutter, pulmonary, and pneumonia.

USAGE:
"The inclement weather was expected to continue throughout the week, and meteorologists predict that the next few days will remain pluvial."
Inclement Weather Sweeps Israel; The Jerusalem Post (Israel); Jan 18, 2010.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
Our heads are round so that thoughts can change direction. -Francis Picabia, painter and poet (1879-1953)
El Niño or El Nino
noun: A weather phenomenon characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Spanish El Niño, literally "The Boy Child", referring to Baby Jesus as El Niño phenomenon is noticed near Christmas.

NOTES:
El Niño, which occurs every three to seven years, is marked by warm sea surface temperature along the coast of Ecuador and Peru in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Its effects on weather are observed around the globe. A counter part is La Niña "The Girl Child" in which unusually cold ocean temperatures are observed in the Equatorial Pacific.

USAGE:
"The Phoenix area had its second coolest May in just over a decade, National Weather Service Meteorologist Craig Ellis said. The cooler temperatures were likely due to El Nino."
Brittany Williams; Phoenix Area May See 110 by Sunday; The Arizona Republic; Jun 1, 2010.
virga
noun: Rain or snow that evaporates before hitting the ground.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin virga (rod, streak).

USAGE:
"Macduff Everton's images are so physical and tactile, you can nearly feel the moisture in the virga."
Len Jenshel; 25 All-Time Best Photo Books; National Geographic Traveler (Washington, DC); Jan/Feb 2005.
bromidic
adjective: Commonplace; trite.

ETYMOLOGY:
From the former use of bromide compounds as sedatives. Bromine got its name from the Greek bromos (stench) due to its strong smell.

USAGE:
"Joe Lieberman has the hectoring, bromidic, high-rhetorical style reminiscent of an especially pompous clergyman."
Michael Kinsley; The Capitol's Pious Pair; The Washington Post; Jan 24, 2003.
esurient
PRONUNCIATION:
(i-SOOR-ee-uhnt)

MEANING:
adjective: Hungry; greedy.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin esurire (to be hungry), from edere (to eat). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ed- (to eat, to bite) that has also given us edible, comestible, obese, etch, fret, edacious, prandial, and postprandial.

USAGE:
"Rising land values have drawn droves of esurient developers."
Melissa Cassutt; Study Reminds Bonita of Need for Greenspace; Marco Eagle (Marco Island, Florida); Jan 11, 2006.

"This daily show sends esurient teenage aficionados to the cultural birthplace of their favourite dishes."
It's Cold Turkey for the Junk Food Junkies; Evening Standard (London, UK); May 11, 2007.
coprolalia
PRONUNCIATION:
(kop-ruh-LAY-lee-uh)

MEANING:
noun: An uncontrollable or obsessive use of obscene language.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek copro- (dung) + -lalia (chatter, babbling), from lalein (to talk). A related word is coprolite.

NOTES:
Involuntary coprolalia is found in approximately 15% of the people who suffer from Tourette's syndrome. It has even been observed in deaf people who use sign language -- they swear in sign language.

USAGE:
"That the brain's executive overseer is ablaze in an outburst of coprolalia, Dr. Silbersweig said, demonstrates how complex an act the urge to speak the unspeakable may be."
Natalie Angier; Almost Before We Spoke, We Swore; The New York Times; Sep 20, 2005.
scatology
noun:
1. The scientific study of excrement.
2. An obsession with excrement or excretion.
3. Language or literature dealing with excretory matters in a prurient or humorous manner.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek skato-, combing form of skor (dung). Ultimately from the Indo-European root sker- (excrement) that is also the source of dreck and scoria.

USAGE:
"One fund will be left empty, while the second will contain a steaming pile of what, at the risk of descending into scatology, can only be described as two-year Greek government notes."
Mark Gilbert; Hedge-Fund Guy Seduces Buffett to Safeguard Bonus; BusinessWeek (New York); Jan 14, 2010.
scoria
PRONUNCIATION:
(SKOR-ee-uh) plural scoriae (SKOR-ee-ee)

MEANING:
noun:
1. In metallurgy, the refuse or slag left from smelting. 2. Porous cinderlike fragments of solidified lava.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin scoria, from Greek skoria (dross), from skor (dung).

USAGE:
"[The hiker] actually said the snow made it a bit easier, because it was a bit softer to walk on than the rocky scoria."
Rescuers Help Injured Man Off Mt Taranaki; Otago Daily Times (New Zealand); Jun 8, 2010.
fimicolous
adjective: Living in or growing in animal excrement.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin fimus (dung) + colere (to inhabit).

USAGE:
"The shameless consumption of fimicolous humanity was really amusing them."
Jonathan J. Malone; The Chronicles of Kingdom Come; BookSurge Publishing; 2009.
feculent
adjective: Full of filth or waste matter.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin faeculentus (full of dregs), from faeces, plural of faex (dregs).

USAGE:
"And there is the pool of trash sitting in the North Pacific -- a continent of plastic that will not decompose. Imagine if another species just shoveled feculent matter all over our home?"
Brittany De Avilan; Deny Warming If You Wish, But Pollution Is Real; The Bee (Sacramento, California); Dec 24, 2009.
plutocracy
MEANING:
noun:
1. Government by the wealthy.
2. A country or state governed by the wealthy people.
3. Wealthy ruling class.

ETYMOLOGY:
From pluto- (wealth) + -cracy (rule). From Greek ploutokratia, from ploutos (wealth, overflowing riches). Ultimately from the Indo-European root pleu- (to flow), that is also the source of flow, float, flit, fly, flutter, pulmonary, pneumonia, pluvial, and fletcher.

USAGE:
"California is much closer to a plutocracy than a grass-roots democracy. It takes lots of money to draft initiatives, get them on the ballot and run a media campaign for or against them."
Bruce E. Cain; Five Myths About California Politics; The Washington Post; Jun 6, 2010.
bibliolatry
noun:
1. Excessive devotion to the Bible, especially to its literal interpretation.
2. Extreme devotion to books.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek biblio- (book) + -latry (worship).

USAGE:
"Fifty percent of college graduates expect Jesus to be here any day now. We are, says Paul Boyer, almost unique in the Western World in combining high educational levels with high levels of bibliolatry."
Martin Gardner; Waiting for the Last Judgement; The Washington Post; Nov 8, 1992.

"Bibliophilia: the love, and collecting, of books. No problems there... But watch out. The next step up may be bibliolatry: an extreme fondness for books."
David McKie; The Baron of Bibliomania; The Guardian (London, UK); May 5, 2008.
epigraph
noun:
1. An inscription on a building or statue.
2. A quotation introducing a book or a chapter.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek epi- (on, upon) + -graph (writing).

USAGE:
"A Counterfeit Silence includes an epigraph from Thornton Wilder: 'Even speech was for them a debased form of silence.'"
William Grono and Dennis Haskell; Solitary Writer Randolph Stow Chose Silence; The Australian (Sydney); Jun 1, 2010.
anemometer
noun: An instrument for measuring the speed of wind.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek anemo- (wind) + -meter (measure).

USAGE:
"The highest three-second wind gust measured by the anemometer on the Mile High Swinging Bridge was 77 mph May 9."
Above-Average Temperatures, Dryness in May at Grandfather Mountain; Asheville Citizen-Times (North Carolina); Jun 4, 2010.
stenosis
noun: A narrowing of a passage, vessel, or an opening in the body.

ETYMOLOGY:
From steno- (narrow, small) + -osis (condition). From Greek stenosis (a narrowing), from stenoun (to narrow), from stenos (narrow).

USAGE:
"[The device] is placed onto a patient's chest and a microphone picks up coronary sounds associated with stenosis, in which a patient's arteries are clogged with plaque blocking blood flow to the heart."
Wendy Lee; New Phone Apps Aim to Boost; Minneapolis Star Tribune; Jun 12, 2010.
mephitic
(muh-FIT-ik)

MEANING:
adjective: Poisonous or foul-smelling.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin mephitis (foul smell).

USAGE:
"Jack Black is a sterling example of the actor who starts out seeming like a breath of fresh air, and then turns into something stale, fetid, mephitic, nauseating."
Joe Queenan; Do You Remember When Jack Black Was Funny?; The Guardian (London, UK); Oct 9, 2009.
paean
(PEE-uhn)

MEANING:
noun: An expression of praise, joy, or triumph, traditionally in the form of a song.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin paean, from Greek paian (hymn of thanksgiving to Apollo), after Paian, Paion (epithet of Apollo in the hymn).

USAGE:
"Hitch-22 is among the loveliest paeans to the dearness of one's friends."
Dwight Garner; In Memoir, Christopher Hitchens Looks Back; The New York Times; Jun 1, 2010.
beggar
verb tr.:
1. To exhaust the resources or ability; to defy.
2. To impoverish.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Middle English beggare, beggere, from beggen (to beg).

USAGE:
"Geraldine Feeney said the story told by Mr Boyle beggared belief. 'If I heard him right, a 26-year-old is in a mental institution for five years because someone belonging to her thinks she will be promiscuous if she is out in the world.'"
Jimmy Walsh; Call for Review of Psychiatric 'Detention'; The Irish Times (Dublin); Jun 23, 2010.
nebbish
(NEB-ish)

MEANING:
noun: A pitifully timid or ineffectual person.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Yiddish nebekh (poor, unfortunate), of Slavic origin. Ultimately from the Indo-European root bhag- (to share) that is also the source of baksheesh, Sanskrit bhagya (good fortune), and words related to -phagy (eating), such as onychophagia and xerophagy.

USAGE:
"Nebbish son-in-law Lando must stand up to his shrewish wife Tiffany."
David Schmeichel; Greed is Good at Celebrations; Winnipeg Sun (Canada); Apr 4, 2007.
panegyric
noun: A formal or elaborate oration in praise of someone or something; eulogy.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin panegyricus, from Greek panegyrikos (of or for an assembly), from paneguris (public assembly), from pan- (all) + aguris (assembly, marketplace). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ger- (to gather) that is also the source of gregarious, aggregate, congregation, egregious, and segregate.

USAGE:
"Gov. George Pataki's 10th State of the State speech yesterday was more a panegyric to freedom and security than a rousing promise to fix what's clearly wrong with New York's government."
A Real State of New York; The New York Times; Jan 8, 2004.
contumely
PRONUNCIATION:
(KON-too-muh-lee, kuhn-TOO-muh-lee, KON-tuhm-lee, -tyoo-, -tyoom-)

MEANING:
noun: Contemptuous or insulting treatment arising from arrogance.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French from Latin contumelia (insult), probably from con- (with) + tumere (to swell).

USAGE:
"Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot was greeted mostly with boos, bafflement, and contumely when it was first seen in 1955."
Robert Gore-Langton; Wating for Godot vs Legally Blonde; The Daily Telegraph (London, UK); Jan 21, 2010.

"For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely?"
William Shakespeare; Hamlet; c. 1600.
equipoise
equipoise
MEANING:
noun: 1. A state of balance. 2. Something that serves as a counterbalance.
verb tr.: To counterbalance.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin aequi- (equal) + Old French pois (weight), from Latin pendere (to weigh). Ultimately from the Indo-European root (s)pen- (to draw, to spin), which is also the source of pendulum, spider, pound, pansy, pendant, ponder, appendix, penthouse, depend, and spontaneous.

USAGE:
"In his [Denzel Washington's] luminous portrait, dignity and destructiveness find a perfect equipoise."
John Lahr; Theatre: Wheels of Misfortune; The New Yorker; May 10, 2010.
gloaming
MEANING:
noun: Twilight; dusk.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Middle English gloming, from Old English glomung, from glom (dusk). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ghel- (to shine), which is also the source of words such as yellow, gold, glimmer, glimpse, glass, arsenic, melancholy, and cholera.

USAGE:
"The book is a marked departure from previous (Robert) Harris works set in the chill gloaming of mid-20th-century European history, an era that has fascinated him since he was a child."
Alan Cowell; A Writer's Allegories For Today; International Herald Tribune (Paris, France); Nov 18, 2003.
risible
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Laughable; ludicrous.
2. Disposed to laugh.
3. Relating to laughter.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin risus, past participle of ridere (to laugh). Other words that share the same root are ridiculous, deride, rident, and riant.

USAGE:
"The judge said that John Harrison's statement in which he said he found it hard to get up in the morning was risible."
Drug Dealer Told to Expect Lengthy Time Behind Bars; The Medway Messenger (UK); Jul 2, 2010.
folderol
folderol

PRONUNCIATION:
MEANING:
noun:
1. Nonsense; foolishness.
2. A trifle; gewgaw.

ETYMOLOGY:
From a nonsense refrain in some old songs. The word is also spelled as falderal.

USAGE:
"Canonisation is a slow business in the Catholic church: all that folderol about miracles and devil's advocates."
John Sutherland; What's Wrong With Teaching Rap in Schools?; The Guardian (London, UK); Jul 5, 2004.
noisome
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Offensive, especially to the sense of smell.
2. Harmful; noxious.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Middle English noy (short of annoy), via French, from Latin inodiare (to make hateful), from in- (intensive prefix) + odium (hate).

USAGE:
"Phasing out of noisome exhausts on motorbikes should be handled seriously and urgently."
ESG Response; Gibraltar Chronicle; Nov 28, 2009.

"The anti-social behaviour order, or Asbo, has helped to bring some relief to hard-pressed communities plagued by noisome neighbours and menacing yobs."
Making Justice Swifter; The Daily Telegraph (London, UK); Oct 8, 2009.
meretricious
PRONUNCIATION:
(mer-i-TRISH-uhs)

MEANING:
adjective:
1. Appealing in a cheap or showy manner: tawdry.
2. Based on pretense or insincerity.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin meretricius, meretrix (prostitute), from merere (to earn money).

USAGE:
"For most of the 20th century John Singer Sargent's skills as a portraitist were deemed to be meretricious."
Waldemar Januszczak; A Dirty Old Man And the Sea?; The Sunday Times (London, UK); Jul 11, 2010.
fulsome
PRONUNCIATION:
(FUL-suhm)

MEANING:
adjective:
1. Effusive; lavish.
2. Excessive to the point of being offensive.

ETYMOLOGY:
A combination of the words full and -some (having a particular quality).

NOTES:
Does the word fulsome have a positive connotation or negative? Depends on whom you ask. The word started out in mid 13th century as a straightforward, unambiguous word to describe abundance. By the 17th century, it had acquired a deprecatory sense, as in the second sense listed above. Then, again, it went around the bend and in the 20th century the positive sense of the word become more common. Language purists continue to stick with the second sense, while others use the word in its first sense. What to do? Avoid it, unless context is clear, as in the two usage examples below.

USAGE:
"Dacres offered Hull fulsome compliments on the courage and performance of his men."
Ian W. Toll; Blood Brothers; The Economist (London, UK); Nov 4, 2006.

"One tires of the fulsome endorsement, the blizzard of exclamation points, the arch locutions."
Daniel Aaron; Belle du Jour; The New Republic (Washington, DC); Feb 2, 1998.
psychopomp
PRONUNCIATION:
(SY-ko-pomp)

MEANING:
noun: A guide of souls, one who escorts soul of a newly-deceased to the afterlife.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek psychopompos (conductor of souls), from psycho-, from psyche (breath, spirit, soul) + pompos (conductor, guide).

USAGE:
"Harold Bloom here presents himself as a mystagogue and a soothsayer, a psychopomp of our times, conducting souls into unknown territories."
Marina Warner; Where Angels Tread; The Washington Post; Sep 15, 1996.
artificer
PRONUNCIATION:
(ahr-TIF-uh-suhr)

MEANING:
noun:
1. An inventor.
2. A craftsperson.
3. A mechanic in the armed forces.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin artificium (craftsmanship, art), from art + facere (to make).

USAGE:
"The artificer turns a little sadly to his king: 'One day, I hope mankind will find a peaceful use for my invention,' he says."
Tom Lubbock; Flights of Fantasy; The Independent (London, UK); Sep 18, 2006.
artificer
PRONUNCIATION:
(ahr-TIF-uh-suhr)

MEANING:
noun:
1. An inventor.
2. A craftsperson.
3. A mechanic in the armed forces.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin artificium (craftsmanship, art), from art + facere (to make).

USAGE:
"The artificer turns a little sadly to his king: 'One day, I hope mankind will find a peaceful use for my invention,' he says."
Tom Lubbock; Flights of Fantasy; The Independent (London, UK); Sep 18, 2006.
vainglorious
adjective: Filled with, exhibiting, or proceeding from excessive pride, especially in one's achievements or abilities.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin vana gloria (empty pride), from vana, feminine of vanus (empty) + gloria (pride, glory).

USAGE:
"But some see James Cameron as a vainglorious auteur and seek to puncture his perceived pretension."
Nick Watt; Is the 'Avatar' Movie Making Viewers Nauseous?; ABC News (New York); Dec 18, 2009.
odoriferous
adjective:
1. Giving off an odor.
2. Morally offensive.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin odor + -ferous (bearing), from ferre (to bear).

USAGE:
"Boys are fully aware of their odoriferous ways and are reluctant to change without the proper inspiration."
Curtis Weber; When Guiding Boys, Better to Open Your Heart Than Follow Your Nose; Kansas City Star; Mar 12, 2010.

"It's dead certain that when Arnold Schwarzenegger walks out of the governor's Capitol office next January, he'll leave the odoriferous budget mess behind."
Dan Walters; Candidates All Agree on Silence; Sacramento Bee (California); Mar 14, 2010.
jejune
adjective:
1. Dull; insipid.
2. Lacking maturity; juvenile.
3. Lacking in nutrition.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin jejunus (empty, hungry, fasting, meager). A related word is jejunum, the middle part of the small intestine. It was so called because it was usually found empty after death.

USAGE:
"Some songs are inspired and done with a knowing sense of irony. Others are jaw-droppingly jejune."
John Doyle; Glee's Back; Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada); Apr 13, 2010.
puerile
adjective:
1. Immature; silly; childish.
2. Relating to childhood.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin puer (boy). Ultimately from the Indo-European root pau- (few, little), which is also the source of paucity, few, foal, filly, pony, pullet, poultry, pupa, poor, pauper, poco, and Sanskrit putra (son).

USAGE:
"An Australian friend recently jolted me with an apparently aesthetic but obviously puerile suggestion, 'Mate, can we amend this burqa ban so that only ugly women are required to wear them while the good-looking ones are mandated to wear bikinis?' He was referring to the boiling controversy in Europe over the body-covering burqa."
Chan Akya; Burqa Over the Bastille; Asia Times (Hong Kong); Jul 24, 2010.
troglodyte
noun:
1. Someone who is brutish, reactionary, or primitive.
2. A cave dweller.
3. An animal that lives underground.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin troglodytae (cave dwellers), from Greek troglodytai, from trogle (hole) + dyein (to enter).

USAGE:
"The recruitment officer was a mean-looking troglodyte who squatted behind his desk licking his lips and cracking his knuckles."
Ben Trovato; It's a Sad Day When Not Even the Army Wants You; The Times (Johannesburg, South Africa); Jan 17, 2010.
drumlin
noun: A long, narrow, whale-shaped hill of gravel, rock, and clay debris, formed by the movement of a glacier.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Irish druim (back, ridge) + -lin, a variant of -ling (a diminutive suffix, as in duckling).

USAGE:
"The bluffs are actually the ends of drumlins, the elongated hills shaped centuries ago by retreating glaciers. Drumlins are common in Western New York, but almost all are covered with trees, shrubs, grapevines, and other vegetation."
Martin Naparsteck; Lake Ontario Exposes Natural Wonders; The Buffalo News (New York); Jun 13, 2010.
esker
PRONUNCIATION:
(ES-kuhr)

MEANING:
noun: A long, narrow ridge of gravel and sand deposited by a stream flowing in or under a retreating glacier.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Irish eiscir (ridge of gravel).

USAGE:
"Skiing the moraine is always a seminar in geology, but this particular jumble of drumlins and eskers -- characteristic landforms left by restless glaciation -- puts it in a nutshell. My Grade 11 geography teacher likened an esker to the mess left by a drunk simultaneously walking backward and throwing up."
John Barber; Ski Country, Without the Traffic Jams; The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada); Dec 6, 2008.
moraine
moraine

PRONUNCIATION:
(muh-RAYN)

MEANING:
noun: An accumulation of boulders, gravel, or other debris carried and deposited by a glacier.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French moraine, from Savoy dialect morena (mound).

USAGE:
"Professor Shulmeister's team believes a large landslide dumped a huge volume of rock on top of the glacier, causing it to advance and, when the advance stopped, the moraine was created."
Angela Gregory; Glacial Find Pours Cold Water on World Theory; The New Zealand Herald (Auckland); Jun 30, 2008.
fjord or fiord
MEANING:
noun: A long, narrow inlet of the sea, bordered by steep cliffs, and carved by glacial action.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Norwegian fjord, from Old Norse. Ultimately from the Indo-European root per- (to lead, pass over), which also gave us support, comport, petroleum, sport, passport, colporteur (a peddler of religious books), Swedish fartlek (a training technique), rapporteur, and Sanskrit parvat (mountain).

USAGE:
"Fiordland is most celebrated for the 14 fjords that slash into its coastline, carved by glaciers from erosion-proof granite more than 10,000 years ago."
Alex Hutchinson; In Frodo's Footsteps; The New York Times; Jul 29, 2010.
auteur
PRONUNCIATION:
(O-tuhr)

MEANING:
noun: A filmmaker, such as a director, who has a distinct personal style and is involved in all aspects of movie-making, giving a film the unique imprint of the filmmaker.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French auteur (originator or author), from Latin auctor (originator), from augere (to originate, to increase). Some other words derived from the same root are auction, author, and inaugurate, and augment.

USAGE:
"Ang Lee, a Taiwanese director who'd been working as a kind of auteur-for-hire on the US indie circuit for several years suddenly found himself poised to become the next Kurosawa, but -- sad to say -- he blew it off to 'go Hollywood' and make the most regressive career move possible, a comic-book flick."
Giovanni Fazio; Heros at Large; The Japan Times (Tokyo); Aug 13, 2003.

"If we can discern anything from interviews with auteur Mel Gibson, however, The Passion looms as possibly one of the most presumptuous, intelligence-insulting biblical adaptations since The Ten Commandments, a film that managed to depict the exodus of the Jews without ever once referring to them as 'Jews'."
Lynn Coady; The Dolorous Passion of Mad Max; Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada); Aug 19, 2003.
estival or aestival
PRONUNCIATION:
(ES-ti-vuhl)

MEANING:
adjective: Relating to or occurring in summer.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French from Latin aestivus (of or relating to summer).

USAGE:
"Ms. Croghan confides that she is sometimes known as a battle ax, both to locals and estival visitors."
Joanne Kaufman; Prep Work; The New York Times; Apr 25, 2008.
cirque
PRONUNCIATION:
(suhrk)

MEANING:
noun:
1. A bowl-shaped semicircular mountain basin carved by glacial erosion. Also called cwm.
2. A ring; a circle.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French from Latin circus (circle). Ultimately from the Indo-European root sker- (to turn or bend) which is also the source of other words such as ranch, rank, shrink, circle, crisp, search, ring, curb, ridge, curve, and circa.

USAGE:
"In the Snowies, cirques only occur on sheltered mountain faces where the snow first fell and slowly compacted into glacial ice."
Peter Veness; Australia: Peak-Time Perfection Just Across the Ditch; The New Zealand Herald (Auckland); Feb 22, 2009.
cirque
PRONUNCIATION:
(suhrk)

MEANING:
noun:
1. A bowl-shaped semicircular mountain basin carved by glacial erosion. Also called cwm.
2. A ring; a circle.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French from Latin circus (circle). Ultimately from the Indo-European root sker- (to turn or bend) which is also the source of other words such as ranch, rank, shrink, circle, crisp, search, ring, curb, ridge, curve, and circa.

USAGE:
"In the Snowies, cirques only occur on sheltered mountain faces where the snow first fell and slowly compacted into glacial ice."
Peter Veness; Australia: Peak-Time Perfection Just Across the Ditch; The New Zealand Herald (Auckland); Feb 22, 2009.
utilitarian
PRONUNCIATION:
(yoo-til-i-TAYR-ee-uhn)

MEANING:
adjective:
1. Emphasizing usefulness and practicality over other considerations such as beauty.
2. Of or relating to utilitarianism: the doctrine that something's value is measured by its usefulness, especially as expressed by greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
noun: An adherent of utilitarianism.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin utilis (useful), from uti (to use).

USAGE:
"Gone is the utilitarian Subaru interiors of old. This new Subaru was downright luxurious."
John Paul; What Hyundai Needs to Sell the 2011 Equus; The Boston Globe; Aug 6, 2010.
irenic
PRONUNCIATION:
(eye-REN-ik, eye-REE-nik)

MEANING:
adjective: Promoting peace or conciliation.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek eirene (peace). Eirene/Irene was the Greek personification of peace.

USAGE:
"Kate Neal's Hourly Scrutinising floated ecstatically, emphasising irenic calm and harmony."
Peter McCallum; A Beautiful Darwinian Experience; The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia); Nov 21, 2009.
rotund
PRONUNCIATION:
(ro-TUND)

MEANING:
adjective:
1. Plump; fat.
2. Round in shape.
3. Having a full-toned, resonant sound.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin rotundus (round), from rota (wheel). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ret- (to run or to roll), which is also the source of rodeo, rotunda, rotate, rotary, roulette, and orotund.

USAGE:
"The famously rotund Drew Carey has lost 80 pounds."
Pamela Sitt; Reality Show Shake-ups; Kansas City Star; Aug 3, 2010.

"A few years ago, Japanese watermelon lovers suddenly found the normally rotund fruit sitting squarely on the shelves of supermarkets."
Piali Banerjee; Food or Fool's Paradise?; The Times of India (New Delhi); Oct 19, 2003.

"With his rich, rotund voice, Jonathan Lemalu has thrilled audiences around the world."
Christopher Moore; Powerful Accolades; The Press (Christchurch, New Zealand); Jul 26, 2006.
fluvial
PRONUNCIATION:
(FLOO-vee-uhl)

MEANING:
Of or relating to a river or stream.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin fluvius (river), from fluere (to flow). Ultimately from the Indo-European root bhleu- (to swell or overflow), from which flow words such as affluent, influence, influenza, fluctuate, fluent, fluid, fluoride, flush, flux, reflux, and superfluous.

USAGE:
"Our fiesta celebration featured a fluvial procession on the Marikina and Pasig Rivers."
Jaime Laya; A Manila-Marikina-Valencia Connection; Manila Bulletin (Philippines); May 16, 2010.
orison
PRONUNCIATION:
(OR-uh-suhn, -zuhn)

MEANING:
noun: A prayer.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French from Latin oration (speech, prayer), from orare (to speak, pray), from os (mouth).

USAGE:
"David Carlin's brilliant title, Our Father Who Wasn't There, mingles orison and lament. It is the apparent opening of a prayer for an absent or lost father."
A Son Searches for the Father Who Wasn't There; The Canberra Times (Australia); Feb 6, 2010.
sidereal
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Relating to the stars.
2. Measured with reference to the apparent motion of the stars. For example, sidereal time.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin sidus (star).

USAGE:
"The silvery, coarse grain of Maisel's prints in negative makes it hard to tell whether they present day or night views. In several, a darkness looms different from that of sidereal night."
Kenneth Baker; 'Home Movies' Not Like the Ones Your Dad Made; San Francisco Chronicle; Apr 14, 2007.
macerate
PRONUNCIATION:
(MAS-uh-rayt)

MEANING:
verb tr., intr.:
1. To soften by soaking or steeping in a liquid.
2. To separate into parts by soaking.
3. To weaken or to become thin; to emaciate.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin macerare (to make soft, weaken). Ultimately from the Indo-European root mag-/mak- (to knead, to fit) that is also the source of make, mason, mass, match, among, mongrel, mingle, and maquillage.

USAGE:
"The plastic rubbish has been macerated by marine forces and is composed of small particles that float just below the surface, killing fish that mistake it for food."
John Maxwell; Boojum Hunting in the Caribbean; Jamaica Observer (Kingston); Jan 24, 2010.
sward
PRONUNCIATION:
(sward)

MEANING:
noun: The grassy surface of land: turf.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English sweard (skin, rind).

USAGE:
"While one man's six might bring cheers from the crowd, it brings fear for Mike Robins and his neighbours. They live next to the green sward of Alphington Cricket Club."
Neighbours 'Under Siege' From Cricket Club's Hard And High Balls; Express & Echo (Exeter, UK); Aug 5, 2010.
agent provocateur
PRONUNCIATION:
(ah-ZHON* proh-vok-uh-TUHR)
[* the second syllable is nasal]
plural agents provocateurs (pronunciation same)

MEANING:
noun: Someone employed to encourage or provoke suspects into doing something illegal so they can be arrested or discredited.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French agent provocateur (provoking agent).

USAGE:
"Stanislav Beranek was critical over the creation of the role of agent provocateur, who will seek to provoke artificial situations in which someone will accept a bribe."
Cillian O'Donoghue; New Pandur Purchase Inquiry Launched; The Prague Post (Czech Republic); Jul 21, 2010.
decolletage or décolletage
PRONUNCIATION:
(day-kol-TAZH, -kol-uh-)

MEANING:
noun: A low neckline on a woman's dress.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French décolletage (low-cut), past participle of décolleter (to expose the neck), from de- (away) + collet (collar), diminutive of col (neck).

USAGE:
"If you order The Proposal [as an in-flight movie on Saudi Arabian Airlines], you get a blurry blob over Sandra Bullock's modest decolletage, and even her clavicles."
Maureen Dowd; A Girls' Guide to Saudi Arabia; Vanity Fair (New York); Aug 2010.
enfant terrible
PRONUNCIATION:
(ahn*-fahn* te-REE-bluh)
[* these syllables are nasal]
plural enfants terribles (ahn*-fahn* te-REE-bluh)

MEANING:
noun: A person, especially someone famous or successful, whose unconventional lifestyle, work, or behavior appears shocking.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French enfant terrible (terrible child).

USAGE:
"Once an enfant terrible, who as a young filmmaker challenged censors and outraged conservative critics, Koji Wakamatsu has not mellowed so much as ripened."
Mark Schilling; All's Unfair in Love and War; The Japan Times (Tokyo); Aug 13, 2010.
faux
MEANING:
noun: Artificial; fake; false.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French faux (false), from Old French fals, from Latin falsus (false), past participle of fallere (to deceive).

USAGE:
"During movie production, all faux weapons had to be rubber."
Amy Kaufman; T.I. Reworks His Act for Hollywood; Los Angeles Times; Aug 26, 2010.
fait accompli
PRONUNCIATION:
(fay-ta-kom-PLEE)
plural faits accomplis (fay-zuh-kom-PLEE, fay-ta-kom-PLEEZ)

MEANING:
noun: A thing accomplished: a done deal.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French fait accompli (accomplished fact).

USAGE:
"Matt Giteau, whose selection was once regarded as a fait accompli, will today begin the toughest selection battle of his illustrious career."
Rupert Guinness; Triple Headache for Deans at No.12; The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia); Aug 16, 2010.
distaff
PRONUNCIATION:
(DIS-taf)

MEANING:
adjective:
Of or relating to women.
noun:
1. A staff for holding flax, wool, etc. for spinning.
2. Women considered collectively.
3. A woman's work or domain.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English dis- (bunch of flax) + staef (stick).

NOTES:
A distaff is a staff with a cleft for holding wool, flax, etc. from which thread is drawn while being spun by hand. In olden times, spinning was considered a woman's work, so distaff figuratively referred to women. Distaff side (also spindle side) refers to the female side of a family. The corresponding male equivalent of the term is spear side (also sword side).

USAGE:
"Volvo's gender politics are distinctly distaff, with safety and familial obligation easily trumping the sorts of values cherished by the aroused arrows of the world."
Dan Neil; Herr Doktor, Your Ride is Here; Los Angeles Times; Mar 3, 2004.
spinster
PRONUNCIATION:
(SPIN-stuhr)

MEANING:
noun:
1. A woman who has remained single beyond the usual age of marrying.
2. In law, a woman who has never married.
3. A woman whose occupation is spinning.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Middle English spinnestere (a woman who spins), from the fact that in earlier times spinning yarn was one of the jobs done by an unmarried woman.

USAGE:
"Goldy Notay is a spinster whose mother is desperate to find her a husband."
Sarah Lang; Plenty of Pasta Preparation for Curry-Killer Film; The New Zealand Herald (Auckland); Aug 22, 2010.

"Liu Wei has already been compared to Susan Boyle, an unemployed Scottish spinster who became a global phenomenon last year when she stunned judges with her performance."
Armless Man Plays Piano with Toes to Win Hearts in China; Agence France-Presse (Paris); Aug 18, 2010.
dizen
PRONUNCIATION:
(DY-zuhn, DIZ-uhn)

MEANING:
verb tr.:
1. To attire with finery.
2. To dress or decorate in a gaudy manner.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English dis- (a bunch of flax on a distaff for spinning).

USAGE:
"Looking at Lily Savage's costumes, I was reminded of Carlyle's description of Madame Dubarry as a 'wonderfully dizened Scarlet-woman'."
Michael Billington; Aladdin: Sir Ian Proves There's Nothing Quite Like a (Panto) Dame; The Guardian (London, UK); Dec 20, 2004.
subtile
PRONUNCIATION:
(SUT-l, SUB-tuhl)

MEANING:
adjective: Subtle: delicate; fine; not obvious; skillful.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin subtilis (finely woven), from sub- (under) + from tela (cloth on a loom). Ultimately from the Indo-European root teks- (to weave) that is also the source of text, tissue, tectonic, architect, technology.

USAGE:
"The fragrance is quite subtile."
Body scrubs; Coventry Evening Telegraph (UK); Nov 13, 2008.

"Sounds are too volatile and subtile for legal restraints; to enchain syllables, and to lash the wind, are equally the undertakings of pride."
Samuel Johnson; Preface to the English Dictionary; 1755.
homespun
homespun

PRONUNCIATION:
MEANING:
adjective: Unsophisticated; unpolished; rustic.

ETYMOLOGY:
The word acquired its figurative meaning alluding to something made of yarn spun at home, one that's plain and coarse.

USAGE:
"I hope Britain never junks the homespun simplicity of basic biscuits for garish, fancy packets."
Oliver Thring; Consider the Biscuit; The Guardian (London, UK); Aug 10, 2010.
Camelot
MEANING:
noun: An idealized time or place, one regarded as enlightened, beautiful, and peaceful.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Camelot, the site of King Arthur's court in Arthurian legend.

NOTES:
Camelot has also become a nickname for the glamorous ambience of the time in the US when John F. Kennedy was the president (1961-1963). A musical titled Camelot, based on the Arthurian legend, was popular around the same time and the word came to be applied to the exciting time of change during Kennedy's administration.

USAGE:
"Dan Webster likes to reminisce about the good ol' days when Republicans ended the Democrats' reign of terror and turned Tallahassee into a Camelot of good government."
Scott Maxwell; Alan Grayson's GOP Challengers Slide to Right at Forum; Lost Angeles Times; May 27, 2010.
never-never land
MEANING:
noun: An idealized imaginary place where everything is perfect.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Never Never Land in J.M. Barrie's play Peter Pan (1904).

USAGE:
"The movie Alamar comes perilously close to turning into an escapist fantasy of abandoning civilization for never-never land."
Stephen Holden; A Boy's Slice of Paradise Is Time Alone With Dad; The New York Times; Jul 14, 2010.
Hades
MEANING:
noun: Hell.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek Haides, the god of the underworld in Greek mythology. The word is ultimately from the Indo-European root weid- (to see), which is also the source of words such as guide, wise, vision, advice, idea, story, and history. Hades derives from this root in the sense of invisible or unseen.

USAGE:
"The monstrous Greek debt and budget deficits have pushed the country to the very door of economic Hades."
Eric Reguly; Ireland; The Globe and Mail (Canada); Apr 1, 2010.
ivory tower
MEANING:
noun: A place or state of privileged seclusion, disconnected with practical matters and harsh realities of life.

ETYMOLOGY:
Translation of French tour d'ivoire, from tour (tower) + de (of) + ivoire (ivory). The term was first used in the figurative sense in 1837 by literary critic Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804-1869).

NOTES:
The term is often applied to academia for its supposed preoccupation with lofty intellectual pursuits. While the term in its figurative sense is first attributed to the French critic Sainte-Beuve, it is found in the Song of Solomon 7:4 in a literal sense: "Your neck is like an ivory tower."

USAGE:
"In a democratic system, the true leaders have to remain constantly in touch with, and reach out to, the people and not remain like a king in an ivory tower."
C L Manoj; The Agony of the Hereditary Turks; The Economic Times (New Delhi, India); Aug 9, 2010.
la-la land
MEANING:
noun:
1. A place or a state of being out of touch with reality.
2. A place known for frivolous activities.

ETYMOLOGY:
Finally, a fictional land that is named after a real place. The term la-la land is coined from the initials of the city of Los Angeles, home of Hollywood, alluding to the fictitious nature of the movies, sets, etc.

USAGE:
"Stockwell Day is in the la-la land of Republicans, who for decades whipped up (white) fear of (black) crime and kept building prisons across America until there was no more money to build."
Haroon Siddiqui; Harper's Ottawa Becomes Republican La-la Land; The Toronto Star (Canada); Aug 8, 2010.
emanate or M-N-8
MEANING:
verb tr., intr.: To emit or to come out.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin emanare (to flow out), from ex- (out of) + manare (to flow).

USAGE:
"The head of the Vatican Museum has warned that dust and pollution from tourists visiting the Sistine Chapel could endanger its priceless artworks. 'Such a crowd... emanates sweat, breath, carbon dioxide, all sorts of dust,' he said."
Vatican Tourists 'Ruining Sistine Chapel'; The Independent (London, UK); Sep 10, 2010.
extenuate or X-10-U-8
extenuate or X-10-U-8

PRONUNCIATION:
(ik-STEN-yoo-ayt)
MEANING:
verb tr.
1. To reduce or attempt to reduce the severity of (an error, an offense, etc.) by making partial excuses for it.
2. To lessen or to make light of.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin extenuare (to lessen), from ex- (out) + tenuare (to make thin), from tenuis (thin). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ten- (to stretch), which is also the source of tense, tenet, tendon, tent, tenor, tender, pretend, extend, tenure, tetanus, hypotenuse, pertinacious, and detente.

USAGE:
"The apology made clear that Shaftari believed that nothing could extenuate the wrongs he had done."
Robert F. Worth; 10 Years After a Mea Culpa, No Hint of a 'Me, Too'; The New York Times; Apr 17, 2010.

"Big bust, small lower half -- wear fitted jeans and tuck in your blouse to extenuate your waist."
Lindsay Clydesdale; A to Zoe of Fashion; Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland); May 11, 2010.
deify or D-F-I
MEANING:
verb tr.:
1. To make a god of.
2. To revere or idealize as a deity.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin deificare, from deus (god) + -ficare (to make), from facere (to make). Ultimately from the Indo-European root dyeu- (to shine) that is also the source of diva, divine, Jupiter, Jove, July, Zeus, and Sanskrit deva (god).

USAGE:
"India has given birth to so many reformers of organized religion that one wonders if it is a natural cycle: each of them shows common people the simple but neglected path to a personal faith, but they deify him into a divine status he never wanted, establishing an institution, and the circle begins all over again."
Ananda Lal; Spiritual Cycles; The Telegraph (Calcutta, India); Sep 11, 2010.
elegy or L-E-G
MEANING:
noun: A poem composed as a lament for the dead.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French and Latin from Greek elegos (a mournful poem or song).

USAGE:
"Frederick Septimus Kelly wrote his best-known work, an elegy for string orchestra, in memory of his friend, poet Rupert Brooke."
Matthew Westwood; Lament for Fame's First Victim; The Australian (Sydney); Aug 18, 2006.
tedium or T-D-M
MEANING:
noun: The state or quality of being boring, monotonous, or repetitive.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin taedium, from taedere (to be weary).

USAGE:
"What at first seems sort of clever quickly turns into an exercise in exasperating tedium."
Brandon Fibbs; Coming of Age Movie is No 'Stand By Me'; The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado); Sep 10, 2010.
fatwa
MEANING:
noun:
1. A ruling on a point of law given by an Islamic religious leader.
2. A severe denunciation.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Arabic fatwa (legal opinion, decree), from afta (to decide a legal point). Ultimately from the Semitic root ptw (to advise) that also brought us the word mufti.

NOTES:
Although the word has been recorded in the English language since 1625, the incident that brought it into worldwide consciousness took place in 1989. The most infamous of all fatwas took place on February 14 that year when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran pronounced a death sentence on the novelist Salman Rushdie for his book The Satanic Verses.
Khomeini could simply have written a book of his own countering Rushdie's. Why not fight ink with ink instead of with blood?

In Islam a fatwa could be a ruling on any point (such as the fatwa against ads for dog chow, see below), and most fatwas are about day-to-day life. But given the ease with which fatwas seem to call for murder, the word is now synonymous with extreme condemnation of someone, up to death. The latest fatwa victim is a Seattle cartoonist.
USAGE:
"Ads promoting pet foods and shops selling pet accessories, especially for cats and dogs, have been banned by the fatwa. Based on shariah, a dog is essentially unclean."
Fatwa Bans Pet Ads; Tehran Times (Iran); Aug 25, 2010.

"By not having read carefully my extremely carefully thought-through text, many scooter riders contacted me most angrily because they thought I'd inferred [read: implied] that all scooter riders are fascists... I have nothing against scooters -- I had quite a romance with an old Lambretta myself once -- so please withdraw your fatwa."
Barefoot Doctor; Global Warning; The Observer (London, UK); Jul 14, 2002.
custos morum
MEANING:
noun: A guardian of morals; censor.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin custos morum (guardian of morals, laws, etc.).

USAGE:
"A self-righteous soul can identify himself as custos morum."
William Safire; Delicious Delicto; The New York Times; Mar 30, 1986.
excommunicate
MEANING:
verb tr.: To formally exclude someone from a group or community, especially from a religious community.
noun: A person who has been excluded in this manner.
adjective: Having been excluded.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin excommunicare (to put out of the community), from ex- (out of) + communis (common). Ultimately from the Indo-European root mei- (to change or move) that has also given us commute, mutual, migrate, common, mistake, and immune.

NOTES:
There's censorship of books, and there is censorship of humans. Excommunication is a fancy word to describe the latter.

USAGE:
"Aquinas had responded that we ought to die excommunicated rather than violate our conscience."
Fr Joe Borg; Respect and responsibility; The Times (Valletta, Malta); Sep 5, 2010.
euphemism
MEANING:
noun: Use of a mild, neutral, evasive, or vague term in place of one considered taboo, offensive, blunt, or unpleasant.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek euphemismos, from euphemos (auspicious), from eu- (good) + pheme (speaking).

EXAMPLES:
collateral damage for civilian casualties
second-hand for used
pre-owned for second-hand
pre-loved for pre-owned
budget for cheap
pass (away) for die
sanitation worker for garbage collector/janitor
convivial for drunken
The opposite of euphemism is dysphemism.

USAGE:
"Two-and-a-half months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the notorious Executive Order 9066. As a result, more than 110,000 Japanese, virtually all the Japanese-Americans on the mainland, were 'evacuated to concentration camps' in remote parts of America's mountain states. The words were his, though they were soon replaced in official parlance by the euphemism, 'reception centres'."
The Consequences of Terror, Japanese Internment in America (book review); The Economist (London); Sep 22, 2001.
samizdat
MEANING:
noun: An underground publishing system used to print and circulate banned literature clandestinely. Also, such literature.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Russian samizdat, from samo- (self) + izdatelstvo (publishing house), from izdat (to publish). Coined facetiously on the model of Gosizdat (State Publishing House).

USAGE:
"This remarkable little book (People Power Uli!) includes jokes, text messages, cartoons, and poems of the revolt. It is both funny and a valuable record of samizdat literature and Philippine popular culture."
Alastair Dingwall; Estrada's Fall From Grace; Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong); Jan 17, 2002.
nepotism
MEANING:
noun: Favoritism shown to relatives and friends, especially in business or political appointments.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Italian nepotismo, from Latin nepos (grandson, nephew). Ultimately from the Indo-European root nepot- (grandson, nephew) that is also the source of the words nephew and niece.

NOTES:
The word originated from the practice of popes in the Roman Catholic Church to confer important positions to their sons. Since a pope had taken the vow of chastity, his son was euphemistically called a nephew.

USAGE:
"What is not siphoned off in corruption is wasted, due to the ineptitude of those appointed on the basis of nepotism and cronyism."
Mahreen Aziz Khan; Demo-crassy Rules; The Express Tribune (Karachi, Pakistan); Sep 25, 2010.
cozen
PRONUNCIATION:
(KUHZ-uhn)

MEANING:
verb tr.: To trick or deceive.

ETYMOLOGY:
The origin of the word is not certain. It is perhaps from French cousiner, in the sense of one claiming to be a cousin to derive a benefit from the relationship. According to another theory, it is derived from obsolete Italian cozzonare, from Italian cozzone (horse trader), from Latin cocio (dealer). The word cousin is also slang for someone gullible.

USAGE:
"Hobart began his career in art by cozening yokels out of unregarded treasures."
Rhoda Koenig; Kicking A Dead Horse; The Independent (London, UK); Sep 12, 2008.
avuncular
MEANING:
adjective: In the manner of an uncle, in benevolence, affection, or good humor.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin avunculus (maternal uncle), diminutive of avus (grandfather). Ultimately from the Indo-European root awo- (an adult male relative), which is also the source of atavism, uncle, and ayah.

NOTES:
Originally the term referred to a mother's brother, from avunculus meaning maternal uncle (paternal uncle was patruus). What's fascinating is how it describes an uncle: avunculus, meaning a little grandfather. The word uncle is slang for a pawnbroker, so the word avuncular could also mean like a pawnbroker.
The female counterpart of the word is materteral, meaning auntlike.

USAGE:
"Daphne Merkin wrote that Madoff, with his avuncular charm, gave individual investors the sense of being part of an extended family."
Clark Hoyt; Behind a Byline, Family Ties; The New York Times; Apr 11, 2009.
cater-cousin
MEANING:
noun: An intimate friend.

ETYMOLOGY:
The origin of the term is uncertain, though various theories have been proposed. According to one, the term is derived from French quatre-cousin (fourth cousin), implying someone who is so close as to almost be a relative, or one who is close enough to be among the fourth cousins. Another idea is that the term cater-cousin alludes to people intimate enough to be catering to each other. Finally, there's the sense of cater meaning diagonally (as in catercorner).

USAGE:
"I am charged with buying 30% of stocks through cater-cousin, Haggi Jalilov."
The Advocate Disproves Statements About His Involvement; Azer-Press (Azerbaijan); Dec 22, 2005.

"His master and he ... are scarce cater-cousins."
William Shakespeare; Merchant of Venice; c. 1600.
Dutch uncle
MEANING:
noun: Someone who advises or criticizes frankly and sternly.

ETYMOLOGY:
The English and the Dutch have fought in many wars during the 17th and 18th century. Even though they are friendly with each other now, the English language still carries traces of the past animosity, demeaning the Dutch: from Dutch treat (where each must pay his or her own share), Dutch gold (imitation gold), Dutch courage (courage inspired by liquor), and so on. A Dutch uncle is the opposite of a typical uncle (kind and indulgent), he's not avuncular. You can be sure, he doesn't believe in nepotism.

USAGE:
"George Perry is the Dutch uncle some parents wished they could send their son to -- if the boy needed some straight talk."
Rayne Wolfe; Lessons & Lambs; Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California); Jul 29, 2008.
sienna
MEANING:
noun: A color derived from clay, ranging from yellowish brown (in raw form) to reddish brown (when roasted).

ETYMOLOGY:
From Italian terra di Siena (earth of Siena). After Siena, a city in Italy once noted for the mining of this mineral. In its roasted form, the color is known as burnt sienna.

USAGE:
"Once you plow through the manual, you can program all your preferred settings, meaning the oven will remember just which shade of sienna you like your toast."
Melissa Clark; Compact Cookery; The New York Times; Aug 24, 2005.
nankeen or nankin
PRONUNCIATION:
(nan-KEEN or nan-KIN)
MEANING:
noun:
1. A yellow or buff color.
2. A sturdy yellow or buff cotton fabric.
3. (nankeens) Trousers made of this cloth.
4. A Chinese porcelain having blue designs on a white background.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Nanking, a city in China, where it was first made, now spelled as Nanjing. Nanjing is literally "southern capital". Beijing means "northern capital".

USAGE:
"A bright, laughing face ... a traveling-dress of a nankeen color ... such were the characteristics of our fair guest."
Wilkie Collins; The Queen of Hearts: A Novel; BiblioLife; 2009.
gamboge.
PRONUNCIATION:
(gam-BOJ, -BOOZH)
MEANING:
noun:
1. A strong yellow color.
2. A gum resin obtained from the sap of trees of the genus Garcinia, used as a yellow pigment and as a cathartic.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin gambogium, variant of cambugium, after Cambodia where, among other places in Southeast Asia, this tree is found.

USAGE:
"In Li Nong's works, the marshy environment is shown as something mysterious, pleasant and beautiful even, and his play of tones probably spanning the repertoire of gamboge, and cadmium, with streaks of impastoes, add to the tactile quality."
Ooi Kok Chuen; For the Zhangs, East Meets West; New Straits Times (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia); Mar 9, 2001.

"What do you make of synaesthesia? Since a lot of your work is sensual, is finding a way of making visual emotions or reactions to particular natural or made stimuli, do you think thus, that happiness is gamboge, ennui is grey, and so on?"
Jonathan Meades; True Colours; The Times (London, UK); Mar 31, 2001.
sinopia
sinopia

PRONUNCIATION:
(si-NO-pee-uh)
MEANING:
noun:
1. A reddish-brown color or pigment.
2. A preliminary drawing for a fresco.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via Italian and Latin, from Greek Sinope, an ancient colony and seaport in Asia Minor where this pigment was found. The word acquired its second sense from the use of the pigment in making preparatory sketches for a fresco.

USAGE:
"Lucrezia looked at the lively figures indicated in sinopia, and marveled at the lifelike quality of their gestures."
Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz; The Miracles of Prato: A Novel; Harper; 2010.
solferino
PRONUNCIATION:
(sol-fuh-REE-no)

MEANING:
noun: Purplish red color.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Solferino, a village in northern Italy, where the Battle of Solferino was fought on June 24, 1859, resulting in forty thousand casualties in a single day. The color was named so because the dye of this color was discovered shortly after the battle, and supposedly the color represented how the battlefield appeared after the bloodshed.
The immense suffering Henry Dunant witnessed in the Battle of Solferino inspired him to campaign, which led to the founding of the Red Cross.

NOTES:
Another color named in this manner is magenta (after Magenta, Italy), whose dye was discovered shortly after the Battle of Magenta (June 4, 1859).

USAGE:
"Next season we will be drenched in solferino, their having exhausted rose, magenta and fuchsia in recent years."
Frances Cawthon; Most Kids Don't Need to Know; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Jun 16, 1986.
harlequin
PRONUNCIATION:
(HAHR-luh-kwin, -kin) \

MEANING:
adjective: In varied colors.
noun: A clown.
noun: A stock comic character, masked, and dressed in a diamond-patterned multicolored costume.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French and Italian, after Herla king, a mythical figure sometimes identified as Woden, an Anglo-Saxon god.

USAGE:
"Long, multicolored armbands and stringy dresses added flashy flair, and diamond-patterned tights resembled what a harlequin might wear."
Jamey Keaten; Galliano Aims For Hippies at Fashion Show; Associated Press (New York); Oct 9, 2004.

"Another designer had her models parading down the catwalk in 'traditional, flounced peasant blouses and full-tiered skirts in brilliant red-and-white gingham, zigzag knit and harlequin patchwork'."
Rona Dougall; Someone Save Us From Frocky Horror Shows; The Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland); Sep 28, 2004.
stentorian
PRONUNCIATION:
(sten-TOR-ee-uhn)
MEANING:
adjective: Loud and powerful.

ETYMOLOGY:
In Greek mythology, Stentor was a herald in the Trojan War and noted for his loud voice. In the Iliad, Homer described his voice to be equal to the voices of fifty men. He was put to death after his defeat by Hermes (1, 2) in a shouting contest.

USAGE:
"David Beckham's legendarily stentorian and commanding voice would lend itself perfectly to a career as a rapper."
Alexis Petridis; Tara Newley's Gritty New Film; The Guardian (London, UK); Sep 9, 2010.
pharisaical
PRONUNCIATION:
(far-uh-SAY-uh-kuhl)

MEANING:
adjective: Characterized by hypocritical self-righteousness; putting emphasis on strict observance of rituals unrelated to the spirit or meaning of the ceremony.

ETYMOLOGY:
After the Pharisees, a Jewish sect during 1 BCE - 1 CE, whose members were noted for strict observance of rites and rituals, and felt superior because of it. The word is derived via Latin and Greek from Aramaic prishayya, plural of prish (separated).

USAGE:
"Then we have the pettiness and hypocrisy in the loud and pharisaical condemnation emanating from the media and the public."
Garth George; No Credit to be Found in Card Debacle; The Daily Post (Rotorua, New Zealand); Jun 18, 2010.
luddite
MEANING:
noun: One who opposes or avoids the use of new technology.

ETYMOLOGY:
After the Luddites, name taken by textile workers in England during 1811-1816 who destroyed machinery that was displacing them. They took the name after one Ned Ludd, whose identity is not clear. Ned Ludd is said to have destroyed, in a fit of insanity, a knitting frame in 1779. In response to the Luddites, the British parliament passed the Frame Breaking Act which made the destroying of knitting frames punishable by death.

USAGE:
"But I'm not a luddite. I'll keep my automatic coffee-maker, my computer, and my automatic dishwasher, thank you!"
Richard Packham; Elaborate Appliances Don't Justify the Cost or the Space; The News-Review (Roseburg, Oregon); Mar 21, 2010.
simony
PRONUNCIATION:
(SY-muh-nee, SIM-)

MEANING:
noun: Profiting from holy things, especially buying and selling of holy positions and pardons.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Simon Magus, Samaritan sorcerer in the Bible, who wanted to buy spiritual powers -- the ability to transfer the "Holy Spirit" by putting hands on someone -- from Peter.

USAGE:
"A related theme -- the preacher or moraliser unmasked -- has been richly illustrated in recent years by examples from real life: a string of corrupt American televangelists, self-appointed 'men of God', who revelled in greed, lust, and simony, the very things they were thought to be railing against."
Gilchrist; The Economist (London, UK); Nov 19, 1994.
ventriloquism
PRONUNCIATION:
(ven-TRIL-uh-kwiz-uhm)
MEANING:
noun:
1. The art or practice of speaking without moving lips so that the voice seems to be coming from somewhere else.
2. The expression of one's views through another person, used as a literary technique.

ETYMOLOGY:
Literally speaking, ventriloquism is speaking from the stomach, from the former belief that the voice was produced from the ventriloquist's belly. The word is derived from Latin ventriloquus (ventriloquist), from ventr- (belly) + loqui (to speak). Earliest recorded use: 1797.

USAGE:
"'In recreating his mother as a resourceful and often hilarious character Walters's sustained act of literary ventriloquism captures the ingenuity and passion of the diasporic narrative in Canadian cultural history,' the jurors said in a statement."
Immigrant Tale Wins $10K Creative Non-Fiction Prize; CBC News (Toronto, Canada); Oct 13, 2010.
posology
PRONUNCIATION:
(puh-SOL-uh-jee, po-)
MEANING:
noun: The study of drug dosages.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek poso- (how much) + -logy (study). Earliest recorded use: 1786.

NOTES:
Physician Peter Mere Latham once said, "Poisons and medicine are oftentimes the same substance given with different intents." And different dosage, he might have added. Determining the right amount -- neither too much nor too little -- is crucial as the effect of a medicine varies by age, weight, sex, climate, etc. of the recipient. That's where posology comes in.

USAGE:
"Dan Wagner's approach involves working with a team of students, professors, local healers, midwives, and shamans to identify, collect, and mark plant samples according to protocols established in the field of posology."
J. Michael Krivyanski; From Pharmacy to Integrative Medicine; World & I (Washington, DC); Feb 2002.
comminate
PRONUNCIATION:
(KOM-uh-nayt)

MEANING:
verb tr.: To threaten with divine punishment; to curse.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from commination, from com- (intensive prefix) + minari (to threaten). Ultimately from the Indo-European root men- (project), which is also the source of minatory, menace, mountain, eminent, promenade, demean, amenable, and mouth. Earliest recorded use: 1611.

USAGE:
"I think he deserves comminating, don't you? Nancy said people like that ought to be put down, didn't you, Nancy?"
Mollie Hardwick; Malice Domestic; Fawcett; 1992.
aesthete or esthete
MEANING:
noun: Someone who has or affects high sensitivity to beauty, especially in art.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from aesthetic. Via Latin from Greek aisthesis (sensation or perception). Ultimately from the Indo-European root au- (to perceive) which is the source of other words such as audio, audience, audit, obey, oyez, auditorium, anesthesia, aesthetic, and synesthesia. Earliest recorded use 1881.

USAGE:
"Alex is a secret aesthete, a slum-dwelling intellectual who finds redemption through Beethoven rather than the pumping dance beats down at the Korova milk bar."
Neil Cooper; A Clockwork Orange, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow; The Herald (Glasgow, Scotland); Oct 18, 2010.
misogamy
PRONUNCIATION:
(mi-SOG-uh-mee)
MEANING:
noun: Hatred of marriage.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek miso- (hate) + -gamy (marriage). Earliest recorded use: 1560.

USAGE:
"Misogamy drives the plot. Marriage itself is seen as a series of ratty exchanges in which partners gnaw at past infidelities."
Michael Billington; Blithe Spirit; The Guardian (London, UK); Aug 26, 2004.
hagiolatry
PRONUNCIATION:
(hag-ee-OL-uh-tree, hay-jee-)

MEANING:
noun:
1. The worship of saints.
2. Treating someone with undue reverence.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek hagio- (holy) + -latry (worship). First recorded use: 1808.

USAGE:
"To quote Constantino: Dr. Jose Rizal will still occupy a good position in our national pantheon even if we discard hagiolatry and subject him to a more mature historical evaluation."
John Nery; Falling for the American Trap; Philippine Daily Inquirer (Manila, Philippines); Jun 22, 2010.
onomancy
PRONUNCIATION:
(ON-uh-man-see)
MEANING:
noun: Divination by the letters of a name.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek onoma- (name) + -mancy (divination). Earliest recorded use: 1603.

NOTES:
Some parents name their children after careful consideration of onomancy to assure the best possible future for them. Some people alter the spelling of their names or adopt a new name in an effort to bring good fortune. Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote a short story, "Spell My Name with an S", with this theme. The story was inspired by his frustration in having to ask people to spell his name (pronounced AZ-uh-mof) correctly.

USAGE:
"Kaplan and Bernays taught me all sorts of unexpected things about my name. They inspired me to try my hand at alphanumeric onomancy, in which the letters of a name are assigned numerical value, then added up to reveal occult facts about its owner."
Adam Goodheart; Naming Names: An Appellation Spring; The Washington Post; Feb 3, 1997.
dentulous
MEANING:
adjective: Having teeth.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from edentulous (toothless), from ex- (out of) + dens (tooth). Earliest recorded use: 1926.

USAGE:
"He was therefore prejudiced against all things calciferous or dentulous. 'I propose that the next student who is caught biting a fellow student should be removed.'"
Robert B Shampo; The Weird Thoughts and Writings of Battling Goozler; Vantage; 2009.
buttle
MEANING:
verb intr.: To do a butler's work.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from butler, from Old French bouteillier (cup-bearer), from bouteille (bottle). Originally, a butler was in charge of the wine. Earliest recorded use: 1867.

USAGE:
"The top hotels in Saudi Arabia are staffed by foreign men -- something I realized must be the case when my butler at the Al Faisaliah folded my underwear unprompted. If I were buttled by a Saudi, we'd probably be shuttled to Deera Square -- or Chop Chop Square, as it's better known -- where the public beheadings occur."
Maureen Dowd; A Girls' Guide to Saudi Arabia; Vanity Fair (New York); Aug 2010.
parsimonious
MEANING:
adjective: Excessively sparing or frugal.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Middle English parcimony, from Latin parsimonia, from parcere (to spare). First recorded use: 1598.

USAGE:
"President Calvin Coolidge was so parsimonious with words that he became known as 'Silent Cal'."
Rob Christensen; Interesting, But Not Quite Convincing; The News & Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina); Sep 12, 2010.
miry
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Resembling mire.
2. Muddy; swampy.

ETYMOLOGY:
From mire (bog), from Old Norse myrr. Earliest recorded use: 1398.

USAGE:
"This election night, American liberals, sternum-deep in that miry slough of despond, are as depressed as they've been since the Florida debacle back in 2000."
Michael Tomasky; Midterms 2010: A Sea-Change in Just Two Years; The Guardian (London, UK); Nov 3, 2010.
majordomo
MEANING:
noun:
1. Someone whose job is to make arrangements or organize things for another.
2. A steward or butler.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Spanish mayordomo (butler, main servant), from Latin major + domus (house).

USAGE:
"If there hadn't been a Saudi majordomo to come and collect us, we would have been in limbo -- a pair of single women wandering the airport with no man to get them out, trapped forever like Tom Hanks in movie The Terminal."
Maureen Dowd; A Girls' Guide to Saudi Arabia; Vanity Fair (New York); Aug 2010.
emote
MEANING:
verb intr.: To express emotion in an excessive or theatrical manner.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from emotion, from Old French esmovoir (to excite, stir up), from Latin emovere (to remove or displace), from ex- (out of) + movere (to move). Earliest recorded use: 1917.

USAGE:
"Doctors are trained to always look serious and never emote."
Ninad Siddhaye; Doctors Self-Medicate With Theatre; Daily News & Analysis (Mumbai, India); Oct 9, 2010.
vitiate
MEANING:
verb tr.:
1. To impair or spoil the effectiveness of.
2. To corrupt.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin vitiare (to spoil, injure), from vitium (blemish). Earliest recorded use: 1534.

USAGE:
"The peaceful atmosphere at the school was vitiated as a police constable in an inebriated condition created a scene there."
Alok Mishra; Women, Girls Outnumber Men in Gopalganj, Siwan; The Times of India (New Delhi); Oct 29, 2010.
fatuous
MEANING:
adjective: Foolish or inane, especially in a complacent and smug manner.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin fatuus (foolish). Earliest recorded use: 1633.

USAGE:
"You know it's patronising because every five minutes there is an utterly fatuous remark dressed up as profundity."
Amol Rajan; When Women Aren't on Top; The Independent (London, UK); Oct 13, 2010.
wherefore
MEANING:
adverb: For what reason?
noun: Reason or purpose.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Middle English, a combination of where + for. The word often appears in the phrase "the whys and wherefores (of something)", meaning its reasons. First recorded use: c. 1200.

USAGE:
"Love is the most dunderheaded of all the passions; it never will listen to reason. The very rudiments of logic are unknown to it. 'Love has no wherefore,' says one of the Latin poets."
Edward Bulwer-Lytton; Kenelm Chillingly; 1873.
in situ
MEANING:
adverb: In the original place.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin in situ (in place). The word is used in medicine to indicate a condition in a localized state, not spread beyond. First recorded use: 1740.

USAGE:
"The sound engineers came to record the nuns in situ."
Louette Harding; Sing out, Sisters: How a Closed Order of Benedictine Nuns Recorded an Album; Daily Mail (London, UK); Oct 9, 2010.
ex gratia
MEANING:
adverb, adjective: As a favor or gesture of goodwill, rather than from any legal requirement.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin ex (out of) + gratia (favor, kindness). First recorded use: 1769.

NOTES:
When they say they are making a payment ex gratia, it is more often than not, not ex gratia, but because of their culpability.

USAGE:
"Lumka Oliphant said, 'The payment of Rand 1000 is made ex gratia as Roadlink is indemnified by our terms and conditions.'"
Wendy Knowler; The Missing Link in Passenger Satisfaction; Independent (Johannesburg, South Africa); Jun 9, 2010.
therewithal
MEANING:
adverb: Together with; besides.

ETYMOLOGY:
From there + withal, from the joining of the phrase "with al" (with all). First recorded use: c. 1330.

USAGE:
"A festive Bazaar invites one and all to sample its selection of well-chosen words, therewithal, with imagination and inspiration to create stories and greeting cards."
This Week's Arts Round-up; The Cornishman (Cornwall, UK); Dec 10, 2009.
in toto
MEANING:
adverb: Totally; as a whole.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin totus (total). First recorded use: 1639.

USAGE:
"Garcia opposes lifting the embargo in toto."
Tim Padgett; Florida's 25th District; Time (New York); Sep 27, 2010.
schmeer or schmear or shmear
noun:
1. The entire set (as in the whole schmeer).
2. Bribe or flattery.
3. Spread or paste.
verb tr:
To butter up: to flatter or bribe.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Yiddish schmirn (to smear, grease, or flatter), from Middle High German smiren. Earliest recorded use: 1958.

NOTES:
Literally speaking, to schmeer is to smear, cream cheese on a bagel, for example. The term is also used in many metaphorical senses: to flatter or bribe someone. Many languages have similar terms. In English we have: "to grease someone's palm" (to bribe) and "to butter someone up" (to flatter). There's another metaphorical sense in English that makes use of schmeer's cousin, smear, as in "to smear someone's reputation".

USAGE:
"All three of the women sharing the bill have extensive TV experience -- HBO and Comedy Central specials, Letterman, Leno, the whole shmear."
James Sullivan; We Are Women, Hear Us Roar; The San Francisco Chronicle; Oct 17, 2002.
"Creswell's attorney, Michael Axelrad, said jurors indicated to him that this schmeer tactic did not swing their decision."
Al Lewis; Starbucks, Pepsi Win With Ponzi Allegation; Dow Jones News Service (New York); Aug 14, 2009.
noodge or nudzh or nudge
MEANING:
verb tr.: To pester; to nag.
verb intr.: To whine.
noun: One who pesters and annoys with persistent complaining.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Yiddish nudyen (to pester, bore), from Polish nudzic. The word developed a variant spelling 'nudge' under the influence of the English word 'nudge'. A cousin of this word is nudnik (a boring pest). First recorded use: 1960.

USAGE:
"My younger son wanted a dog as much as I didn't want one, and has wheedled and noodged me for a dog for about the past year."
Neil Steinberg; Notice: This is Not a Column About a Dog; Chicago Sun-Times; Sep 5, 2010.
"Rahm Emanuel is willing to be a relentless noodge to keep the herd moving in the right direction."
David Brooks; The Soft Side; The New York Times; Oct 5, 2010.
shamus
MEANING:
noun:
1. A private detective.
2. A police officer.

ETYMOLOGY:
Perhaps from Yiddish shames/shammes (sexton, a caretaker at a synagogue), from Hebrew shamash (servant). The spelling of the word has altered from the influence of the Celtic name Seamus (equivalent to James) as many police officers in the US at the time, especially in New York, were Irish. First recorded use: 1925.

USAGE:
"A private eye is expected to be whip-smart and tough as nails, but if the guy isn't likable, he's D.O.A. as a genre hero. So it's nice to note that Vlodek Elstrom, a shamus from a tumbledown town in northern Illinois has lost none of his initial appeal in its sequel."
Marilyn Stasio; A Need for Noir; The New York Times; Jan 23, 2009.
golem
MEANING:
noun:
1. An automaton.
2. A blockhead.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Yiddish goylem, from Hebrew golem (shapeless mass). First recorded use: 1897.

NOTES:
In Jewish legend a golem was a human-like figure brought to life supernaturally. The most famous of these golem stories is of the golem of Prague, in which a 16th century rabbi created a golem to protect the Jews from anti-Semitic attacks.

USAGE:
"I've created a golem that will continue to live, no matter what I do. Books get burnt and websites disappear, but my e-mail accounts continue to get spammed."
Serge Debrebant; Berthold Metz: "I'm Trying To Become The World's Most-Spammed Person"; Financial Times (London, UK); Apr 17, 2010.
schmegeggy or schmegegge
PRONUNCIATION:
(shmuh-GEG-ee)
MEANING:
noun:
1. A stupid person.
2. Nonsense.

ETYMOLOGY:
Formed on the pattern of other Yiddish words starting with schm-, for example, schmuck. Also see meshuga. First recorded use: 1964.

USAGE:
"Dr. Eric Kandel*: I was a schmegeggy. To think that each one of these complex mental structures had a single locale and that I could find them in six months was absurd. I learned to be more realistic."
Claudia Kalb; Interview: Biology of the Mind; Newsweek (New York); Mar 27, 2006.
*2000 Nobel Prize in physiology / medicine
"What did you have to do with it? Your parents were Mormon. What kind of schmegeggy is this?"
Jess Stearn; Soulmates; Bantam; 1984.
sforzando
PRONUNCIATION:
(sfort-SAHN-do)
MEANING:
adjective, adverb: With sudden force or strong accent (used as a musical direction).
noun: A note or group of notes with strong emphasis.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Italian sforzare (to force), from Latin fortis (strong). Ultimately from the Indo-European root bhergh- (high), which is also the source of iceberg, belfry, borough, burg, burglar, bourgeois, fortify, and force. First recorded use: 1801.

USAGE:
"Establishing a driving rhythm with the barking of sforzando strings, the piece remained complex, teetering between moments of brooding and violent bursts."
Penderecki Thrills Beijing; Global Times (Beijing, China); Oct 17, 2010.
kvetch
PRONUNCIATION:
(kvech)
MEANING:
verb intr.: To complain habitually, whine; gripe.
noun: 1. A chronic complainer. 2. A complaint.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Yiddish kvetshn (squeeze, pinch, complain), from Middle High German quetschen (to squeeze). First recorded use: 1964.

USAGE:
"Perhaps one should emphasize here that V.S. Naipaul has gone out of his way, from time to time and far beyond the call of duty, to burnish his reputation as a cantankerous curmudgeon -- truly the Evelyn Waugh of our age, right down to his squirearchal residence in the west of England -- or even as a bigoted old barroom kvetch. Not long ago Naipaul anathematized Tony Blair as a 'pirate' at the head of 'a socialist revolution'."
Geoffrey Wheatcroft; A Terrifying Honesty; The Atlantic Monthly (Boston); Feb 2002.
tmesis
PRONUNCIATION:
(tuh-MEE-sis, TMEE-sis)
MEANING:
noun: Stuffing a word into the middle of another word.
Examples: a-whole-nother, abso-bloody-lutely.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek tmesis (a cutting), from temnein (to cut). Ultimately from the Indo-European root tem- (to cut), which is also the source of tonsure, temple, contemplate, epitome, tome, anatomy, and atomy. First recorded use: 1586.

USAGE:
"I don't like tmesis; it's abso-bloody-lutely ri-flipping-diculous."
Gazza's Decline is a Sad Waste of Talent; Daily Star (London, UK); Oct 25, 2010.
svelte
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Slender; lithe.
2. Graceful; suave.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French svelte (slender), from Italian svelto (slender), past participle of svellere (to pull out or stretch), from Latin exvellere, from ex- (out) vellere (to pull). First recorded use: 1817.

USAGE:
"Five years ago, Kareena Kapoor, a top young actress in Bollywood, was a typical Punjabi girl, buxom and shapely, luscious like sweet kulfi ice-cream. Today, I imagine, kulfi would make her heave and biryani is never on her plate. For, you see, Kareena saw the light, and today she is svelte and sinewy enough to jog on the streets of LA and wear the tightest of designer jeans."
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown; Why Are Asian Women Aspiring to Western Ideals of Beauty?; The Independent (London, UK); Nov 20, 2010.
llano
PRONUNCIATION:
(LAH-noh, YAH-no)
MEANING:
noun: An open grassy, almost treeless plain.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Spanish llano (plain), from Latin planus (plain), from planus (level). First recorded use: 1613.

USAGE:
"I decided to prepare this year by reading some Westerns to get in the mood. Generally, that is a type of literature I have avoided, but once you get to where you recognize the names of places and know a llano from a plateau, they are kind of fun."
Jan Glidewell; Hippies, Cowboys Good for the Heart; St. Petersburg Times (Florida); Jun 8, 2009.
sesquipedality
PRONUNCIATION:
(ses-kwi-pi-DAL-i-tee)
MEANING:
noun: The practice of using long words.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin sesqui- (one and a half) + ped- (foot). First recorded use: 1759.

NOTES:
Literally speaking, sesquipedality is using words that are one and a half feet long. A related word is sesquicentennial (150th anniversary). Nothing wrong with using a sesquipedalian word once in a while, if it fits, but it's best to avoid too many long, polysyllabic words. This dictum doesn't apply to German speakers though, as Mark Twain once observed, "Some German words are so long that they have a perspective."
There's a bean subspecies commonly known as a yardlong bean. It's really misnamed as it's "only" half a yard long. Its scientific name, Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis, is more precise.
USAGE:
"The stories in Oblivion comprise relatively straightforward prose, with textual play and sesquipedality trimmed to the bone."
Tim Feeney; Oblivion; Review of Contemporary Fiction; Jul 2004.
apophasis
PRONUNCIATION:
(uh-POF-uh-sis)
MEANING:
noun: Allusion to something by denying it will be said.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via Latin from Greek apophanai (to say no), from apo- (away from) + phanai (to say). Ultimately from the Indo-European root bha- (to speak) that is also the source of fable, phone, fame, boon, and infant. First recorded use: 1657.

USAGE:
"There is almost no complaint that Ralph Nader and Dear Abby won't listen to, but I don't remember either of them ever tried to do anything about a dangling participle or a badly mixed metaphor, not to mention damnable apophasis."
Jack Smith; Hey, Watch That Language!; Milwaukee Journal (Wisconsin); Nov 11, 1974.

"It's an Afghan apophasis. By claiming he does not want to participate in a political process that is hopelessly overrun with corruption, Abdullah is acknowledging just the opposite -- that he very much wants power and influence in the Afghan political realm." Teddy Minch; Well Now What?; The Tufts Daily (Medford, Massachusetts); Nov 4, 2009.
apophasis
PRONUNCIATION:
(uh-POF-uh-sis)
MEANING:
noun: Allusion to something by denying it will be said.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via Latin from Greek apophanai (to say no), from apo- (away from) + phanai (to say). Ultimately from the Indo-European root bha- (to speak) that is also the source of fable, phone, fame, boon, and infant. First recorded use: 1657.

USAGE:
"There is almost no complaint that Ralph Nader and Dear Abby won't listen to, but I don't remember either of them ever tried to do anything about a dangling participle or a badly mixed metaphor, not to mention damnable apophasis."
Jack Smith; Hey, Watch That Language!; Milwaukee Journal (Wisconsin); Nov 11, 1974.

"It's an Afghan apophasis. By claiming he does not want to participate in a political process that is hopelessly overrun with corruption, Abdullah is acknowledging just the opposite -- that he very much wants power and influence in the Afghan political realm." Teddy Minch; Well Now What?; The Tufts Daily (Medford, Massachusetts); Nov 4, 2009.
pleonasm
PRONUNCIATION:
(PLEE-uh-naz-uhm)
MEANING:
noun: The use of more words than those necessary to express an idea; redundancy.
Example: free gift.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin pleonasmus, from Greek pleonasmos, from pleonazein (to be in excess), from pleon (more). First recorded use: 1610.

NOTES:
Pleonasm is often used for emphasis, as in free gift, true fact, or revert back. While such repetition is discouraged, sometimes it becomes part of the language and is used idiomatically, as in a hot water heater.

USAGE:
"Why some people walk around with a little dark cloud over their heads all the time, while others ceaselessly view the world through rose-colored glasses, to use a tired cliche ('tired cliche' is also a cliche, as well as a pleonasm, but what the heck)."
Otto Penzler; What a Wonderful Year!; The New York Sun; Dec 28, 2005.
periphrasis
PRONUNCIATION:
(puh-RIF-ruh-sis)
MEANING:
noun: A roundabout way of saying something, using more words than necessary.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via Latin, from Greek periphrasis, from periphrazein (to explain around), from peri- (around) + phrazein (to speak, say). First recorded use: 1533.

USAGE:
"Why the lawsuit? Pfizer said it had 'sought the assistance of the Philippine legal system' (an elegant periphrasis, that)."
High Blood; Philippine Daily Inquirer (Manila, Philippines); Nov 19, 2006.
paralipsis
PRONUNCIATION:
(par-uh-LIP-sis)
MEANING:
noun: Drawing attention to something while claiming to be passing over it.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin paralipsis, from Greek paraleipsis (an omission), from paraleipein (to leave on one side), from para- (side) + leipein (to leave). First recorded use: 1550.

NOTES:
Paralipsis is especially handy in politics to point out an opponent's faults. It typically involves these phrases:
"not to mention"
"to say nothing of"
"I won't speak of"
"leaving aside"

USAGE:
"Political correctness has breathed new life into the paralepsis, the rhetorical device whereby we make a statement by first announcing that we are not going to make it. When pundits write 'No one is suggesting...' the American eye reads 'I'm suggesting.'"
Florence King; If 'Words Mean Things', Then All is Lost; Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia); Feb 19, 1995.
tautology
MEANING:
noun:
1. Unnecessary repetition of an idea, especially in different words, for example, a good-looking beautiful woman.
2. In logic, a compound statement that is always true, irrespective of the value of its components, for example: Tomorrow either it will rain or not rain.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek tauto- (same), contraction of "to auto" (the same) + -logy (word). First recorded use: 1587.

NOTES:
A tautology is, to define it in a tautological manner, to repeat the same thing twice in different words. For the second sense of the word, we can say that a sentence is either a tautology or it's not. The word is sometimes used for satire or insult, for example, see the second usage example below.
Pleonasm is using more words than necessary ("free gift"), but for most practical purposes pleonasm and tautology can be considered synonyms.

USAGE:
"Whoever came up with the term action sports should get some kind of award trophy gong prize from the International Global World Tautology Foundation Institute Association."
Roger Cox; Four Seasons; The Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland); Aug 7, 2010.

"One would hope the average Australian is far too smart to be influenced by a disgruntled bully masquerading as a journalist on Channel Nine (is that a tautology?)."
Julie Hosking; Lame Circus Act Leaves Us Walking a Tightrope; The West Australian (Perth); Aug 24, 2010.
ventifact.
PRONUNCIATION:
(VEN-tuh-fact)
MEANING:
noun: A stone shaped, polished, or faceted by windblown sand.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin venti- (wind), from ventus (wind) + factum (something made), from facere (to make or do). First recorded use: 1911. Also see yardang.

USAGE:
"On that last trip, I knelt by the river and took a stone from the deep pockets of my wind pants. It was a black ventifact, an igneous rock. During eons of exposure to the wind, its surface had become smooth and polished."
Bill Green; Adventure in Antarctica; The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio); Oct 1, 1995.
exogamy
PRONUNCIATION:
(ek-SOG-uh-mee)
MEANING:
noun: Marriage outside one's tribe or a similar social unit.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek exo- (outside) + -gamy (marriage). First recorded use: 1865. The opposite is endogamy.

USAGE:
"Human beings from very early on came to appreciate the importance of exogamy as a way to avoid the ill-effects of inbreeding."
James W. Ceaser; My Goodness, Your Badness; Weekly Standard (Washington, DC); Jun 2, 2008.
leptorrhine
MEANING:
adjective: Having a long narrow nose.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek lepto- (thin) + rhin (nose). Also see rhinorrhea (a runny nose). First recorded use: 1880.

USAGE:
"Like a horny sightless woman on a blind date, she begins to knead her heavy friendship-ring-laden fingers into my face. 'Leptorrhine nose ... kumquat-headed ...'"
Paul Beatty; Slumberland; Bloomsbury; 2008.

Explore "leptorrhine" in the Visual Thesaurus.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
Power always has to be kept in check; power exercised in secret, especially under the cloak of national security, is doubly dangerous. -William Proxmire, US senator, reformer (1915-2005)
ontology
noun: The philosophical study of existence and the nature of being.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek onto- (being) + -logy (study). First recorded use: 1663.

NOTES:
In the context of computer and information sciences, ontology is the formal representation of knowledge in a domain, for example, by defining classes, their attributes, and relationships.

USAGE:
"But there's still that pesky problem of ontology. 'He does exist and he doesn't really exist. What does that mean?'"
Christy Corp-Minamiji; Interview: Wandering Through Time with Award Winning Author Charles Yu; Seattle Post-Intelligencer; Nov 15, 2010.
leptorrhine
MEANING:
adjective: Having a long narrow nose.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek lepto- (thin) + rhin (nose). Also see rhinorrhea (a runny nose). First recorded use: 1880.

USAGE:
"Like a horny sightless woman on a blind date, she begins to knead her heavy friendship-ring-laden fingers into my face. 'Leptorrhine nose ... kumquat-headed ...'"
Paul Beatty; Slumberland; Bloomsbury; 2008.
quixotic
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Absurdly chivalrous, idealistic, or impractical.
2. Impulsive, unpredictable.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Don Quixote, hero of the eponymous novel by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616). Earliest documented use: 1718.

NOTES:
Cervantes's novel has given us another idiom, tilting at windmills: fighting with imaginary or invincible opponents. In the novel, Don Quixote perceives windmills in the distance as giants and proceeds to attack them. The word tilt here is a synonym for jousting.

USAGE:
"Mr. Light is a gift to his community, a Robin Hood of an electrician who fiddles the meters for customers too poor to pay, and a quixotic visionary with a homemade windmill in his backyard."
Kate Taylor; The Light Thief (movie review); The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada); Nov 18, 2010.
divagate
PRONUNCIATION:
(DY-vuh-gayt)
MEANING:
verb intr.: To wander or digress.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin divagatus, past participle of divagari (to wander off), from dis- (away) + vagari (to wander). Earliest documented use: 1599.

USAGE:
"Unfortunately, John Armstrong leaves the 'big point' dangling and undeveloped while he divagates about economic efficiency."
Felipe Fernández-Armesto; In Search of Civilization (book review); The Times (London, UK); Jun 18, 2009.
nyctophobia
PRONUNCIATION:
(nik-tuh-FOH-bee-uh)
MEANING:
noun: An abnormal fear of night or darkness.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin nycto (night) + -phobia (fear). Earliest documented use: 1892. A related word is nyctalopia (night blindness).

USAGE:
"Even if you have nyctophobia you should be able to comfortably sit in a darkened movie theater. Just think of the movie screen as a huge night light."
Duane Dudek; Be Very Afraid; Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin); Jul 30, 1999
frowsty
PRONUNCIATION:
(FROU-stee)
MEANING:
adjective: Musty: having a stale smell.

ETYMOLOGY:
Of uncertain origin, perhaps a variant of frowzy (stuffy). Earliest documented use: 1865.

USAGE:
"The big doors close behind us and we're underground, enveloped in cool, moist air. The smell is overwhelming: heady, frowsty and thick."
Johanna Hegerty; Quality in Every Whiff; The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia); Nov 13, 2008.
supercilious
MEANING:
adjective: Showing haughty disdain.

ETYMOLOGY:
The word alludes to someone being disdainful by raising an eyebrow. It's derived from Latin supercilium (eyebrow, pride), from super (above) + cilium (eyelid). Ultimately from the Indo-European root kel- (to cover, conceal, or save) that is also the source of hollow, hole, holster, hell, apocalypse, and eucalyptus. Earliest documented use: 1528.

USAGE:
"I'm all for 'moving on' from the two world wars, obviously. But I'm not quite so keen to 'move on' from the cocky, supercilious, haughty, and dismissive view of our great nation."
Piers Morgan: Achtung, Franz!; The Daily Mail (London, UK); Jun 27, 2010.
impugn
MEANING:
verb tr.: To call in question or cast doubt upon.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French from Latin impugnare (to attack), from im- (towards) + pugnare (to fight), from pugnus (fist). Ultimately from the Indo-European root peuk (to prick) which is also the source of point, puncture, pungent, punctual, poignant, pounce, and poniard. Earliest documented use: 1384.

USAGE:
"'You can't impugn somebody's integrity without having proper evidence,' David Collier, chief executive of board, said earlier."
Huw Richards; Troubled Tour Ends for Pakistan; The New York Times; Sep 23, 2010.
sinister
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Threatening or foreshadowing evil or harm.
2. On the left side.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French from Latin sinister (left, left hand, unlucky). Earliest documented use: 1411.

USAGE:
"We are concerned as there are reports that sinister moves are under way to create clashes among the Security Forces."
Mahinda Rajapaksa; Lanka on Verge of Prosperous Era; Sunday Observer (Sri Lanka); Dec 12, 2010.
orchidaceous
PRONUNCIATION:
(or-ki-DAY-shuhs)
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Of or relating to orchids.
2. Showy.

ETYMOLOGY:
From New Latin Orchidaceae (orchid family name), from Latin orchis (orchid), from Greek orkhis (testicle, orchid, from the shape of its tubers). Earliest documented use: 1838.

USAGE:
"Arlene Dahl was and remains a real doll. The orchidaceous leading lady was one of the most beautiful women to ever grace MGM musicals."
Jim Bawden; Dear Jim; The Toronto Star (Canada); Jun 6, 1998.
sylvan or silvan
PRONUNCIATION:
(SIL-vuhn)
MEANING:
adjective: Related to the woods; wooded.
noun: One who inhabits or frequents the woods.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin silva (forest). Earliest documented use: 1565.

USAGE:
"Tree lovers will be keen to check out a spacious detached home in the desirable sylvan setting of Alverstone Garden Village."
Mary McBride; Delight for Lovers of Sylvan Settings; Isle of Wight County Press (UK); Dec 18, 2009.
primrose path
MEANING:
noun:
1. An easy life, especially devoted to sensual pleasure.
2. A path of least resistance, especially one that ends in disaster.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin prima rosa (first rose). Earliest documented use: 1604.

NOTES:
It's not clear why "primrose" was picked for naming this metaphorical path. Perhaps Shakespeare chose the word for alliteration -- the word is first attested in his Hamlet where Ophelia says to her brother Laertes:
"Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whilst, like a puff'd and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And recks not his own rede." [Heeds not his own counsel.]
charivari
PRONUNCIATION:
(shiv-uh-REE, SHIV-uh-ree, shuh-riv-uh-REE)
MEANING:
noun:
1. A noisy, mock serenade to a newly married couple, involving the banging of kettles, pots, and pans.
2. A confused, noisy spectacle.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French charivari (hullabaloo), perhaps from Latin caribaria (headache), from Greek karebaria, from kare/kara (head) + barys (heavy). Earliest documented use: 1735.
Also spelled as chivaree, chivari, and shivaree.
igneous
PRONUNCIATION:
(LIG-nee-uhs)
MEANING:
adjective: Having the texture or appearance of wood.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin lignum (wood). Ultimately from the Indo-European root leg- (to collect), which is also the source of lexicon, legal, dialogue, lecture, logic, legend, logarithm, intelligent, diligent, sacrilege, elect, and loyal. Earliest documented use: 1626.

USAGE:
"With Boris Johnson lumbering onto the Queen Vic set recently (and 'lumber' is the only appropriate word for his sturdily ligneous performance) ..."
Tom Sutcliffe; An Age-Old Problem That Affects Us All; The Independent (London, UK); Jan 26, 2010.
dendroid
PRONUNCIATION:
(DEN-droid)
MEANING:
adjective: Resembling, branching like, or shaped like a tree.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek dendron (tree). Earliest documented use: 1846.

USAGE:
"Above, branches spread a dendroid filigree across the sky."
Angus Wells; Dark Magic: The Godwars; Bantam; 1992.
wormwood
MEANING:
noun:
1. A plant of the genus Artemisia, used in making absinthe and medicines.
2. Something that brings bitterness or grief.

ETYMOLOGY:
From alteration of wermod, of obscure origin. Earliest documented use: 1400.

USAGE:
"It is gall and wormwood for a leader already politically crippled by Britain's commitment in Iraq to find himself now also engaged in a confrontation with Iran."
Max Hastings; Iran, the Vicious Victim; The New York Times; Mar 30, 2007.
maw
PRONUNCIATION:
(maw)
MEANING:
noun:
1. The mouth, throat, or stomach of an animal, especially a carnivore.
2. A gaping hole.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English maga. Earliest documented use: 1150.

USAGE:
"Xiaobo Liu's wife said the toughest time for her was after he was arrested in 2008 but before he was indicted. He basically disappeared, she said, into the maw of China's security state."
John Pomfret; China's Liu Xiaobo wins Nobel Peace Prize; The Washington Post; Oct 8, 2010.
gest or geste
MEANING:
noun: A tale, especially of someone's notable adventures or exploits.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old French geste (exploit), from Latin gesta (exploits), past participle of gerere (to carry on, perform). The word jest (joke) arose as a spelling variant of gest. Earliest documented use: Before 1300.

USAGE:
"It is one of the highlights of the gest of the hero Ardasir."
Kinga Ilona Markus-Takeshita; From Iranian Myth to Folk Narrative; Asian Folklore Studies; Jan 2001.

"We have beat him to his camp: run one before, And let the queen know of our gests."
William Shakespeare; Antony and Cleopatra; Act IV, Scene VIII.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
It is better to prevent crimes than to punish them. -Cesare Beccaria, philosopher and politician (1738-1794)
kip
MEANING:
1: noun: Sleep; a place to sleep; a bed.
2: verb intr.: To sleep or nap.
3: noun: The hide of a young or small animal or a bundle of such hides.
4: noun: The basic unit of currency in Laos.
5: noun: noun: A unit of weight equal to 1000 lb (453.6 kg).

ETYMOLOGY:
1, 2: Perhaps from Danish kippe (cheap tavern). Earliest documented use: 1766.
3: Perhaps from Middle Dutch kip/kijp (a bundle, especially of hides). Earliest documented use: 1530.
4: From Thai. Earliest documented use: 1955.
5: An acronym formed from kilo- + pound. Earliest documented use: 1915.

USAGE:
"When Charles and Diana married in 1981, PM David Cameron kipped on the pavement the night before to ensure he got a great view on the Mall. This time he'll have a ringside seat."
Sarah Turner; Royal Wedding hotels; The Daily Mirror (London, UK); Dec 12, 2010.

"Indian Head, Anderson said, exerts 440 kips of pressure on the boulder."
Robert Wilson; Indian Head Rock Getting a Face-lift; The Knoxville News Sentinel (Tennessee); May 8, 2008.
limn
PRONUNCIATION:
(lim)
MEANING:
verb tr.:
1. To portray in words.
2. To draw or paint, especially in outline.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French, from Latin luminare (to illuminate), from lumen (light). Ultimately from the Indo-European root leuk- (light), which is also the source of words such as lunar, lunatic, light, lightning, lucid, illuminate, illustrate, translucent, lux, lynx, and lucubrate. Earliest documented use: 1440.
dun
MEANING:
I: verb tr.: To make persistent demands for payment, especially for a debt.
noun: 1. Someone who duns. 2. A demand for payment.

II: noun: 1. A dull grayish brown color. 2. A horse in dun color.
adjective: Of dun color.

ETYMOLOGY:
For I: Origin unknown. Earliest documented use: Early 17th century.
For II: From Old English dun, perhaps from dusk. Earliest documented use: 953.

USAGE:
"National artist and film director Carlo J. Caparas has been dunned for P540 million in income tax."
Tax Evasion Charges Hound Caparas; Malaya (Manila, Philippines); Oct 22, 2010.
intromit
PRONUNCIATION:
(in-truh-MIT)
MEANING:
verb tr.: To enter, send, or admit.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin intromittere, from intro- (inwardly) + mittere (to send). Earliest documented use: 1600.

USAGE:
"I never tire of intromitting a hardboiled egg into a milk bottle, shell and all."
Raymond Sokolov; Playing With Our Food; The Wall Street Journal (New York); Nov 3, 2007.
remonstrate
MEANING:
verb intr.: To reason or plead in protest.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin remonstrare (to exhibit, demonstrate), from re- + monstrare (to show). Ultimately from the Indo-European root men- (to think), which is the source of mind, mnemonic, mosaic, music, mentor, money, mandarin, and mantra. Earliest documented use: 1601.

USAGE:
"Ricky Ponting felt the need to remonstrate with the vigour of an innocent man sentenced to the electric chair."
Andrew Webster; Captain on His Knees as Tourists Gloat; The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia); Dec 28, 2010.
execrate
PRONUNCIATION:
(EK-si-krayt)

MEANING:
verb tr.: To detest, denounce, or curse.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin execrari (to curse), from ex- + sacrare (to consecrate). Ultimately from the Indo-European root sak- (to sanctify), which is also the source of other words such as saint, consecrate, sacred, execrable, and sacrilegious. Earliest documented use: 1561.

USAGE:
"[Edward Said was] adored or execrated with equal intensity by many millions of readers."
The Rootless Cosmopolitan; The Nation (New York); Jul 19, 2004.
betide
PRONUNCIATION:
(bi-TYD)
MEANING:
verb tr., intr.: To happen.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English tidan (happen), from tid (time). Earliest documented use: 1297.

USAGE:
"Whatever betided at the end of Mitt Romney's term and whatever betides in the future, that shouldn't be forgotten."
David A. Mittell Jr.; As the Good Times Roll; Providence Journal (Rhode Island); May 17, 2007
expostulate
PRONUNCIATION:
(ik-SPOS-chuh-layt)
MEANING:
verb intr.: To reason earnestly with someone in order to dissuade.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin expostulare (to require), from ex- (intensive prefix) + postulare (to demand). Ultimately from the Indo-European root prek- (to ask), which is also the source of words such as pray, precarious, deprecate, postulate, and precatory. Earliest documented use: 1548.

USAGE:
"'Oh come on,' I expostulated, a shade too loudly. 'That's not fair.'"
Sarabjit Jagirdar; Amar's Little Secret; Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India); Feb 7, 2010.
guerdon
PRONUNCIATION:
(GUHR-duhn)
MEANING:
noun: A reward or recompense.
verb tr.: To reward or recompense.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French from Latin widerdonum, alteration (by influence of Latin donum: gift) of Old High German widarlon (repayment). Earliest documented use: Before 1366.

USAGE:
"The report claims Furse will also pick up a one-off payment of almost double her annual salary in 2005 -- as part of a special guerdon."
Chris Noon; LSE Merger Talk Drive Up Value Of Furse's Holdings; Forbes (New York); Mar 20, 2006.
benthic.
PRONUNCIATION:
(BEN-thik)
MEANING:
adjective Of or relating to the bottom of a sea or lake.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek benthos (depth of the sea). Earliest documented use: 1902.

USAGE:
"Tuesday night, despite benthic scores once again, Brissie and partner Mark Ballas survived another week on Dancing with the Stars."
Your Daily Dose of Gossip; Philadelphia Inquirer (Pennsylvania); Nov 18, 2010.
captious
PRONUNCIATION:
(KAP-shuhs)
MEANING:
adjective: Having an inclination to find faults, especially of a trivial nature.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French from Latin capere (to seize). Ultimately from the Indo-European root kap- (to grasp), which is also the root of captive, capsule, capable, capture, cable, chassis, occupy, and deceive. Earliest documented use: 1380.

USAGE:
"Simon Cowell, the breathtakingly captious judge on American Idol, has dashed more dreams than an alarm clock."
David Hiltbrand; 'Idol' Hands are This Devil's Workshop, As He Rakes Teen Dreams Over the Coals; The San Diego Union-Tribune; Aug 4, 2002.
inosculate
PRONUNCIATION:
(in-OS-kyuh-layt)
MEANING:
verb tr., intr.: To join or unite.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin in- (within) + osculare (to provide with a mouth), from osculum (little mouth), from os (mouth). Also see osculate. Earliest documented use: 1683.

USAGE:
"The frozen images of delicate leaves and inosculating branches. The still street, the black windows of the other houses! What a time to be awake!"
Stephen C Sutcliffe; Atom; Writer's Showcase Press; 2002.
procumbent
PRONUNCIATION:
(pro-KUM-buhnt)
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Lying face down; prone; prostrate.
2. Of a plant: Growing along the ground without putting new roots.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin procumbent- (bending forward), present participle of procumbere (to lean forward), from pro- (forward) + cumbere (to lie down). Earliest documented use: 1668.

USAGE:
"You could lie procumbent on the beach, spot whales and dolphins at some remote shore or daydream of nasty officemates tripping and falling into that lovely volcano."
Aloha Tales; American Theatre (New York); May 2004.

"Ground covers and procumbent shrubs are ideal for embankments and low garden borders."
Valerie and Gerry Zwart; Tourism Blossoms; Sunshine Coast Daily (Australia); Aug 14, 2009.
gasconade
PRONUNCIATION:
(gas-kuh-NAYD)
MEANING:
noun: Boastful talk.
verb intr.: To boast extravagantly.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French gasconnade, from gasconner (to boast), after Gascon, a native of the Gascony region in France. First recorded use: 1709.

NOTES:
Were people from Gascony full of boast and bravado? Not necessarily. Historical rivalries lead one people to generalize others' names as having some shortcoming and some of those names become part of the language. Other examples of such words are solecism solecism, Boeotian, and fescennine.

USAGE:
"Stanley Hauerwas's explanation is not appreciated in an era of instant broadcast and electronic gasconade."
Irony at UVa; The Richmond Times-Dispatch (Virginia); Aug 2, 2010.
milliner
PRONUNCIATION:
(MIL-uh-nuhr)
MEANING:
noun: Someone who designs, makes, or sells women's hats.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Milan, Italy, from where women's wares were imported. First recorded use: 1530.

NOTES:
The word used to appear as the derogatory term "man milliner" implying someone who busies himself with trifling occupations. Poet Robert Southey said in 1796: "I look upon a man milliner not only as one of the most despicable members of society, but as one of the most injurious." The term for someone who deals in men's furnishings is haberdasher.

USAGE:
"James Faulkner is not your average milliner. At 27 years old, he is making a name for himself in the world of fashion with unique headgear made from roadkill."
Jen Bowden; Interview: James Faulkner, Milliner; Scotland on Sunday (Edinburgh); Apr 20, 2010.
verdigris
PRONUNCIATION:
(VUHR-di-grees, -gris, -gree)
MEANING:
noun: A bluish-green patina formed on copper, brass, and bronze when exposed to air or water for a long time.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old French verte grez (green of Greece). It was earlier used as a pigment by artists. The Greek connection is not clear. Earliest documented use: 1336.

USAGE:
"The time capsule, made of copper, showed the verdigris of age."
Jacqueline L. Urgo; Time Capsule Reveals 1936 Atlantic City; The Philadelphia Inquirer; Jul 14, 2010.
helot
PRONUNCIATION:
(HEL-uht, HEE-luht)
MEANING:
noun: A serf or slave.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Helos, a town in Laconia in ancient Greece, whose inhabitants were enslaved. First recorded use: 1579.

NOTES:
Another word derived from the name of a town in Laconia is spartan, which is coined after Sparta, the capital of Laconia. And Laconia has a word coined after it too: laconic.

USAGE:
"Many wind up in jobs irrelevant to their training. That helot frothing your coffee expected to become a barrister, not a barista."
Jonathan Guthrie; Russell Groupies to Target Newbie Unis; Financial Times (London, UK); Sep 23, 2010.
spartan
PRONUNCIATION:
(SPAR-tn)
MEANING:
adjective: Lacking in comforts; marked by self-discipline or self-restraint.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Sparta, an ancient town in southern Greece whose residents were known for strict discipline. First recorded use: 1425.

NOTES:
Sparta was the capital of Laconia, which has given another word to the language: laconic. Also, there's a word coined after another town in Laconia: helot.

USAGE:
"Jens Jacob cooks and sleeps in the van, his mobile home, sometimes under the stars. It's a spartan existence for the man on the move."
Allan Jacob; On the Road to...; Khaleej Times (Dubai, UAE); Nov 5, 2010.
dyspeptic
PRONUNCIATION:
(dis-PEP-tik)
MEANING:
adjective: 1. Relating to or suffering from dyspepsia (indigestion). 2. Having a bad temper; gloomy; irritable.
noun: One suffering from dyspepsia.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via Latin from Greek dys- (bad) + peptos (digested). Ultimately from the Indo-European root pekw- (to cook or ripen), which is also the source of cook, cuisine, kitchen, kiln, biscuit, apricot (an early-ripening peach, literally speaking), pumpkin, and Hindi pakka (ripened, cooked). Earliest documented use: 1694.

USAGE:
"It's the 1300s, and plague and pestilence have left those still alive in sour, dyspeptic moods."
Steven Rea; Sir Knight Nicolas in a 1300s Slog; Philadelphia Inquirer; Jan 8, 2011.
reticent
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Reluctant to share one's thoughts and feelings.
2. Restrained or unwilling.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin reticere (to keep silent), from tacere (to be silent). Earliest documented use: 1825.

USAGE:
"Lester is usually among the more reticent Red Sox, so a statement from him falling somewhere between candid and brash rates as a surprise."
Gabe Lacques; Red Sox's Jon Lester; USA Today (Washington, DC); Jan 25, 2011.
valetudinarian
PRONUNCIATION:
(val-i-too-duh-NAYR-ee-uhn, -tyood-)
MEANING:
noun: A weak or sickly person, especially one who is constantly or overly worried about his or her health.
adjective: Chronically sick or concerned about one's health.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin valetudo (state of health), from valere (to be strong or well). Ultimately, from the Indo-European root wal- (to be strong), which is also the source of valiant, avail, valor, value, countervail, polyvalent, and wieldy. Earliest documented use: 1703.

USAGE:
"Broadway theatre has long been known as 'the fabulous invalid', but could the old valetudinarian finally have caught a fatal cold?"
Charles Spencer; British Theatre Will Thrive in a Downturn; The Telegraph (London, UK); Dec 10, 2008.
tetchy
PRONUNCIATION:
(TECH-ee)
MEANING:
adjective: Easily annoyed; oversensitive.

ETYMOLOGY:
Of uncertain origin. Perhaps from Middle English tache/teche (blemish). Earliest documented use: 1597.

USAGE:
"O comes across as tired and tetchy, and fed up with being unfairly treated by the press."
So Who Wrote O?; Daily Mail (London, UK); Jan 21, 2011.
caitiff
PRONUNCIATION:
(KAY-tif)
MEANING:
noun: A cowardly and despicable person.
adjective: cowardly, despicable.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French from Latin captivus (captive), from capere (to seize). Ultimately from the Indo-European root kap- (to grasp), which is also the root of captive, capsule, capable, capture, cable, chassis, occupy, deceive, captious, and gaff. Earliest documented use: Before 1300.]

USAGE:
"I followed him through the streets, listening to his rant, the insults directed at me for knowing cutpurses and caitiffs, and how dare I lead him into such dens of ordure."
Frank McCourt; From an Affair with Books to a Book Fair; The New York Times; Sep 19, 1997.
fell
PRONUNCIATION:
(fel)
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Fierce; cruel; lethal.
2. In the idiom, in one fell swoop (all at once, as if by a blow).

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old French, variant of felon (wicked, a wicked person). Earliest documented use: Before 1300.

USAGE:
"So you spend most of the movie worried that Shepherd has some fell disease."
Mary McNamara; A Ham-fisted Dish; Los Angeles Times; May 19, 2003.

"In one fell swoop, most of the top politicians of this impoverished West African country surrendered themselves to the cadre of junior officers."
Jeffrey Gettleman; A Largely Welcomed Coup in Guinea; The New York Times; Dec 25, 2008.

MEANING:
verb tr.:
1. To knock down, strike, or cut down.
2. To sew a seam by folding one rough edge under the other, flat, on the wrong side, as in jeans.

noun:
1. The amount of timber cut.
2. In sewing, a felled seam.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English fellan/fyllan (to fall). Earliest documented use: Around 1000.

USAGE:
"The government has granted sanction to fell a tree to facilitate new construction."
No Move to Lift Construction Ban in Green Belt; The Indian Express (New Delhi); Oct 13, 2010.

"I suppose that good-quality cloth and thread, rivets, and felled seams have something to do with it."
Andrew Bevan and David Wengrow; Cultures of Commodity Branding; Left Coast Press; 2010.

MEANING:
noun: A stretch of open country in the highlands.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old Norse fjall/fell (hill). Earliest documented use: Before 1300.

USAGE:
"After a day spent tramping across the snowy fells of the Lake District National Park, a period of R and R is most definitely required."
James White; Hotel Review; Daily Mail (London, UK); Jan 19, 2011.

MEANING:
noun: The skin or hide of an animal.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English fel/fell (skin or hide). Ultimately from the Indo-European root pel- (skin or hide), which also gave us pelt, pillion, and film. Earliest documented use: Around 1000.

USAGE:
"Felt bearing pads are made from non-tanned fell."
A.S.G. Bruggeling and G.F. Huyghe; Prefabrication with Concrete; Taylor & Francis; 1991.
pip
MEANING:
noun:
1. The small seed of a fruit, such as an apple or an orange.
2. Something or someone wonderful.

ETYMOLOGY:
Short for pippin, from Anglo-French pepin. Earliest documented use: c. 1450.

USAGE:
"Chairman Ian Palmer is spitting pips."
Jon Morgan; Apple Growers Get the Pip as the Bite Goes on Prices; The Dominion Post (Wellington, New Zealand); Nov 5, 2010.

MEANING:
noun:
1. One of the dots or symbols on a die, playing card, or domino.
2. Any of the diamond-shaped segments on the surface of a pineapple.
3. An insignia on the shoulder indicating an officer's rank.

ETYMOLOGY:
Origin unknown. Earliest documented use: 1604.

USAGE:
"Today the politician gambles with a die so rough-used that none of the pips on its six faces can be read."
Gopalkrishna Gandhi; We, the People; The Hindu (Chennai, India); Dec 26, 2010.

MEANING:
noun:
1. A disease of birds marked by mucus in the mouth.
2. Any minor, nonspecific ailment in a person.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Middle Dutch pippe, from Vulgar Latin pipita, from Latin pituita (phlegm).

USAGE:
"Wash those cups again. And this time, sterilize them. Want everybody around here to come down with the pip?"
Robert A. Heinlein; Red Planet; Scribner; 1949.

MEANING:
noun: The smallest change in the exchange rate for a given currency pair. Most major currencies (except yen) are priced to the fourth decimal place, so a pip is 1/100 of one percent (.0001).

ETYMOLOGY:
Acronym, from Percentage in Point.

USAGE:
"The euro fell around 35 pips versus the dollar to trade at $1.3672."
Euro Falls as Ireland Denies Bailout; Reuters (New York); Nov 12, 2010.

MEANING:
verb tr.:
1. To defeat, especially by a narrow margin or at the last moment.
2. To hit with a gunshot.
3. To blackball.

ETYMOLOGY:
Perhaps from pip, from pippin. Earliest documented use: 1838.

USAGE:
"Grant Skinner of Glencorse pipped former Scottish international Mike Thomson to the top spot."
Martin Dempster; Golf: Skinner Pips Thomson; Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland); Nov 12, 2010.

MEANING:
verb intr.: To peep or chirp.
verb tr.: To break through the shell of an egg when hatching.

ETYMOLOGY:
Origin unknown. Earliest documented use: 1846.

USAGE:
"The author's photos of all the life stages of eagles -- from a chick pipping from an egg ... to the final pure white head and tail of adulthood -- are one of the strengths of the book."
Nancy Bent; The Majesty of Flight; Booklist (Chicago); Dec 1, 1999.
parity
PRONUNCIATION:
(PAR-i-tee)
MEANING:
noun: Equality in amount, status, etc.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French from Latin paritas, from par (equal). Earliest documented use: 1572.

USAGE:
"That means that the parity of the Australian dollar against the greenback, loved by Aussies heading overseas but hated by exporters, is more accident than design."
Ian McIlwraith; Pressure on China for Yuan Move; The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia); Nov 12, 2010.

MEANING:
noun:
1. The condition of having given birth.
2. The number of children born by a woman.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin parere (to give birth). Earliest documented use: 1877.

USAGE:
"It wasn't just ageing parity -- women waiting until their mid-30s to have a child -- that forced the change."
Zoe Williams; How the Inventor of the Pill Changed the World for Women; The Guardian (London, UK); Oct 30, 2010.
seadog
PRONUNCIATION:
(SEE-dog)
MEANING:
noun:
1. A veteran sailor.
2. A harbor seal.
3. A pirate or privateer.
4. A faint rainbow-like formation seen in foggy conditions. Also called mistbow, fogbow, and white rainbow.

ETYMOLOGY:
From sea + dog, from use of the word dog as a playful term to refer to someone, as in old dog. Earliest documented use: 1598.

USAGE:
"But seadog Cyril Howarth -- who is nicknamed Admiral Cyril -- fears his days navigating his favourite waters could be torpedoed after an investigation was launched by canal bosses."
Paul Fielding; Fylde Sailor Builds Nazi Submarine; The Gazette (Blackpool, UK); Oct 7, 2010.

"Forget the seadogs that Captain Hook unleashed on the Lost Boys. Forget Long John Silver and his parrot. The most famous brigands debuted in 1879."
Lawrence Bommer; Light Opera revives Pirates of Penzance; Chicago Tribune; Dec 20, 2002.
seadog
PRONUNCIATION:
(SEE-dog)
MEANING:
noun:
1. A veteran sailor.
2. A harbor seal.
3. A pirate or privateer.
4. A faint rainbow-like formation seen in foggy conditions. Also called mistbow, fogbow, and white rainbow.

ETYMOLOGY:
From sea + dog, from use of the word dog as a playful term to refer to someone, as in old dog. Earliest documented use: 1598.

USAGE:
"But seadog Cyril Howarth -- who is nicknamed Admiral Cyril -- fears his days navigating his favourite waters could be torpedoed after an investigation was launched by canal bosses."
Paul Fielding; Fylde Sailor Builds Nazi Submarine; The Gazette (Blackpool, UK); Oct 7, 2010.

"Forget the seadogs that Captain Hook unleashed on the Lost Boys. Forget Long John Silver and his parrot. The most famous brigands debuted in 1879."
Lawrence Bommer; Light Opera revives Pirates of Penzance; Chicago Tribune; Dec 20, 2002.
fluke
MEANING:
noun:
1. The flat, triangular piece at the end of an arm of an anchor.
2. A barb or barbed head on a harpoon, arrow, etc.
3. Either of the two lobes of a whale's tail.

ETYMOLOGY:
Of uncertain origin. Earliest documented use: 1561.

USAGE:
"There are very, very sharp indents. They almost look like the fluke of an anchor might have done it."
With Surf and Oil Up, California Closes Beaches; The Washington Post; Feb 11, 1990.

"Ice sculptors carved a throne resembling the fluke of a whale descending into the water."
Bryan Boyhan; HarborFrost a Success; The Sag Harbor Express (New York); Feb 6, 2011.

MEANING:
noun: A chance occurrence, especially a stroke of good luck.

ETYMOLOGY:
Of uncertain origin. Earliest documented use: 1857.

USAGE:
"It wasn't a fluke. We have been working hard on it."
Robert Craddock; Reds Coach Ewen McKenzie; The Courier-Mail (Australia); Feb 2, 2011.

MEANING:
noun:
1. A flatfish, especially a flounder of the genus Paralichthys.
2. A trematode: a type of flatworm.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English floc. Ultimately from the Indo-European root plak- (flat), which is also the source of flake, flaw, placenta, and supple. Earliest documented use: Before 700.

USAGE:
"Angler Keith Budd caught this 28", 7-pound fluke."
Dave Monti; Fluke Fishing Tips and Rigs; Warwick Beacon (Rhode Island); May 28, 2010.
stele
PRONUNCIATION:
(STEE-lee, steel)
plural stelai (STEE-ly) or steles (STEE-leez, steelz)
MEANING:
noun:
1. An upright stone or pillar, having an inscription or a sculptured surface, serving as a monument. Also called stela.
2. The central core of the stem or root of a vascular plant.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek stele (pillar). Ultimately from the Indo-European root stel- (to put or stand), which is also the source of stallion, stilt, install, gestalt, stout, and pedestal, and epistolary. Earliest documented use: 1820.

USAGE:
"A plaque or a stele is being discussed as a possible monument."
Severin Weiland; Son's Tell-All Book Damages Helmut Kohl's Image; Der Spiegel (Hamburg, Germany); Jan 27, 2011.
miasma
plural miasmas, miasmata (my-AZ-muh-tuh, mee-)
MEANING:
noun:
1. Noxious emissions: smoke, vapors, etc., especially those from decaying organic matter.
2. An oppressive or unpleasant atmosphere.

NOTES:
Earlier it was believed that many diseases were caused by bad air from decomposing organic matter, as in a swamp. Malaria, for example, is named from Italian mala aria (bad air). The germ theory of disease has put the bad air theory to rest.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek miasma (pollution, defilement), from miainein (to pollute). Earliest documented use: 1665.

USAGE:
"A miasma of smoke from wildfires cloaked the sweltering Russian capital."
Jim Heintz; Fires Lay Ghostly Shroud of Smoke on Moscow; Associated Press (New York); Aug 6, 2010.

"The region is still wobbling in the miasma of corruption."
Bobi Odiko; Region Still Wobbling in Corruption; East African Business Week (Tanzania); Aug 4, 2010.
lacuna
plural lacunae (luh-KYOO-nee) or lacunas
MEANING:
noun: An empty space, gap, missing part, an opening.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin lacuna (hole, gap), from lacus (lake). Earliest documented use: 1663.

USAGE:
"Last week's collision between two cargo ships off the coast of Mumbai has exposed several systemic lacunae."
Black Waters; The Times of India (New Delhi, India); Aug 11, 2010.
fomes
PRONUNCIATION:
(FOH-meez)
plural fomites (FOM-i-teez, FOH-mi-teez)
MEANING:
noun: An object (for example, clothing or bedding) capable of absorbing and transmitting infectious organisms from one person to another.

NOTES:
The word is usually used in its plural form fomites, which has led to the back-formation of a new singular form fomite. Another example of a word coined in a similar way is pea (from pease, which was erroneously believed to be a plural).

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin fomes (kindling wood), from fovere (to warm). Earliest documented use: 1658.

USAGE:
"The sitters didn't catch the virus at all. The cuddlers did, and so did the touchers, pointing up the importance of direct contact with secretions, but especially of fomites -- objects and surfaces with infectious viral particles still on them."
Perri Klass; When to Keep a Child Home?; The New York Times; Feb 9, 2009.
eidosks; 1994.
PRONUNCIATION:
(EYE-dos, AY-)
plural eide (EYE-dee, AY-day)
MEANING:
noun: The formal sum of a culture, its intellectual character, ideas, etc.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek eidos (form, idea), ultimately from the Indo-European root weid- (to see), which is the source of words such as wise, view, supervise, wit, and eidetic. Earliest recorded use: 1936.

USAGE:
"Picture, if you will, honey, the eidos of repulsive: plaid upholstered chairs, with ruffled skirts, all hideously brown and yellow."
Christopher Coe; Such Times; Penguin Books; 1994.
ersatz
PRONUNCIATION:
(ER-zahts, er-ZATS)
MEANING:
adjective: Serving as a substitute, especially of inferior quality; artificial.
noun: A substitute or imitation.

ETYMOLOGY:
From German Ersatz (replacement). Earliest documented use: 1875.

USAGE:
"It may be in response to audience demands for such factory-stamped precision tooling that a whole technology of ersatz performance -- involving lip-synching, playback, and music videos -- developed."
Jim Quilty; Free Improv; The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon); Mar 12, 2010.
sitzfleisch
PRONUNCIATION:
(SITZ-flaish, ZITS-)
MEANING:
noun:
1. The ability to sit through or tolerate something boring.
2. The ability to endure or persist in a task.

ETYMOLOGY:
[From German Sitzfleisch, from sitzen (to sit) + Fleisch (flesh). Earliest documented use: Before 1930.

NOTES:
Sitzfleisch is a fancy term for what's commonly known as chair glue: the ability to sit still and get through the task at hand. It's often the difference between, for example, an aspiring writer and a writer. Sometimes the word is used in the sense of the ability to sit out a problem -- ignore it long enough in the hope it will go away.

USAGE:
"Some prominent seats go to those with prominence. Others go to those with Sitzfleisch, like Representative Eliot L. Engel. Every year since 1989, the Bronx Democrat has won a prime spot at the State of the Union Address simply by showing up early and sitting in it."
Elizabeth Kolbert; An Aisle Seat In the House or the Titanic; The New York Times; Jan 30, 1998.
diktat
PRONUNCIATION:
(dik-TAT)
MEANING:
noun:
1. An order or decree imposed without popular consent.
2. A harsh settlement imposed upon a defeated party.

ETYMOLOGY:
From German Diktat (command, order, dictation), from Latin dictatum (something dictated), from dictare (to dictate), frequentative of dicere (to say). Ultimately from the Indo-European root deik- (to show, to pronounce solemnly), which is also the source of words such as judge, verdict, vendetta, revenge, indicate, dictate, paradigm, interdict, and fatidic. Earliest documented use: 1922, in reference to the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, by Germany.

USAGE:
"Public participation in politics [in China] may not yet be approaching the raucousness in India, but it is equally incorrect to view the Chinese as obedient zombies silently following the State's every diktat."
Cultural Evolution; Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India); Dec 19, 2010.
lebensraum
PRONUNCIATION:
(LAY-behns-roum)
MEANING:
noun: Space required for living, growth, and development.

ETYMOLOGY:
From German Lebensraum (living space), from Leben (life) + Raum (space). Earliest documented use: 1905.

NOTES:
The word became well-known after its association with Hitler and his policy of expansion into Eastern Europe. He claimed that additional living space was needed for Germany's continued existence and economic development.

USAGE:
"As for Turkey, after 1974, she created a Lebensraum in the north for the Turkish Cypriots and her settlers."
Murat Metin Hakki; Property Wars in Cyprus; Cyprus Mail (Nicosia); Mar 7, 2010.
schwarmerei
PRONUNCIATION:
(shver-muh-RY)
MEANING:
noun:
1. Extravagant enthusiasm.
2. Excessive sentimentality.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Schwärmerei (enthusiasm), from schwärmen (to swarm, to be wild or mad about). Earliest documented use: 1845.

USAGE:
"True fulfillment flowed solely from whatever they had in common, for that was always a condition of schwarmerei."
Jonathan Thomas; Midnight Call and Other Stories; Hippocampus Press; 2008.
corniche
PRONUNCIATION:
(KOR-nish, kor-NEESH)
MEANING:
noun A coastal road, especially one cut into the side of a cliff.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French route en corniche, from Italian cornice (frame, ledge), perhaps from Latin cornix (crow), from its resemblance to the beak of a crow. Earliest documented use: 1837.

USAGE:
"The median strip on the corniche has a magical open-air museum."
Maureen Dowd; A Girls' Guide to Saudi Arabia; Vanity Fair (New York); Aug 2010.
aegis or egis
PRONUNCIATION:
(EE-jis)
MEANING:
noun: Protection, support, guidance, or sponsorship of a particular person or organization.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin aegis, from Greek aigis (goatskin), from aix (goat). Aigis was the name of the shield or breastplate of Zeus or Athena in Greek mythology. It was made of goatskin. Earliest documented use: 1704.

USAGE:
"'I hope that the European Commission will take these projects under its aegis,' president Yushchenko said."
Yushchenko Hopes European Commission Will Take Gas-transit Modernization Projects Under Its Aegis; Kyiv Post (Ukraine); Mar 23, 2009.
Hyperplasia of breast stroma

Intraductal papilloma
Paget’s disease of the breast
Fibroadenoma
Noninvasive ductal carcinoma in situ
Invasive ductal carcinoma
Phyllodes tumor
Acute mastitis
Fibrocystic disease - cystic
Fibrocystic disease – fibrosis
Fibrocystic disease – sclerosing
Fibrocystic disease – epithelial hyperplasia
Inflammatory carcinoma
Invasive lobular carcinoma
Medullary carinoma
Comedocarinoma
Fat necrosis
fibrosis type fibrocystic disease = Hyperplasia of breast stroma
pedigree
PRONUNCIATION:
(PED-i-gree)
MEANING:
noun:
1. Lineage or ancestry.
2. A distinguished ancestry.
3. The origin or history of a person or thing.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Anglo-Norman pé de grue (crane's foot), from p´ (foot) + de (of) + grue (crane), from the resemblance of a crane's foot to the succession lines in a genealogical chart. Earliest documented use: 1425.

USAGE:
"Keep reading to see which dogs have the pedigree and which are fresh from the puppy mill."
David A. Keeps; The Look for Less; Los Angeles Times; Feb 22, 2011.

"Bernard James stands out with a basketball pedigree that's unique in the ACC."
Liz Clarke; Florida State's Bernard James; Washington Post; Feb 23, 2011.
gazette
MEANING:
noun:
1. A newspaper (now mostly used in the name of newspapers, for example, the Montreal Gazette).
2. An official journal of an organization, for example, a government journal listing appointment, promotions, etc.

verb tr.:
1. To announce in an official journal.
2. To publish the appointment of someone in an official journal.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French, from Italian gazzetta (news sheet), from Venetian gazeta (a small coin), diminutive of gaza (magpie). The news sheet may have been named so because it sold for a gazeta or its content was compared to the chattering of magpies. The coin may have been named from its marking. Earliest documented use: 1607.

USAGE:
"The printing was completed last night and copies of the gazettes will be sent to the Parliament Secretariat this morning."
Oath in a Day or Two; The Daily Star (Dhaka, Bangladesh); Jan 2, 2009.
predestinarianism
PRONUNCIATION:
(pri-des-tuh-NAR-ee-uh-niz-uhm)
MEANING:
noun: Belief in the doctrine of predestination, that the divine will has predetermined the course of events, people's fate, etc.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin praedestination, from prae- (before) + destinare (to determine), from stare (to stand). Earliest documented use: 1722.

USAGE:
"I have reacquainted myself with the old taste of Scottish predestinarianism. Y'know, damned or saved; nothing to do with free will or good works."
Alexander Linklater; The Tale of the Three Alcoholics; The Guardian (London, UK); Nov 11, 2006.
triskaidekaphobia
PRONUNCIATION:
(tris-ky-dek-uh-FO-bee-uh)
MEANING:
noun: Fear of the number 13.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek treiskaideka (thirteen), from treis (three) + kai (and) + deka (ten) + phobia (fear). Earliest documented use: 1911.

NOTES:
Why do some people fear the number 13? It's one more than a dozen, which leaves out an unlucky one if you divide something in groups of two, three, four, or six. It's also said that there were 13 people in the Last Supper. Friday the 13th is considered especially unlucky by many, while in some cultures, in the Spanish-speaking world, for example, it's Tuesday the 13th that is believed to be unlucky.

USAGE:
"Chowrasia probably suffering from triskaidekaphobia bungled on the 13th and allowed Harmeet to get a firm grip on the title."
Harmeet Takes Trophy; The Hindu (Chennai, India); Dec 23, 2006.
laryngopharyngeal
PRONUNCIATION:
(luh-ring-goh-fuh-RIN-jee-uhl, -juhl)
MEANING:
adjective: Of or relating to the larynx (the part of the throat holding the vocal cords) and pharynx (the part of the throat that leads from the mouth to the esophagus).

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin larynx, from Greek larynx + Latin pharynx, from Greek pharynx (throat). Earliest documented use: 1872.

NOTES:
If you have heard this term, chances are it was in the context of laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), a condition in which the contents of the stomach flow back to the throat.

USAGE:
"Under the heading of laryngopharyngeal disorders we discover that oboists and horn players can be prone to nasal speech, regurgitation of liquids and snorting while playing, all a result of the high pressures they must employ to hit their notes."
Not Quite So Perilous in the Orchestra Pit; Nelson Mail (New Zealand); Feb 25, 2009.
contradistinguish
PRONUNCIATION:
(kon-truh-di-STING-gwish)
MEANING:
verb tr.: To distinguish (one thing from another) by contrasting qualities.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin contra- (against) + distinguish, from Middle/Old French distinguer, from Latin distinguere (to pick or separate). Ultimately from the Indo-European root steig- (to stick; pointed), which is also the source of ticket, etiquette, instinct, stigma, thistle, tiger, and steak. Earliest documented use: 1622.

USAGE:
"Avni successfully contradistinguished the character of Menachem from the other men in uniform he has played."
Dan Williams; Aki Avni's Stellar Sincerity; The Jerusalem Post (Israel); Nov 29, 2000.
contradistinguish
PRONUNCIATION:
(kon-truh-di-STING-gwish)
MEANING:
verb tr.: To distinguish (one thing from another) by contrasting qualities.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin contra- (against) + distinguish, from Middle/Old French distinguer, from Latin distinguere (to pick or separate). Ultimately from the Indo-European root steig- (to stick; pointed), which is also the source of ticket, etiquette, instinct, stigma, thistle, tiger, and steak. Earliest documented use: 1622.

USAGE:
"Avni successfully contradistinguished the character of Menachem from the other men in uniform he has played."
Dan Williams; Aki Avni's Stellar Sincerity; The Jerusalem Post (Israel); Nov 29, 2000.
perspicaciousness
PRONUNCIATION:
(puhr-spi-KAY-shuhs-nes)
MEANING:
noun: Keenness of perception and discernment.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin perspicere (to see through), from per- (through) + -spicere, combining form of specere (to look). Ultimately from the Indo-European root spek- (to observe), which is also the ancestor of such words as suspect, spectrum, bishop (literally, overseer), espionage, despise, telescope, spectator, speculum, and spectacles. Earliest documented use: 1727.

USAGE:
"I have to take my hat off to Jean Cocteau, whose perspicaciousness enabled him to predict the current thriving anime scene back in the early 1950s."
Henshu Techo; Musings; The Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo, Japan); Dec 4, 2004.
usufruct
PRONUNCIATION:
(YOO-zuh-fruhkt, -suh-)
MEANING:
noun: The right to use and enjoy another's property without destroying it.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin ususfructus, from usus et fructus (use and enjoyment). Earliest documented use: 1646.

USAGE:
"It is currently in the process of purchasing perpetual usufruct rights to a number of plots."
Budlex Prepares for Large Residential Project; Warsaw Business Journal (Poland); Jan 17, 2011.
effulgent
PRONUNCIATION:
(i-FUHL-juhnt, i-fool-)
MEANING:
adjective: Shining brilliantly; radiant.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin effulgere (to shine out), from ex- (out) + fulgere (to shine). Ultimately from the Indo-European root bhel- (to shine or burn), which is also the source of blaze, blank, blond, bleach, blanket, and flame. Earliest documented use: 1737.

USAGE:
"No other ballet so remorselessly exposes the gulf between effulgent grandeur and mere competence."
Allen Robertson; The Sleeping Beauty; The Times (London, UK); Jul 27, 2007.
bailiwick
PRONUNCIATION:
(BAY-luh-wik)
MEANING:
noun: A person's area of expertise or interest.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Middle English bailliwik, from bailie (bailiff), from bail (custody), from Latin baiulare (to serve as porter) + Middle English wick (dairy farm or village), from Old English wic (house or village), from Latin vicus (neighborhood). Ultimately from the Indo-European root weik- (clan), which is also the forebear of vicinity, village, villa, and villain (originally, a villain was a farm servant, one who lived in a villa or a country house), ecumenical, and ecesis. Earliest documented use: 1460.

USAGE:
"Ms. Sarah Palin took the extraordinary step Tuesday of filing an ethics complaint against herself, making the matter fall within the bailiwick of the personnel board. Her lawyer Mr. Van Flein then asked the Legislature to drop its inquiry."
Peter S. Goodman and Michael Moss; Alaska Lawmakers to Seek Subpoenas in Palin Inquiry; The New York Times; Sep 6, 2008.
taradiddle or tarradiddle
PRONUNCIATION:
(tar-uh-DID-l)
MEANING:
noun: 1. A petty lie. 2. Pretentious nonsense.

ETYMOLOGY:
Origin unknown. Earliest documented use: 1796.

USAGE:
"This investment is pure puffery and taradiddle."
Malcolm Berko; Taking Stock; The State Journal-Register (Springfield, Illinois); Apr 26, 2010.
taradiddle or tarradiddle
PRONUNCIATION:
(tar-uh-DID-l)
MEANING:
noun: 1. A petty lie. 2. Pretentious nonsense.

ETYMOLOGY:
Origin unknown. Earliest documented use: 1796.

USAGE:
"This investment is pure puffery and taradiddle."
Malcolm Berko; Taking Stock; The State Journal-Register (Springfield, Illinois); Apr 26, 2010.
lapidary
PRONUNCIATION:
(LAP-i-der-ee)
MEANING:
adj.:
1. Relating to precious stones or cutting and polishing them.
2. Having elegance, precision, or refinement suggestive of gem cutting.

noun:
1. One who cuts, polishes, or deals in precious stones.
2. The art of cutting and polishing gems.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin lapis (stone). Earliest documented use: 1382.

USAGE:
"The event will feature live and silent auctions of minerals and fossils ... and demonstrations of lapidary and jewelry making."
Earth Science Show Planned; Naperville Sun (Illinois); Feb 8, 2011.

"The beauty of this film is in its lapidary details, which sparkle with feeling and surprise."
Carina Chocano; Movie Review: Babel; Los Angeles Times; Oct 27, 2006.
Gordian
MEANING:
adjective: Highly intricate; extremely difficult to solve.

ETYMOLOGY:
In Greek mythology, King Gordius of Phrygia tied a knot that defied all who tried to untie it. An oracle prophesied that one who would undo this Gordian knot would rule Asia. Alexander the Great simply cut the knot with one stroke of his sword. Hence the saying, "to cut the Gordian knot", meaning to solve a difficult problem by a simple, bold, and effective action. Earliest documented use: 1579.

USAGE:
"The Gordian complexity of Afghanistan continues to confound Washington's top military and political strategists."
Patience, Perseverance Best Options in Afghanistan; The Dallas Morning News (Texas); Dec 27, 2010.
denouement
MEANING:
noun: The final resolution of the plot of a story or a complex sequence of events.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French dénouement (outcome or conclusion; literally, untying), from dénouer (to unknot or undo), from de- (from) + nouer (to tie), from Latin nodus (knot). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ned- (to bind), which is also the source of node, noose, annex, connect, ouch, and nettle. Earliest documented use: 1752.

USAGE:
"But in Japan's narrative, the denouement is elusive. This disaster story keeps building, growing worse."
Japan's Crucible; Chicago Tribune (Illinois); Mar 15, 2011.
knotty
MEANING:
adjective: 1. Having knots; gnarled. 2. Intricate; difficult to solve.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English cnotta. Earliest documented use: Before 1240.

USAGE:
"The government's collapse presents a new set of knotty difficulties for the EU."
Seven Days; The Irish Times; Mar 26, 2011.

"Mr. Frishberg's pianism, with its knotty chords and staccato phrases, was as spiky and emphatic as his personality."
Stephen Holden; Bernie, Dorothy, and That Interior Voice; The New York Times; Mar 22, 2011.
gris-gris or grigri or greegree
PRONUNCIATION:
(GREE-gree)

MEANING:
noun: A charm, amulet, or fetish.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French, of West African origin. Earliest documented use: 1698.

USAGE:
"The marabout [a Muslim holy man] produced a small calculator, punched in some numbers, and quoted a price of more than a thousand dollars for the gris-gris. 'With it you can walk across the entire desert and no one will harm you,' he promised."
Peter Gwin; The Telltale Scribes of Timbuktu; National Geographic (Washington, DC); Jan 2011.
entrepot
PRONUNCIATION:
(AHN-truh-po)

MEANING:
noun: A place, such as a warehouse, port, or trading center, to which goods are brought for distribution to other parts of the world.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French entrepôt (warehouse), from entreposer (to store), from entre (among) + poser (to place). Earliest documented use: 1721.

USAGE:
"Jerusalem is a city that has never made anything but history. It is not an entrepot, a manufactory, a place of finance, or a crossroads."
Barnaby Rogerson; Holy City, Murky History; The Independent (London, UK); Jan 21, 2011.
volte-face
PRONUNCIATION:
(volt-FAHS)

MEANING:
noun: A reversal in policy or opinion; about-face.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French, from Italian voltafaccia, from voltare (to turn), from Vulgar Latin volvitare, frequentative of Latin volvere (to turn) + faccia (face). Earliest documented use: 1819.

USAGE:
"The possibility of a flotation was a remarkable volte-face for Standard Life."
Carmel Crimmins; Standard Life Pays Its Former Chief More Than £1m; Irish Examiner (Cork, Ireland); Mar 1, 2004.

"Not too long after the panels indicted the former Senate President, the Senate made a volte-face on its action, dumped the documents, and cleared those indicted of any wrongdoing!"
Senate and Unending Bribery Scandals; Daily Times (Lagos, Nigeria); Feb 19, 2004.
beau geste
PRONUNCIATION:
(bo ZHEST)
plural beaux gestes (bo ZHEST)

MEANING:
noun: A gracious, but often meaningless, gesture.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French, literally fine gesture. Earliest documented use: 1920.

USAGE:
"An effective encore doesn't risk becoming an empty beau geste; it is an emotional p.s. somehow relating to the mood of the written program."
Peter Dobrin; Applauding the Orchestra for Offering Encores; The Philadelphia Inquirer (Pennsylvania); Jan 15, 2011.
bumf
PRONUNCIATION:
(bumf)

MEANING:
noun: Unwanted or uninteresting printed matter such as governmental forms, legal documents, junk mail, promotional pamphlets, etc.

ETYMOLOGY:
Short for bum fodder, slang for toilet paper. Earliest documented use: 1889.

USAGE:
"A mortgage loan can generate 200 pages of bumf, most of it so boring and repetitious that no one has the energy or the time to read it all."
John Gilmour; Lenders Use The Hoover Principle; The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia); Jan 20, 2001.
dauphin
PRONUNCIATION:
(DAW-fin)

MEANING:
noun: An heir apparent in business, politics, etc.

ETYMOLOGY:
From the title of the eldest son of a king of France and the direct heir to the throne, from 1350 to 1830. The title came from the dolphins that adorned the coat of arms, from Old French daulphin (dolphin), from Latin delphinus, from Greek delphin, from delphus (womb), from the shape of the organ. Earliest documented use: 1485.

USAGE:
"James Murdoch's elder brother, Lachlan, long regarded as the dauphin, resigned his positions at News Corp and retreated to Australia in 2005."
Peter Wilby; The Sun King's Long Goodbye; New Statesman (London, UK); Feb 10, 2011.

"Bush's memoir should prompt renewed reflections upon his catastrophic presidency. It is really a saga of how a dauphin could take the leading power in the world and leave it crippled."
Jacob Heilbrunn; George Bush's Unmemorable Memoir; The National Interest (Washington, DC); Nov 8, 2010.
pugnacious
MEANING:
adjective: Having a quarrelsome nature; belligerent.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin pugnare (to fight), from pugnus (fist). Ultimately from the Indo-European root peuk- (to prick) which is also the source of point, puncture, pungent, punctual, poignant, pounce, poniard, and impugn. Earliest documented use: 1642.

USAGE:
"Whitacre has earned a reputation for being pugnacious, stubborn, and willing to fight to the end."
James S. Granelli; AT&T Chief Stays Focused; Los Angeles Times; Mar 7, 2006.
soubrette
PRONUNCIATION:
(soo-BRET)

MEANING:
noun:
1. A maidservant or lady's maid in a play or an opera, especially one who displays coquetry and engages in intrigue.
2. A young woman regarded as flirtatious.
3. A soprano who sings supporting roles in comic opera.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French soubrette (maidservant), from Provençal soubreto, feminine of soubret (coy), from soubra (to set aside), from Latin superare (to be above). Ultimately from the Indo-European root uper (over) which is also the source of over, sovereign, super, supreme, sirloin, soprano, somersault, and hyper. Earliest documented use: 1753.

USAGE:
"Paloma Herrera played the soubrette who lures the hero from his longtime girlfriend, abandoning her own fiancé in the process."
Elizabeth Zimmer; Stars in Alignment; The Australian (Sydney); Aug 1, 2009.

"Rebecca Bottone's light soubrette contrasts well with Watts's more voluptuous timbre."
Hugh Canning; Catch Her If You Can; The Sunday Times (London, UK); Nov 8, 2009.
elbow grease
MEANING:
noun: Hard work; vigorous exertion.

ETYMOLOGY:
Originally elbow grease was a metaphor for manual labor, as in elbow grease is the best wax for polishing furniture. Now in an extended sense it can refer to any effort, physical or mental. Earliest documented use: 1672.

USAGE:
"It comes down a question of who is going to provide the manpower and elbow grease that any project requires."
Bill Crist; Making the Case For An Investment For Manpower; Cameron Herald (Texas); Aug 24, 2009.
accolade
MEANING:
noun:
1. An award, honor, or an expression of praise.
2. A touch on someone's shoulders with the flat blade of a sword in the ceremony of conferring knighthood. Earlier an embrace was used instead.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French accolade (an embrace), from accoler (to embrace), from Latin accolare, from ad- (to, on) + collum (neck). Ultimately from the Indo-European root kwel- (to revolve), which is also the source of words such as colony, cult, culture, cycle, cyclone, chakra, collar, col , palindrome, and palinode. Earliest documented use: 1623.
nodus
plural nodi (NOH-dy)

MEANING:
noun: A complicated situation or problem.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin nodus (knot). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ned- (to bind), which is also the source of node, noose, annex, connect, ouch, nettle, and denouement. Earliest documented use: before 1400.

USAGE:
"The CPC project is a nodus of interests. A half of its stock belongs to the governments of three states: Russia, Kazakhstan, and Sultanate of Oman. The remainder is in private hands."
Public-and-private: Easier Said Than Done; The Times of Central Asia (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan); Mar 31, 2006.
highfalutin
Also spelled as hifalutin or highfalutin' or hifalutin' or highfaluting.
MEANING:
adjective: Pompous; bombastic.

ETYMOLOGY:
Of uncertain origin, perhaps from high-fluting, from flute. Earliest documented use: 1839.

NOTES:
Highfalutin may or may not be high flute, but the flute's cousin, oboe, is high wood. It's a corruption of French haut (high) + bois (wood). The musical instrument is named owing to its having the highest register among woodwinds. An orchestra typically tunes to an oboe.

USAGE:
"The document talks very highfalutin' and lofty language, which sounds great and is hard to disagree with, but at the end of the day businesses just want to get the basics right."
Hamish Fletcher; Push for More Innovative Auckland; New Zealand Herald (Auckland); Mar 29, 2011.
flathat
MEANING:
verb intr.: To fly close to the ground.

ETYMOLOGY:
From the allusion to a plane flying so low as to flatten a hat on someone's head. Earliest documented use: 1940.

USAGE:
"Those impromptu flights often took him only feet above the beach on Cumberland Island where he'd practice 'touch-and-go's and flathatting."
Scott Keepfer; Record Still Stands After 75 Years; The Greenville News (South Carolina); Jun 24, 2007.
second fiddle
MEANING:
noun: A secondary role. A person in such a role.

ETYMOLOGY:
In an orchestra, the first violins carry the main melody while second violins are considered to be in a subordinate position. Earliest documented use: 1809.

USAGE:
"He [Bollywood actor Navin Nischol] was known to be egoistic and did not want to play second fiddle to any actor."
Bharati Dubey; Navin Nischol Did Not Play Second Fiddle to Any Actor; The Times of India (New Delhi); Mar 20, 2011.
clarion
MEANING:
adjective: Loud and clear.
noun: An ancient trumpet used as a signal in war.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin clarion- (trumpet), from clarus (clear). Earliest documented use: around 1384.

USAGE:
"'For survivors, Tullia Zevi was a clarion voice that warned against the dangers of neo-Nazism,' said Elan Steinberg."
Prominent Anti-Fascist Dies Aged 91; Belfast Telegraph (Ireland); Jan 23, 2011.
pariah
PRONUNCIATION:
(puh-RY-uh)
MEANING:
noun: An outcast.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Tamil paraiyar, plural of paraiyan (drummer), from parai (drum, to tell). Because the drum players were considered among the lowest in the former caste system of India, the word took on the general meaning of an outcast. Earliest documented use: 1613.

USAGE:
"Gaddafi's rule has seen him go from revolutionary hero to international pariah, to valued strategic partner, and back to pariah again."
Martin Asser; The Muammar Gaddafi Story; BBC News (London, UK); Mar 25, 2011.

"Sugar has replaced fat as our society's food pariah."
Randy Shore; Sugar: The New Pariah; Vancouver Sun (Canada); Mar 12, 2011.
knaggy
MEANING:
adjective: Knotty; rough; rugged.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Middle English knag (knot). Earliest documented use: 1552.

USAGE:
"Despite all odds, quarry boys do not spare a minute to chase flies or gaze at knaggy taxi drivers."
Living on Stones; Cameroon Tribune (Yaoundé); Oct 17, 2005.
calliopean
PRONUNCIATION:
(kuh-ly-uh-PEE-uhn)
MEANING:
adjective: Piercingly loud.

ETYMOLOGY:
After calliope, a musical instrument having a series of steam whistles played by a keyboard. The instrument was named after Kalliope, the Muse of heroic poetry in Greek mythology, from Greek kalli- (beautiful) + ops (voice). Earliest documented use: 1855.

USAGE:
"Sunday we were doing yardwork when our ears perked to one of the season's unmistakable aural cues... the calliopean siren's song of the ice cream truck."
Check It Out; The News & Observer (North Carolina); Mar 18, 2004.

"Rosalind Russell may have been more 'bankable', but didn't have The Merm's calliopean vocal cords."
Ivan M. Lincoln; 'Gypsy' Coming to Life Again; The Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah); Feb 20, 1994.
turncoat
MEANING:
noun: Someone who changes allegiance and joins the opposite side.

ETYMOLOGY:
The color, and especially the color of clothing, has long symbolized association with a particular cause. For example, soldiers in an army or players in a sports team don a designated color. The idea behind the word turncoat is someone switching allegiances and turning his coat inside out to hide his earlier colors. Earliest documented use: 1567.

USAGE:
"You could almost imagine the little turncoats from the last poster creeping off and taking up residence in another series of photographs downstairs."
Julius Purcell; Faces That Cannot be Argued Away; Financial Times (London, UK); Jul 18, 2006.
shirty
PRONUNCIATION:
(SHUHR-tee)
MEANING:
adjective: Bad-tempered, irritable.

ETYMOLOGY:
From the expression "to get someone's shirt out" to annoy or to lose one's temper. Earliest documented use: 1846.

USAGE:
"We can appreciate why Lukie Muhlemann is a little agitated and shirty, but he should remember that CSFB is essentially a law unto itself."
Ian Kerr; A Week in the Markets; Euroweek (London); Jan 26, 2001.
pantywaist
noun: An weak or effeminate man.
adjective: Weak; cowardly; effeminate.

ETYMOLOGY:
A pantywaist was formerly a child's undergarment in which a shirt and pants were buttoned together at the waist. Earliest documented use: 1910.

USAGE:
"The question on many people's minds: Will the genteel Mr. Creel, more comfortable buried in legal briefs than in the trenches of hand-to-throat political combat, be able to respond in kind? He doesn't see himself as a political pantywaist."
Peter Fritsch and Jose de Cordoba; Would You Fall into Line for This Man?; The Wall Street Journal (New York); Jan 11, 2001.
bootstrap
PRONUNCIATION:
(BOOT-strap)
MEANING:
verb tr.: To help oneself with one's own initiative and no outside help.
noun: Unaided efforts.
adjective: Reliant on one's own efforts.

ETYMOLOGY:
While pulling on bootstraps may help with putting on one's boots, it's impossible to lift oneself up like that. Nonetheless the fanciful idea is a great visual and it gave birth to the idiom "to pull oneself up by one's (own) bootstraps", meaning to better oneself with one's own efforts, with little outside help. It probably originated from the tall tales of Baron Münchausen who claimed to have lifted himself (and his horse) up from the swamp by pulling on his own hair.
In computing, booting or bootstrapping is to load a fixed sequence of instructions in a computer to initiate the operating system. Earliest documented use: 1891.

USAGE:
"At Yale, Timeica Bethel met and became close with other students who had also bootstrapped themselves out of poverty."
Colleen Mastony; Timeica Bethel Goes from Chicago's Housing Projects to Ivy League and Back; Chicago Tribune; Mar 27, 2011.
Jonah
MEANING:
noun One believed to bring bad luck.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Jonah, a prophet in the Old Testament, whose presence on a ship was believed to bring a storm. He was thrown overboard and swallowed by a fish or a whale and returned three days later. From Latin Jonas, Greek Ionas, from Hebrew yonah (dove). Earliest documented use: 1612.

USAGE:
"Chairman Ned Sullivan is a Jonah of the corporate world. Ned is a chairman of the currently disastrous McInerney Properties. McInerney shares have collapsed from €2.50 twelve months ago to today's price of 57¢.
Shane Ross; Ghosts Haunt Greencore; The Sunday Independent (Dublin, Ireland); Jun 29, 2008.
Jezebel
PRONUNCIATION:
(JEZ-uh-bel)
MEANING:
noun: A shameless, wicked, or immoral woman.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab in the Old Testament, who was defenestrated and killed for not worshiping the right god. Earliest documented use: 1558.

USAGE:
"Olive's not just clever but, in her unshowy way, more saintly than the people who call her a Jezebel."
Sukhdev Sandhu; Top of the Class; The Daily Telegraph (London, UK); Oct 22, 2010.
Judas
MEANING:
noun:
1. One who betrays.
2. A peephole.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Judas Iscariot, a disciple of Jesus, who later betrayed him. Earliest documented use: 1490.

USAGE:
"Bob Dylan was heckled and booed by audience members who felt he had sold out to the pop world, that he was a Judas who had turned his back on the serious acoustic roots of folk music."
Heath McCoy; Turning Tables on Folk; Calgary Herald (Canada); Jul 24, 2010.
jehu
MEANING:
noun:
1. A fast driver.
2. A driver of a cab.

ETYMOLOGY:
After King Jehu in the Old Testament, known for driving his chariot furiously. He had Jezebel killed. Earliest documented use: 1682.

USAGE:
"The jehu cabby was charged with street betting."
Robert Hale; Undercover Cop Nabs Gamblers; Malvern Gazette (UK); May 8, 2008.
jorum
MEANING:
noun:
1. A large drinking vessel or its contents.
2. A great quantity.

ETYMOLOGY:
Perhaps after Joram, a character in the Old Testament, who took vessels of silver, gold, and brass to King David. Earliest documented use: 1730.

USAGE:
"He sought for more liquor, found it, and poured himself a big jorum."
J. Allan Dunn; Rimrock Trail; Doubleday; 1921.
anomia
PRONUNCIATION:
(uh-NOH-mee-uh)
MEANING:
noun: The inability to recall names of people or objects.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin a- (without) + nom (name). Earliest documented use: 1900. Don't confuse the word with anomie.

USAGE:
"In Dad's case of anomia, he's been calling his nightly can of beer 'ink'. Sometimes he calls it 'gas', which makes a kind of sense."
Patricia Traxler; I'm Still Listening for My Father's Words; Newsweek (New York); Jun 11, 2007.
poetaster
PRONUNCIATION:
(POH-it-as-tuhr)
MEANING:
noun: An inferior poet.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin poetaster, from Latin poeta (poet), from Greek poietes (poet, maker), from poiein (to make) + -aster (pejorative suffix). Earliest documented use: 1601.

NOTES:
What can you do when someone calls you a poetaster? Why, you can call them a criticaster (an inferior critic). Also see mathematicaster, philosophaster, and politicaster.

USAGE:
"In the title story, a poetaster suffering from 'chronic acuteness' is rushed to the hospital before his verse does much harm."
Anthony Bukoski; Average Joes Wind Up in 'Hospital'; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota); May 3, 2009.

"You have revealed yourself to the world as a conceited little poetaster."
Simon Barnes; Rooney No Longer in Control of Fame Game; The Times (London, UK); Sep 13, 2010.
subitize
PRONUNCIATION:
(SOO-bi-tyz)
MEANING:
verb tr., intr.: To perceive, without counting, the number of objects in a small group.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin subitus (sudden), from past participle of subire (to appear suddenly), from sub- (under) + ire (to go). Earliest documented use: 1949.

NOTES:
When you throw a die, you don't count the number of pips to determine the value of the throw. You subitize. Now here's a word you want to use when you take part in one of those "How many marbles are in the jar?" contests, though subitizing works only for a small group of items. Estimates of the upper limit of humans' subitizing capability range from four to seven. Subitizing also depends on the arrangement of the objects. Try this subitizing test.

USAGE:
"Brian Butterworth's explanation focuses on our uncanny ability to subitise. Up to four or five objects, most people can tell how many there are just by looking, without counting each one. But if there are more objects, we have to count."
Emily Sohn; Number of the Beasts; New Scientist (London, UK); Jan 24, 2004.

"Getting the computer model to subitize the way humans and animals did was possible, Stanislas Dehaene found, only if he built in 'number neurons'."
Jim Holt; Numbers Guy; New Yorker; Mar 3, 2008.
philtrum
MEANING:
noun: The vertical groove below the nose and above the upper lip.

NOTES:
The line of the upper lip is known as Cupid's bow for its resemblance to the shape of a bow. While the ancients thought the groove above the upper lip had something to do with love, modern doctors have found that a smooth philtrum is one of the symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin philtrum (love potion, groove under the nose), from Greek philtron (love potion, groove under the nose). Earliest documented use: 1609.

USAGE:
"John Ryan Fitzpatrick flexed his index finger under his nose and across his philtrum."
Jeff Hicks; Troubles at The Glen; Waterloo Region Record (Canada); Aug 7, 2010.
mysophobia
PRONUNCIATION:
(my-suh-FOH-bee-uh)
MEANING:
noun: An irrational fear of dirt.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin myso-, from Greek mysos (filth) + -phobia (fear). Earliest documented use: 1879.

USAGE:
"Cinders the piglet overcame her fear of mud with the help of a pair of boots. The six-month-old saddleback suffers from mysophobia."
And This Little Piggy Wore Wellies All the Way Home; The Times (London, UK); Jun 11, 2008.
three-ring circus
MEANING:
noun: A situation marked by confusing, amusing, or tumultuous activity.

ETYMOLOGY:
After a circus with three separate rings in which performances take place simultaneously. Earliest documented use: 1898.

USAGE:
"Guy Ritchie told friends recently: 'Our marriage was a three-ring circus in the end. We started as a normal family and tried to live a normal family life, but Madonna wanted something else.'"
Marriage Had Become Three-Ring Circus; Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland); Oct 16, 2008.
desultory
PRONUNCIATION:
(DES-uhl-tor-ee)
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Marked by absence of a plan; disconnected; jumping from one thing to another.
2. Digressing from the main subject; random.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin desultorius (leaping, pertaining to a circus rider who jumps from one horse to another), from desilire (to leap down), from salire (to jump). Other words derived from the same Latin root, salire, are sally, somersault, insult, result, saute, salient, and saltant. Earliest documented use: 1581.

USAGE:
"Anyway, here we are with our little burgers and cokes, making the sort of desultory conversation that those who have been married 30 years make -- when this newly married couple walk in."
Bikram Vohra; Love is the Last Bite; Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates); Apr 16, 2011.
dog-and-pony show
MEANING:
noun: An elaborately staged presentation or briefing arranged for public relations, selling, etc. Also, a presentation that is overly contrived.

ETYMOLOGY:
After small traveling circuses that featured tricks involving dogs and ponies. Earliest documented use: 1885.

USAGE:
"Rather than be honest about the tragic missteps of the past and confront the lingering issues over detainee treatment, the Pentagon puts on a preposterous dog-and-pony show when reporters come calling."
Pentagon's Offensive Guantanamo Show; St. Petersburg Times (Florida); Jul 7, 2009.

"Cebu Pacific, the Philippines-based airline, has turned their safety announcement into a true dog-and-pony show. Their flight attendants dance to the music of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry while pointing out and demonstrating safety equipment. It's even choreographed." (video)
Gail Todd; Some Airlines Employ Humor With Safety Announcements; Chicago Daily Herald (Illinois); Apr 3, 2011.
hey rube
MEANING:
noun:
1. A fight between members of a circus and the general public.
2. A call to rally circus members in a fight.

ETYMOLOGY:
The term originated in the 19th century when circuses were rowdy affairs and "Hey Rube" was the rallying cry to call all circus people to help in a fight with townspeople. It's not clear whether Rube in this term was someone specific or simply a use of the informal term rube (shortened form of Reuben) for an unsophisticated person from a rural area. Earliest documented use: 1882.

USAGE:
"I said 'Shut it, Camel! I'm dealing with a situation here.' Walter says.
'What kind of situation?' says Camel.
'Jacob's messed up.'
'What? How? Was there a hey rube?"
Sara Gruen; Water for Elephants; Algonquin Books; 2006.

"'Hey, Rube,' they would yell. Roustabouts would soon be beating on the trouble-maker."
Bill Conlin; Phillies GM Amaro is Master of the Shell Game; The Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania); Dec 17, 2009.
jumbo
MEANING:
noun: Something very large.
adjective: Very large.

ETYMOLOGY:
The word was popularized after Jumbo, a very large elephant exhibited by circus showman P.T. Barnum. Jumbo was captured in Africa, sold to a zoo in Paris, traded to London Zoo, and again sold to Barnum who took him to New York. The elephant died in a collision with a locomotive in Canada. The origin of the name jumbo is not confirmed. It's probably from the second element of mumbo jumbo or from another word in an African language. Earliest documented use: 1823.

USAGE:
"The market for jumbo loans, which are safe but too large for Fannie or Freddie to guarantee, ground to a halt last week."
Paper Losses; The Economist (London, UK); Aug 23, 2007.
tyro or tiro
PRONUNCIATION:
(TY-roh)
MEANING:
noun: One who is beginning to learn something.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin tiro (young soldier, recruit). Earliest documented use: 1611.

USAGE:
"It seems as if the latest young tyro is in contact with his inner old fogey."
Donald Clarke; Shadow Lands; The Irish Times (Dublin); Apr 22, 2011.

"So what's a digital-media tyro like you doing at a fusty old-media company?"
Interview: Jim Lanzone; Adweek (New York); May 2, 2011.
reactionary
MEANING:
adjective: Opposed to change, progress, or reform; extremely conservative.
noun: An opponent of change, progress, or reform.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French réactionnaire. The word was used to describe an opponent of the French Revolution. Earliest documented use: 1799.

USAGE:
"Microsoft's critics portray its behavior as reactionary, saying the company is trying to protect old business models."
Ashlee Vance; Chasing Pirates: Inside Microsoft's War Room; The New York Times; Nov 6, 2010.
concupiscent
MEANING:
adjective: Lustful; libidinous.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin concupiscentia, from concupiscere (to desire ardently), from con- (intensive prefix) + cupere (to desire). Earliest documented use: around 1450.

USAGE:
"The woman in the centre of the picture is a member of Gaddafi's cohort of female bodyguards, a policy no doubt admired by the famously concupiscent Italian PM."
The World Through a Lens; The Observer (London, UK); Jun 14, 2009.

"I doubt even Mosiuoa Lekota would wish to emulate another concupiscent ruler from times past, one Solomon, who, we are told, had 700 official wives and 300 concubines. One can only wonder how much time old King Sol had left for his official duties."
Andrea Meeson; Cadres and Concubines a Great Show; Sunday Independent (South Africa); Apr 12, 2009.
callow
PRONUNCIATION:
(KAL-oh)
MEANING:
adjective: Inexperienced or immature.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English calu (bald, featherless). Earliest documented use: before 1000.

USAGE:
"Belva Davis was a young and callow rookie from a tiny black radio station in Oakland."
Jerry Roberts; California Pioneer; The Santa Barbara Independent (California); Apr 21, 2011.
panjandrum
PRONUNCIATION:
(pan-JAN-druhm)
MEANING:
noun: An important or self-important person.

ETYMOLOGY:
The word is said to have been coined by dramatist and actor Samuel Foote (1720-1777) as part of a nonsensical passage to test the memory of his fellow actor Charles Macklin who claimed to be able to repeat anything after hearing it once. Earliest documented use: 1825, in the novel "Harry and Lucy Concluded" in which the author Maria Edgeworth attributes the word to Foote.

USAGE:
"Another man coming to hear Fry was Graham Turner, the owner, chairman, former manager and grand panjandrum of Hereford United."
Brian Viner; Unexpected Frictions Follow Ferguson's Fall; The Independent (London, UK); Nov 14, 2009.
logorrhea.
PRONUNCIATION:
(log-uh-REE-uh)
MEANING:
noun: Excessive flow of words, especially when incoherent.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek logo- (word) + -rrhea (flow), from rhoia (flow). Also see rhinorrhea. Earliest documented use: 1902.

USAGE:
"Dumas suffers from logorrhea, induced by the simple formula that the more he wrote, the more money he made."
Erik Spanberg; The Count of Monte Cristo; The Christian Science Monitor (Boston, Massachusetts); Feb 6, 2011.
necrology
MEANING:
noun:
1. A list of those who have died during a specific period.
2. An obituary.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek necro- (dead) + -logy (account). Earliest documented use: 1728.

USAGE:
"The fare structure is one reason Independence Air has joined a necrology of low-cost carriers that stretches over four decades."
Marc Fisher; We Loved That Airline To Death; Washington Post; Jan 5, 2006.
phycology
PRONUNCIATION:
(fy-KOL-uh-jee)
MEANING:
noun: The branch of botany dealing with algae. Also known as algology.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek phyco- (seaweed) + -logy (study). First recorded use: 1847.

USAGE:
"Sandra Lindstrom does independent research and consulting, identifying seaweeds for environmental surveys. At the University of British Columbia she got her PhD in botany with a specialty in phycology."
Jonathan Grass; Juneau Researchers Publish Book on Seaweeds; Juneau Empire (Alaska); Oct 18, 2010.
hagiocracy
PRONUNCIATION:
(HAG-ee-ok-ruh-kee, HAY-jee-)
MEANING:
noun: A government by holy persons. Also a place thus governed.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek hagio- (holy) + -cracy (rule). Two synonyms of this term are hagiarchy and hierocracy. Also, literally speaking, hierarchy is the rule of the high priest. Earliest documented use: 1846.

USAGE:
"But money has assumed a more exalted place in the Fed's hagiocracy in recent months."
Alan Murray; Slow Money Growth Stirs Worry at Fed; The Wall Street Journal (New York); Jul 29, 1991.
paleography
PRONUNCIATION:
(pay-lee-AWG-ruh-fee)
MEANING:
noun:
1. The study of ancient writings and inscriptions, dating, deciphering, and interpreting them.
2. Ancient forms of writing: documents, inscriptions, etc.
3. An ancient style or method of writing.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek paleo- (old, ancient) + -graphy (writing). Earliest documented use: 1763.

USAGE:
"Yanis Bitsakis, of the Center for History and Paleography in Athens, added that he expects to be busy for years to come deciphering still-unread inscriptions."
Brian Handwerk; Greek "Computer" Tracked Ancient Olympics, Other Games; National Geographic News (Washington, DC); Jul 30, 2008.
claque
PRONUNCIATION:
(klak)
MEANING:
noun: A group of people hired to applaud at a performance.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French claque, from claquer (to clap), of imitative origin. Earliest documented use: 1864.

NOTES:
Although a claque is usually hired to applaud, sometimes it is also used to heckle at a rival's performance. Then there are moirologists (hired mourners at a funeral).

USAGE:
"The publicist even trained both the singer [Frank Sinatra] and his claques in the art of call-and-response."
James Kaplan; Frank; Doubleday; 2010.
Read this fascinating extract about claques from the above book.
ululate
PRONUNCIATION:
(UHL-uh-layt, YOOL-)
MEANING:
verb intr.: To howl or wail.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin ululare (to howl or shriek), of imitative origin. Earliest documented use: 1623.

NOTES:
Ululation with a distinctive trilling sound is performed in many cultures in celebration (video) and in mourning (video).

USAGE:
"Bells rang and the peasantry ululated their pleasure beneath battleship grey skies. Past imperious London buildings, the state coach clattered, followed by the Household Cavalry pompously bobbing. Kate practised waving, the one-word job description of monarchy."
Robert McNeil; Rousing Stuff; The Herald (Glasgow, Scotland); Apr 30, 2011.
susurrus
PRONUNCIATION:
(soo-SUHR-uhs)
MEANING:
noun: A whispering or rustling sound.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin susurrus (whisper, humming), from susurrare (to whisper or hum), of imitative origin. Earliest documented use: 1826.

USAGE:
"A susurrus of dismay rustled through the ranks of the Aboriginal leaders gathered there."
Annabel Crabb; Gracious Rudd Turns Grubby; The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia); Oct 31, 2009.
cockalorum
PRONUNCIATION:
(KOK-uh-lor-uhm, -LOAR-)
MEANING:
noun:
1. A self-important or boastful person.
2. Bragging.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Middle English cock (rooster), of imitative origin. Earliest documented use: 1715.

USAGE:
"Sam also has to deal with a cockalorum fellow actor who shares just enough to demoralize him."
Rohan Preston; 'Fully Committed' is Fully Glorious; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota); Jul 25, 2003.

"Once a comic space cowboy full of cockalorum, Spider One has refashioned himself into an advocate for our nation's impressionable youth."
Friendly Fire; The Boston Globe; May 28, 2003.
tintinnabulation
PRONUNCIATION:
(tin-ti-nab-yuh-LAY-shuhn)
MEANING:
noun: The ringing of or the sound of bells.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin tintinnabulum (bell), from tintinnare (to ring, jingle), reduplication of tinnire (to ring), of imitative origin. Earliest documented use: 1831, in Edgar Allan Poe's poem The Bells.

USAGE:
"Abigail gazed to the sea where splashing surf sounded like the tintinnabulation of a thousand tiny bells."
Tony Baker; A True Story; The New Zealand Herald (Auckland); Aug 19, 2008.
etiolate
PRONUNCIATION:
(EE-tee-uh-layt)
MEANING:
verb tr.:
1. To make pale by preventing exposure to sunlight.
2. To make weak by stunting the growth of.
verb intr.:
3. To become pale, weak, or stunted.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French étioler (to make pale), from Latin stipula (straw). Earliest documented use: 1791.

USAGE:
"America itself was a stunted universe where men etiolate and shrink."
Herb Greer; Down With the Yanks! (Book Review); The World & I (Washington, DC); Feb 2004.

"Convinced republican that I am, and foe of the prince who talks to plants and wants to be crowned 'head of all faiths' as well as the etiolated Church of England, I find myself pierced by a pang of sympathy. Not much of a life, is it, growing old and stale with no real job except waiting for the news of Mummy's death?"
Christopher Hitchens; Beware the In-Laws; Slate (New York); Apr 18, 2011.

"If the history of the American sentence were a John Ford movie, its second act would conclude with the young Ernest Hemingway walking into a saloon, finding an etiolated Henry James slumped at the bar in a haze of indecision, and shooting him dead."
Adam Haslett; The Art of Good Writing; Financial Times (London, UK); Jan 21, 2011.
betide
PRONUNCIATION:
(bi-TYD)
MEANING:
verb tr., intr.: To happen.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English tidan (happen), from tid (time). Often used in the phrase "woe betide". Earliest documented use: 1297.

USAGE:
"Whatever betided at the end of Mitt Romney's term and whatever betides in the future, that shouldn't be forgotten."
David A. Mittell Jr.; As the Good Times Roll; Providence Journal (Rhode Island); May 17, 2007.
lancinate
PRONUNCIATION:
(LAN-suh-nayt)
MEANING:
verb tr.: To pierce or tear.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin lancinare (to tear), from lacer (torn). Earliest documented use: 1603.

USAGE:
"The Honorable Rep. Spear is fixing to lancinate our state by declaring the American bullfrog, Rana catesbeiana, the official North Carolina amphibian. To me, a stab like this makes about as much sense as declaring Bunny Bread the official loaf of Paris or 'darn' the official swear word of New York City."
Phil Woodhall; An Amphibian Worth Complimenting; The News & Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina); May 5, 2007.
lignify
PRONUNCIATION:
(LIG-nuh-fy)
MEANING:
verb tr.: To convert into wood.
verb intr.: To become wood or woody.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin lignum (wood). Ultimately from the Indo-European root leg- (to collect), which is also the source of lexicon, legal, dialogue, lecture, logic, legend, logarithm, intelligent, diligent, sacrilege, elect, and loyal. Earliest documented use: 1828.

USAGE:
"Many leguminous plants offer edible products in addition to their seeds. Many of their immature pods are edible two or three weeks before the fibres lignify to render them inedible."
Lam Peng Sam; Make Your Landscape Edible; The New Straits Times (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia); Dec 2, 2000.
obtest
PRONUNCIATION:
(ob-TEST)
MEANING:
verb tr.1. To invoke as a witness. 2. To implore or beseech.
verb intr. 3. To protest. 4. To plead.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin obtestari (to implore, affirm, protest), from ob- (on, over), from testari (to bear witness or to make a will), from testis (witness). Ultimately from the Indo-European root trei- (three), which is also the source of three, sitar, trivia (from trivium, place where three roads meet), trivial, troika, trivet, testimony, testament, attest, testify (to be the third person: to bear witness), triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13), tercel (the male of a hawk), and trammel (restraint, shackle, net). Earliest documented use: 1548.

USAGE:
"But I obtest, dear readers, I know nothing of any previous correspondence."
Peter Hawes; Turakina Beach, Village of Thieves?; Manawatu Standard (New Zealand); Jul 8, 2008.
Golgotha
PRONUNCIATION:
(GOL-guh-thuh)

MEANING:
noun:
1. A place or occasion of great suffering.
2. A burial place.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Golgotha, the hill near Jerusalem believed to be the site of Jesus's crucifixion. From Latin, from Greek golgotha, from Aramaic gulgulta, from Hebrew gulgolet (skull). The hill was perhaps named from the resemblance of its shape to a skull. Earliest documented use: 1597.

USAGE:
"The attack has turned the once peaceful serenity of a plateau state to a Golgotha."
Chris Agbiti; How Not to Govern a Volatile State; Vanguard (Apapa, Nigeria); Apr 1, 2011.
laodicean
PRONUNCIATION:
(lay-ah-duh-SEE-uhn)
MEANING:
adjective: Lukewarm or indifferent, especially regarding religion.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Laodicea, a city in Asia Minor, whose Christians were rebuked for their indifference to religion in Revelation 3:16 in the New Testament. Earliest documented use: 1633.

USAGE:
"How can we expect such vital realism from our pathologically Laodicean political class?"
Kevin Myers; An Irishman's Diary; Irish Times (Dublin); Jul 19, 2005.
aceldama
PRONUNCIATION:
(uh-SEL-duh-muh)
MEANING:
noun: A place of bloodshed.

ETYMOLOGY:
The term is derived from the name Aceldama, a potter's field described in the New Testament. It was purchased by the priests with the money Judas Iscariot received for betraying Jesus. From Greek Akeldama, from Aramaic haqeldema (field of blood). Earliest documented use: 1382.

USAGE:
"Mickelsson describes Philosophy Department as a 'treacherous, ego-bloated, murder-stained hovel.' Ah, the groves of aceldama!"
Margaret Manning; Book Review; Boston Globe; May 30, 1982.
babel
PRONUNCIATION:
(BAB-uhl, BAY-buhl)
MEANING:
noun:
1. A confused mixture of noises or voices.
2. A scene of noise or confusion.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Hebrew Babhel (Babylon). In the Old Testament (Genesis 11:4-9), people united in an attempt to build a city with a tower that reached the heavens. This displeased god who halted the project by confounding people's speech so they wouldn't understand one another. Earliest documented use: before 1382.

USAGE:
"While an excited babel of Spanish, German, Japanese, and Hindi emanated from the dozens of television news crews in the street, the response to Charles and Camilla's I dos among locals was mostly We Don't."
Glenda Cooper; In Windsor, a Royal Pain; The Washington Post; Apr 10, 2005.
calvary
PRONUNCIATION:
(KAL-vuh-ree)
MEANING:
noun:
1. A place or occasion of severe trial, anguish, or suffering.
2. A sculptured depiction of the crucifixion.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin calvaria (skull), translation of Greek golgotha where Jesus Christ's crucifixion took place according to the New Testament. Earliest documented use: around 1000.

USAGE:
"'Simply put, when someone is in a terminal phase, that means they are clinically condemned, that there is no solution and what they are facing is a calvary before dying,' Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba added."
Spain to Pass Law to Allow Death 'With Dignity'; Agence France-Presse (Paris); Nov 19, 2010.
thrasonical
PRONUNCIATION:
(THRAY-SON-i-kuhl)

MEANING:
adjective: Bragging or boastful.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Thraso, a braggart soldier in the comedy Eunuchus (161 BCE) by the Roman playwright Terence. The name is derived from the Greek word tharsos (bold). Earliest documented example of the word used allusively: 1564.

USAGE:
"But I decided to give further thought to this friend's thrasonical effusion."
Ground Zero Ekitiland; The Nation (Lagos, Nigeria); Apr 15, 2009.
Jeeves
PRONUNCIATION:
(jeevz)

MEANING:
noun: A personal servant, especially one who is resourceful and reliable.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Reginald Jeeves, a valet in the stories by P.G. Wodehouse. Jeeves first made his appearance in a short story in 1915. Earliest documented example of the word used allusively: 1952.

USAGE:
"When you've got a billion dollars at your disposal, and a Jeeves to take care of your travel arrangements, nothing untoward is going to happen to you."
Nicholas Barber; The Bucket List; The Independent (London, UK); Feb 17, 2008.
barmecidal
PRONUNCIATION:
(bahr-mih-SYD-l)
MEANING:
adjective: Giving only an illusion of something; unreal.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Barmecide, a nobleman in the story "Barber's Sixth Brother" from the collection "One Thousand and One Nights" (also known as "The Arabian Nights"). In the story, Barmecide pretends to host a lavish feast for a beggar. The beggar plays along, pretending to enjoy the food and wine. He then pretends to get drunk and knocks Barmecide down in the process. In the end, Barmecide is pleased with the beggar for going with the joke and offers him a real feast. Earliest documented example of the word used allusively: 1844.

USAGE:
"A section of the industry gives the illusion of health, but it is in reality quite infirm. The barmecidal lifestyle of these thrifts is sustained by the absence of market-value accounting."
Sanford Rose; Saving the Thrifts; American Banker (New York); Feb 14, 1989.
calvary
PRONUNCIATION:
(KAL-vuh-ree)
MEANING:
noun:
1. A place or occasion of severe trial, anguish, or suffering.
2. A sculptured depiction of the crucifixion.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin calvaria (skull), translation of Greek golgotha where Jesus Christ's crucifixion took place according to the New Testament. Earliest documented use: around 1000.

USAGE:
"'Simply put, when someone is in a terminal phase, that means they are clinically condemned, that there is no solution and what they are facing is a calvary before dying,' Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba added."
Spain to Pass Law to Allow Death 'With Dignity'; Agence France-Presse (Paris); Nov 19, 2010.
man Friday
MEANING:
noun: A man who is an efficient and faithful aide to someone.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Friday, a character in the novel Robinson Crusoe (1719) by Daniel Defoe. Crusoe named him Friday because that was the day they met. Crusoe often referred to him as his man Friday. By extension, the term girl Friday is used for a female. Earliest documented example of the word used allusively: 1809.

USAGE:
"It was almost as if Kalnirnay was the Jeeves of the houses, always at hand. And in many ways, Kalnirnay today has become the man Friday of millions of Indians."
Gaurav Pai; KNY; The Economic Times (New Delhi, India); Mar 18, 2009.
micawber
PRONUNCIATION:
(mih-KAW-buhr)
MEANING:
noun: An eternal optimist.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Wilkins Micawber, an incurable optimist in the novel David Copperfield (1850) by Charles Dickens. Earliest documented example of the word used allusively: 1852.

USAGE:
"As the shadow work-and-pensions secretary, David Willetts, said yesterday, he takes the Mr Micawber approach to economics: something will turn up."
Larry Elliott; Mr Micawber May Find Result Misery; The Guardian (London, UK); Nov 4, 2004.
ravel
MEANING:
verb tr. intr.:
1. To fray or to become disjoined; to untangle.
2. To entangle or to become tangled.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Middle Dutch ravelen (to fray out), from ravel (loose thread). Earliest documented use: before 1540.

USAGE:
"Ministries like the Gathering Place always run on a shoestring. In today's economic climate, the shoestring is raveling."
Helen Colwell Adams; Band Aids Booked To Benefit Patients; Sunday News (Lancaster, Pennsylvania); Apr 12, 2009.

"W.B. Yeats's vision involved the notion that at any moment forces were raveling and unraveling, forming and disintegrating."
Roger Cohen; The Arab Gyre; International Herald Tribune (Paris, France); Apr 26, 2011.
adjure
PRONUNCIATION:
(uh-JOOR)
MEANING:
verb tr.:
1. To command solemnly.
2. To request earnestly.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin adjurare (to put under oath), from ad- (to) + jurare (to swear), from jus (law). Ultimately from the Indo-European root yewes- (law), which is also the source of jury, judge, just, injury, perjury, conjure, and de jure. Earliest documented use: before 1425.

USAGE:
"If you go to Las Vegas -- and so many do -- please pay mind to the signs in the park. They don't adjure you from feeding the pigeons. They forbid feeding the homeless."
Jacquelyn Mitchard; Please Do Feed the Unsightly Homeless; Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin); Oct 1, 2006.

"'Use Absolut,' he adjures a waiter at the restaurant." Amanda Vaill; A Story of Reckless Passion and Race; Chicago Tribune; May 25, 2003.
adjure
RONUNCIATION:
(uh-JOOR)
MEANING:
verb tr.:
1. To command solemnly.
2. To request earnestly.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin adjurare (to put under oath), from ad- (to) + jurare (to swear), from jus (law). Ultimately from the Indo-European root yewes- (law), which is also the source of jury, judge, just, injury, perjury, conjure, and de jure. Earliest documented use: before 1425.

USAGE:
"If you go to Las Vegas -- and so many do -- please pay mind to the signs in the park. They don't adjure you from feeding the pigeons. They forbid feeding the homeless."
Jacquelyn Mitchard; Please Do Feed the Unsightly Homeless; Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin); Oct 1, 2006.

"'Use Absolut,' he adjures a waiter at the restaurant." Amanda Vaill; A Story of Reckless Passion and Race; Chicago Tribune; May 25, 2003.
avocation
MEANING:
noun:
1. One's regular job or occupation.
2. An activity taken up besides the regular work; a hobby.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin avocare (to call away), from a- (off, away) + vocare (to call), from vox (voice). Earliest documented use: before 1617.

NOTES:
Originally the word vocation was used in a religious sense, as a divine calling. If a vocation was a calling, literally speaking, an avocation was a calling away, a distraction, which could be a hobby or a diversion. Sometimes the business that calls away can be of greater importance. Over time the two opposite senses of the word avocation became muddled and now it can connote either sense depending on the context.

USAGE:
"For librarian Maureen Sullivan, the world of libraries is much more than an avocation."
James Craven; Groups to Honor Librarian; The Bulletin (Norwich, Connecticut); Jun 20, 2011.

"Harley Garbani was a one-time plumber who gained unexpected renown pursuing his lifelong avocation as a fossil hunter, discovering some of the world's most significant dinosaur fossils."
Dennis McLellan; Obituary; Los Angeles Times; May 1, 2011.
inure
PRONUNCIATION:
(in-YOOR, i-NOOR)
MEANING:
verb tr.: To accustom to something unpleasant.
verb intr.: 1. To become beneficial. 2. To take effect.

ETYMOLOGY:
From the phrase in/en ure (in use, customary), from French oeuvre (work), from Latin opera, plural of opus (work). Ultimately from the Indo-European root op- (to work, produce) that is also the ancestor of words such as opera, opulent, optimum, operose, maneuver, and manure. Earliest documented use: 1489.

NOTES:
The intransitive form of the word is usually used in legal contexts and also spelled as enure.

USAGE:
"We were never able to tell our daughter that things would get better. No amount of repetition can inure you to these things."
Aleksandar Hemon; The Aquarium; The New Yorker; Jun 13, 2011.

"'Jody Henderson voted on measures which he knew would inure to the special private gain of a business associate,' the commission stated."
Tom McLaughlin; Trustee Will Likely be Fined for Voting Conflict; The Walton Sun (Santa Rosa Beach, Florida); May 27, 2011.
adumbrate
MEANING:
verb tr.:
1. To foreshadow.
2. To give a rough outline or to disclose partially.
3. To overshadow or obscure.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin umbra (shade, shadow), which also gave us the words umbrella, umbrage, and somber. Earliest documented use: 1599.

USAGE:
"Mr Cameron should adumbrate painful decisions; he should sketch out the principles that will inform them; but he should not be drawn into spelling out what exactly they will be."
Walter Bagehot; Coming Clean; The Economist (London, UK); Mar 26, 2009.

"To create her three-dimensional composition, Robin Osler variedly manipulated floor and ceiling planes so as to adumbrate virtual spaces."
Monica Geran; Shadow Play; Interior Design (New York); Apr 2000.
chandler
PRONUNCIATION:
(CHAND-luhr)
MEANING:
noun:
1. One who makes or sells candles.
2. A dealer or supplier in other goods, for example, a ship chandler.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin candela (candle), from candere (to shine). Ultimately from the Indo-European root kand- (to shine) which is also the source of incense, incandescent, candid, candida, and candidate (in reference to white togas worn by Romans seeking office). Earliest documented use: 1389.

USAGE:
"The sisters at Deepdale were lucky to have received a request for beeswax from a chandler in York."
Cassandra Clark; The Law of Angels; Minotaur Books; 2011.
wainwright
PRONUNCIATION:
(WAYN-ryt)
MEANING:
noun: One who builds or repairs wagons.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English waen/waegen (wagon) + wryhta/wyrhta (worker). Earliest documented use: around 1000.

USAGE:
"Macon engaged a wainwright to build one of the great wagons."
Lily Lashley Price; Taste of Ashes; Trafford; 2010.
collier
PRONUNCIATION:
(KOL-yuhr)
MEANING:
noun:
1. A coal miner.
2. A ship for carrying coal.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English col (coal). Earliest documented use: before 1375.

USAGE:
"Gunar turned to find a grimy-faced man, black as a collier."
Lisa Hendrix; Immortal Champion; Berkley; 2011.
chamberlain
MEANING:
noun:
1. An official of a royal household who manages the living quarters.
2. A treasurer of a municipality or another public body.
3. A high-ranking official of a royal court.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French and Frankish, from Latin camera (chamber), from Greek kamara (vault) + -ling (a person/thing belonging to or concerned with). Earliest documented use: around 1225.

USAGE:
"A chamberlain whose watchful gaze seems closer to that of a prison guard (or nanny), rattles off the royal schedule, which includes 'time for private thought'."
Manohla Dargis; When Dusk Finally Settled on the Emperor; The New York Times; Nov 18, 2009.
nouveau riche
MEANING:
noun: Someone who has recently acquired wealth, especially one who displays this in an ostentatious fashion.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French nouveau riche (new rich). Earliest documented use: 1796. A term coined after this is nouveau pauvre (newly impoverished).

USAGE:
"The mainland's nouveau riche increasingly spend their weekends cruising up and down various waterfronts."
Emma An; Growing Yacht Industry Has Some Wind in Its Sales; China Daily (Beijing); Jun 15, 2011.
granger
MEANING:
noun: A farmer.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French from Latin granum (grain). Earliest documented use: around 1112.

USAGE:
"Megan glared. She touched Sena's hair like a granger examining blight."
Anthony Huso; The Last Page; Tor Books; 2010.
voulu
PRONUNCIATION:
(voo-LOO)

MEANING:
adjective: Contrived; forced.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French voulu, past participle of vouloir (to wish or want). Earliest documented use: 1909.

USAGE:
"In real literature, as in real life, nothing much happens, and stirring up interest in paranormal phenomena is a rather voulu means of making life more interesting."
Nicholas Lezard; Review: High on Giraffe Liver; The Guardian (London, UK); Jan 27, 2007.
mise en scene
PRONUNCIATION:
(mee-zan* SEN)
[* the last syllable is nasal]
MEANING:
noun:
1. The setting of a scene in a play, movie, etc.
2. The setting or background of an event.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French mise en scène, literally "put on stage". Earliest documented use: 1833.

NOTES:
Scenery, costumes, lighting, props, placement of actors, everything that appears in a scene falls under the umbrella term mise en scene. Since a director is ultimately in charge of all this, he is referred to as a metteur en scene, literally, putter of a scene.

USAGE:
"Forces inimical to democracy may be involved in fanning the flames of violence, setting the mise en scene for the military to step in once again."
Tariq Karim; Benazir's Assassination; The Daily Star (Dhaka, Bangladesh); Jul 30, 2007.
pur sang
PRONUNCIATION:
(pyoor SAN*)
[* the last syllable is nasal]

MEANING:
adjective: Pure; genuine.
noun: Someone or something that is genuine.
adverb: Genuinely; in all respects.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French pur sang (pure blood). Earliest documented use: 1846.

USAGE:
"The Durango is a pur sang truck wagon. There has been no namby-pamby dilution of its place in life."
Cam McRae; Battles for First Place; The Toronto Star (Canada); Nov 8, 1997.
coup de main
(kood-uh-MAN*)
[* the last syllable is nasal]

MEANING:
noun: A surprise attack or sudden action.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French, literally "blow of the hand" (as opposed to from the artillery). Earliest documented use: 1759.

USAGE:
"This astonishing coup de main had results which were decisive on the development of the first day's fighting."
Major John Howard: Obituary; The Times (London, UK); May 7, 1999.
hircine
PRONUNCIATION:
(HUHR-syn, -sin)

MEANING:
adjective:
1. Of or relating to a goat.
2. Having a strong odor.
3. Lustful; lewd.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin hircus (goat). Earliest documented use: 1656.

USAGE:
"The showgirls, all looking to be in their early 20s, came out and posed next to the hircine and bearded Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill, the guitarist and the bassist."
Peter Watrous; America's Pulse as Taken by ZZ Top; The New York Times; Jun 8, 1994.
anserine
PRONUNCIATION:
(AN-suh-ryn, -rin)

MEANING:
adjective:
1. Of or relating to a goose.
2. Stupid; silly.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin anser (goose). Earliest documented use: 1839.

USAGE:
"The geese take to the air in squadron after squadron, covering the sky with a glorious anserine calligraphy."
Simon Barnes; 30,000 Honking, Flapping Reasons; The Times (London, UK); Jan 21, 2006.

"The Tory shot back, 'Well, I've listened to your candidates, and they're simply anserine.'"
John Worsley Simpson; Election Enhances Word Power of All Political Parties; National Post (Canada); Jul 3, 2004.
porcine
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Of or related to swine.
2. Piggish: greedy; sloppy; boorish.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin porcus (hog, pig). Ultimately from the Indo-European root porko- (a young pig) that is also the source of farrow, aardvark, porcelain, pork, porcupine, and porpoise. Earliest documented use: before 1425.

USAGE:
"The lipstick on this pig was thick and expertly applied by a PR machine with a tremendous amount of porcine makeup experience."
Frank Bailey; Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin; Howard Books; 2011.
bovine
PRONUNCIATION:
(BO-vyn, -veen)
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Of or relating to cattle, especially a cow.
2. Dull; sluggish; stupid.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin bos (cow, ox), from Greek bous (ox). Ultimately from the Indo-European root gwou- (cow, bull) that is also the source of beef, bugle (literally, an instrument made of ox horn), bulimia (literally, hunger like an ox), boustrophedon, and Hindi gai (cow). Earliest documented use: 1845.

NOTES:
Here is another word that refers to cows: vaccine. It comes from vacca, Latin for cow, after inoculation prepared from cows.

USAGE:
"The arrogant assumption was that it is acceptable to express one view for the consumption of a bovine public, and another contrary opinion in private."
Duncan Hamilton; MPs' Revelations; Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland); Dec 26, 2010.
pavonine
PRONUNCIATION:
(PAV-uh-nyn)
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Of or resembling a peacock.
2. Vain; showy.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin pavo (peacock). Earliest documented use: 1656.

USAGE:
"The artists were attacked for being a narcissistic, pavonine, and self-regarding group."
Arifa Akbar; The Cult of Beauty; The Independent (London, UK); Mar 29, 2011.
oenophile
PRONUNCIATION:
(EE-nuh-fyl)

MEANING:
noun: Someone who enjoys wine, especially as a connoisseur.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek oinos (wine), + -phile (love). Earliest documented use: 1930.

USAGE:
"While I am more than happy to drink wine of all nations and colours, my husband Don is the family oenophile."
Ann Morrison; Confessions of an Underqualified Oenophile; Financial Times (London, UK); Jun 10, 2006.
interstitial
PRONUNCIATION:
(in-tuhr-STISH-uhl)

MEANING:
adjective: Concerning or located between things, especially those closely spaced.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin interstitium, from intersistere (to stand in between, to pause), from inter- (between) + sistere (to stand). Earliest documented use: 1646.

USAGE:
"Hazen Schumacher provided interstitial narration."
Zachary Woolfe; Wartime Songs Keep Luster From Long Ago and Far Away; The New York Times; Jun 12, 2011.
stupefy
MEANING:
verb tr.:
1. To make someone so bored or tired as unable to think clearly.
2. To amaze.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French stupéfier (to astound), from Latin stupefacere (to make stupid or senseless), from stupere (to be numb or amazed) + facere (to make). Earliest documented use: before 1600.

USAGE:
"Craig Kimbrel's stuff has an almost narcotic attraction to it, an irresistible quality that can stupefy."
Steve Hummer; Braves Closer Took Unusual Path to Role; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Georgia); May 21, 2011.
defalcate
PRONUNCIATION:
(di-FAL-kayt)
MEANING:
verb intr. To misuse funds; to embezzle.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin defalcare (to cut off), from de- (off) + falx (sickle). Earliest documented use: 1541.

USAGE:
"Prakash hit upon a more daring method to defalcate the company."
Samsung Official Dupes Company of Crores; The Economic Times (New Delhi, India); Dec 2, 2005.
somnolence
PRONUNCIATION:
(SOM-nuh-luhns)
MEANING:
noun: A state of sleepiness or drowsiness.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin somnus (sleep). Ultimately from the Indo-European root swep- (to sleep), which is also the source of insomnia, hypnosis, soporific (inducing sleep), soporose (sleepy), somnambulate (to walk in sleep), and Sanskrit svapnah (dream). Earliest documented use: around 1386.

NOTES:
Somnopathy, a variant of somnipathy, the word for a sleep disorder, has four consecutive letters from the alphabet.

USAGE:
"The electorate entered a new phase of alertness following a sustained period of disengagement from politics, bordering on somnolence."
Hugh Mackay; Voters Sense a Howard Weakness; The Age (Melbourne, Australia); Mar 10, 2007.
paseo
PRONUNCIATION:
(pah-SAY-oh)

MEANING:
noun:
1. A leisurely stroll.
2. A place or path designed for walking.
3. A street or boulevard.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Spanish pasear (to take a stroll), frequentative of pasar (to go, to pass), from Latin passus (step). Earliest documented use: 1832.

USAGE:
"The idea was to turn the alleys into beachlike paseos to enchant pedestrians."
Fred Swegles; San Clemente Takes Down Paseo Lights; The Orange County Register (California); Nov 7, 2010.
accord
MEANING:
noun: 1. A formal agreement. 2. Agreement or harmony.
verb tr.: To grant.
verb intr.: To fit in or to be harmonious.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old French acorder (to reconcile), from Latin accordare, from ad- (towards) + cor (heart). Ultimately from the Indo-European root kerd- (heart) that is also the source of cardiac, cordial, courage, concord, discord, and record. Earliest documented use: before 1121.

USAGE:
"India and the US yesterday signed an accord that will enable them to jointly secure their cyber spaces."
Agreement With US on Cyber Space; Gulf Times (Qatar); Jul 19, 2011.
prius
PRONUNCIATION:
(PRI-uhs, PRAI-)
MEANING:
noun: Something preceding, especially a necessary prior condition.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin prius (something preceding). Earliest documented use: 1882.

USAGE:
"This definition identifies God as the prius of everything that has being."
Paul Tillich & Michael Palmer; Writings in the Philosophy of Culture; 1990.
impresa
PRONUNCIATION:
(im-PRAY-zuh)

MEANING:
noun: An emblem or device, usually with a motto.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Italian impresa (undertaking), past participle of imprendere (to undertake), from Latin in- + prehendere (to grasp). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ghend-/ghed- (to seize or to take), which is also the source of pry, prey, spree, reprise, surprise, pregnant, osprey, prison, and get. Earliest documented use: before 1586.

USAGE:
"A bottle of poison was brought by a girl who owns a ring bearing the impresa of Mary Stuart."
S.J. Parris; Prophecy; Doubleday; 2011.
corolla
PRONUNCIATION:
(kuh-ROL-uh)

MEANING:
noun: The petals of a flower as a group.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin corolla (little garland), diminutive of corona (wreath, crown, garland), from Greek korone (crown, anything curved). Ultimately from the Indo-European root sker- (to turn or bend), which is also the source of other words such as ranch, rank, shrink, circle, crisp, search, ring, curb, ridge, and curve. Earliest documented use: 1671.

USAGE:
"'Some plants shelter their pollen grains through a change in floral orientation or closing their corolla on rainy days,' explains Shuang-Quan Huang."
Matt Walker; Raindrops Drive Flower Evolution; BBC News (London, UK); Aug 6, 2009.

"The radiographer angled the screen towards me so that I could see the corolla of dark tumours spiralling through my br east."
Sarah Gabriel; My Cancer Heartbreak; Daily Mail (London, UK)
coronary
PRONUNCIATION:
(KOR-uh-ner-ee)

MEANING:
adjective:
1. Of or relating to the crown.
2. Of or relating to the heart.
3. Of or relating to the arteries or veins of the heart.
noun:
4. A heart attack.
5. The office of a coroner.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin coronarius (of a crown), from corona (crown). Ultimately from the Indo-European root sker- (to turn or bend), which is also the source of ranch, rank, shrink, circle, circa, crisp, search, ring, curb, ridge, curve, and corolla. Earliest documented use: 1610.

NOTES:
The literal meaning of the word refers to a crown. It came to be applied to the heart from the allusion to the blood vessels that encircle the heart like a crown. And a coroner is named so because he was an officer of the crown.

USAGE:
"Previously, patients with coronary issues had to travel to Lautoka to have their condition assessed."
Margaret Wise; Lifeline for Heart Patients; Fiji Times; Jul 22, 2010.

"In my fifth consulship I remitted thirty-five thousand pounds weight of coronary gold."
Kenneth John Atchity; The Classical Roman Reader; Oxford University Press; 1998.

"Many of the writs relate to the offices of Regality, Justiciary, Coronary, and Admiralty of St. Andrew's."
Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts (London, UK); 1872.
marrow
MEANING:
noun:
1. The soft fatty tissue in the interior of bones.
2. The inmost, best, or essential part.
3. Any of various squashes in green or creamy-white colors.
4. A helper, co-worker, friend, or a spouse.

ETYMOLOGY:
For 1-3: From Old English mearg/mearh. Earliest documented use: around 1150.
For 4: Of unknown origin. Earliest documented use: 1440.

USAGE:
"Unlike most birds, a kiwi even has marrow in its bones."
Rachel Dixon; A Night With the Kiwis; The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia); Jul 30, 2011.

"Steven Spielberg has a reputation as a saccharine film-maker but he can chill you to the marrow when he wants to."
Spielberg Makes the Epic Feel Intimate Yet Again; Irish Independent (Dublin, Ireland); Jul 19, 2011.

"The big secrets behind mammoth marrows and colossal cucumbers will be unveiled at a gardening show."
Sam Casey; Grower Peter Really Knows His (Giant) Onions; Yorkshire Evening Post (UK); Jul 30, 2011.

"Poor man, he's good enough to be a marrow for anybody!"
William Chambers and Robert Chambers; Chambers's Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts (London, UK); Jan-Jun 1861.

Explore "marrow" in the Visual Thesaurus.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
Take a commonplace, clean it and polish it, light it so that it produces the same effect of youth and freshness and originality and spontaneity as it did originally, and you have done a poet's job. The rest is literature. -Jean Cocteau, author and painter (1889-1963)
talus
PRONUNCIATION:
(TAY-luhs)

MEANING:
noun:
1. A bone of the ankle joint, also known as the anklebone.
2. A slope, especially a sloping mass of debris at the foot of a cliff.

ETYMOLOGY:
For 1: From Latin talus (ankle, anklebone, die for gaming). Earliest documented use: 1684.
For 2: From French talus, from Old French talu (slope), from Latin talutium (slope). Earliest documented use: 1645.

USAGE:
"Do you appreciate your feet? Have you thanked your metatarsals for their hard work? How about your talus?"
Vince Pierri; Why it's Important to Appreciate Your Feet; Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, Illinois); Apr 4, 2008.

"John Laing then tumbled an additional 70 to 100 feet down a talus slope."
Cory Hatch; Two Rescued After Accidents; Jackson Hole News & Guide (Wyoming); Jul 20, 2010.
parvenu
PRONUNCIATION:
(PAHR-vuh-noo, -nyoo)

MEANING:
noun: One who has newly acquired wealth or status, but has not yet gained acceptance by others in that class.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French parvenu (upstart), from parvenir (to arrive), from Latin per- (through) + venire (to come). Earliest documented use: 1787.

USAGE:
"To some, Charles Clore's philanthropy was seen as parvenu social climbing."
Andrew Anthony; Vivien Duffield: The Woman Who Thinks It's Better to Give; The Observer (London, UK); Mar 27, 2011.
billet
PRONUNCIATION:
(BIL-it)

MEANING:
verb tr., intr.:
1. To lodge or to be quartered.
noun:
2. A civilian place (as a private home) where soldiers are lodged temporarily.
3. An official order directing someone to provide lodging for soldiers.
4. A short letter or a note.
5. A job appointment.
6. A chunk of wood, suitable for fuel.
7. A metal bar or ingot.

ETYMOLOGY:
For 1-5: From Anglo-Norman billette, diminutive of bille (bill), from Latin bulla (seal, sealed document), from bubble (amulet). Earliest documented use: around 1440. Note: The letter or note sense of the word billet is apparent in the French term for a love letter: billet-doux (literally, sweet note).
For 6-7: From Old French billette/billot, diminutives of bille (tree trunk), from Latin billa/billus (branch, trunk). Earliest documented use: around 1440.

USAGE:
"We were billeted at the Plaza del Norte Hotel."
Millie and Karla Reyes; Land of Bagnet; The Philippine Star (Manila); Aug 4, 2011.

"Highlighting brisk steel demand, the price of steel billet in northern China rose to as high as 4,520 yuan per tonne."
Iron Ore-Price for Indian Cargoes Rises; Reuters News; Aug 1, 2011.
nubile
PRONUNCIATION:
(NOO-bil, -byl, NYOO-)

MEANING:
adjective
1. Sexually attractive (referring to a young woman).
2. Ready or suitable for marriage (referring to a young woman).

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin nubere (to marry). Earliest documented use: 1642.

USAGE:
"Hillie is not some nubile young woman, but a 65-year-old mother-of-two."
Jill Foster; Can You Believe This Woman is 65?; Daily Mail (London, UK); May 9, 2011.
mountebank
PRONUNCIATION:
(MOUN-tuh-bangk)

MEANING:
noun: An unscrupulous pretender; a quack.

ETYMOLOGY:
A mountebank was a hawker of quack medicines who peddled his wares from the top of a bench to attract customers. The word is from Italian montambanco (one who climbs on a bench), from montare (to climb) + banco (bench). Earliest documented use: 1577.

USAGE:
"Billy Graham is now at death's door, and I shudder at the fulsome eulogies and encomiums that will be heaped on him upon his demise. Fortunately, Bothwell's book [The Prince of War] can provide a salutary antidote to them. It's the only fitting memorial for Graham and stands as a stark warning to posterity to be on guard against similar charlatans, mountebanks, and demagogues, especially in the fertile field of religion. Bothwell's book should be required reading for all Americans."
Richard A. S. Hall; Evangelist Unmasked; Free Inquiry (Amherst, New York); Aug/Sep 2011.
losel
PRONUNCIATION:
(LOA-zuhl, LOO-, LOZ-uhl)

MEANING:
noun: One that is worthless.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Middle English losen, past participle of lesen (to lose). Earliest documented use: 1362.

USAGE:
"For she had borne me to a losel vile,
A spendthrift of his substance and himself."
Dante Alighieri; The Divine Comedy; 1308-1321.
Translation: Henry F. Cary; 1805-1814.
penurious
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Extremely poor.
2. Extremely frugal or stingy.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin penuriosus (needy), from penuria (want, need). Earliest documented use: 1590.
plenary
PRONUNCIATION:
(PLEE-nuh-ree, PLEN-uh-ree)

MEANING:
adjective:
1. Full; complete; absolute.
2. Having all members of a meeting in attendance.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin plenarius (fully attended, complete), from plenus (full). Earliest documented use: 1425.

USAGE:
"Mr. Kadirgamar said the rebels' demand for plenary powers in the northeast would lead to an 'erosion of powers' of the Sri Lankan Government."
V.S. Sambandan; Chandrika Declares Short-term Emergency; The Hindu (Chennai, India); Nov 6, 2003.

"Inigo de Oriol had presented his resignation but it had yet to be accepted as the meeting was not a plenary session."
Fallout from Spanish Energy Takeover; Agence France Presse (Paris, France); Sep 14, 2005.
refulgent
PRONUNCIATION:
(ri-FUHL-juhnt)

MEANING:
adjective: Shining brilliantly.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin refulgere (to radiate light, to reflect), from re- (back) + fulgere (to shine). Ultimately from the Indo-European root bhel- (to shine or burn), which is also the source of blaze, blank, blond, bleach, blanket, and flame. Earliest documented use: before 1500.

USAGE:
"Michael slowly walked into the water yesterday, his board tucked under his arm and his sun-kissed blond hair refulgent even in the dull light."
Mark Bode; Surf Tribute Farewells a Great Dad; The Sunshine Coast Daily (Maroochydore, Australia); May 9, 2011.
perspicuous
PRONUNCIATION:
(puhr-SPIK-yoo-uhs)

MEANING:
adjective: Clearly expressed; easy to understand.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin perspicuus (transparent), from perspicere (to see through), from per- (through) + -spicere, combining form of specere (to look). Ultimately from the Indo-European root spek- (to observe), which is also the ancestor of such words as suspect, spectrum, bishop (literally, overseer), espionage, despise, telescope, spectator, speculum, and spectacles. Earliest documented use: 1570.

USAGE:
"HAND also offers the most informed and perspicuous account of the political violence."
Darfur Humanitarian Update; Sudan Tribune (Paris, France); Sep 1, 2010.

"We can see exactly what's going on, though the people involved can't. We get a wonderfully perspicuous view of somebody else's confusion."
Tom Lubbock; Great Works; The Independent (London, UK); Jun 13, 2008.
cicatrize
PRONUNCIATION:
(SIK-uh-tryz)

MEANING:
verb, tr., intr.: To heal or become healed by forming a scar.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin cicatrizare (to form a scar), from cicatrix (scar). Earliest documented use: 1563.

USAGE:
"Let's make the Katyn wound finally heal and cicatrize."
Lech Kaczynski; Seventy Years On, It is Time the Wounds of Katyn Were Healed; The Independent (London, UK); Apr 13, 2010.
cowabunga
PRONUNCIATION:
(kou-uh-BUHNG-guh)

MEANING:
interjection: An expression of surprise, joy, or enthusiasm.

ETYMOLOGY:
The word was the cry of Chief Thunderthud, a character in the children's television program Howdy Doody. The word was later adopted by surfers. It was popularized by its use on the animated show Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Earliest documented use: 1954.

USAGE:
"Malaysia reported its first case of a cow giving birth to triplets last week."
Alina Simon; Cowabunga! It's Triplets; New Straits Times (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia); Oct 24, 2010.
gesundheit
PRONUNCIATION:
(guh-ZOONT-hyt)
MEANING:
interjection: Used to wish good health to someone who has sneezed.

ETYMOLOGY:
From German Gesundheit (health), from gesund (healthy) + -heit (-hood). Earliest documented use: 1914.

USAGE:
"'A friend was on an Aeroflot flight crossing Russia when the woman next to him sneezed. He said 'Gesundheit!' She said: 'Thank goodness, someone who speaks English.'"
Peter Spencer; Column 8; The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia); Jul 23, 2011.
huzzah or huzza
PRONUNCIATION:
(huh-ZAH)
MEANING:
interjection: Used to express joy, applause, encouragement, etc.
noun: An instance of appreciation or applause.
verb tr., intr.: To cheer.

ETYMOLOGY:
Of undetermined origin. Perhaps used originally as a sailor's hoisting cry. Earliest documented use: 1682.

USAGE:
"Huzzah! The Royal Tournament is back!"
Lucy Mangan; I Love a Man in Uniform; The Guardian (London, UK); Jun 26, 2010.

"And the Democrats, at their convention will undoubtedly give John Kerry a big huzza and a temporary bump in the polls."
William Rusher; Kerry's Problem; The Gadsden Times (Alabama); Mar 27, 2004.
iridescent
PRONUNCIATION:
(ir-i-DES-uhnt)

MEANING:
adjective: Displaying a rainbow of colors that change when seen from different angles.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin irido- (rainbow), from iris (rainbow, iris plant, diaphragm of the eye), from Greek iris. Iris was the goddess of rainbows in Greek mythology. Earliest documented use: 1794.

USAGE:
"Coast Guard pilots who have flown over the spill describe it as an iridescent sheen on the water."
Travis Griggs; Crist: 'It is in God's Hands'; Pensacola News Journal (Florida); Apr 28, 2010.
attaboy
PRONUNCIATION:
(AT-uh-boi)
MEANING:
interjection: Used to express approval or encouragement.

ETYMOLOGY:
Alteration of "That's the boy." Earliest documented use: 1909.

USAGE:
"The employees are not asking for a whole lot -- just an Attaboy! or an Attagirl! And news of this small gesture moves like wildfire through the ranks."
Labonita Ghosh; Five Ways to Reward the B-player in Your Team; The Economic Times (New Delhi, India); Feb 1, 2011.

"Dr. Burton refutes the notion that present-day parents have coddled and attaboyed their children."
Michael Tortorello; Mom, You're One Tough Art Critic; The New York Times; Jan 27, 2011.
bada-bing
PRONUNCIATION:
(ba-duh-BING)
MEANING:
interjection: Used to suggest something happening effortlessly, emphatically, or predictably, implying "Just like that!" or "Voila!"

ETYMOLOGY:
Of uncertain origin. Perhaps imitative of the sound of a drum roll and cymbal crash or a rimshot (hear it). Earliest documented use: 1965.

USAGE:
"You try your hand at screenwriting, because your old mate David Simon has asked you to and -- bada-bing! -- it's The Wire and every person who's seen it reckons it's the best drama series there's ever been on television."
David Robinson; Voices of America; The Scotsman (Edinburgh); Aug 13, 2011.

"Bada-bing, bada-boom -- the search for another Earth should be easy now, right?"
Lucianne Walkowicz; A Good Planet is Hard to Find; CNN (Atlanta, Georgia); Aug 21, 2011.
heterodox
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Different from established beliefs or opinions.
2. Holding unorthodox opinions.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek hetero- (different) + doxa (opinion), from dokein (to think). Ultimately from the Indo-European root dek- (to take or accept), which is also the root of words such as paradox, orthodox, doctor, disciple, discipline, doctrine, dogma, decent, decorate, dignity, disdain, condign, and deign. Earliest documented use: 1619.

USAGE:
"Batku's response was to cast himself as a defender of the faith, railing against heterodox sects."
Praveen Swami; Piety, Paranoia, and Kashmir's Politics of Hate; The Hindu (Chennai, India); Jul 1, 2008.
kleptocracy
PRONUNCIATION:
(klep-TOK-ruh-see)

MEANING:
noun: A government by the corrupt in which rulers use their official positions for personal gain.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek klepto-, from kleptes (thief) + -cracy (rule). Earliest documented use: 1819.

USAGE:
"Mubarak was the leader of a brutal dictatorship and kleptocracy. He enriched himself and his family and friends at the expense of the people."
A Trial Tyrants Will Heed; Winnipeg Free Press (Canada); Aug 4, 2011.
polymath
PRONUNCIATION:
(POL-ee-math)

MEANING:
noun: A person who is learned in many fields.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek polymathes (learned), from poly- (many) and manthanein (to learn). Ultimately from the Indo-European root mendh- (to learn) that is also the root of mathematics, chrestomathy, opsimath, and philomath. Earliest documented use: 1624.

USAGE:
"If ever there was a gifted polymath, it was Prof. Gift Siromoney. He may have been Professor of Mathematics at MCC (Madras Christian College), but his interests were from A to Z, from archaeology to zoology."
S. Muthiah; A Gifted Polymath; The Hindu (Chennai, India); Apr 10, 2011.
necropolis
PRONUNCIATION:
(ne-KROP-uh-lis)

MEANING:
noun: A burial place, especially a large and elaborate cemetery belonging to an ancient city.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek necro- (dead) + -polis (city). Earliest documented use: 1819.

USAGE:
"This merchant lived a long life in Egypt and was buried in the Saqqara necropolis."
Nevine El-Aref; Ancient Egyptians in Arabia; Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo, Egypt); Nov 11, 2010.
ade mecum
PRONUNCIATION:
(VAY/VAH-dee MEE/MAY-kuhm)

MEANING:
noun: A book for ready reference, such as a manual or guidebook.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin vade mecum (go with me), from vadere (to go) + me (me) + cum (with). Earliest documented use: 1629.

NOTES:
An iPad may serve as the modern vade mecum, but in earlier times there was no Wi-Fi with easy access to reference material. A moneylender may have had to carry a book of interest tables, a doctor a book of treatments, and so on. A vade mecum was often folded like an accordion or a map and suspended from the belt or girdle.

USAGE:
"The U.S. Senate, over which Dallas presided, ordered twelve thousand copies of Hickey's pro-slavery vade mecum."
Jill Lepore; The Commandments; The New Yorker; Jan 17, 2011.
omnibus
PRONUNCIATION:
(OM-ni-bus)

MEANING:
noun: 1. A volume reprinting several works by one author or works on one theme. 2. A public vehicle designed to carry a large number of people.
adjective: Including or dealing with many things at once.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French, from Latin omnibus (for all). Ultimately from the Indo-European root op- (to work, produce) that is also the ancestor of words such as opera, opulent, optimum, maneuver, manure, operose and inure. Earliest documented use: 1829.

USAGE:
"Say I'm reading an omnibus edition, where three novels are published as a collection. Does that count as one book or three? As far as I'm concerned it's three."
Glen Humphries; Last Word on Speed Reading; Illawarra Mercury (Australia); Jan 13, 2011.
chapbook
PRONUNCIATION:
(CHAP-book)

MEANING:
noun: A small book or pamphlet containing stories, poems, or religious tracts.

ETYMOLOGY:
From chapman book, a small, cheap book sold by a chapman or a colporteur. Earliest documented use: 1824.

USAGE:
"Gloucester writer and editor David Rich will read from and discuss his new chapbook of poems."
Ann Gail McCarthy; Rocky Neck Tradition Kicks Off Busy Weekend; Gloucester Times (Massachusetts); Aug 10, 2011.
roman-fleuve
PRONUNCIATION:
(roe-MAAN*-fluhv)
[* the middle syllable is nasal]

MEANING:
noun: A long novel, often in several volumes, that tells the story of an individual, family, or society across several generations.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French roman (novel) + fleuve (river). Earliest documented use: 1936. Plural romans-fleuves.

USAGE:
"And it'd be a shame to miss out on the delights of the roman-fleuve as summer reading: there's a thrill in buying 12 volumes to read end-to-end."
Tim Martin; I'll be Joining the Dance Online; The Daily Telegraph (London, UK); May 17, 2008.
enchiridion
PRONUNCIATION:
(en-ky-RID-ee-uhn, -kih-)

MEANING:
noun: A handbook or a manual.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin enchiridion, from Greek encheiridion, from en- (in) + cheir (hand) + -idion (diminutive suffix). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ghes- (hand) that also gave us cheiromancy (palmistry), chiral (not superimposable on its mirror image), and surgeon (literally, one who works with hands). Earliest documented use: 1541.

NOTES:
In the beginning an enchiridion was a book concise enough to be carried in one's hand, as its origin from Greek cheir (hand) suggests. Both 'handbook' and 'manual' are literal equivalents of the word from English and Latin (from Latin manus: hand) respectively.

USAGE:
"What to read: Toronto Life has been the enchiridion for Toronto's savvy since 1966."
Alexander Besant; Anada's Capital of Cool; Times Union (Albany, New York); May 16, 2010.
quisling
PRONUNCIATION:
(KWIZ-ling)

MEANING:
noun: A traitor, especially one who aids an invading enemy.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Major Vidkun Quisling (1887-V1945), Norwegian army officer who collaborated (1940-1945) with the German occupying forces during World War II and ruled Norway as head of the puppet government. He was shot for treason after the German defeat. Earliest documented use: 1940.

NOTES:
Benedict Arnold was another army officer whose name has turned into an eponym as a synonym for a traitor.

USAGE:
"Zoran Djindjic will be remembered as a quisling who enriched himself by selling his country to those who had waged war against it."
Neil Clark; The Quisling of Belgrade; The Guardian (London, UK); Mar 13, 2003.
Boswell
MEANING:
noun: A biographer, especially one who records in detail the life of another and who obtains information through close observation of the subject.

ETYMOLOGY:
After James Boswell (1740-1795), Scottish lawyer, diarist, and author, who was a companion and biographer of the lexicographer Samuel Johnson. He wrote the biography "Life of Samuel Johnson". Earliest documented use: 1858.

USAGE:
"There has been a cooling of relations between Mr. Buffett and Ms. Schroeder, his Boswell, who spent five years researching and writing his biography."
Leslie Wayne; Buffett Cancels Event With Biographer; The New York Times; Feb 3, 2009.

"Thierry Guetta is both their Boswell and their stalker, filming, filming, filming, always."
Michael Phillips; Movie Review: Exit Through the Gift Shop; Chicago Tribune; Apr 29, 2010.
schlemiel or schlemihl or shlemiel
PRONUNCIATION:
(shluh-MEEL)

MEANING:
noun: An inept, clumsy person: a habitual bungler.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Yiddish shlemil, from Hebrew Shelumiel, a Biblical and Talmudic figure who met an unhappy end, according to the Talmud. Earliest documented use: 1892.

NOTES:
No discussion of schlemiel would be complete without mentioning schlimazel, one prone to having bad luck. In a restaurant, a schlemiel is the waiter who spills soup, and a schlimazel is the diner on whom it lands.

USAGE:
"Warren is an endearing schlemiel who is all awkward gestures, inexpressive shrugs, and with a physical clumsiness."
Set Misses Mark But Cast's Touch is Sure; Dominion Post (Wellington, New Zealand); Mar 3, 2008.
Augean
PRONUNCIATION:
(aw-JEE-uhn)

MEANING:
adjective: Extremely difficult, unpleasant, or filthy.

ETYMOLOGY:
After King Augeas in Greek mythology. Augeas had a herd of 3000 oxen, but he neglected to clean his stables for thirty years. Hercules was asked to clean them up, and he diverted two rivers to wash away the decades of accumulated compost. Earliest documented use: 1599.

USAGE:
"Rajiv Gandhi gave an impression that he would clean the Augean stables that the Congress had come to represent."
Game-Changer That Wasn't; The Pioneer (New Delhi, India); Sep 19, 2011.
celadon
PRONUNCIATION:
(SEL-uh-don)

MEANING:
noun:
1. A pale green color.
2. A type of ceramics having a pale green glaze, originally made in China.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Céladon, a character in the novel L'Astrée by the French novelist Honoré d'Urfé (1568-1625). Céladon is a shepherd who wears green clothes. Earliest documented use: 1768.

USAGE:
"The 4,000-square-foot apartment isn't all white. There is some cream and beige, too, Novick said, and a celadon-colored couch."
Michael Tortorello; Speck by Speck; The New York Times; Feb 9, 2011.
retrodiction
PRONUNCIATION:
(ret-roh-DIK-shuhn)

MEANING:
noun: Using present information to make an assertion about the past; an instance of such an assertion.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin retro- (back) + dicere (to say). Ultimately from the Indo-European root deik- (to show, to pronounce solemnly), which is also the source of judge, verdict, vendetta, revenge, indicate, dictate, and paradigm. Earliest documented use: 1895.

USAGE:
"Dan Gardner, for all his concern about prediction, has no qualms about retrodiction, even of the distant, unknowable past."
Kathryn Schulz; What Lies Ahead?; The New York Times; Mar 27, 2011.

"Turning to comets, F. Richard Stephenson matches modern retrodiction against Babylonian and Chinese records to conclude that we have been sighting Halley's comet on each of its returns since 240 BCE."
Michael S. Mahoney; Standing on the Shoulders of Giants; Science (Washington, DC); May 17, 1991.
retrodiction
PRONUNCIATION:
(ret-roh-DIK-shuhn)

MEANING:
noun: Using present information to make an assertion about the past; an instance of such an assertion.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin retro- (back) + dicere (to say). Ultimately from the Indo-European root deik- (to show, to pronounce solemnly), which is also the source of judge, verdict, vendetta, revenge, indicate, dictate, and paradigm. Earliest documented use: 1895.

USAGE:
"Dan Gardner, for all his concern about prediction, has no qualms about retrodiction, even of the distant, unknowable past."
Kathryn Schulz; What Lies Ahead?; The New York Times; Mar 27, 2011.

"Turning to comets, F. Richard Stephenson matches modern retrodiction against Babylonian and Chinese records to conclude that we have been sighting Halley's comet on each of its returns since 240 BCE."
Michael S. Mahoney; Standing on the Shoulders of Giants; Science (Washington, DC); May 17, 1991.
onomasticon
PRONUNCIATION:
(on-uh-MAS-ti-kon)

MEANING:
noun: A dictionary of names, especially personal names or place names.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek onomastikos (of names), from onoma (name). Earliest documented use: 1710.

USAGE:
"Even the ancient onomasticon was of no help to her. While she was able to find all sorts of names for mythological and religious figures who aided and abetted the human world, there was no name to be found for what he did."
Manya Steinkoler; The Body Retriever; Literature & Psychology; Jan 2002.
anosognosia
PRONUNCIATION:
(uh-no-sog-NOH-zee-uh)

MEANING:
noun: Unawareness of one's disease, disability, or a defect.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek a- (without) + nosos (disease) + gnosis (knowledge). Earliest documented use: 1915. Also see agnosia.

NOTES:
Read these fascinating stories of anosognosia at The New York Times.

USAGE:
"When I weigh up how much we have achieved in 50 years in spite of our collective anosognosia, the thought of what we could have achieved, had we displayed an ounce of sanity, is enough to drive me nuts."
Munir Attaullah; Games People Play; Daily Times (Lahore, Pakistan); Aug 18, 2004.
keening
PRONUNCIATION:
(KEE-ning)

MEANING:
noun: A wailing lament for the dead.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Irish caoineadh (lament). Earliest documented use: 1876.

USAGE:
"Of all the closures of independent stores that have left hundreds of British high streets a book-free wilderness, none has given rise to more celebrity keening than the imminent demise of The Travel Bookshop."
Boyd Tonkin; Crimes Behind Closed Doors; The Independent (London, UK); Sep 9, 2011.
dogsbody
MEANING:
noun: A menial worker; drudge.

ETYMOLOGY:
In the British navy, dogsbody was the term sailors used for the unpalatable food given to them, boiled peas (officially known as pease pudding) and biscuits soaked in water. With time the term began to be applied to low-ranked sailors and eventually to anyone who is forced to do menial jobs that no one else wants to do. Why a dog? Probably from the general poor reputation of a dog, as evident in terms such as a dog's life and a dog's chance. Earliest documented use: 1818.

USAGE:
"The US has been accused of treating Britain not as a partner but as a dogsbody."
Nick Amies; Obama Visits Britain; Deutsche Welle (Bonn, Germany); May 24, 2011.
gentlemen's agreement
MEANING:
noun: An agreement that's based on honor and not legally binding.

ETYMOLOGY:
From the idea that a gentleman (a civilized man of good standing) will honor an agreement he has entered. Earliest documented use: 1886.

USAGE:
"Since the Iran-Iraq war, the two countries have had a gentlemen's agreement to maintain similar quotas within OPEC."
Carola Hoyos; Seismic Shock As Demand Shifts East; The Financial Times (London, UK); Mar 29, 2010.
fool's errand
MEANING:
noun: An absurd or futile undertaking.

ETYMOLOGY:
From English fool, from Latin follis (windbag, fool) + errand, from Old English aerende (message, mission). Earliest documented use: 1705.

USAGE:
"Richard Sloan adds that even attempting to find a scientific basis for a link between prayer and healing is a fool's errand."
Tyrone M. Reyes; The Power of Prayer; The Philippine Star (Manila); Mar 30, 2010.
quisle
PRONUNCIATION:
(KWIZ-uhl)

MEANING:
verb intr.: To betray, especially by collaborating with an enemy.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from quisling (traitor), after Norwegian army officer Vidkun Quisling, who collaborated with the German occupying forces during World War II. Earliest documented use: 1940.

USAGE:
"The AK and subordinate units made ... 5700 attempts on officers of different police formations, soldiers, and volksdeutschs (Polish citizens of German origin that volunteered to quisle with Germans)."
Polish Contribution to the Allied Victory in Second World War; Business Recorder (Karachi, Pakistan); Jun 11, 2005.
intuit
MEANING:
verb intr.: To know or sense immediately without the use of reasoning.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from intuition, from intueri (to gaze at, contemplate), from tueri (to watch). Earliest documented use: 1776.

USAGE:
"Graham Swift is most perceptive about undercurrents of feeling, motive, what is not said but intuited between people."
Tim Upperton; Terror Seeps Through Journey Back in Time; Waikato Times (New Zealand); Aug 13, 2011.
darkle
PRONUNCIATION:
(DAHR-kuhl)

MEANING:
verb tr., intr.: To make or become dark, indistinct, or gloomy.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from darkling (in the dark), from Middle English derkeling. Earliest documented use: 1819.

USAGE:
"The silhouettes of builders and road-construction equipment darkled against the sky."
Dovletmurad Orazkuliev; New Roads in Country; Neitralnii Turkmenistan; Jul 6, 2010.
admix
MEANING:
verb tr.: To mix or blend.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from admixt (mixed), from Latin admiscere (to mix into), from ad- (toward) + miscere (to mix). Ultimately from the Indo-European root meik- (to mix) that is also the source of mix, miscellaneous, meddle, medley, melee, promiscuous, and mustang. Earliest documented use: 1533.

USAGE:
"Ollanta Humala has assembled a rainbow cabinet consisting of leftwing radicals and former military men, admixed with orthodox economists."
John Paul Rathbone; Mood of Cautious Optimism Takes Hold; The Financial Times (London, UK); Sep 20, 2011.
euthanize
MEANING:
verb tr.: Ending life for humane reasons, such as to avoid pain from an incurable condition.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from euthanasia (mercy killing), from Greek eu- (good) + thanatos (death). Earliest documented use: 1931. A related word is thanatophobia (an abnormal fear of death).

USAGE:
"A terminally sick humpback whale that became stranded on a beach in Western Australia two weeks ago was euthanized Thursday with an explosive charge."
Stranded, Sick Whale Euthanized With Explosives; Associated Press (New York); Sep 3, 2010.
vituperation
MEANING:
noun: Bitter and abusive language; condemnation.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin vituperare (to blame), from vitium (fault) + parare (to make or prepare). Earliest documented use: 1481.

USAGE:
"The judge I knew best was my grandfather. His unflappable nature helped him handle all the vituperation that comes to highly placed judges through the mails."
Amelia Newcomb; Judges: Not All Black Robes And Gavels; Christian Science Monitor (Boston, Massachusetts); Feb 7, 2002.
miasma
PRONUNCIATION:
(my-AZ-muh, mee-)
plural miasmas, miasmata (my-AZ-muh-tuh, mee-)

MEANING:
noun:
1. Noxious emissions: smoke, vapors, etc., especially those from decaying organic matter.
2. An oppressive or unpleasant atmosphere.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek miasma (pollution, defilement), from miainein (to pollute). Earliest documented use: 1665.

NOTES:
Earlier it was believed that many diseases were caused by bad air from decomposing organic matter, as in a swamp. Malaria, for example, is named from Italian mala aria (bad air). The germ theory of disease has put the bad air theory to rest.

USAGE:
"A miasma of smoke from wildfires cloaked the sweltering Russian capital."
Jim Heintz; Fires Lay Ghostly Shroud of Smoke on Moscow; Associated Press (New York); Aug 6, 2010.

"The region is still wobbling in the miasma of corruption."
Bobi Odiko; Region Still Wobbling in Corruption; East African Business Week (Tanzania); Aug 4, 2010.
venal
PRONUNCIATION:
(VEEN-l)

MEANING:
adjective:
1. Capable of being bought: open to bribery.
2. Of or related to bribery.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin venalis (that which is for sale), from venum (sale). Ultimately from the Indo-European root wes- (to buy) that is also the source of vend, bazaar, vilify, and monopsony. Earliest documented use: 1827.

USAGE:
"Named in honour of one of the most notoriously venal and corrupt banking groups of all time, the motor yacht Medici was the perfect status toy."
David Chaplin; How the Medici Sunk Bridgecorp; The New Zealand Herald (Auckland); Sep 15, 2010.
picaresque
PRONUNCIATION:
(pik-uh-RESK)

MEANING:
adjective:
1. Of or relating to humorous or satiric fiction describing, in a series of episodes, the adventures of a roguish hero.
2. Of or relating to rogues or scoundrels.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French, from Spanish pícaro (rogue). Picaresque fiction was popularized in Spain. Earliest documented use: 1827.

USAGE:
"The Russian film Silent Souls was a picaresque tale about a newly widowed man and his friend taking the body of his dead wife on a road trip of thousands of miles to say goodbye to her according to the rituals of the ancient Merja culture."
Geoffrey Macnab; Cinema Weathers the Storm in Venice; The Independent (London, UK); Sep 10, 2010.
disingenuous
PRONUNCIATION:
(dis-in-JEN-yoo-uhs)

MEANING:
adjective: Not being candid or sincere.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin dis- (apart, away) + ingenuus (honest, native, freeborn), from in- (in) + gignere (to beget). Earliest documented use: 1655.

USAGE:
"Christine Blower said it was disingenuous to say schools' budgets were being protected when posts were already under threat."
Hannah Richardson; Frontline Schools' Staff Facing Job Losses; BBC News (London, UK); Oct 8, 2010.
beginner's luck
MEANING:
noun: The initial good fortune supposedly enjoyed by a novice in a game or another activity.


ETYMOLOGY:
The counterintuitive phenomenon of a novice having success in an activity has been called beginner's luck. It may simply be confirmation bias: one remembers hits, but ignores misses. Earliest documented use: 1897.


USAGE:
"Rookie paddlers will then see if they can dial into beginner's luck, and win a race while they're at it."
Patrick Witwicki; Rainbow Warriors Challenge Paddlers; Muskeg News (Canada); May 25, 2011.
driver's seat
MEANING:
noun: A position of power, control, or dominance.

ETYMOLOGY:
From the allusion to one driving a vehicle. Earliest documented use: 1923. Also see catbird seat.

USAGE:
"Other Democrats say the president must come up with an aggressive strategy to put himself back in the driver's seat."
Sheryl Stolberg and Helene Cooper; An Electoral Upheaval, but Few Signs of Change; The New York Times; Nov 17, 2010.
chintzy
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Decorated with chintz.
2. Cheap; gaudy; inferior.
3. Stingy.

ETYMOLOGY:
From chintz, a printed cotton fabric imported from India, from Hindi chheent (spattering, stain). Earliest documented use: 1851.

USAGE:
"Mohammed Al Fayed may have turned the once chintzy department store into a successful luxury brand."
Jan Moir; Sphinxes. A Diana Shrine. Piles of Tat; Daily Mail (London, UK); May 15, 2010.

"I wasn't going to spend a nickel on anything else, so it treated me like any chintzy customer."
Frank Gray; For $14.95, Get a Knife, Hard Time; The Journal Gazette (Fort Wayne, Indiana); Aug 19, 2010.
pinstriped
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Having a pattern of thin parallel lines.
2. Formal, conventional, or conservative: relating to the attitudes and opinions of people typically in such dress, for example, those in the legal or financial professions.

ETYMOLOGY:
Businesspeople, such as bankers and lawyers, are typically seen in suits made of fabric in pattern of narrow stripes. From this association the term has acquired its metaphorical sense. Earliest documented use: 1880.

USAGE:
"What Verizon will certainly do is unload the full weight of its legal might on 101 Monroe St. in a fit of pinstriped mutually assured destruction."
Bruce Henoch; Why Verizon Picked Montgomery for Its Battle; The Gazette (Gaithersburg, Maryland); Jul 21, 2006.
addlepated
PRONUNCIATION:
(AD-l-pay-tid)

MEANING:
adjective: Confused; eccentric; flustered.

ETYMOLOGY:
From addle (to muddle or confuse), from adel (rotten) + pate (head). Earliest documented use: 1614.

USAGE:
"Addlepated inventor Wallace and his intelligent canine companion Gromit take up a new career as bakers in 'A Matter of Loaf and Death'."
Charles Solomon; Cartoon Shorts Vie; Variety (Los Angeles); Feb 12, 2010.
forficate
PRONUNCIATION:
(FOR-fi-kit, kayt)

MEANING:
adjective: Deeply forked.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin forfex (scissors). Earliest documented use: 1816.

USAGE:
"Now comes a heat from your forficate thighs."
Alexander Trocchi, ed.; Merlin; 1952.
apopemptic
PRONUNCIATION:
(ap-uh-PEMP-tik)

MEANING:
adjective: Relating to departing or leave-taking; valedictory.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek apopempein (to send off, to dismiss), from apo- (away) + pempein (to send). Earliest documented use: 1753.

USAGE:
"It had not been billed as a farewell dinner, and Mr. Kemp hardly was there to deliver an apopemptic address."
William F. Buckley; On Saying Goodbye to Jack Kemp; The Dallas Morning News (Texas); Dec 8, 1988.
crapehanger or crepehanger
MEANING:
noun: A gloomy person; a pessimist.

ETYMOLOGY:
A crapehanger was one who hung up black bands of crape as a symbol of mourning. The word is from English crape, from French crepe, from Latin crispus (curled or wrinkled). Earliest documented use: 1921.

USAGE:
"'I don't mean to sound like a crapehanger, because I am an optimist by nature,' said Thomas Emmel."
William Mullen; Scientists Try for Butterfly Breakthrough; Chicago Tribune; Sep 3, 2002.
flannelmouth
PRONUNCIATION:
(FLAN-uhl-mouth)

MEANING:
noun: A smooth-talker, a flatterer, or a braggart.

ETYMOLOGY:
Besides the fabric, the word flannel can refer to a washcloth, an undergarment, or trousers, but here we are interested in its metaphorical sense which apparently developed from the soft and smooth texture of the fabric. The origin of the word flannel remains fuzzy. Two possible derivations have been suggested: from Welsh gwlanen (woolen article) or from Old French flaine (a kind of coarse wool, blanket). Earliest documented use: 1882.

USAGE:
"Democrats are a lot more entertaining, but they suffer from a terminal case of flannelmouth. At the conventions last summer, the partying Republicans in San Diego did everything they could to keep the press away from their fun. By contrast, the Democrats in Chicago were dragging reporters in for drinks."
Nicholas Von Hoffman; Republicans Are From Mars Democrats Are From Venus; Life Magazine; Nov 1996.
dirty linen
MEANING:
noun: Private matters that could be embarrassing if made public.

ETYMOLOGY:
Linen is a fabric made of flax. Earlier linen was used for undergarments, hence the idiom: to wash (or air) one's dirty linen in public. The word linen is from Latin linum (flax) from which we also have lingerie, via French linge (linen). Sometimes the phrase dirty laundry is used in place of dirty linen. Earliest documented use: 1840.

USAGE:
"In a lurid High Court case, the dirty linen was dragged out in spectacular fashion. Dorothy Dennistoun claimed her husband had forced her into having the affair with General Cowans."
Christopher Wilson; Dark Past of the Real Downton Abbey Duchess; The Telegraph (London, UK); Aug 9, 2011.
spendthrift
MEANING:
noun: A person who spends money wastefully.
adjective: Wasteful with money.

ETYMOLOGY:
A spendthrift is, literally, one who spends his wealth, from Middle English thrift (prosperity), from Old Norse thrifast (to thrive), from thrifa (to grasp). Earliest documented use: 1601.

NOTES:
Spendthrift is the longest word whose phonetic and normal spellings are the same. Two colorful synonyms of this word are dingthrift and scattergood.

USAGE:
"A Saudi judge has told a seminar on domestic violence that it is okay for a man to slap his wife for lavish spending."
Saudi Judge Says OK to Slap Spendthrift Wife; Agence France Presse (Paris); May 10, 2009.
kine
MEANING:
noun: A plural of cow.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Middle English kyn, from Old English cyna, a plural of cu (cow). Earliest documented use: 1800.

NOTES:
Kine is perhaps the only word in English that has no letters in common with its singular form, cow. Other words that are pluralized using -n marker are children, brethren, and oxen.

USAGE:
"Cows stood belly deep in a ranch pond, doing their impersonation of the kine in John Constable's paintings."
Verlyn Klinkenborg; Water and Grasses; The New York Times; Jul 5, 2010.
yob
MEANING:
noun: A rude, rowdy youth.

ETYMOLOGY:
Coined by reversing the spelling of the word boy. Earliest documented use: 1859.

NOTES:
There are not a lot of words in the English language that are coined from the backward spelling of another word. Another example is mho, the unit of electrical conductance, coined by reversing ohm, the unit of resistance. Fiction writers sometimes come up with names for their characters by spelling another name or word backwards.

USAGE:
"Like a yob who starts a fight in a pub by saying you have spilled his pint, the Russians offered pretexts that both parties knew were ludicrous."
A.D. Miller; A First-Hand Account of Life in Modern Russia; The Guardian (London, UK); Oct 21, 2011.
syzygy
PRONUNCIATION:
(SIZ-uh-jee)

MEANING:
noun:
1. An alignment of three objects, for example, sun, moon, and earth during an eclipse.
2. A pair of related things.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin syzygia, from Greek syzygia (union, pair). Ultimately from the Indo-European root yeug- (to join), which is also the ancestor of junction, yoke, yoga, adjust, juxtapose, rejoinder, jugular, and junta. Earliest documented use: 1656.

NOTES:
One could hyperpolysyllabically contrive a longer word having four Ys, but syzygy nicely lines up three of them organically in just six letters.

USAGE:
"'To me it's two dots that connect,' Douglas Coupland says, 'I don't know if there's going to be a third one so it makes a syzygy.'"
John Barber; Douglas Coupland; The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada); Oct 2, 2009.
verisimilitude
MEANING:
noun:
1. The quality of appearing to be true or real.
2. Something that has the appearance of being true or real.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin verisimilitudo, from verum (truth) + similis (like). Earliest documented use: 1603.

USAGE:
"There are moments in the new musical The Burnt Part Boys that mirror recent events with haunting verisimilitude."
David Rooney; Fictional Mining Town; The New York Times; May 19, 2010.
scrobiculate
PRONUNCIATION:
(skroh-BIK-yuh-layt)

MEANING:
adjective:
Having many small grooves; furrowed.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin scrobiculus (small planting hole), diminutive of scrobis (trench). Ultimately from the Indo-European root sker- (to cut), which is also the source of skirt, curt, screw, shard, shears, carnage, carnivorous, carnation, sharp, and scrape. Earliest documented use: 1806.

USAGE:
"The stalk is scrobiculate and at first slightly sticky."
Alexander Smith and Nancy Weber; The Mushroom Hunter's Field Guide; University of Michigan Press; 1980.
catawampus
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Askew; crooked.
2. Diagonally positioned: catercornered.

ETYMOLOGY:
From cater (diagonally), from French word quatre (four). Ultimately from the Indo-European root kwetwer- (four), which also gave us four, square, cadre, quadrant, quarantine (literally, period of forty days). Earliest documented use: 1840. The word is also spelled as cattywampus.

USAGE:
"Have you noticed that life seems a bit catawampus lately?"
Scott Marcus; Managing Stress; Times-Standard (Eureka, California); Apr 3, 2011.

"A well-used Old Town canoe lies catawampus at the entrance to the cellar."
Stephen Williams; Why Ask for the Moon? The New York Times; Jun 10, 2007.
cacique
MEANING:
noun: A local political boss.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via Spanish from Taino cacike (chief). Earliest documented use: 1555. Taino is an extinct member of the Arawakan language family spoken in the West Indies.

USAGE:
"About a month after Mayor Daley announced his retirement, many aldermen are still too stunned to know how to function without being bossed. 'Not being told what to do by the cacique is new to a lot of people,' Mr. Munoz said."
Dan Mihalopoulos; Daley's Tenure Nears End; The New York Times; Oct 8, 2010.
schmutz or shmutz
MEANING:
noun: Dirt, filth, or any undesirable substance.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Yiddish shmuts. Earliest documented use: 1968.

USAGE:
"The Broadway local line has the dirtiest cars -- with only 27 percent of them rated as 'clean' in a new subway seat and floor 'schmutz survey'."
Vinita Singla and Jeane MacIntosh; R Gets 'F' For Filth; New York Post; May 6, 2011.
naches
MEANING:
noun: Emotional gratification or pride, especially taken vicariously at the achievement of one's children.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Yiddish (nakhes), from Hebrew nakhat (contentment). Earliest documented use: 1929. Also see kvell.

USAGE:
"So while I love living in this adopted country of mine, I will never get the naches from shopping here that I do in America."
Ann Kleinberg; Confessions of a Mad Shopper; The Jerusalem Post (Israel); Sep 5, 2003.
nosh
MEANING:
verb tr., intr.: To snack or eat between meals.
noun: A snack.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Yiddish nashn (to nibble). Earliest documented use: 1873.

USAGE:
"We drank from a thermos of sweet tea and noshed on brown bread."
Josh Tapper; In Siberia; Toronto Star (Canada); Nov 3, 2011.
babel
MEANING:
noun:
1. A confused mixture of noises or voices.
2. A scene of noise or confusion.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Hebrew Babhel (Babylon). In the Old Testament (Genesis 11:4-9), people united in an attempt to build a city with a tower that reached the heavens. This displeased god who halted the project by confounding people's speech so they wouldn't understand one another. Earliest documented use: before 1382.

USAGE:
"While an excited babel of Spanish, German, Japanese, and Hindi emanated from the dozens of television news crews in the street, the response to Charles and Camilla's I dos among locals was mostly We Don't."
Glenda Cooper; In Windsor, a Royal Pain; The Washington Post; Apr 10, 2005.
muslin
PRONUNCIATION:
(MUHZ-lin)

MEANING:
noun: A plain-woven cotton fabric made in various degrees of fineness.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French mousseline, from Italian mussolina, from Mussolo (Mosul, Iraq) which was known for this fabric. Earliest documented use: 1609.

NOTES:
Earlier sheer muslin was used for women's dresses and as a result, the word muslin was used collectively for women. Today muslin is mostly used for curtains, sheets, tablecloths, etc.

USAGE:
"What goes on in Brussels is glimpsed through a veil of muslin. Late night wheeler-dealing is not always recorded."
Stephen Glover; Let's Send More Reporters to Brussels; The Independent (London, UK); Nov 2, 2009.
Babylon
MEANING:
noun: A place of great luxury and extravagance, usually accompanied with vice and corruption.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Babylon, an ancient city of southwestern Asia, on the Euphrates River, now the site of Al Hillah city. It was the capital of Babylonia and known for its opulence and culture. It was the site of the Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Earliest documented use: around 1225.

USAGE:
"Tsuyoshi Morimoto said that when the economic crisis hit the international market, many big companies turned to Iraq in hopes that it would save them. 'Big companies talked a lot about Iraq and paid a huge amount of attention to it. It is just like we suddenly built a Babylon, and now the Babylon is collapsing.'"
Qassim Khidhir; "Don't Expect Too Much From Iraq"; Kurdish Globe (Arbil, Kurdistan); Jan 16, 2010.
tabby
MEANING:
noun:
1. A domestic cat with a striped or brindled coat.
2. A domestic cat, especially a female one.
3. A spinster.
4. A spiteful or gossipy woman.
5. A fabric of plain weave.
6. A watered silk fabric.
7. A building material made of lime, oyster shells, and gravel.

ETYMOLOGY:
For 1-6: From French tabis, from Medieval Latin attabi, from Arabic attabi, from al-Attabiya, a suburb of Baghdad, Iraq, where silk was made, from the name of Prince Attab. Cats got the name tabby after similarity of their coats to the cloth; the derivations of words for females are probably from shortening of the name Tabitha.
For 7: From Gullah tabi, ultimately from Spanish tapia (wall).

USAGE:
"I was playing whist with the tabbies when it occurred, and saw nothing of the whole matter."
Charles James Lever; Jack Hinton, the Guardsman; 1857.

"Kay Sekimachi uses tabby and twill weaving to contrast black and beige linens."
Stunning 30-year Retrospective at San Jose Museum of Quilts Textiles; Independent Coast Observer (California); Jan 4, 2008.

"Mayor Carl Smith suggested that tabby fence posts be used around the cemetery's perimeter because the oyster-based concrete would better fit the island's character."
Jessica Johnson; Group Restoring Cemetery; The Post and Courier (South Carolina); Jan 21, 2010.
baldachin
MEANING:
noun:
1. A rich embroidered fabric of silk and gold.
2. A canopy.

ETYMOLOGY:
English baldachin is derived from Italian baldacchino which is from Baldacco, the Italian name for Baghdad. The city was once known for this fabric and earlier canopies were made of it. Earliest documented use: 1598.

USAGE:
"A rabbi married the couple a few weeks later, under a baldachin made of four brooms and an old blanket."
Henryk M. Broder; Holocaust Survivor Becomes YouTube Star; Der Spiegel (Germany); Aug 12, 2010.
antediluvian
MEANING:
adjective: Extremely old; old-fashioned; primitive.

ETYMOLOGY:
The word literally means before the flood, referring to the Biblical story of Noah and his flood. From Latin ante- (before) + diluvium (flood), from diluere (to wash away), from dis- (away) + -luere (to wash), combining form of lavere (to wash). Earliest documented use: 1646. The opposite is postdiluvian.

USAGE:
"Despite the appearance of modernity, management remains antediluvian."
Asian Banks Hold on to Their Antediluvian Ways; South China Morning Post (Hong Kong); Sep 10, 1997.
hegemony
MEANING:
noun: Predominance over others, especially of a country over other countries.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek hegemonia (leadership), from hegemon (leader), from hegeisthai (to lead). Ultimately from the Indo-European root sag- (to seek out), which is also the source of seek, ransack, ramshackle, and forsake. Earliest documented use: 1567.

USAGE:
US hegemony is declining -- the era of overbearing US power is coming to an end."
End Looks Near for American Hegemony; New Straits Times (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia); Nov 10, 2009.
terrene
MEANING:
adjective: Relating to the earth; earthly; worldly; mundane.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin terra (earth). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ters- (to dry), which is also the source of territory, terrace, turmeric, and toast. Earliest documented use: 1300s.

USAGE:
"It was just a twitch of the earth, a routine shudder, one of many such minor terrene adjustments recorded in a millennium."
Jerry Carroll; Fifteen Seconds Seemed Like Forever; The San Francisco Chronicle; Oct 17, 1990.
equable
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Not easily upset; tranquil.
2. Uniform; steady.
3. Free from extremes.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin aequus (even, equal). Earliest documented use: before 1676.

USAGE:
"It takes a lot to disturb the equable temperament of Celtic goalkeeper Jonathan Gould."
Ian Paul; Enforced Rest Has Left Gould Seething; The Herald (Glasgow, Scotland); Sep 29, 1999.

"What was, until quite recently, predictable, temperate, mild, and equable British weather, now sees the seasons reversed and temperature and rainfall records broken almost every year."
John Vidal; Extreme Weather Ahead; The Guardian (London, UK); Jun 14, 2011.
redolent
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Fragrant; smelling.
2. Suggestive; reminiscent.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old French redolent (smelling), from Latin redolent, present participle of redolere (to give off a smell), from re- (intensive prefix) + olere (to smell). Earliest documented use: 1439.

USAGE:
"There's a heavy dose of irony in the title of Wendy Cope's new book of poems, Family Values. In fact, the phrase, redolent of hypocritical politicians and the moral majority, makes her want to scream."
Susan Mansfield; Look Back in Candour; The Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland); Apr 9, 2011.

"Once again, living rooms are redolent with the pungent scent of sandalwood."
Nikki McManus; Where There's Smoke; The Toronto Star (Canada); Dec 5, 1999.
dragoman
MEANING:
noun: An interpreter or guide.

ETYMOLOGY:
The word took a scenic route to its present form via French, Italian, Latin/Greek, Arabic, and Aramaic, from Akkadian targumanu (interpreter). Earliest documented use: 1300s. Akkadian is now an extinct Semitic language once spoken in ancient Mesopotamia and written in cuneiform.

USAGE:
"Soon, Art Buchwald set himself up as the laughing dragoman to American celebrities. The foster home boy became Our Man in Paris. He took Elvis Presley to the Lido."
Lance Morrow; Franglais Spoken Here; Time (New York); Sep 30, 1996.

"Born in Jerusalem, Wadie Said went from being a dragoman to a salesman in the United States and thence to a hugely successful businessman in Egypt."
Penelope Lively; Books: Out of Place: State of Confusion; The Guardian (London, UK); Oct 9, 1999.
mantissa
MEANING:
noun:
1. An addition of little importance.
2. The decimal part of a logarithm or the positive fractional part of a number.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via Latin mantisa/mantissa (makeweight, something put in a scale to complete a needed weight), from a now extinct language, Etruscan, once spoken in what is now Tuscany, Italy. Earliest documented use: 1641.

USAGE:
"Are we supposed to think that most criticism of Mr. John Fowles is a mantissa?"
John Leonard; Books of the Times; The New York Times; Aug 31, 1982.
pharaoh
MEANING:
noun:
1. A title of an ancient Egyptian ruler.
2. A tyrant.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, from Egyptian pr-o, from pr (house) + o (great). The designation was for the palace but later used to refer to the king, just as White House can refer to the US President. Earliest documented use: around 1175. Egyptian is an extinct language of ancient Egypt.

USAGE:
"Throughout most of history, governments -- usually monarchies headed by kings, emperors, pharaohs and other major or minor tyrants -- actually owned everything under their rule, including, believe it or not, the people. In those regimes the population was considered to be subjects, not citizens. That means that the people were treated as the underlings, subjected to the will of the ruler."
Tibor Machan; The Orange Grove; The Orange County Register (California); Apr 15, 1999.
wampum
MEANING:
noun:
1. Beads made from shells, strung in strands, belts, etc. used for ceremonial purposes, jewelry, and money.
2. Money.

ETYMOLOGY:
Short for Massachusett wampompeag, from wampan (white) + api (string) + -ag, plural suffix. Massachusett, now extinct, was a member of the Algonquian language family spoken in the US and Canada. Earliest documented use: 1636.

USAGE:
"As GE Chairman Jack Welch said in a talk, 'We've got to get more wampum. That means we've got to have more dot.coms.'"
Allan Sloan; Companies Creating New Coin In Push to Enter the Internet Realm; Washington Post; Jul 20, 1999.
recondite
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Concerned with a profound, esoteric, or difficult subject.
2. Little known; obscure.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin recondere (to hide), re- (back) + condere (to put together), from con- (with) + -dere (to put). Earliest documented use: 1619.

USAGE:
"With its fragmented words, multilingual puns and recondite allusions, the verse of Paul Celan hovers on the edge of untranslatability."
Mark M. Anderson; A Poet at War With His Language; The New York Times; Dec 31, 2000.

"The sight of beautiful people making beautiful babies is a huge turn-on; but a recondite TV actress dying in a state of dementia, as Marty would say, 'not so much'."
Lynn Crosbie; Brangelina Babies; The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada); Aug 5, 2008.
hebephrenia
MEANING:
noun: A form of insanity occurring at puberty, also known as disorganized schizophrenia.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek hebe (youth) + phren (mind). Earliest documented use: 1883.

USAGE:
"Lisa Carver's prose is that of a freewheeling dunce high school junior who's given to frequent attacks of hebephrenia mixed with suffocating narcissism."
Sally Eckhoff; Zine But Not Heard; The Village Voice (New York); Sep 3, 1996.
numinous
PRONUNCIATION:
(NOO-muh-nuhs, NYOO-)

MEANING:
adjective: Supernatural, mysterious, or awe-inspiring.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin numen (nod of the head, command, divine will). Earliest documented use: 1647.

USAGE:
"Rol and Noey's lives unfold in an atmosphere of mildly magical realism: a numinous shimmer at the edges of the everyday."
Geordie Williamson; Unsettled by Pain; The Australian (Sydney); Dec 3, 2011.
mazard
PRONUNCIATION:
(MAZ-uhrd)

MEANING:
noun: Face, head, or skull.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Middle English mazer (a large wooden drinking bowl), from mazer (a hardwood, especially maple). It's not clear how we got from the bowl to the head, perhaps from the shape of the bowl. Earliest documented use: 1584.

USAGE:
"Shakespeare is really clear that the skull is handled roughly. You know, there's a line about being knocked about the mazard."
Barry Edelstein; On London's West End, 'Hamlet' With Human Skull; National Public Radio: All Things Considered (New York); Jun 4, 2009.
aby
PRONUNCIATION:
(uh-BY)

MEANING:
verb tr.: To pay the penalty for.
verb intr.: To suffer, to endure.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English abycgan (to pay for), from bycgan (to buy). Earliest documented use: before 1225.

USAGE:
"'But we have you -- and you shall aby it.' There were knives drawn on every side of him as these words were spoken."
Walter Scott; Quentin Durward; 1823.
reechy
PRONUNCIATION:
(REE-chee)

MEANING:
adjective: Smoky, dirty, or rancid.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English rec (smoke). Earliest documented use: 1660.

USAGE:
"The writing is fast and punchy, the gore reechy, the science mad as HG Wells."
Meet 007 Jr; The Times of India (New Delhi, India); Apr 25, 2005.
inwit
PRONUNCIATION:
(IN-wit)

MEANING:
noun:
1. Conscience.
2. Reason, intellect.
3. Courage.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English inwit, from in + wit (mind, thought). Earliest documented use: 1230.

NOTES:
The word is usually seen as part of the phrase agenbite of inwit. Agenbite (remorse) is literally, again-bite, a variant of ayenbite, from ayen (again) + bite. James Joyce reanimated this ancient term back into the language when he used it in Ulysses.

USAGE:
"The Journals of Sylvia Plath may be intensely introspective, full of the agenbite of inwit, but they are just as intensely external, describing -- with an attentiveness one can't imagine in any male diarist -- food, furniture, hair, flowers, colours, and clothes."
Blake Morrison; Love at First Bite; Independent On Sunday (London, UK); Apr 2, 2000.
mickle
PRONUNCIATION:
(MIK-uhl)

MEANING:
noun: A large amount.
adjective: Great, large.
adverb: Much.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English micel (much). Ultimately from the Indo-European root meg- (great), which is also the source of magnificent, maharajah, mahatma, master, mayor, maestro, magnate, magistrate, maximum, and magnify. Earliest documented use: 9th c.

NOTES:
The word appears in the proverb "Many a little makes a mickle" and sometimes in its corrupted (and meaningless) form: "Many a mickle makes a muckle."

USAGE:
"While blessed with an abundance of natural beauty and resources, Chatham County is also burdened with the task of dealing with a mickle of vegetative waste."
Robert Drewry and Virginia Lamb; County Develops Yard Waste Program; Public Works Magazine (Chicago, Illinois); May 2000.
lissotrichous
PRONUNCIATION:
(li-SO-tri-kuhs)

MEANING:
adjective: Having straight or smooth hair.

ETYMOLOGY:
The origin of this word isn't hairy at all. It's pretty straightforward -- the word is from Greek lissos (smooth) and thrix (hair). Some cousins of this word are cymotrichous (having wavy hair), trichotillomania (the compulsion to pull out one's hair), and its end result atrichia (baldness). Earliest documented use: 1880.

USAGE:
"Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour notwithstanding, women really aspire to be lissotrichous brunettes, since sleekness and shine - the season's chief criteria - show much better on dark hair."
Pamela Swanigan; Blondness: It's Probably Not the Real Thing; Vancouver Sun (Canada); Jun 16, 2001.
platyrrhine
PRONUNCIATION:
(PLAT-i-ryn, -rin)

MEANING:
adjective: Having a broad, flat nose.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek platy- (flat) + rhin (nose). Earliest documented use: 1842.

NOTES:
New World monkeys, known for broad, flat noses and prehensile tails are called Platyrrhini.

USAGE:
"Again that terse, crisp sound lashed the clear air and one nostril of her platyrrhine nose became a bloody pockmark. She ceased to move."
Russell H. Greenan; It Happened in Boston?; Random House; 2003.
mammose
PRONUNCIATION:
(MAM-ohs)

MEANING:
adjective: Having large breasts.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin mammosus (having large breasts), from mamma (breast) + -osus (full of). Earliest documented use: 1857.

USAGE:
"Wanda Clouston, a mammose wench in third year, waddled to the door of a cubicle."
George Friel; Mr Alfred, MA; Calder and Boyars; 1972.
prognathous
PRONUNCIATION:
(PROG-nuh-thuhs, prog-NAY-thuhs)

MEANING:
adjective:
1. Protruding outwards.
2. Having a jaw that protrudes outwards.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek pro- (before) + gnathos (jaw). Ultimately from the Indo-European root genu- (jawbone, chin), which is also the source of chin and Sanskrit hanu (jaw). Hanuman (literally, having a large jaw) was the name of a monkey god in Hindu mythology. Earliest documented use: 1836.

USAGE:
"Nature had given Smith an enormous prognathous jaw. It was wide and heavy, and protruded outward and down until it seemed to rest on his chest."
Jack London; White Fang; Macmillan; 1906.
callipygous
PRONUNCIATION:
(kal-uh-PY-guhs)

MEANING:
adjective: Having well-shaped buttocks.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek calli- (beautiful) + pyge (buttocks). Earliest documented use: 1923. Another form of this word is callipygian. Two related words are dasypygal and steatopygia.

USAGE:
"The boys knew that if they could remember the details of their school work only half as vividly as they recalled every detail of the callipygous Kathy, they would all be eligible for full college scholarships."
John H. Steinemann; Handstand; Askmar; 2010.

"'Pick me,' Aphrodite says, arching her back and turning slightly to present to him under her robe a callipygous formation more perfect than ever he has seen."
Joseph Heller; Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man; Simon & Schuster; 2000.
schlockmeister
PRONUNCIATION:
(SHLOK-my-stuhr)

MEANING:
noun: One who deals in inferior goods.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Yiddish shlak (evil, nuisance) + German Meister (master). Earliest documented use: 1965.

USAGE:
"Schlockmeister Ed Wood was supposedly the world's worst director."
Philippa Hawker and Jake Wilson; Top 10 Films; The Age (Melbourne, Australia); Jul 17, 2010.

"You're a Harvard historian, for god's sake, not a pop schlockmeister looking for a quick buck."
Dan Brown; The Da Vinci Code; Doubleday; 2003.
kosher
PRONUNCIATION:
(KO-shuhr)

MEANING:
adjective:
1. Conforming to the dietary laws of Judaism.
2. Proper; genuine; permissible.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Yiddish, from Hebrew kasher (fit, proper). Earliest documented use: 1851.

USAGE:
"Tobias Geffen was an Orthodox rabbi who was pestered with questions from his congregants about whether Coke was kosher."
Karen Burshtein; Passover Pepsi; Winnipeg Free Press (Canada); Apr 25, 2011.

"It is only when The Guardian determines a story is kosher that the BBC jumps in."
Stephen Glover; Patten and Cameron May be on Collision Course; The Independent (London, UK); Mar 14, 2011
gascon
PRONUNCIATION:
(GAS-kuhn)

MEANING:
noun: A braggart.
adjective: Boastful.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Gascon, a native of the Gascony region in France, from the stereotype of Gascons as boasters. Earliest documented use: before 1771.

NOTES:
Were people from Gascony full of boasts and bravado? Not necessarily. Historical rivalries lead one people to generalize others' names as having some shortcoming and some of those names become part of the language. Other examples of such words are solecism, Boeotian, and fescennine.

USAGE:
"Here indeed the King of Cornwall plays the gascon, not the King of Little Britain."
John Wesley Hales and Frederick James Furnivall (eds.); Bishop Percy's Folio Manuscript: Ballads and Romances; 1867.
sybarite
PRONUNCIATION:
(SIB-uh-ryt)

MEANING:
noun: A person devoted to luxury and pleasure.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Sybaris, an ancient Greek city in southern Italy noted for its wealth, and whose residents were notorious for their love of luxury. Earliest documented use: 1598.

USAGE:
"Tom Naylor sounds like a bit of a sybarite himself, who'd enjoy a good wine, cigar, or work of art."
Rick Salutin; Mr. 1 Per Cent Meets His Match; The Toronto Star (Canada); Dec 1, 2011.
damascene
PRONUNCIATION:
(DAM-uh-seen, dam-uh-SEEN)

MEANING:
verb tr.: To inlay a metal object with gold or silver patterns; to gild.
noun: A native or inhabitant of Damascus.
adjective:
1. Relating to Damascus or the Damascenes.
2. Having a wavy pattern as on Damascus steel.
3. Sudden and significant.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Damascus, the capital of Syria. Earliest documented use: around 1386.
For adjective 3: From St. Paul's conversion from an anti-Christian to a Christian while he was on the road to Damascus, as described in the New Testament.

USAGE:
"John Cheever once declared, 'All literary men are Red Sox fans.' Ever since, the team has been the subject of more damascened prose, more classical analogies, than any franchise in American sports."
Charles McGrath; The Way We Live Now; The New York Times; Aug 22, 2004.

"Support for Assad is especially strong in Syria's two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, where residents are wealthier. Some Damascenes proudly wear baseball caps with Assad's face on it."
Why Many Syrians Still Support Assad; The Christian Science Monitor (Boston, Massachusetts); Sep 14, 2011.

"The Labour Court backed the employer's volte face act of Damascene proportions."
Retrenchment Board; Zimbabwe Independent (Harare); Oct 28, 2010.
paladin
PRONUNCIATION:
(PAL-uh-din)

MEANING:
noun:
1. A strong supporter of a cause.
2. A heroic champion.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French paladin, from Italian paladino, from palatinus ([officer] of the palace). After Palatine, the name of the centermost of the seven hills on which ancient Rome was built. Roman emperors had their palaces on this hill. Other words such as palace and palatine derive from the same source. The 12 peers in Charlemagne's court were also called paladins. Earliest documented use: 1592.

USAGE:
"Evo Morales has been a paladin for Mother Earth, recently pushing for international adoption of a Bolivian law granting nature rights."
Bolivia's Amazon Highway a Bumpy Road for Morales, Brazil; Bloomberg (New York); Oct 19, 2011.

"There are those who want Mario Balotelli to be a trailblazer, a paladin of integration. Some kind of cross between Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Jackie Robinson."
The Paradigm of Italian Immigration; The Herald (Glasgow, Scotland); Aug 22, 2010
argosy
PRONUNCIATION:
(AHR-GUH-see)

MEANING:
noun:
1. A large ship, or a fleet of ships, especially one carrying valuable cargo.
2. A rich source or supply.

ETYMOLOGY:
Shortening of Italian nave Ragusea (ship of Ragusa), after Ragusa, a maritime city on the Adriatic sea, modern day Dubrovnik, Croatia. Earliest documented use: 1577.

USAGE:
"Shylock: He hath an argosy bound to Tripolis, another to the Indies."
William Shakespeare; The Merchant of Venice; 1596.

"We get a little bit detective story, a little bit gossip, and an argosy of insight."
Amy Wallen; Book Review: 'Nom de Plume'; Los Angeles Times; Aug 8, 2011.
connubial
PRONUNCIATION:
(kuh-NOO-bee-uhl, -NYOO-)

MEANING:
adjective: Pertaining to marriage or the married state.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin con- (with) + nubere (to marry) which is also the source of nubile and nuptial. Earliest documented use: 1656.

USAGE:
"You wouldn't think Donald Trump would need much connubial coaxing to picture himself in the Trump White House. But a Globe headline this week reads: 'Wife Melania Tells The Donald: America Needs You!'"
Maureen Dowd; She Made Me Run!; The New York Times; Dec 31, 2011.
venial
PRONUNCIATION:
(VEE-nee-uhl, VEEN-yuhl)

MEANING:
adjective: Minor; easily excused.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin venia (forgiveness). Ultimately from the Indo-European root wen- (to desire or to strive for), which is also the source of wish, win, ween, overweening, venerate, venison, Venus, and banyan. Earliest documented use: before 1300.

USAGE:
"Wealthy fraudsters are given chieftaincy titles and venerated, and their nefarious deeds are euphemistically tagged venial."
Chiedu Uche Okoye; Victims of Illusion; Daily Independent (Nigeria); Jun 27, 2011.

"The production takes a few venial liberties with the text."
Ben Brantley; Railing at a Money-Mad World; The New York Times; Jul 1, 2010.
immanent
PRONUNCIATION:
(IM-uh-nuhnt)

MEANING:
adjective:
1. Inherent; spread throughout.
2. Subjective: taking place within the mind and having no effect outside of it.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin immanere (to remain in place), from in- (in) + manere (to remain). Ultimately from the Indo-European root men- (to remain), which is also the source of mansion, manor, remain, and permanent (but not 'imminent' with which 'immanent' is often confused). Earliest documented use: 1535.

USAGE:
"The invisible but somehow immanent presence of Sep 11's inferno over New Jersey serves to remind us that Updike has written about apocalypse before."
Robert Stone; Updike's Other America; The New York Times; Jun 18, 2006.
stochastic
PRONUNCIATION:
(stuh-KAS-tik)

MEANING:
adjective: Involving chance; random; probabilistic.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek stokhos (aim, target, a pointed stake for an archer to aim at). Earliest documented use: 1662.

USAGE:
"Medicine is a stochastic science -- no doctor can predict the future."
Sandeep Jauhar; When Doctors Slam the Door; The New York Times; Mar 16, 2003.
sagacity
MEANING:
noun: Keen judgment or wisdom.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin sagacitas (wisdom), from sagire (to perceive keenly). Ultimately from the Indo-European root sag- (to seek out), which is also the source of seek, ransack, ramshackle, forsake, and hegemony. Earliest documented use: 1607.

USAGE:
"In a moment of odd sagacity, Sarah Palin lamented that the contest for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination had become just another reality television show."
Donald Mitchell; Palin Pulls a Palin; Los Angeles Times; Oct 9, 2011.
gerontology
MEANING:
noun: The scientific study of aging.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek geronto-, from geras (old age) + -logy (study). Earliest documented use: 1903.

NOTES:
Geriatrics is the branch of medicine that deals with the diseases and problems associated with old age.

USAGE:
"Emma had been on a gerontology ward where most of her patients were suffering dementia and a laundry list of physical ailments associated with advanced age."
Gary Braver; Tunnel Vision; Forge Books; 2011.
autologous
PRONUNCIATION:
(ah-TOL-uh-guhs)

MEANING:
adjective: Involving a situation in which the donor and the recipient (of blood, skin, bone, etc.) are the same person.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek auto- (self) + -logous (as in homologous), from logos (proportion, ratio, word). Earliest documented use: 1911.

USAGE:
"They talked about autologous fat transfer, where they extract the fat from your behind and stick it in your face -- cheek to cheek, as it were."
Isabel Wolff; A Vintage Affair; Bantam; 2010.
dysthymia
MEANING:
noun: A mild depression.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek dys- (bad) + -thymia (mental disorder), from thymos (mind, soul). Earliest documented use: 1842.

USAGE:
"It was as if my mood had been goaded away from situational discontentedness into a dysthymia that seemed now to be heading into full-fledged depression."
Meghan Daum; Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House; Knopf; 2011.
hypochondriac
PRONUNCIATION:
(hy-puh-KON-dree-ak)

MEANING:
noun: One who is excessively and chronically preoccupied with imaginary or innocuous symptoms as indicators of some serious disease.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek hypochondrios (abdomen, which was believed to be the seat of melancholy), from hypo- (under) + khondros (cartilage [of the breastbone]). Earliest documented use: 1599.

USAGE:
"'Gadhafi was described as a hypochondriac who insisted that all examinations and procedures be filmed and then spent hours reviewing them with physicians whom he trusted,' the ambassador reported."
Joshua Norman; U.S. Envoy to Libya Wikileaks' First Casualty?; CBS News (New York); Jan 5, 2011.
duopsony
PRONUNCIATION:
(doo-OP-suh-nee, dyoo-)

MEANING:
noun: A market condition in which there are only two buyers, thus exerting great influence on price.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek duo- (two) + -opsony, from opsonia (purchase).

NOTES:
Here's a little chart that explains it all:
monopoly: one seller, many buyers
duopoly: two sellers, many buyers
oligopoly: a few sellers, many buyers

monopsony: one buyer, many sellers
duopsony: two buyers, many sellers
oligopsony: a few buyers, many sellers

USAGE:
"The BBC-ITV duopsony was gone for good, and the competition between the TV companies as purchasers of the rights intensified."
Stephen Dobson and John Goddard; The Economics of Football; Cambridge University Press; 2011.
pneumatic
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Of or relating to air, wind, or gases.
2. Spiritual.
3. Buxom, zaftig.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek pneuma (breath, wind, spirit). Ultimately from the Indo-European root pneu- (to breathe), which is also the source of pneumatic, pneumonia, apnea, sneer, sneeze, snort, snore, and pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. Earliest documented use: 1624.

USAGE:
"The Greyhound from Toronto pulled up and with a sucking pneumatic hiss."
James Bartleman; As Long as the Rivers Flow; Knopf; 2011.

"This in itself set up a kind of suspicion about pneumatic claims that is, if someone said, 'The Spirit told me.'"
Ben Witherington; Is There a Doctor in the House?; Zondervan; 2011.

"Uncorseted, her friendly bust
Gives promise of pneumatic bliss."
T.S. Eliot; Whispers of Immortality; 1920.
newspeak
MEANING:
noun: Deliberately ambiguous or euphemistic language used for propaganda.

ETYMOLOGY:
Coined by George Orwell in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Newspeak was the official language of Oceania. In Newspeak, English was called Oldspeak. Earliest documented use: 1949.

NOTES:
The most insidious newspeak term to come out in recent years is for torture. In newspeak it becomes "enhanced interrogation", as if regular torture makes use of tap water, but in enhanced interrogation you get nothing less than Evian.

USAGE:
"An Imperial Tobacco memo predicted that the trend towards fewer smokers could 'virtually wipe us off the map' within 50 years. The writer recommended the company target 'starters' -- company newspeak for teens."
Mindelle Jacobs; Smoke And Mirrors Fool No One; The Edmonton Sun (Canada); Nov 23, 1999.
nutate
MEANING:
verb intr.:
1. To nod the head.
2. To oscillate while rotating (as an astronomical body).
3. To move in a curving or circular fashion (as a plant stem, leaf, etc.).

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from nutation, from Latin nutare (to nod repeatedly), frequentative of -nuere (to nod), from numen (nod of the head, command, divine will). Earliest documented use: 1880.

USAGE:
"Down she slides not wanting to lose consciousness, chin nutating into bosom, yet straining in her mind to stay present."
Forrest Gander; As A Friend; New Directions; 2008.

"In pubs across the land, the customers speak of little else but lunar nutation, especially since the moon is nutating at this very moment."
Tom Shields; Fur Coats and No Moral Fibre?; The Sunday Herald (Glasgow, Scotland); Oct 1, 2006.

"Tendrils of pea plants nutate in the air and when come in contact of any support, they coil around it."
Competition Science Vision; Apr 1999.
noosphere
PRONUNCIATION:
(NOH-uh-sfeer)

MEANING:
noun: The sum of human knowledge, thought, and culture.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French noösphere, from Greek noos (mind) + sphere. Earliest documented use: 1930.

USAGE:
"This avalanche of information is threatening to swallow us whole, to waste our days and to overwhelm our own thoughts. Essentially, it's the noosphere on steroids."
Frank Bures; Digitized to Distraction; National Post (Canada); Nov 15, 2008.
lyceum
MEANING:
noun
1. A lecture hall or an institution that provides public lectures, discussions, concerts, etc.
2. A secondary school.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin lyceum, from Greek Lykeion, an epithet of Apollo meaning wolf-slayer, from lykos (wolf) which also gave us words such as lupine (like a wolf) and lycanthropy (the delusion of being a wolf). In ancient Greece lyceum was a gymnasium so named because it was near a temple of Apollo. Aristotle established his school here. Earliest documented use: 1579.

USAGE:
"Liberty Hall served as a lyceum for reading and speaking engagements."
Steve Urbon; A Tale of One City; The Standard-Times (New Bedford, Massachusetts); Dec 25, 2011.
cuckold
MEANING:
noun: A man whose wife is unfaithful.
verb tr.: To make a cuckold of a husband.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old French cucu (cuckoo) + -ald (pejorative suffix), from the female cuckoo's habit of leaving eggs in another bird's nest. Earliest documented use: 1250.

USAGE:
"Upon release from the trunk of the car, the man told the police that he was kidnapped by the jealous husband of a woman. The alleged cuckold, Ruslan Ivkin denied the motive."
Man Found in Car Trunk; The Moscow Times (Russia); Jan 12, 2012.
bucolic
MEANING:
adjective:
1. Pastoral; rustic.
2. Of or relating to a herdsman or a shepherd.
noun:
1. A pastoral poem.
2. A farmer; shepherd.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek boukolos (herdsman), from bous (ox). Earliest documented use: 1609. Other words derived from the same animal are bovine, boustrophedon, and hecatomb.

USAGE:
"War Horse tells the story of Joey, a horse raised in the bucolic English countryside who is torn away from his home and sent to France to the battlefields of World War I."
Spielberg Shares Storytelling Secrets in Paris; Daily News Egypt (Cairo); Jan 11, 2012.
capricious
PRONUNCIATION:
(kuh-PRISH-uhs, -PREE-shuhs)

MEANING:
adjective: Whimsical, impulsive, unpredictable.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Italian capriccio (caprice), literally head with hair standing on end, from capo (head) + riccio (hedgehog). Earliest documented use: 1594.

USAGE:
"Such is the peril of entrusting one's employment to the whim of a capricious oligarch."
Rory Smith; Whispers of Disapproval; The Independent (London, UK); Dec 1, 2011.
paraphernalia
PRONUNCIATION:
(par-uh-fuhr-NAYL-ya, -fuh-NAYL-ya)

MEANING:
noun:
1. Articles and equipment related to an activity.
2. Personal belongings.

ETYMOLOGY:
Plural of paraphernalis, from parapherna (a woman's property besides her dowry), from Greek para- (beyond) + pherne (dowry). Ultimately from the Indo-European root bher- (to carry, to bear children) that gave birth to basket, suffer, fertile, burden, bring, bear, offer, prefer, birth, periphery, phosphorus (literally, bringing light), adiaphorism, delate, and sufferance. Earliest documented use: 1478.

USAGE:
"Shops selling images of gods and Buddha and traditional religious paraphernalia are common."
Balinese Beat Goes On; Bangkok Post (Thailand); Feb 12, 2012.

"The museum's collection of vintage engines, cars, and all manner of railroad paraphernalia was on full display."
Mike Gangloff; Day at Transportation Museum; The Roanoke Times (Virginia); Feb 12, 2012.
viscera
MEANING:
noun:
1. The internal organs located in the main cavities of the body, especially those in the abdominal cavity.
2. The interior parts.

ETYMOLOGY:
Plural of Latin viscus (flesh, internal organ). Earliest documented use: 1651.

USAGE:
"There is plenty of action with a chainsaw, and a butcher's shop worth of viscera is scattered about the screen."
Ian Bartholomew; Movie Releases; Taipei Times (Taiwan); Apr 29, 2011.

"These revelations are now biting deeper into the viscera of the bank's integrity and reputation."
Toivo Ndjebela; Agribank Gives Kalomo Hefty Hike; New Era (Namibia); Jan 27, 2012.
insignia
MEANING:
noun:
1. A badge or emblem of rank, office, or membership in a group.
2. A distinguishing mark of something.

ETYMOLOGY:
Plural of Latin insigne (sign, badge), from signum (sign). Earliest documented use: 1648.

USAGE:
"During the depths of the Great Depression, Rose Nisenbaum's bank refused to allow her to withdraw the $400 emergency fund she had spent her life carefully saving. So she decided to appeal to a higher authority: she wrote to the president, Franklin Roosevelt, much to the amusement of her family.
Eight weeks later, everyone but Nisenbaum was shocked when she received a response from the White House. She was instructed to take an enclosed letter to the bank. When she arrived and rapped on the window of the locked building, the manager inside waved her off. But when he saw the White House insignia on the envelope she pressed against the glass, he let her in, read the missive, and promptly gave her the money."
Hilary Leila Krieger; Reaching for the Jewish Vote; The Jerusalem Post (Israel); Feb 9, 2012.
graffiti
MEANING:
noun: Words or drawing made on a wall or other surface in a public place.

ETYMOLOGY:
Plural of Italian graffito (a scratching). Ultimately from the Indo-European root gerbh- (to scratch), which also gave us crab, crayfish, carve, crawl, grammar, anagram, program, graphite, and paraph. Earliest documented use: 1851.

USAGE:
"Over the years, many lovers have carved their names and words of love on trees, and graffiti has become a problem."
Love on the Cheap for Valentine's Day; Shanghai Daily (China); Feb 12, 2012.

"$200 million is what graffiti artist David Choe is expected to earn from the listing. He painted Facebook's walls in 2005 and opted to get paid in stock options."
Larry Claasen; Facebook in Numbers; Financial Mail (South Africa); Feb 10, 2012.
truce
MEANING:
noun:
1. A suspension of hostilities by mutual agreement; armistice; cease-fire.
2. A temporary respite from something unpleasant.

ETYMOLOGY:
Respelling of trewes, plural of Middle English trewe (agreement, pledge), from Old English treow (belief, trust). Ultimately from the Indo-European root deru-/dreu- (to be firm), which is also the source of truth, trust, betroth, tree, endure, and druid. Earliest documented use: around 1330.

USAGE:
"The government has instigated a policy of peace talks and truces, although a number of rebel groups remain in conflict."
Hundreds of India Separatists Lay Down Arms; BBC News (London, UK); Jan 24, 2012.
Apollonian
MEANING:
adjective: Serene; harmonious; disciplined; well-balanced.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Apollo, the god of music, poetry, prophecy, healing, and more in Greek and Roman mythologies. He is considered the opposite of his brother, Dionysus. Earliest documented use: 1664.

USAGE:
"The end result was that the once-Dionysian Jagger became trapped in the crisp, precise Apollonian realm and was no longer capable of producing lyrics that matched Richards's thunderous, blues-based inventions."
Camille Paglia; Dancing As Fast As She Can; Salon (New York); Dec 2, 2005.
Junoesque
PRONUNCIATION:
(joo-noh-ESK)

MEANING:
adjective: Having a stately bearing and regal beauty; statuesque.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Juno, the principal goddess in Roman mythology. She was the wife and sister of Jupiter. Earliest documented use: 1888.

USAGE:
"Claudia and Holli are tall, Junoesque women with powerful voices."
Paula Citron; Shakespeare Proves Inspiring; The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada); Aug 13, 2008.
palladium
MEANING:
noun:
1. A safeguard.
2. A rare, silvery-white metal.

ETYMOLOGY:
For 1: After Athena (also known as Pallas Athena), a goddess in Greek mythology. She was the daughter of Zeus and was born fully-grown from his forehead. Palladium was a statue of Athena that was believed to protect Troy.
Earliest documented use: before 1393.
For 2: Palladium was discovered by chemist and physicist William Hyde Wollaston in 1803. He named it after the asteroid Pallas which had been discovered the year before. The asteroid was named after Pallas Athena. Earliest documented use: 1803.
Dionysian
MEANING:
adjective: Uninhibited; undisciplined; spontaneous; wild; orgiastic.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility in Greek mythology. He was a son of Zeus and considered the opposite of his brother, Apollo. His Roman equivalent is Bacchus. Earliest documented use: before 1610.

USAGE:
"Nigella Lawson, who tends towards the indulgent side, revels in the wickedness of dionysian excess."
Doug Anderson; Television; The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia); Nov 29, 2011.
Promethean
PRONUNCIATION:
(pruh-MEE-thee-uhn)

MEANING:
adjective: Boldly creative; defiant; audacious.
noun: A person who is boldly creative or defiantly original.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Prometheus, a demigod in Greek mythology. He made man from clay, stole fire from Zeus by trickery, and gave it to humans. For his crime he was chained to a rock and an eagle devoured his liver to have it grow again to be eaten again the next day. The name means forethinker, from Greek pro- (before) + manthanein (to learn). Earliest documented use: 1594.

USAGE:
"A Promethean impulse lives on in the financial markets, where quantitative investors hubristically strive to invent and speculate beyond their capacity to understand."
Ben Wright; Fear, Frankenstein and the Rise of the Machines; Financial News (London, UK); Oct 10, 2011.
poseur
MEANING:
noun: One who behaves in an affected manner to impress others.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French poseur (poser), from poser (to pose), from Latin pausa (pause). Earliest documented use: 1869.

USAGE:
"Is Alain de Botton the biggest pseud and poseur of all time, or a brilliant writer who asks intriguing questions?"
Lynn Barber; The Way Words Work; The Age (Melbourne, Australia); Apr 5, 2009.
roue
MEANING:
noun: A debauched man, especially an elderly man from a wealthy or aristocratic family.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French roué (literally, broken on a wheel), from rouer (to break on the wheel), from Latin rota (wheel). The word arose from the belief that such a person deserved this punishment. Earliest documented use: 1781.

NOTES:
The word was first applied to the companions of Philippe II, Duke of Orleans. The breaking wheel was an instrument of torture on which a victim was put and bludgeoned to death.

USAGE:
"Patrick Lichfield, the Queen's dandified cousin, invested in the shop because its founders were, as he said with a roue's smirk, 'two of my old girlfriends'."
Peter Conrad; The Big Picture; The Observer (London, UK); Nov 20, 2011.
dilettante
MEANING:
noun: One who takes up an activity or interest in a superficial or casual way.
adjective: Superficial; amateurish.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Italian dilettante (amateur), from Latin delectare (to delight). Earliest documented use: 1733.

USAGE:
"I long ago came to realize that I am a putterer, a grazer, a dilettante. I create the impression of getting a lot done by dabbling through my days: I read two pages of a book, write half a letter, paint a portion of the front porch, bake half a tin of muffins, teach a class, wash a window."
Robert Klose; Confessions of a Dedicated Dilettante; The Christian Science Monitor (Boston, Massachusetts); May 10, 2004.
lummox
MEANING:
noun: A clumsy, stupid person.

ETYMOLOGY:
Of uncertain origin, perhaps from East Anglian lummock (to move heavily or clumsily). Earliest documented use: before 1825.

USAGE:
"Adam is harshly portrayed as an oaf, a nimrod, a village idiot, a lummox, a schlemiel -- you get the idea."
Brad Wheeler; Humanizing Biblical Super Heroes; The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada); Apr 23, 2009.
wastrel
MEANING:
noun: A good-for-nothing, wasteful person.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French from Latin vasatre (to lay waste), from vastus (desert, empty) + -rel (a diminutive or pejorative suffix). Earliest documented use: 1589.

USAGE:
"With Greece at the center of a cyclone that threatens the global economy, foreign citizens believe that their taxes have been raised to bail out the wastrel Greeks."
Nikos Konstandaras; Orwell's Elephant; Kathimerini (Athens, Greece); Oct 3, 2011.
gradgrind
MEANING:
noun: Someone who is solely interested in cold, hard facts.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Thomas Gradgrind, the utilitarian mill-owner in Charles Dickens's novel Hard Times. Gradgrind runs a school with the idea that hard facts and rules are more important than love, emotions, and feelings. Earliest documented use: 1855.

USAGE:
"In truth, Colleen McCullough is very much a Gradgrind when it comes to facts: They are all that is needful, presented, it must be said, without color or animation to detract from their merit."
Katherine A. Powers; Ancient Evenings; The Washington Post; Dec 15, 2002.
scrooge
MEANING:
noun: A miser.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Ebenezer Scrooge, the mean-spirited, miserly protagonist in Charles Dickens's novel A Christmas Carol. Earliest documented use: 1940.

USAGE:
"John Hymers was not entirely a Scrooge. There were times when he secretly helped poor people and he built a village library."
Sisters Campaigned for a Mixed School at Hymers; Hull Daily Mail (UK); Jan 23, 2012.
gamp
PRONUNCIATION:
(gamp)

MEANING:
noun: A large umbrella.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Sarah Gamp, a nurse in Charles Dickens's novel Martin Chuzzlewit. She carries a large umbrella. Earliest documented use: 1864.

USAGE:
"By the time we fumble with our windcheaters and gamps, the air is dry once again."
Narayani Ganesh; City of Derry in Northern Ireland; The Economic Times (New Delhi, India); Dec 31, 2010.
fagin
PRONUNCIATION:
(FAY-gin)

MEANING:
noun: One who trains others, especially children, in crime.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Fagin, the leader of a gang of pickpockets, in Charles Dickens's novel Oliver Twist. Oliver runs away from the cruelty of the undertaker to whom he was apprenticed and ends up in Fagin's gang where he joins other orphans to learn the art of stealing. Earliest documented use: 1847.

USAGE:
"A fagin crook led a gang of young thieves stealing valuable bikes to order across Tyneside."
Garry Willey; Fagin's Gang Busted; The Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, UK) Apr 4, 2011.
wellerism
MEANING:
noun: An expression involving a familiar proverb or quotation and its facetious sequel. It usually comprises three parts: statement, speaker, situation.
Examples:
"We'll have to rehearse that," said the undertaker as the coffin fell out of the car.
"Prevention is better than cure," said the pig when it ran away from the butcher.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Sam Weller and his father, characters known for such utterances in Charles Dickens's novel Pickwick Papers. Earliest documented use: 1839.

USAGE:
"A particularly telling example of a wellerism discussed by Dundes is the following:
'Shall I sit awhile?' says the parasite before becoming a permanent dweller."
Wolfgang Mieder; Alan Dundes; Western Folklore (Long Beach, California); Jul 2006.
jubilee
MEANING:
noun:
1. A special anniversary of an event, especially a 50th anniversary.
2. Rejoicing or celebration.

ETYMOLOGY:
Via French, Latin, and Greek from Hebrew yobel (ram, ram's horn trumpet). Traditionally a jubilee year was announced by blowing a ram's horn. Earliest documented use: 1382.

USAGE:
"Two weeks ago, I visited Benin City at the invitation of my Uncle, Ben, to mark the golden jubilee celebration of his marriage."
Tonnie Iredia; High Court Judge of The Year; Nigeria Today; Feb 12, 2012.
phat
MEANING:
adjective: Great; excellent.

ETYMOLOGY:
Respelling of fat. Various acronyms have been suggested as possible origins of the word, but they are examples of backronyms. The word phatic has nothing to do with phat. Earliest documented use: 1963.

USAGE:
"When I was seventeen I got a phat job at a dry cleaner. Making $4.75 an hour I felt kingly compared to my prior job at McDonald's."
Steve Hilton; Ask Steve; Telephony; Jul 28, 2009.

"It took twice as long as the original did but the end result is phat."
Kim Dawson; Hollyoaks Star is a Decks Maniac!; Daily Star (London, UK); Mar 15, 2008.
goo-goo
MEANING:
adjective: Amorous.
noun: A naive advocate of a political reform.

ETYMOLOGY:
For adjective: Perhaps from goggle (to stare with bulging eyes). Earliest documented use: 1900.
For noun: Shortening of "good government". Earliest documented use: 1912.

USAGE:
"Of course former rivals morph into allies all the time. John McCain now makes goo-goo eyes at Romney."
Frank Bruni; Embracing the Pretzel; The New York Times; Jan 16, 2012.

"His once frequent talk of changing Washington helped create the impression that Obama was a goo-goo, a dreamer, when he is in fact more of a realist than a radical."
Jon Meacham; What Happened to Obama's Armageddon?; Newsweek (New York); May 14, 2010.
props
MEANING:
noun: Due respect; an expression of approval or regard.

ETYMOLOGY:
Shortening and plural of the word proper, as in "proper respect". Earliest documented use: 1980s.

USAGE:
"Jagz must have hugged or given props to every player on the team."
Don Brennan; Spezza Finds His Five; The Ottawa Sun (Canada); Jan 3, 2012.
machinate
MEANING:
verb tr., intr.: To plot or scheme.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin machinari (to contrive), from machina (device). Ultimately from the Indo-European root magh- (to be able, have power), which is also the source of might, may, dismay, and magic. Earliest documented use: 1537.

USAGE:
"Most storylines in The Bold and the Beautiful revolve around characters who manipulate and machinate for love and money."
Christina Hoag; Skid Row Featured in Soap Opera; AP (New York); Jun 12, 2011
avulse
MEANING:
verb tr.: To pull off or tear away.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin avellere (to tear off), from a- (away from) + vellere (to pull, pluck). Earliest documented use: before 1765.

USAGE:
"The dog caught his paw in the grates and lacerated his paws and avulsed his nails."
Denise Baran-Unland; Animal Health Care Insurance Can Cut Down on Vet Bills; The Herald-News (Joliet, Illinois); Nov 7, 2011.

"[The Hoh River] chews, it gnaws and jumps around, avulsing in a tantrum of energy to new channels, taking anything in its way right along with it."
Lynda V. Mapes; Besieged by Water; The Seattle Times; Mar 8, 2010.