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glaucous

\GLAW-kus\

adjective

Meaning

1 a : of a pale yellow-green color *b : of a light bluish-gray or bluish-white color

2 : having a powdery or waxy coating that gives a frosted appearance and tends to rub off

Example Sentence

In the early mornings, the lush river valley is often shrouded in a glaucous mist.

Did you know?

"Glaucous" came to English, by way of Latin "glaucus," from Greek "glaukos," meaning
"gleaming" or "gray." It has been used for a range of pale colors from a yellow-green to a
bluish-gray. The word has often been used to describe the pale color of the leaves of
various plants as well as the powdery bloom that can be found on some fruits and leaves.
The stem "glauc-" appears in some other English words, the most familiar of which is
probably "glaucoma," referring to a disease of the eye that can result in gradual loss of
vision. "Glauc-" also appears in the not-so-familiar "glaucope," a word used to describe
someone with fair hair and blue eyes (and a companion to "cyanope," the term for
someone with fair hair and brown eyes).

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deke

\DEEK\

verb

Meaning

: to fake (an opponent) out of position (as in ice hockey)

Example Sentence

With a quick move to the left and then right, the forward deked the remaining
defenseman and was left one-on-one with the goalie.
Did you know?

"Deke" originated as a shortened form of "decoy." Ernest Hemingway used "deke" as a


noun referring to hunting decoys in his 1950 novel Across the River and into the Trees ("I
offered to put the dekes out with him"). About a decade later, "deke" began appearing in
ice-hockey contexts in Canadian print sources as both a verb and a noun ("the act of
faking an opponent out of position"). Today, "deke" has scored in many other sports,
including baseball, basketball, and football. It has also checked its way into more general
usage to refer to deceptive or evasive moves or actions. However, this general application
of "deke" has never made it past the defenders. It occurs too rarely in English to merit its
own sense in the dictionary.

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plumply

\PLUMP-lee\

adverb

Meaning

: in a wholehearted manner and without hesitation or circumlocution : forthrightly

Example Sentence

Having taken offense at the remark, Sir Jeffrey plumply asked the man if his insult was
intentional.

Did you know?

In the 14th century, the word "plump" was used for a sound like that of something
dropping into water (as we use "plop" today). Middle English speakers turned the
"plump" sound into a verb meaning "to drop." The verb spawned a noun meaning "a
sudden drop or fall," which in turn generated an adverb "plump" meaning "directly,
without qualification." English novelist Fanny Burney (1752–1840) used the adverbial
"plump" in one of her letters when she wrote of "coming plump against the question."
But she didn’t stop there. The adverb "plump" gave rise to "plumply," and Fanny Burney
was one of the first to use the new form, this time in her diary: "The offer was plumply
accepted."

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tenderloin
\TEN-der-loyn\

noun

Meaning

1 : a strip of tender meat consisting of a large internal muscle of the loin on each side of
the vertebral column.

*2 : a district of a city largely devoted to vice

Example Sentence

"Unlike old Saigon, a raucous wartime tenderloin of bars and nightclubs, Orange County
is quiet — except on Saturday nights…." (Stanley Karnow, Smithsonian, August 1992)

Did you know?

A tenderloin, of course, is a juicy and tasty cut of meat. In the late 19th century, however,
"Tenderloin" saw use as a nickname for the neighborhood of midtown Manhattan, west
of Broadway and below 42nd Street. This district, which contained numerous bordellos,
gambling houses, and watering holes, alongside theaters and hotels, became a hotbed of
corruption — and, it was alleged by some, blackmail by police. The notion of dishonest
law enforcers being able to afford a nice meal off activity in this district is believed to
have given the Tenderloin its name. Soon the term was applied to similarly seedy districts
in other cities.

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utile

\YOO-tul\

adjective

Meaning

: useful

Example Sentence

Shaker crafts are simple, meticulously constructed, pleasing to the eye, and eminently
utile, all at the same time.
Did you know?

For over a hundred years before "useful" entered our language, "utile" served us well on
its own. We borrowed "utile" from Middle French in the 15th century. The French
derived it from Latin "utilis," meaning "useful," which in turn comes from "uti," meaning
"to use." "Uti" (the past participle of which is "usus") is also the source of our "use" and
"useful." We've been using "use" since at least the 13th century, but we didn't acquire
"useful" until the late 16th century, when William Shakespeare inserted it into King John.
Needless to say, we've come to prefer "useful" over "utile" since then, though "utile"
functions as a very usable synonym. Other handy terms derived from "uti" include
"utilize," "usury," "abuse" and "utensil."

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cogent

\KOH-junt\

adjective

Meaning

1 : having power to compel or constrain

2 *a : appealing forcibly to the mind or reason : convincing b : pertinent, relevant

Example Sentence

At the town meeting, citizens presented many cogent arguments in support of building a
new high school.

Did you know?

"Trained, knowledgeable agents make cogent suggestions . . . that make sense to


customers." It makes sense for us to include that comment from the president of a direct
marketing consulting company because it provides such a nice opportunity to point out
the etymological relationship between the words "cogent" and "agent." "Agent" derives
from the Latin verb "agere," which means "to drive," "to lead," or "to act." Adding the
prefix "co-" to "agere" gave Latin "cogere," a word that literally means "to drive
together"; that ancient term ultimately gave English "cogent." Something that is cogent
figuratively pulls together thoughts and ideas, and the cogency of an argument depends
on the driving intellectual force behind it.

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popinjay

\PAH-pin-jay\

noun

Meaning

: a strutting supercilious person

Example Sentence

Shopping was going fine until, in one of the boutiques, a popinjay of a sales clerk clearly
snubbed us.

Did you know?

Popinjays and parrots are birds of a feather. "Popinjay," from the Middle French word
"papegai," is the original name for a parrot in English. (The French word in turn came
from the Arabic word for the bird, "babghā." "Parrot," which English speakers adopted
later, probably comes from Middle French "perroquet.") In the days of Middle English,
parrots were rare and exotic, and it was quite a compliment to be called a "popinjay" after
such a beautiful bird. But by the 1500s, parrots had become more commonplace, and
their gaudy plumage and vulgar mimicry helped "popinjay" develop the pejorative sense
we use today.

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delate

\dih-LAYT\

verb

Meaning

*1 : accuse, denounce

2 : report, relate

Example Sentence

"In that year Archbishop Blackadder of Glasgow delated some thirty heretics to James IV
who let the matter go with a jest." (J.D. Mackie, A History of Scotland)

Did you know?

To "delate" someone is to "hand down" that person to a court of law. In Latin, "delatus"
is the unlikely-looking past participle of "deferre," meaning "to bring down, report, or
accuse," which in turn comes from "ferre," meaning "to carry." Not surprisingly, our
word "defer," meaning "to yield to the opinion or wishes of another," can also be traced
back to "deferre." At one time, in fact, "defer" and "delate" had parallel meanings (both
could mean "to carry down or away" or "to offer for acceptance"), but those senses are
now obsolete. Today, you are most likely to encounter "delate" or its relatives "delation"
and "delator" in the context of medieval tribunals, although the words can also relate to
modern ecclesiastical tribunals.

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neologism

\nee-AH-luh-jiz-um\

noun

Meaning

*1 : a new word, usage, or expression

2 : a meaningless word coined by a psychotic


Example Sentence

The novelist’s latest book is peppered with numerous slang words and neologisms that
might not be familiar to some readers.

Did you know?

The English language is constantly picking up neologisms. Recently, for example,


computer technology has added a number of new terms to the language. "Webinar,"
"malware," "netroots," and "blogosphere" are just a few examples of modern-day
neologisms that have been integrated into American English. The word "neologism" was
itself a brand-new coinage at the beginning of the 19th century, when English speakers
first borrowed it from the French "néologisme." Its roots, however, are quite old.
Ultimately, "neologism" comes from Greek "neos" (meaning "new") and "logos"
(meaning "word").

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pukka

\PUCK-uh\

adjective

Meaning

genuine, authentic; also : first-class

Example Sentence

Ellingsworth stood framed in the door of his club, the picture of a pukka gentleman,
immaculately groomed, upper lip appropriately stiff, perfectly genteel.

Did you know?

"Pukka" tends to evoke the height of 18th- and 19th-century British imperialism in India,
and, indeed, it was first used in English at the 1775 trial of Maha Rajah Nundocomar,
who was accused of forgery and tried by a British court in Bengal. The word is borrowed
from Hindi and Urdu "pakkā," which means "solid." The English speakers who borrowed
it applied the "sound and reliable" sense of "solid" and thus the word came to mean
"genuine." As the British Raj waned, "pukka" was occasionally appended to "sahib" (an
Anglo-Indian word for a European of some social or official status). That expression is
sometimes used as a compliment for an elegant and refined gentleman, but it can also
imply that someone is overbearing and pretentious. These days, "pukka" is also used as a
British slang word meaning "excellent" or "cool."

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pabulum

\PAB-yuh-lum\

noun

Meaning

1 : food; especially : a suspension or solution of nutrients in a state suitable for absorption

*2 : intellectual sustenance

3 : something (as writing or speech) that is insipid, simplistic, or blan

Example Sentence

The discovery provides pabulum for the scientific community to ruminate on for decades
to come.

Did you know?

"Pabulum" derives from the Latin term for "food" or "fodder" and was first used in
English in the 18th century for anything taken in by plants or animals to maintain life and
growth. Within 30 years of its first appearance in English texts, it was also being used to
refer to things so intellectually stimulating or nourishing that they could be considered
food for thought. But the word took on a whole new flavor in the 1930s when a team of
Canadian doctors formulated a highly nutritious (but bland) baby cereal and named their
product "Pablum" (based on the Latin word). As a result, the similar-looking "pabulum"
did a linguistic about-face and is now often used for things that are bland and
unstimulating as well as for things that are intellectually sustaining.

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enhance
\in-HANS\

verb

Meaning

: heighten, increase; especially : to increase or improve in value, quality, desirability, or


attractiveness

Example Sentence

The newspaper company hopes that including more full-color illustrations and adding
extra news features will enhance their product and reverse the decline in circulation.

Did you know?

When "enhance" was borrowed into English in the 13th century, it literally meant to raise
something higher. That sense, though now obsolete, provides a clue about the origins of
the word. "Enhance," which was spelled "enhauncen" in Middle English, comes to us
from Anglo-French "enhaucer" or "enhauncer" ("to raise"), which can be traced back to
the Vulgar Latin verb "inaltiare." "Inaltiare," in turn, was formed by combining the prefix
"in-" with Latin "altus," meaning "high." Although "enhance" initially applied only to
physically making things higher, it developed an additional and less literal sense of "to
exalt especially in rank or spirit," and quickly acquired extended figurative senses for
"raising" the value or attractiveness of something or someone.

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Laodicean

\lay-ah-duh-SEE-un\

adjective

Meaning

: lukewarm or indifferent in religion or politics

Example Sentence
Evan lamented the Laodicean attitude of his fellow citizens, as evidenced by the low
voter turnout on Election Day.

Did you know?

English speakers owe the word "Laodicean" to Chapter 3, verses 15 and 16 of the Book
of Revelation, in which the church of Laodicea is admonished for being "neither cold nor
hot, . . . neither one nor the other, but just lukewarm" in its devotion. By 1633, the name
of that tepid biblical church had become a general term for any half-hearted or irresolute
follower of a religious faith. Since then, the word’s use has broadened to cover flimsy
political devotion as well. For example, in comparing U.S. presidents, journalist Samuel
Hopkins Adams compared "the fiery and aggressive [Theodore] Roosevelt" to "the
timorous Laodicean [Warren] Harding."

sockdolager

\sock-DAH-lih-jer\

noun

Meaning

1 : something that settles a matter : a decisive blow or answer : finisher

*2 : something outstanding or exceptional

Example Sentence

For a while I was completely stumped, but then, all of a sudden, I got a sockdolager of an
idea.

Did you know?

The verb "sock" ("to punch") and the noun "doxology" ("a hymn of praise to God") may
seem like an odd pairing, but it is a match that has been promoted by a few word mavens
when discussing the origins of the Americanism "sockdolager." Don't be too quick to
believe the hype, however. When a word's origin is simply unknown, as is the case with
"sockdolager," there's a tendency for folks to fill in the gap with an interesting story,
whether or not it can be verified. In the case of "sockdolager," the "sock" part is plausible
but unproven, and the "doxology" to "dolager" suggestion is highly questionable. The
theory continues to have many fans, but it can't deliver the knockout punch.

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fatuous

\FATCH-oo-us\

adjective

Meaning

: complacently or inanely foolish : silly

Example Sentence

"Fatuous and condescending" is how one reviewer described two of the best-selling self-
help books.

Did you know?

"I am two fools, I know, / For loving, and for saying so / In whining Poetry," wrote John
Donne, simultaneously confessing to both infatuation and fatuousness. As any love-
struck fool can attest, infatuation can make buffoons of the best of us. So it should come
as no surprise that the words "fatuous" and "infatuation" derive from the same Latin root,
"fatuus," which means "foolish." Both terms have been part of English since the 17th
century. "Infatuation" followed the earlier verb "infatuate," a "fatuus" descendant that
once meant "to make foolish" but that now usually means "to inspire with a foolish love
or admiration." "Fatuous" came directly from "fatuus." It's been used in English to
describe the foolish and inane since at least 1633.

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quodlibet

\KWAHD-luh-bet\

noun

Meaning

1 : a philosophical or theological point proposed for disputation; also : a disputation on


such a point
*2 : a whimsical combination of familiar melodies or texts

Example Sentence
"'The Past & the Future' … is an operatic quodlibet, summarizing themes from previous
movements, with some classical surprises." (Donald Rosenberg, Cleveland Plain Dealer,
April 8, 2007)

Did you know?

"Whatever." Try to get philosophical nowadays and that may be the response you hear.
We don't know if someone quibbling over a minor philosophical or theological point 500
years ago might have gotten a similar reaction, but we do know that Latin "quodlibet,"
meaning "any whatever," was the name given to such academic debates. "Quodlibet" is a
form of "quilibet," from "qui," meaning "what," and "libet," meaning "it pleases." We
can't say with certainty how "quodlibet" went from disputations to musical
conglomerations, but English speakers have been using "quodlibet" for light musical
mélanges since the early 19th century.

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ab ovo

\ab-OH-voh\

adverb

Meaning

: from the beginning

Example Sentence

The documentary presented the history of the city ab ovo, beginning with its inception as
a frontier trading post in the 1800s and running through the present.

Did you know?

"Ab ovo usque ad mala." That phrase translates as "from the egg to the apples," and it
was penned by the Roman poet Horace. He was alluding to the Roman tradition of
starting a meal with eggs and finishing it with apples. Horace also applied "ab ovo" in an
account of the Trojan War that begins with the mythical egg of Leda from which Helen
(whose beauty sparked the war) was born. In both cases, Horace used "ab ovo" in its
literal sense, "from the egg," but by the 16th century Sir Philip Sidney had adapted it to
its modern English sense, "from the beginning": "If [the dramatic poets] wil represent an
history, they must not (as Horace saith) beginne Ab ouo: but they must come to the
principall poynt of that one action."
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-pink

\PINK\

verb

Meaning

1 a : to perforate in an ornamental pattern *b : to cut a saw-toothed edge on

2 a : pierce, stab b : to wound by irony, criticism, or ridicule

Example Sentence

"The sleek curtain requires no sewing; we pinked the edges to add a bit of detail." (Jennie
Voorhees, Martha Stewart Living, April 2002)

Did you know?

Our unabridged dictionary, Webster's Third New International, includes 13 distinct entries for
"pink," whereas our abridged volume,Merriam-Webster's Collegiate, satisfies itself with the five
most common. (Words get distinct entries in our dictionaries when they have different
etymologies or different parts of speech.) Today's "pink," the only verb of the five, is from a Middle
English word meaning "to thrust." Of the remaining four, the only "pink" older than the verb (which
dates to 1503) is a 15th century noun referring to a kind of ship. The next-oldest noun has since
1573 referred to a genus of herbs. The noun referring to the color pink and its related adjective
date to 1678 and 1720, respectively. Evidence suggests that a new verb "pink" — a synonym of
the verb "pink-slip" — is also emerging.

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sternutation

\ster-nyuh-TAY-shun\

noun

Meaning
: the act, fact, or noise of sneezing

Example Sentence

Julie knew that she had put on too much perfume when she entered the car and
immediately heard a chorus of sternutation from the passengers.

Did you know?

"Sternutation" comes from Latin and is a descendant of the verb "sternuere," meaning "to
sneeze." One of the earliest known English uses occurred in a 16th-century edition of a
book on midwifery, in a passage about infants suffering from frequent "sternutation and
sneesynge." The term has long been used in serious medical contexts, but also on
occasion for humorous effect. In 1850, for example, author Grace Greenwood observed
that U.S. senators from opposing political parties would often come together to share
snuff: "And all three forget their sectional differences in a delightful concert of
sternutation. No business is too grave, no speaker too eloquent, to be 'sneezed at.'"

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intestate

\in-TESS-tayt\

adjective

Meaning

*1 : having made no valid will

2 : not disposed of by will

Example Sentence

Mark and Joan worried about what would happen to their child if they died intestate, so
they hired a lawyer to draw up a will soon after the baby was born.

Did you know?

"Intestate" was borrowed into English in the 14th century from Latin "intestatus," which
was itself formed by combining the prefix "in-" ("not") and the adjective "testatus,"
meaning "having left a valid will." "Testatus," in turn, derives from the past participle of
the verb "testari," meaning "to make a will." Approximately a century later, English
speakers returned to "testatus" to coin the word "testate," which also means "having left a
valid will." Other descendants of "testari" in English include "detest," "protest," and
"testament," as well as "testator" ("a person who dies leaving a will or testament in
force"). The antonym of "testator" is the noun "intestate," meaning "one who dies without
a will."

peregrination

\pair-uh-gruh-NAY-shun\

noun

Meaning

: an excursion especially on foot or to a foreign country : journey

Example Sentence

The eccentric millionaire set out on a peregrination around the world, in search of the
perfect wine to complement his favorite meal.

Did you know?

We begin our narrative of the linguistic travels of "peregrination" with the Latin word
"peregrinus," which means "foreign" or "foreigner." That term also gave us the words
"pilgrim" and "peregrine," the latter of which once meant "alien" but is now used as an
adjective meaning "tending to wander" and a noun naming a kind of falcon. (The
peregrine falcon is so named because it was traditionally captured during its first flight —
or pilgrimage — from the nest.) From "peregrinus" we travel to the Latin verb
"peregrinari" ("to travel in foreign lands") and its past participle "peregrinatus." Our final
destination is the adoption into English in the 16th century of both "peregrination" and
the verb "peregrinate" ("to travel especially on foot" or "to traverse").

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-proffer

\PRAH-fer\

verb

Meaning

: to present for acceptance : tender, offer

Example Sentence

Several recommendations were proffered by the financial board on how to reduce the
city's debt without making drastic cuts in department budgets.
Did you know?

You may notice a striking similarity between "proffer" and "offer." Are the two words
connected by etymology? Yes, indeed. "Proffer" comes from Anglo-French "profrer,"
which itself is an alteration of the earlier "porofrir." That word in turn combines "por-"
(which means "forth" and is related to our "pro-") and "offrir" (which means "to offer"
and is an ancestor of our word "offer"). "Proffer" entered English in the 14th century. A
more literary word than plain "offer," it adds or puts stress on the idea of voluntariness,
spontaneity, or courtesy on the part of the one doing the tendering.

qua

\KWAH\

preposition

Meaning

: in the capacity or character of : as

Example Sentence

The school gym qua dance floor was where Oscar and Nanette fell in love.

Did you know?

Which way? Who? No, we’re not paraphrasing lines from the old Abbott and Costello
routine "Who’s on First?"; we’re referring to the etymology of "qua," a term that comes
to us from Latin. It can be translated as "which way" or "as," and it is a derivative of the
Latin "qui," meaning "who." "Qua" has been serving English in the capacity of a
preposition since the 17th century. It’s a learned but handy little word that led one 20th-
century usage writer to comment: "Qua is sometimes thought affected or pretentious, but
it does convey meaning economically."

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-animadversion

\an-uh-mad-VER-zhun\

noun

Meaning

*1 : a critical and usually censorious remark — often used with "on"

2 : adverse criticism
Example Sentence

The film critic seems to have offered animadversions on nearly every movie made this
year.

Did you know?

"Animadversion" comes ultimately from the Latin phrase "animum advertere,"meaning


"to turn the mind to." It is easy to see how we also get "adverse" and "adversary" from
"advertere," especially when we remember that "to turn to" easily becomes "to turn
against." Other English words descended from "advertere" include "advert," meaning "to
turn the attention (to)" or "to make reference (to)," and "advertise."

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spear-carrier

\SPEER-kair-ee-er\

noun

Meaning

1 a : a member of an opera chorus b : a bit actor in a play

*2 : a person whose actions are of little significance or value in an event or organization

Example Sentence

Although the former aide was only a spear-carrier in the then-President's administration,
his recently published memoir, which points an accusatory finger at several key players,
is causing quite a stir.

Did you know?


"Spear-carrier" began to be used for a person having a non-speaking or supernumerary
role in opera or theater in the 1950s. The name likely came from the nondescript, often
spear-carrying soldiers who appear in the background or as walk-ons in plays about
ancient Rome or Greece. Off-stage, "spear-carrier" refers to a person having a minimal
role in the undertaking of some major event or in the workings of some major
organization.

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stanch

\STAUNCH\

verb

Meaning

1 : to check or stop the flowing of; also : to stop the flow of blood from (a wound)

2 *a : to stop or check in its courseb : to make watertight : stop up

Example Sentence

The company's CEO gave the keynote address at the convention, stanching rumors that
he was not recovering well from his surgery.

Did you know?

The verb "stanch" has a lot in common with the adjective "staunch," meaning "steadfast."
Not only do both words derive from the Anglo-French word "estancher" (which has the
same meaning as "stanch"), but the spelling "s-t-a-n-c-h" is sometimes used for the
adjective, and the spelling "s-t-a-u-n-c-h" is sometimes used for the verb. Although both
spelling variants have been in reputable use for centuries and both are perfectly standard
for either the verb or adjective, "stanch" is the form used most often for the verb and
"staunch" is the most common variant for the adjective.
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spindrift

\SPIN-drift\

noun

Meaning

1 : sea spray; especially : spray blown from waves during a gale

*2 : fine wind-borne snow or sand

Example Sentence

"The winds around the mountain were fierce and a long white plume of spindrift trailed
from the summit." (Michael Palin, [London]Sunday Times, September 26, 2004)

Did you know?

"Spindrift" first set sail in the mid-18th century under Scottish command. During its first
voyage, it was known by the Scottish moniker "speendrift." "Speen" meant "to drive
before a strong wind," so a "speendrift" was a drift of spray during such action. In 1823,
English speakers recruited the word, but signed it up as "spindrift." At that time, its sole
duty was to describe the driving sprays at sea. However, English speakers soon realized
that "spindrift" had potential to serve on land as well, and the word was sent ashore to
describe driving snow and sand. Today, "spindrift" still serves us commendably at sea
and on land.

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avuncular
\uh-VUNK-yuh-ler\

adjective

Meaning

1 : of or relating to an uncle
*2 : suggestive of an uncle especially in kindliness or geniality

Example Sentence

The avuncular orthodontist joked with his young patient, attempting to set her mind at
ease about getting fitted for braces.

Did you know?

Not all uncles are likeable fellows (Hamlet's murderous Uncle Claudius, for example,
isn't exactly Mr. Nice Guy in Shakespeare's tragedy), but "avuncular" reveals that, as a
group, uncles are generally seen as affable and benevolent, if at times a bit patronizing.
"Avuncular" derives from the Latin noun "avunculus," which translates as "maternal
uncle," but since at least the 1830s English speakers have used "avuncular" to refer to
uncles from either side of the family or even to individuals who are simply uncle-like in
character or behavior. And in case you were wondering, "avunculus" is also an ancestor
of the word "uncle" itself.

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terreplein

\TAIR-uh-playn\

noun

Meaning
: the level space behind a parapet of a rampart where guns are mounted

Example Sentence

Children love to climb on the defunct canons that sit at each of the old fort's terrepleins,
creating a perfect photo op for parents.

Did you know?

Like "parapet" and "rampart," "terreplein" dates back to the 16th century. "Rampart" is
the oldest of this trio; earliest evidence of the word in English is from 1536. From the
Middle French word "ramparer," meaning "to fortify," it refers specifically to the broad
embankment that forms the main part of a fort. The word for the protective wall on top of
the rampart, "parapet," dates to 1590 and comes from Italian "parare" ("to shield") and
"petto" ("chest"). The earliest evidence for today's word, "terreplein," is from only a year
later. It comes (by way of Middle French) from Old Italian "terrapieno," which traces to
Medieval Latin "terra plenus," meaning "filled with earth."

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contemn

\kun-TEM\

verb

Meaning

: to view or treat with contempt : scorn

Example Sentence

Jacob believes that any rational scientist must contemn theories of magic and the
supernatural.

Did you know?


"Contemn" is derived from the Latin verb "contemnere," a word formed by combining
"con-" and "temnere" ("to despise"). Surprisingly, our verb may have come within a hair's
breadth of being spelled "contempn." The Middle French word "contempner" arrived in
Middle English as "contempnen," but that extra "p" disappeared, leaving us with
"contemn." You may be wondering about the connection between "contemn" and
"contempt," and not surprisingly, they are related. "Contempt" comes from Latin
"contemptus," which comes from "contemnere." "Contemn" first turned up in print in the
15th century; "contempt" dates from the 14th century.

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inordinate

\in-OR-dun-ut\

adjective

Meaning

: exceeding reasonable limits : immoderate

Example Sentence

Mary complained that she had to spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning up after
her two sloppy roommates.

Did you know?

At one time if something was "inordinate," it did not conform to the expected or desired
order of things. That sense, synonymous with "disorderly" or "unregulated," is now
archaic, but it offers a hint at the origins of "inordinate." The word traces back to the
Latin verb "ordinare," meaning "to arrange," combined with the negative prefix "in-."
"Ordinare" is also the ancestor of such English words as "coordination," "subordinate,"
"ordination," and "ordain." "Ordinare" did not give us "order," "orderly," or "disorderly,"
but the root of those words is the same Latin noun ("ordo") from which "ordinare" itself
derives.
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canicular

\kuh-NIK-yuh-ler\

adjective

Meaning

: of or relating to the dog days (the period between early July and early September when
the hot sultry weather of summer usually occurs in the northern hemisphere)

Example Sentence

During the canicular heat of August, many of the town's residents venture to the local
swimming hole in search of a way to stay cool.

Did you know?

The Latin word "canicula," meaning "small dog," is the diminutive form of "canis,"
source of the English word "canine." "Canicula" is also the Latin name for Sirius, the star
that represents the hound of Orion in the constellation named for that hunter from Roman
and Greek mythology. Because the first visible rising of Sirius occurs during the summer,
the hot sultry days that occur from early July to early September came to be associated
with the Dog Star. The Greeks called this time of year "hemerai kynades," which the
Romans translated into Latin as "dies caniculares," or as we know them in English, "the
dog days."

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trichologist
\trih-KAH-luh-jist\

noun

Meaning

: a person who specializes in hair and scalp care; broadly : a person whose occupation is
the dressing or cutting of hair

Example Sentence

"You don't need to pay a trichologist or rely on hair-loss cure advertisements in


magazines: your GP can conduct a series of blood tests to locate the problem." (David
Fentonis, The Times [London], July 4, 2009)

Did you know?

Although you can accurately call the person who cuts your hair your "trichologist" if you
want to, the term is usually applied as it is in our example sentence: to someone who
studies and treats hair and scalp ailments. The "trich" in "trichologist" is the Greek
"trich-," stem of "thrix," meaning "hair." This root makes an appearance in a number of
other similarly technical-sounding words, such as "trichiasis" ("a turning inward of the
eyelashes often causing irritation of the eyeball"), "trichome" ("an epidermal hair
structure on a plant"), and "trichotillomania" ("an abnormal desire to pull out one's hair").

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abstemious

\ab-STEE-mee-us\

adjective

Meaning
: marked by restraint especially in the consumption of food or alcohol; also : reflecting
such restraint

Example Sentence

Anthony's midlife heart attack opened his eyes to the importance of taking care of his
body and turned him to a more abstemious and healthful lifestyle.

Did you know?

"Abstemious" and "abstain" look alike, and both have meanings involving self-restraint
or self-denial. So they must both come from the same root, right? Yes and no. Both get
their start from the Latin prefix "abs-," meaning "from" or "away," but "abstain" traces to
"abs-" plus the Latin verb "tenēre" (meaning "to hold"), while "abstemious" gets its "-
temious" from a suffix akin to the Latin noun "temetum," meaning "intoxicating drink."

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chorography

\kuh-RAH-gruh-fee\

noun

Meaning

*1 : the art of describing or mapping a region or district

2 : a description or map of a region; also : the physical conformation and features of such
a region

Example Sentence

This highly detailed and embellished perspective drawing of the city and the surrounding
lands is a fine example of 16th-century chorography.
Did you know?

The word "chorography" was borrowed in the 16th century from Latin "chorographia,"
which in turn comes from Greek "chōrographia," a combination of "chōros" ("place") and
"graphia" ("writing"). Chorography was distinguished from geography in that the former
was concerned with smaller regions and specific locations whereas the latter was
concerned with larger regions or with the world in general. The maps and the art of
mapping that once were the field of chorography have since passed into the spheres of
geography and topography. As with the art it names, the word "chorography" is now
primarily encountered in historical discussions of geography and cartography.

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El Dorado

\el-duh-RAH-doh\

noun

Meaning

1 : a city or country of fabulous riches held by 16th century explorers to exist in South
America

2 : a place of fabulous wealth or opportunity

Example Sentence

"To outsiders, California’s Silicon Valley looks like a contemporary El Dorado."


(TimeMagazine, Sept. 3, 1984)

Did you know?

In the early 1500s, Spanish conquistadores heard tales of an Amazonian king who
regularly coated his body with gold dust, then plunged into a nearby lake to wash it off
while being showered with gold and jewels thrown by his subjects. The Spaniards called
the city ruled by this flamboyant monarch "El Dorado," Spanish for “gilded one,” and the
story of the gold-covered king eventually grew into a legend of a whole country paved
with gold. These days, “El Dorado” can also used generically for any place of vast riches,
abundance, or opportunity. It is also the name of actual cities in Arkansas and Kansas.

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ingratiate

\in-GRAY-shee-ayt\

verb

Meaning

: to gain favor or favorable acceptance for by deliberate effort — usually used with
"with"

Example Sentence

Even though the candidate is doing everything he can to ingratiate himself with voters, he
still finds himself trailing in the polls.

Did you know?

Seventeeth-century English speakers combined the Latin noun "gratia," meaning "grace"
or "favor," with the English prefix "in-" to create the verb "ingratiate." When you
ingratiate yourself, you are putting yourself in someone's good graces to gain their
approval or favor. English words related to "ingratiate" include "gratis" and "gratuity."
Both of these reflect something done or given as a favor through the good graces of the
giver.

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florilegium
\flor-uh-LEE-jee-um\

noun

Meaning

: a volume of writings : anthology

Example Sentence

This florilegium of British poetry up to 1760 includes the classics that we have all come
to love along with a few relatively unknown gems that are sure to delight and inspire.

Did you know?

Editors who compile florilegia (to use the plural form of today's word) can be thought of
as gathering a bouquet of sweet literary blossoms. English speakers picked up
"florilegium" from a New Latin word that derives from Latin "florilegus," which can be
translated as "culling flowers." In fact, "florilegium" initially applied to a collection of
flowers, and later to books about flowers, but it wasn't long before the word began to be
used for (as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it) "a collection of the flowers of
literature." And "florilegium" isn't the only English collecting term with a floral heritage;
its synonym "anthology" comes from the Greek word for "flower gathering."

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dernier cri

\dairn-yay-KREE\

noun

Meaning
: the newest fashion

Example Sentence

When it came to shopping for a new wardrobe for school, Jacqueline tended to ignore the
dernier cri and would instead pick clothes that suited her own tastes.

Did you know?

Paris has long been the last word in fashion, but hot designer clothes from the city's
renowned runways aren’t the only stylish French exports. Words, too, sometimes come
with a French label. "Dernier cri," literally "last cry," is one such chic French borrowing.
The word is no trendy fad, however. More than a century has passed since "dernier cri"
was the latest thing on the English language scene (and cut-steel jewelry was declared the
dernier cri by the Westminster Gazette of December 10, 1896), but the term (unlike cut-
steel) remains as modish as ever. Other fashionable French words have walked the
runways of the English language since then: "blouson" (1904); "couture" (1908);
"culotte" (1911); "lame" (a clothing fabric, 1922); and "bikini" (1947), to name a few.

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expatiate

\ek-SPAY-shee-ayt\

verb

Meaning

1 : to move about freely or at will : wander

*2 : to speak or write at length or in detail


Example Sentence

The middle schoolers grew restless as Mr. Donald expatiated on Pluto's classification as a
dwarf planet.

Did you know?

The Latin antecedent of "expatiate" is "exspatiari," which combines the prefix "ex-" ("out
of") with "spatiari" ("to take a walk"), itself from "spatium" ("space" or "course").
"Exspatiari" means "to wander from a course" and, in the figurative sense, "to digress."
But when English speakers began using "expatiate" in 1538, we took "wander" as simply
"to move about freely." In a similar digression from the original Latin, we began using
"expatiate" in a figurative sense of "to speak at length." That's the sense of the word most
often used these days, usually in combination with "on" or "upon."

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cantankerous

\kan-TANK-uh-rus\

adjective

Meaning

: difficult or irritating to deal with

Example Sentence

The workers were glad when their cantankerous old boss finally retired, and they have
not missed his browbeating criticisms and endless complaints.

Did you know?


It's irritating, but we're not absolutely sure where "cantankerous" comes from.
Etymologists think it probably derived from the Middle English word "contack" (or
"contek"), which meant "contention" or "strife." Their idea is that "cantankerous" may
have started out as "contackerous" but was later modified as a result of association or
confusion with "rancorous" (meaning "spiteful") and "cankerous" (which describes
something that spreads corruption of the mind or spirit). Considering that a cantankerous
person generally has the spite associated with "contack" and "rancor," and the noxious
and sometimes painful effects of a "canker," that theory seems plausible. What we can
say with conviction is that "cantankerous" has been used in English since at least the late
1700s.

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sparge

\SPAHRJ\

verb

Meaning

1 : sprinkle, bespatter; especially : spray

*2 : to agitate (a liquid) by means of compressed air or gas entering through a pipe

Example Sentence

Part of the disinfecting process at the new water treatment plant may involve sparging the
water with ozone bubbles.

Did you know?

Etymologists think that "sparge" likely came to English by way of the Middle French
word "espargier," itself from Latin "spargere," meaning "to scatter." ("Spargere" is also
the source of "disperse," "intersperse," and "sparse," among others.) Although "sparge"
has been a synonym for "sprinkle" since the late 16th century, you're now most likely to
come across this word in one of two contexts. The first is a process called "air sparging,"
in which air is injected into groundwater to help remediate contamination. The second is
the process of beer making, during which mash is sparged — that is, sprayed with hot
water to extract the wort. In The New World Guide to Beer, author Michael Jackson
describes the process by which one particular beer is made, saying that "it is brewed only
from first running, without sparging...."

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smithereens

\smih-thuh-REENZ\

noun

Meaning

: fragments, bits

Example Sentence

Had the ceramic vase fallen off the mantel, it would have smashed into smithereens.

Did you know?

Despite its American sound and its common use by the fiery animated cartoon character
Yosemite Sam, "smithereens" did not originate in American slang. Although no one is
entirely positive about its precise origins, scholars think that "smithereens" likely
developed from the Irish word "smidiríní," which means "little bits." That Irish word is
the diminutive of "smiodar," meaning "fragment." Written record of the use of
"smithereen" dates back to 1829.

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demean
\dih-MEEN\

verb

Meaning

: to conduct or behave (oneself) usually in a proper manner

Example Sentence

Sylvia was proud of the polite way her young children demeaned themselves in front of
the dinner guests.

Did you know?

There are two words spelled "demean" in English. The more familiar "demean" — "to
lower in character, status, or reputation" — comes straight from "mean," the adjective
that means "spiteful." Today's featured word, on the other hand, comes from the Anglo-
French verb "demener" ("to conduct"), which in turn comes from Latin "minare,"
meaning "to drive." This verb has been with us since the 14th century and is generally
used in contexts specifying a type of behavior: "he demeaned himself in a most
unfriendly manner"; "she demeaned herself as befitting her station in life"; "they knew
not how to demean themselves in the king's presence." As you may have already guessed,
the noun "demeanor," meaning "behavior," comes from this "demean."

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philoprogenitive

\fill-uh-proh-JEN-uh-tiv\

adjective
Meaning

*1 : tending to produce offspring : prolific

2 : of, relating to, or characterized by love of offspring

Example Sentence

"As the multitudes born in the philoprogenitive years following World War II leave the
labor force after 2010, the retired population will mushroom." (A.F. Ehrbar, Fortune,
August 1980)

Did you know?

"Philoprogenitive" (a combination of "phil-," meaning "loving" or "having an affinity


for," and Latin "progenitus," meaning "begot" or "begotten") can refer to the production
of offspring or to the loving of them. Nineteenth-century phrenologists used the word to
designate the "bump" or "organ" of the brain believed to be the seat of a parent's
instinctual love for his or her children. Despite the word's scientific look and sound,
however, it appears, albeit not very frequently, in all types of writing — technical,
literary, informal, and otherwise.

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tantivy

\tan-TIV-ee\

adverb

Meaning

: in a headlong dash : at a gallop

Example Sentence
Once the school bell sounded signaling dismissal, the children rose from their desks and
headed tantivy for the exits.

Did you know?

"Tantivy" is also a noun meaning "a rapid gallop" or "an impetuous rush." Although its
precise origin isn't known, one theory has it that "tantivy" represents the sound of a
galloping horse's hooves. The noun does double duty as a word meaning "the blare of a
trumpet or horn." The second use probably evolved from confusion with "tantara," a
word for the sound of a trumpet that came about as an imitation of that sound. Both
"tantivy" and "tantara" were used during foxhunts; in the heat of the chase people may
have jumbled the two.

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daymare

\DAY-mair\

noun

Meaning

: a nightmarish fantasy experienced while awake

Example Sentence

Through therapy, the patient has begun to experience some relief from the daymares she's
been having since the traumatic event.

Did you know?

Long ago, the word "nightmare" designated an evil spirit that made its victims feel like
they were suffocating in their sleep (prompting physician-botanist William Turner to
introduce "a good remedy agaynst the stranglyng of the nyght mare" in 1562). By the
early 1700s, the Age of Reason had arrived, nightmares were bad dreams, and "daymare"
was a logically analogous choice when English speakers sought a word for a frightening
and uncontrollable fantasy, a run-away daydream. And since the 1800s, when Charles
Dickens wrote "a monstrous load that I was obliged to bear, a daymare that there was no
possibility of breaking in, a weight that brooded on my wits" in David Copperfield,
we’ve been using "daymare" figuratively. For example, today we might refer to "a
logistical daymare."

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levigate

\LEV-uh-gayt\

verb

Meaning

1 : polish, smooth

2 *a : to grind to a fine smooth powder while in moist conditionb : to separate (fine


powder) from coarser material by suspending in a liquid

Example Sentence

The formula in the old pharmacopoeia first instructs the reader to levigate zinc oxide and
calcium carbonate with linseed oil.

Did you know?

"Levigate" comes from Latin "levigatus," the past participle of the verb "levigare" ("to
make smooth"). "Levigare" is derived in part from "levis," the Latin word for "smooth."
"Alleviate" and "levity" can also be traced back to a Latin "levis," and the "levi-" root in
both words might suggest a close relationship with "levigate." This is not the case,
however. The Latin "levis" that gives us "alleviate" and "levity" does not mean "smooth,"
but "light" (in the sense of having little weight). One possible relative of "levigate" in
English is "oblivion," which comes from the Latin "oblivisci" ("to forget"), a word which
may be a combination of "ob-" ("in the way") and the "levis" that means "smooth."
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gallimaufry

\gal-uh-MAW-free\

noun

Meaning

: hodgepodge

Example Sentence

I was ready to leave the flea market, when, on one table, among a gallimaufry of
undistinguished objects, I caught sight of an exquisite silver spoon engraved with my
initials.

Did you know?

If the word "gallimaufry" doesn't make your mouth water, it may be because you don't
know its history. In the 16th century, Middle-French speaking cooks made a meat stew
called "galimafree." It must have been a varied dish, because English speakers chose its
name for any mix or jumble of things. If "gallimaufry" isn't to your taste, season your
speech with one of its synonyms: "hash" (which can be a muddle or chopped meat and
potatoes), "hotchpotch" (a stew or a hodgepodge), or "potpourri" (another stew turned
medley).

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vitiate

\VISH-ee-ayt\
verb

Meaning

1 : to make faulty or defective : impair

2 : to debase in moral or aesthetic status

*3 : to make ineffective

Example Sentence

Some feared that the superintendent’s decision to reinstate the students would vitiate the
authority of the principal who suspended them in the first place.

Did you know?

Here's one for word puzzle lovers — and anyone else allured by alliteration. The sentence
"Vivian vituperated the vicious villain for valuing vice over virtue" contains three words
that derive from the same Latin source as "vitiate." Can you identify all three? If you
picked "vituperate" (a verb meaning "to scold"), "vicious," and "vice," your puzzle
prowess is beyond reproach. Like "vitiate," all three descend from the Latin noun
"vitium," meaning "fault" or "vice."

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baroque

\buh-ROHK\

adjective, often capitalized

Meaning
1 : of or relating to a style of art and music marked by complex forms and bold
ornamentation

*2 : characterized by grotesqueness, extravagance, complexity, or flamboyance

3 : irregularly shaped

Example Sentence

She’s an immensely talented writer, but her baroque prose style is too grandiose for my
taste.

Did you know?

"Baroque" came to English from a French word meaning "irregularly shaped." At first,
the word in French was used mostly to refer to pearls. Eventually, it came to describe an
extravagant style of art characterized by curving lines, gilt, and gold. This type of art,
which was prevalent especially in the 17th century, was sometimes considered to be
excessively decorated and overly complicated. It makes sense, therefore, that the meaning
of the word "baroque" has broadened to include anything that seems excessively ornate or
elaborate.

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polemic

\puh-LEM-ik\

noun

Meaning

1 *a : an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of anotherb : the


art or practice of disputation

2 : disputant
Example Sentence

"He isn't striving for objectivity; this book is part history, part polemic." (Carmela
Ciuraru,Christian Science Monitor, June 16, 2009)

Did you know?

When "polemic" was borrowed into English from French "polémique" in the mid-17th
century, it referred (as it still can) to a type of hostile attack on someone's ideas. The
word traces back to Greek "polemikos," which means "warlike" or "hostile" and in turn
comes from the Greek noun "polemos," meaning "war." Other, considerably less
common descendants of "polemos" in English include "polemarch" ("a chieftain or
military commander in ancient Greece"), "polemoscope" (a kind of binoculars with an
oblique mirror), and "polemology" ("the study of war").

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tribulation

\trib-yuh-LAY-shun\

noun

Meaning

: distress or suffering resulting from oppression or persecution; also : a trying experience

Example Sentence

Over the past year, Sara and Brian have experienced all the trials and tribulations that
come with owning one’s first home.

Did you know?


The writer and Christian scholar Thomas More, in his 1534 work "A dialoge of comforte
against tribulation," defined the title word as "euery such thing as troubleth and greueth
[grieveth] a man either in bodye or mynde."These days, however, the word "tribulation"
is typically used as a plural count noun, paired with its alliterative partner "trial," and
relates less to oppression and more to any kind of uphill struggle. "Tribulation" derives
via Middle English and Old French from the Latin verb "tribulare" (to oppress or afflict),
related to "tribulum," a noun meaning "threshing board."

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jackleg

\JACK-leg\

adjective

Meaning

1 a : characterized by unscrupulousness, dishonesty, or lack of professional standards *b :


lacking skill or training : amateur

2 : designed as a temporary expedient : makeshift

Example Sentence

"Ted Dawson was a pretty good jackleg carpenter." (Stephen King, It)

Did you know?

Don't call someone "jackleg" unless you're prepared for that person to get angry with you.
Throughout its more than 150-year-old history in English, "jackleg" has most often been
used as a term of contempt and deprecation, particularly in reference to lawyers and
preachers. Its form echoes that of the similar "blackleg," an older term for a cheating
gambler or a worker opposed to union policies. Etymologists know that "blackleg"
appeared over a hundred years before "jackleg," but they don't have any verifiable
theories about the origin of either term.
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con amore

\kahn-uh-MOR-ee\

adverb

Meaning

*1 : with love, devotion, or zest

2 : in a tender manner — used as a direction in music

Example Sentence

I'm not usually one to cry at weddings, but I found myself dabbing my eyes with a tissue
as bride and groom recited their vows, con amore.

Did you know?

"No matter what the object is, whether business, pleasures, or the fine arts; whoever
pursues them to any purpose must do so con amore." Wise words — and the 18th-century
Englishman who wrote them under the pseudonym Sir Thomas Fitzosborne may have
been drawing on his own experience. At the time those words were written (around
1740), the author, whose real name was William Melmoth, had recently abandoned the
practice of law to pursue his interest in writing and classical scholarship, which were
apparently his true loves. In any case, by making use of "con amore," a term borrowed
from Italian, Melmoth gave us the first known use of the word in English prose.

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mohair
\MOH-hair\

noun

Meaning

: a fabric or yarn made wholly or in part of the long silky hair of the Angora goat; also :
this hair

Example Sentence

This year's product line includes coats and sweaters made from mohair produced in
Texas.

Did you know?

"Mohair" entered the English language in the 16th century, spelled variously as
"mocayare," "mockaire," "mokayre," and "moochary." It was borrowed from Italian
"mocaiarro," a word which itself was borrowed from Arabic "mukhayyar." The adjective
"mukhayyar" meant "select" or "choice." How this Arabic adjective came to be the
English noun "mohair" is a bit of a mystery. It is possible that "mukhayyar" was used as a
colloquial noun in the sense of "wool of prime quality" (that is, "choice wool"). In
English, the shift from "mocayare" and similar spellings to "mohair" was likely
influenced by the more familiar English word "hair."

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quaff

\KWAHF\

verb

Meaning
: to drink deeply

Example Sentence

"'Respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore! Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe
and forget this lost Lenore!' / Quoth the raven, 'Nevermore.'" (Edgar Allan Poe, The
Raven)

Did you know?

Nowadays, "quaff" has an old-fashioned, literary sound to it. For more contemporary
words that suggest drinking a lot of something, especially in big gulps and in large
quantity, you might try "drain," "pound," or "slug." If you are a daintier drinker, you
might say that you prefer to "sip," "imbibe" or "partake in" the beverage of your choice.
"Quaff" is by no means the oldest of these terms — earliest evidence of it in use is from
the early 1500s, whereas "sip" dates to the 14th century — but it is the only one with the
mysterious "origin unknown" etymology.

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verbatim

\ver-BAY-tim\

adverb

Meaning

: in the exact words : word for word

Example Sentence

Irene used a tape recorder during her interviews so that she could quote her subjects
verbatim.
Did you know?

Latin has a phrase for "exactly as written": "verbatim ac litteratim," which literally means
"word for word and letter for letter." Like the "verbatim" in that Latin phrase, the English
"verbatim" means "word for word." As you may have noticed, there's a "verb" in
"verbatim" — and that's no mere coincidence. Both "verb" and "verbatim" are derived
from the Latin word for "word," which is "verbum." Other common English words that
share this root include "adverb," "proverb," and "verbose." Even the word "word" itself is
related. "Verbatim" can also be an adjective meaning "being in or following the exact
words" (as in "a verbatim report") and a rarer noun referring to an account, translation, or
report that follows the original word for word.

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hyperbole

\hye-PER-buh-lee\

noun

Meaning

: extravagant exaggeration

Example Sentence

The food in the restaurant was quite good, but it couldn't live up to the hyperbole that had
been used to describe it in the advertisement.

Did you know?

In the 5th century B.C. there was a rabble-rousing Athenian, a politician named
Hyperbolus, who often made exaggerated promises and claims that whipped people into a
frenzy. But even though it sounds appropriate, Hyperbolus' name did not play a role in
the development of the modern English word "hyperbole." That noun does come to us
from Greek (by way of Latin), but from the Greek verb "hyperballein," meaning "to
exceed," not from the name of the Athenian demagogue.
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lanuginous

\luh-NOO-juh-nus\

adjective

Meanin
g
: covered with down or fine soft hair : downy

Example Sentence

"The Leaves of the young Branches are like those of the Quince, green without, and
white and lanuginous underneath, and serve for Food for the Elephants." (Monfieur
Pomet, "Figs," History of Druggs, 1709)

Did you know?

You're likely to come across "lanuginous" in only a few contexts, botany and spelling
bees being the best candidates. In other contexts, the more common term is "downy."
"Lanuginous" has an unsurprising pedigree. It's from the Latin word "lanuginosus,"
which is in turn from "lanugo," the Latin word for "down." ("Lanugo" is also an English
word used especially to refer to the soft woolly hair that covers the fetus of some
mammals.) "Lanugo" itself is from "lana," meaning "wool," a root also at work in
"lanolin," the term for wool grease that's refined for use in ointments and cosmetics.

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skosh

\SKOHSH\

noun

Meaning
: a small amount : bit, smidgen

Example Sentence

The barista sprinkled a skosh of fresh ginger onto the milky surface of the latte.

Did you know?

The word "skosh" comes from the Japanese word "sukoshi," which is pronounced "skoh
shee" and means "a tiny bit" or "a small amount." The Japanese word was shortened by
U.S. servicemen stationed in Japan after World War II. Later, in the Korean War, a small
soldier was often nicknamed "Skosh." In civilian-speak, "skosh" can be used as a noun
(as in our example sentence) or adverbially (as in "I'm a skosh tired").

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pachydermatous

\pack-ih-DER-muh-tuss\

adjective

Meaning

1 : of or relating to the pachyderms

2 *a : thick, thickenedb : callous, insensitive

Example Sentence

With 18 eventful years in office behind him, the senator has developed a pachydermatous
layer of self-protection that the latest media attacks cannot penetrate.

Did you know?


Elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses — it was a French zoologist named Georges
Cuvier who in the late 1700s first called these and other thick-skinned, hoofed mammals
"Pachydermata." The word, from Greek roots, means "thick-skinned" in New Latin (the
Latin used in scientific description and classification). In the 19th century, we began
calling such animals "pachyderms," and we also began using the adjective
"pachydermatous" to refer, both literally and figuratively, to the characteristics and
qualities of pachyderms — especially their thick skin. American poet James Russell
Lowell first employed "pachydermatous" with the figurative "thick-skinned" sense in the
mid-1800s: "A man cannot have a sensuous nature and be pachydermatous at the same
time."

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nyctalopia

\nik-tuh-LOH-pee-uh\

noun

Meaning

:reduced visual capacity in faint light (as at night) : night blindness

Example Sentence

Bernard suffers from progressive nyctalopia; as a result, he can no longer drive at night.

Did you know?

"Nyctalopia" comes to us from the Latin word "nyctalops," which means "suffering from
night blindness." It is ultimately derived from the Greek word "nyktalops," which was
formed by combining the word for "night" ("nyx") with the words for "blind" and "eye"
("alaos" and "ōps," respectively). English speakers have been using "nyctalopia" to refer
to reduced vision in faint light or at night since the 17th century. We added the somewhat
more pedestrian "night blindness" to the lexicon in the 18th century.

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adust

\uh-DUST\

adjective
Meaning

: scorched, burned

Example Sentence

The adust landscape of volcanic rock and sand can be particularly beautiful at sunset.

Did you know?

"Adust" comes from Latin "adustus," the past participle of "adurere"("to set fire to"), a
verb formed from the Latin prefix "ad-"and the verb "urere" ("to burn"). It entered the
English language in the early 15th century as a medical term related to the four bodily
humors — black bile, blood, phlegm, and yellow bile — which were believed at the time
to determine a person's health and temperament. "Adust" was used to describe a condition
of the humors in which they supposedly became heated or combusted. Adust black bile in
particular was believed to be a source of melancholy. The association with melancholy
gave rise to an adjectival sense of "adust" meaning "of a gloomy appearance or
disposition," but that sense is now considered archaic.

bardolater

\bar-DAH-luh-ter\

noun

Meaning

: a person who idolizes Shakespeare

Example Sentence

"[Abraham] Lincoln was a lifelong Bardolater and serial Shakespeare-quoter, as Mr.


[Barack] Obama noted in remarks at the recent reopening of Ford's Theater." (Barry
Edelstein, The New York Times, April 26, 2009)

Did you know?


George Bernard Shaw once described a Shakespeare play as "stagy trash." Another time,
Shaw said he'd like to dig Shakespeare from the grave and throw stones at him. Shaw
could be equally scathing toward Shakespeare's adoring fans. He called them "foolish
Bardolaters," wrote of "Bardolatrous" ignoramuses, and called blind Shakespeare
worship "Bardolatry." Oddly enough, Shaw didn't despise Shakespeare or his work (on
the contrary, he was, by his own admission, an admirer), but he disdained those who
placed the man beyond reproach. The word "bardolater," which Shaw coined by blending
Shakespeare's epithet — "the Bard" — with an affix that calls to mind "idolater," has
stuck with us to this day, though it has lost some of its original critical sting.

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reiterate

\ree-IT-uh-rayt\

verb

Meaning

: to state or do over again or repeatedly sometimes with wearying effect

Example Sentence

Megan rolled her eyes as her mother reiterated the rules for the umpteenth time.

Did you know?

Can you guess the meaning of "iterate," a less common relative of "reiterate"? It must
mean simply "to state or do," right? Nope. Actually, "iterate" also means "to state or do
again." It's no surprise, then, that some usage commentators have insisted that "reiterate"
must always mean "to say or do again AND AGAIN." No such nice distinction exists in
actual usage, however. Both "reiterate" and "iterate" can convey the idea of a single
repetition or of many repetitions. "Reiterate" is the older of the two words -- it first
appeared in the 15th century, whereas "iterate" turned up around 1533. Both stem from
the Latin verb "iterare," which is itself from "iterum" ("again"), but "reiterate" took an
extra step, through Latin "reiterare"("to repeat").

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omnibus

\AHM-nih-bus\
adjective

Meaning

*1 : of, relating to, or providing for many things at once

2 : containing or including many items

Example Sentence

At the beginning of the school year, teachers held an omnibus meeting to tie up many of
the loose ends that were left unaddressed over the summer.

Did you know?

The adjective "omnibus" may not have much to do with public transportation, but the
noun "omnibus" certainly does — it not only means "bus,"but it's also the word English
speakers shortened to form "bus." The noun "omnibus" originated in the 1820s as a
French word for long, horse-drawn vehicles that transported people along the main
thoroughfares of Paris. Shortly thereafter, omnibuses — and the noun "omnibus" —
arrived in New York. But in Latin, "omnibus" simply means "for all." Our adjective
"omnibus," which arrived in the mid-1800s, seems to hark back to that Latin "omnibus,"
though it may also have been at least partially influenced by the English noun. An
"omnibus bill" containing numerous provisions, for example, could be likened to a bus
loaded with people.

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etiquette

\ET-ih-kut\

noun

Meaning

: the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be


observed in social or official life

Example Sentence
According to Miss Manners, it is a myth that newlyweds have up to a year to write
thank-you notes for wedding gifts; rather, etiquette dictates that the notes should be sent
as soon as possible.

Did you know?

One definition of the French word "étiquette" is "ticket" or "label attached to something
for identification." In 16th-century Spain, the French word was borrowed (and altered to
"etiqueta") to refer to the written protocols describing orders of precedence and behavior
demanded of those who appeared in court. Eventually, "etiqueta" came to be applied to
the court ceremonies themselves as well as the documents which outlined the
requirements for them. Interestingly, this then led to French speakers of the time
attributing the second sense of "proper behavior" to their "étiquette," and in the middle of
the 18th century English speakers finally adopted both the word and the second meaning
from the French.

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fractious

\FRAK-shus\

adjective

Meaning

*1 : tending to be troublesome : unruly

2 : quarrelsome, irritable

Example Sentence

The class was fractious and uncontrollable when Mr. Douglas first took over as teacher,
but he now has the students disciplined, focused, and ready to learn.

Did you know?

The Latin verb "frangere" ("to break or shatter") has many modern English relations.
Dishes that are "fragile" can break easily. A person whose health is easily broken might
be described as "frail." A "fraction" is one of the many pieces into which a whole can be
broken. But "fraction" also once meant "disharmony" or "discord" — that is, a "rupture in
relations." From this noun sense came the adjective "fractious," meaning "unruly" or
"quarrelsome." Though the "disharmony" sense of the noun is now obsolete, "fractious"
is still common today.

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natant

\NAY-tunt\

adjective

Meaning

: swimming or floating in water

Example Sentence

"Before me natant birds hunker against the teeth of a northerly breeze." (Kevin J.
Cook,Fort Collins Coloradoan, November 29, 2002)

Did you know?

"Natant" and the smattering of other words birthed in the waters of Latin "natare,"
meaning "to swim," sound unnecessarily formal in most contexts. We could say "The
natant athletes who've done their time at the local natatorium are easily distinguished by
their natatorial skills; their natation is markedly better than that of those who have
practiced less." Most of us, however, would prefer "The swimmers who've done their
time at the local indoor swimming pool are easily distinguished by their swimming skills;
their swimming is markedly better than that of those who have practiced less." The
common German-derived word "swimming" suits most of us just fine. Science, though,
often prefers Latin, which is why you're most likely to encounter "natare" words in
scientific contexts.

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gruntle

\GRUN-tul\

verb

Meaning

: to put in a good humor


Example Sentence

The hour wait irked us, but once we were seated, we were immediately gruntled by an
amiable waiter.

Did you know?

The verb "disgruntle," which has been around since 1682, means "to make ill-humored or
discontented." The prefix "dis-" often means "to do the opposite of," so people might
naturally assume that if there is a "disgruntle," there must have first been a "gruntle" with
exactly the opposite meaning. But actually, "dis-" doesn’t always work that way — in
some rare cases it functions instead as an intensifier. "Disgruntle" developed from this
intensifying sense of "dis-" plus "gruntle," an old word meaning "to grumble." In the
1920s, a writer humorously used "gruntle" to mean "to make happy" — in other words, as
an antonym of "disgruntle." The use caught on. At first "gruntle" was used only in
humorous ways, but people eventually began to use it seriously as well.

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rebus

\REE-bus\

noun

Meaning

: a representation of syllables or words by means of pictures or symbols; also : a riddle


made up of such pictures or symbols

Example Sentence

The answer to yesterday’s rebus, which showed a man on an Ark, a spider web, and a
spoon stirring coffee, was "Noah Webster."

Did you know?

A rebus communicates its message by means of pictures or symbols whose names sound
like various parts of a word, phrase, or sentence. For example, a picture of a can of
tomatoes, followed by the letters UC and a picture of a well means "Can you see well?"
In Latin, the word "rebus" means "by things"; "rebus" is a form of the Latin word "res,"
which means "thing." English speakers started using the word "rebus" for picture writing
in the early 1600s.
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sacerdotal

\sass-er-DOH-tul\

adjective

Meaning

*1 : of or relating to priests or a priesthood : priestly

2 : of, relating to, or suggesting religious belief emphasizing the powers of priests as
essential mediators between God and mankind

Example Sentence

It surprised Jim whenever Father Thomas would shed his sacerdotal role to take up a
secular topic of conversation such as contemporary rock music.

Did you know?

"Sacerdotal" is one of a host of English words derived from the Latin adjective "sacer,"
meaning "sacred." Other words derived from "sacer" include "desecrate," "sacrifice,"
"sacrilege," "consecrate," "sacrament," and even "execrable" (developed from the Latin
word "exsecrari," meaning "to put under a curse"). One unlikely "sacer" descendant is
"sacrum," referring to the series of five vertebrae in the lower back connected to the
pelvis. In Latin this bone was called the "os sacrum," or "holy bone," a translation of the
Greek "hieron osteon."

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bastion

\BAS-chun\

noun

Meaning

1 : a projecting part of a fortification

2 : a fortified area or position


3 a : a place of security or survival

*b : a place dominated by a particular group or marked by a particular characteristic

Example Sentence

The university's economics department was considered the last bastion of political
conservatism within an otherwise liberal campus.

Did you know?

"Bastion" is constructed of etymological building blocks that are very similar to those of
"bastille" (a word now used as a general term for a prison, but probably best known as the
name of the Parisian fortress-turned-prison stormed by an angry mob at the start of the
French Revolution). The history of "bastion" can be traced through Middle French to the
Old Italian verb "bastire," which means "to build." "Bastille" descends from the Old
Occitan verb "bastir," which also means "to build." "Bastir" and "bastire" are themselves
of Germanic origin and akin to the Old High German word "besten," meaning "to patch."

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nudnik

\NOOD-nik (the "OO" is as in "good")\

noun

Meaning

: a person who is a bore or nuisance

Example Sentence

James worried that he would never finish his work if the office nudnik didn't quit hanging
around his cubicle.

Did you know?

The suffix "-nik" came to English through Yiddish (and ultimately from Polish and
Ukrainian). It means "one connected with or characterized by being." You might be
familiar with "beatnik," "computernik," or "neatnik," but what about "no-goodnik" or
"allrightnik"? The suffix "-nik" is frequently used in English to create nonce words that
are often jocular or slightly derogatory. Some theorize that the popularity of the suffix
was enhanced by Russian "Sputnik," as well as Al Capp's frequent use of "-nik" words in
his "L'il Abner" cartoons. The "nud-" of the Yiddish borrowing "nudnik" ultimately
comes from the Polish word "nuda," meaning "boredom."

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arbitrary

\AHR-buh-trair-ee\

adjective

Meaning

1 : autocratic, despotic

*2 : determined by whim or caprice : existing or coming about seemingly at random or by


chance

Example Sentence

The 10 p.m. deadline is arbitrary — we could have easily selected another time for the
contest to end — but we had to pick a cutoff, and now it is set.

Did you know?

"Arbitrary" is derived from the same source as "arbiter." The Latin word "arbiter" means
"judge," and English adopted it, via Anglo-French, with the meaning "one who judges a
dispute"; it can now also be used for anyone whose judgment is respected. "Arbitrary"
traces back to the Latin adjective "arbitrarius" ("done by way of legal arbitration"), which
itself comes from "arbiter." In English "arbitrary" first meant "depending upon choice or
discretion" and was specifically used to indicate the sort of decision (as for punishment)
left up to the expert determination of a judge rather than defined by law. Today, it can
also be used for anything determined by or as if by a personal choice or whim.

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groundling

\GROUND-ling\

noun
Meaning

1 a : a spectator who stood in the pit of an Elizabethan theater *b : a person of


unsophisticated taste

2 : one that lives or works on or near the ground

Example Sentence

The movie was panned as mindless fodder for the groundlings.

Did you know?

In Elizabethan times, play-going audiences were a diverse bunch. In the upper gallery,
the wealthier patrons fanned themselves and looked with disdain at those who could only
afford the penny admission to the pit below. Pit spectators had to sit or stand in close
proximity on the bare floor, exposed to the sweltering sun or the dampening rain. At
times, they behaved less than decorously, and they reportedly emitted a less than pleasant
odor. The pit was also called the "ground"; those in it were "groundlings." Today, we use
"groundlings" to refer not only to the less than couth among us, but also (often with some
facetiousness) to ordinary Janes or Joes.

amicable

\AM-ih-kuh-bul\

adjective

Meaning

: characterized by friendly goodwill : peaceable

Example Sentence

“About a million couples divorce each year in the United States, and most, like my ex
and me, start out striving to keep the split amicable.” (Annie Finnigan, Family Circle,
October 17, 2008)

Did you know?

"Amicable," which derives from Late Latin "amicabilis," meaning "friendly," is one of a
set of English words used to suggest cordial relationships. "Amicable," "neighborly,"
"companionable," and "friendly" all mean marked by or exhibiting goodwill and an
absence of antagonism. "Amicable" implies a state of peace and a desire on the part of the
parties not to quarrel ("they maintained amicable relations"; "the amicable process of
bargaining"). "Neighborly" implies a disposition to live on good terms with others,
particularly those who are nearby, and to be helpful on principle ("neighborly concern").
"Companionable" suggests sociability and companionship ("a companionable dinner with
friends"). "Friendly" stresses cordiality and often warmth or intimacy of personal
relations ("a friendly correspondence").

magnanimous

\mag-NAN-uh-mus\

adjective

Meaning

1 : showing or suggesting a lofty and courageous spirit

*2 : showing or suggesting nobility of feeling and generosity of mind

Example Sentence

Rather than gloat about her victory in the race, Michelle chose to be magnanimous and
congratulated her opponents on their strong showings.

Did you know?

When you see "anima," "animus," or a similar formation in a word, it's an indicator of
something alive, lively, or spirited. Something "animated" is full of life, for example, and
an "animal" is a living, breathing thing. The Latin word "animus" means "soul" or
"spirit." In "magnanimous," that "animus" is joined by Latin "magnus," meaning "great."
Basically meaning "greatness of spirit," "magnanimity" is the opposite of pettiness. A
truly magnanimous person can lose without complaining and win without gloating.
Angry disputes can sometimes be resolved when one side makes a magnanimous gesture
toward another.

chapel

\CHAP-ul\

noun

Meaning

1 : a private or subordinate place of worship

*2 : an assembly at an educational institution usually including devotional exercises

3 : a place of worship used by a Christian group other than an established church


Example Sentence

The school required all of its students to attend chapel daily.

Did you know?

"Chapel" is ultimately derived from the Late Latin word "cappa," meaning "cloak." How
did we get from a garment to a building? The answer to this question has to do with a
shrine created to hold the sacred cloak of St. Martin of Tours. In Medieval Latin, this
shrine was called "cappella" (from a diminutive of "cappa" meaning "short cloak or
cape") in reference to the relic it contained. Later, the meaning of "cappella" broadened to
include any building that housed a sacred relic, and eventually to a place of worship. Old
French picked up the term as "chapele," which in turn passed into English as "chapel" in
the 13th century. In case you are wondering, the term "a cappella," meaning "without
instrumental accompaniment," entered English from Italian, where it literally means "in
chapel style."

myrmidon

\'MER-muh-dahn\

noun

Meaning

: a loyal follower; especially : a subordinate who executes orders unquestioningly or


unscrupulously

Example Sentence

The boss was more likely to offer promotions to her myrmidons than to those workers
who occasionally questioned her tactics or proposed alternate solutions.

Did you know?

The Myrmidons, legendary inhabitants of Thessaly in Greece, were known for their fierce
devotion to their king, Achilles, who led them in the Trojan War. "Myrmex" means "ant"
in Greek, an image that evokes small and insignificant workers mindlessly fulfilling their
duty. Whether the original Myrmidons were given their name for that reason is open to
question. The "ant" association is strong, however. Some say the name is from a
legendary ancestor who once had the form of an ant; others say the Myrmidons were
actually transformed from ants. In any case, since the 1400s, we've employed
"myrmidon" in its not-always-complimentary, ant-evoking, figurative sense.
felicitous

\fih-LISS-uh-tus\

adjective

Meaning

*1 : very well suited or expressed : apt

2 : pleasant, delightful

Example Sentence

The film’s score, at least, is felicitous, as it lends emotional intensity to the otherwise
wooden acting.

Did you know?

The adjective "felicitous" has been a part of our language since the late 18th century, but
"felicity," the noun meaning "great happiness," and later, "aptness," was around even in
Middle English (as "felicite," a borrowing from Anglo-French). Both words ultimately
derive from the Latin adjective "felix," meaning "fruitful" or "happy." The connection
between "happy" and "felicitous" continues today in that both words can mean "notably
fitting, effective, or well adapted." "Happy" typically suggests what is effectively or
successfully appropriate (as in "a happy choice of words"), and "felicitous" often implies
an aptness that is opportune, telling, or graceful (as in "a felicitous phrase").

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gloze

\GLOHZ\

verb

Meaning

*1 : to mask the true nature of : give a deceptively attractive appearance to — often used
with "over"

2 : to deal with (a subject or problem) too lightly or not at all — often used with "over"

Example Sentence
"His modesty and shyness were at any rate proverbial, and it does seem that he went out
of his way to conceal or gloze over certain aspects of his career, his military exploits in
particular." (Eleanor Perenyi, Green Thoughts)

Did you know?

"Gloze" and its synonym "gloss" have long, intertwined histories. "Gloze," which comes
from Middle English "glose," meaning "flattery," "plausible pretext," or "explanation of a
difficult word," is the older of the two; it has been used as both a verb and noun since the
14th century. The noun "gloss," referring to an explanation or interpretation, first
appeared in the mid-16th century as an alteration of "gloze," and the verb "gloss"
followed about a century later." During the 19th century, "gloze" briefly took on the
additional meaning "to brighten" (adapting the meaning of another, unrelated "gloss"
referring to luster or brightness), but by the end of that century all uses of "gloze" had
faded into relative obscurity. "Gloss," on the other hand, flourished and continues to be
the more common term by far today.

embargo

\im-BAHR-goh\

noun

Meaning

1 : an order of a government prohibiting the departure of commercial ships from its ports

*2 : a legal prohibition on commerce

3 : stoppage, impediment; especially : prohibition

Example Sentence

Because of the trade embargo against Cuba, certain items, such as Cuban cigars, are
illegal in the United States.

Did you know?

Embargoes may be put in place for any number of reasons. For instance, a government
may place a trade embargo against another country to express its disapproval with that
country’s policies. But governments are not the only bodies that can place embargoes. A
publisher, for example, could place an embargo on a highly anticipated book to prevent
stores from selling it before its official release date. The word "embargo," dating from the
late 16th century, derives via Spanish "embargar"from Vulgar Latin "imbarricare,"
formed from the prefix "in-" and the noun "barra" ("bar").

beatific

\bee-uh-TIFF-ik\

adjective

Meaning

1 : of, possessing, or imparting a state of utmost bliss

*2 : having a blissful appearance

Example Sentence

A beatific smile spread across Grandmother’s face as she reminisced about her wedding
day.

Did you know?

"Beatific," from Latin "beatificus" ("making happy"), first occurred in English in the
phrase "beatific vision," a theological allusion to the direct sight of God enjoyed by the
blessed in heaven. Although "beatific" originally meant "conferring happiness," the word
now more frequently means "expressing happiness," and a blissfully joyful look or
appearance may be called "beatific." A closely related word is "beatitude," which can
refer to a state of utmost bliss. (You may also know "the beatitudes" as a series of
blessings from Jesus in the Bible.)

homogeneous

\hoh-muh-JEEN-yus\

adjective

Meaning

1 : of the same or a similar kind or nature

*2 : of uniform structure or composition throughout

Example Sentence

"In my opinion the solar system is a solid homogeneous body; the planets which compose
it are in actual contact with each other." (Jules Verne, From the Earth to the Moon)
Did you know?

The scientific theories of Jules Verne's bold French adventurer, Michel Ardan, might
have been a bit flawed (it's more accurate to classify the solar system as "heterogenous"
— that is, consisting of dissimilar ingredients or constituents), but the use of the English
word "homogeneous" was perfectly correct. "Homogeneous," which derives from the
Greek roots "homos," meaning "same," and "genos," meaning "kind," has been used in
English since the mid-1600s. The similar word "homogenous" (originally created for the
science of genetics and used with the meaning "of, relating to, or derived from another
individual of the same species") can also be a synonym of "homogeneous." The words
need not be used exclusively in scientific contexts — one can speak of, for example, "a
homogenous/homogeneous community."

canaille

\kuh-NYE\

noun

Meaning

*1: rabble, riffraff

2: proletarian

Example Sentence

"I am not going to write for [the New York Weekly] — like all other papers that pay one
splendidly, it circulates among stupid people & the canaille." (Mark Twain, letter, June 1,
1867)

Did you know?

For a creature said to be man’s best friend, the dog doesn’t get a whole lot of respect in
the English language. Something that has "gone to the dogs," for example, has gone to
ruin, and the Britishism "dog’s breakfast" means a confused mess of something. The
word "canaille," which debuted in English in the 17th century, shows that we have no
qualms about associating dogs with the lower levels of human society; it derives via
French from Italian "canaglia," and ultimately from "canis," the Latin word for "dog."
"Canis," of course, is also the source of "canine," meaning "of or relating to dogs or to the
family to which they belong."

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ominous
\AH-muh-nus\

adjective

Meaning

: being or exhibiting an omen : portentous;especially : foreboding or foreshadowing evil :


inauspicious

Example Sentence

Our fears about the picnic being cancelled were heightened by the sight of dark, ominous
clouds appearing over the horizon.

Did you know?

"Ominous" didn't always mean "foreshadowing evil." If you look closely, you can see the
"omen" in "ominous," which gave it the original meaning of "presaging events to come"
— whether good or bad. It is ultimately derived from the Latin word "omen," which is
both an ancestor and a synonym of our "omen." Today, however, "ominous" tends to
suggest a menacing or threatening aspect. Its synonyms "portentous" and "fateful" are
used similarly, but "ominous" is the most menacing of the three. It implies an alarming
character that foreshadows evil or disaster. "Portentous" suggests being frighteningly big
or impressive, but seldom gives a definite forewarning of calamity. "Fateful" implies that
something is of momentous or decisive importance.

ergogenic

\ur-guh-JEN-ik\

adjective

Meaning

: enhancing physical performance

Example Sentence

"New to this edition are chapters for rowers and a review of ergogenic aids, such as
protein supplements and otherproducts…." (Anne Stein, Chicago Tribune, June 3, 2007)

Did you know?


No matter your profession — be it office worker, athlete, physicist, or poet — "ergon,"
the Greek word for "work," has generated a word for you to work into your vocabulary.
There is "ergonomics," which concerns efficiently and safely designing things that people
use — for example, office equipment. Then there is our featured word, "ergogenic,"
which might crop up in a discussion about improving athletic performance. The
physicist's mind is likely to think in "ergs," or centimeter-gram-second units of work.
And for those of the literary, or even agricultural, bent, there is "georgic," which
combines "ergon" with Greek "geō-," meaning "earth," and refers to a poem dealing with
agriculture or to the activity of agriculture itself. The most common derivative, however,
is "energy," which adds Greek "en," meaning "in," to "ergon."

Sturm und Drang

\shtoorm-unt-DRAHNG\

noun

Meaning

: turmoil

Example Sentence

The new film deftly captures the Sturm und Drang of growing up as it chronicles the
turbulent lives of two teens in postwar Germany.

Did you know?

“Sturm und Drang” comes from German, where it literally means “storm and stress.”
Although it’s now a generic synonym of “turmoil,” the term was originally used in
English to identify a late 18th-century German literary movement whose works were
filled with rousing action and high emotionalism, and often dealt with an individual
rebelling against the injustices of society. The movement took its name from the 1776
playSturm und Drang, a work by one of its proponents, dramatist and novelist Friedrich
von Klinger. Although the literary movement was well known in Germany in the late
1700s, the term “Sturm und Drang” didn’t appear in English prose until the mid-1800s.

two-bit

\TOO-BIT\

adjective
Meaning

1 : of the value of two bits

*2 : cheap or trivial of its kind : petty, small-time

Example Sentence

Eliana had only a two-bit role in the musical, but her enchanting voice and beauty
magnified her presence on stage.

Did you know?

The first definition of "two-bit" makes its etymology obvious: it is derived from the noun
"two bits." However, "two bits" is an interesting phrase because it actually means "the
value of a quarter of a dollar." There is no such thing as a single bit, at least not anymore.
The now obsolete Spanish dollar was composed of eight reals, or eight bits, so a quarter
of the dollar equaled two bits. The phrase "two bits" carried over into U.S. usage, though
there's no bit coin in U.S. currency. "Two bits" first appeared in print in English in 1730
(and later developed the figurative sense of "something of small worth or importance"),
followed in 1802 by its adjectival relative. These days, the adjective has far surpassed the
noun in popularity.

wassail

\WAH-sul\

verb

Meaning

1 : to indulge in riotous drinking

2 dialect England : to sing carols from house to house at Christmas

*3 : to drink to the health or thriving of

Example Sentence

The farmer and his revelers wassailed the apple orchard, hoping for another fruitful
season, and then merrily poured cider around the trees.

Did you know?

The salutation "wassail," from the Old Norse toast "ves heill" ("be well"), has
accompanied English toast-making since the 12th century. By the 13th century, "wassail"
was being used for the drink itself, and it eventually came to be used especially of a hot
drink (of wine, beer, or cider with spices, sugar, and usually baked apples) drunk around
Christmastime. This beverage warmed the stomachs and hearts of many Christmas
revelers and was often shared with Christmas carolers. The verb "wassail" was first used
in the 14th century to describe the carousing associated with indulgence in the drink;
later, it was used of other activities associated with wassail and the holiday season, like
caroling. Seventeenth-century farmers added cattle and trees to the wassail tradition by
drinking to their health or vitality during wintertime festivities.

funicular

\fyoo-NIK-yuh-ler\

noun

Meaning

: a cable railway ascending a mountain;especially : one in which an ascending car


counterbalances a descending car

Example Sentence

"Situated in a gated community reachable by funicular, the resort's 181 guest rooms come
with flat-screen TVs, nightly turndown service and, in suites, even a butler." (The New
York Times, December 13, 2009)

Did you know?

You may have fun on a funicular, but the word is not related to "fun" (which comes to us
from an English dialect verb meaning "to hoax"). The noun "funicular" descends from an
earlier adjective "funicular," meaning "relating to a cord under tension." It was also
influenced by "funiculaire," a French word used for a type of railway that is dependent
upon cables (or on "cords under tension"). Ultimately, these terms trace back to the Latin
noun "funiculus," meaning "small rope." "Funicular" first appeared in print as an
adjective in English in 1664; the noun has been with us since the early 20th century.

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-Mrs. Grundy

\MISS-uz-GRUN-dee\

noun

Meaning

: one marked by prudish conventionality in personal conduct


Example Sentence

After a barrage of complaints from Mrs. Grundys, the Web site's managers decided to
remove the "objectionable" photos.

Did you know?

"What would Mrs. Grundy say?" Dame Ashfield, a character in Thomas Morton's 1798
play Speed the Plough, was continually asking that question and worrying about invoking
the sneering condemnation of her prudish neighbor, Mrs. Grundy. Although Mrs. Grundy
never actually appeared on stage during the play, her critical attitude exerted a significant
influence on the actions of other characters, and ultimately on the English language. By
1813, English speakers had adopted her name as a byword for anyone with extremely
rigid standards of propriety that he or she applied in judging the actions of others.

colubrine

\KAHL-yuh-bryne\

adjective

Meaning

*1 : of, relating to, or resembling a snake

2 : of or relating to a large cosmopolitan family (Colubridae) of chiefly nonvenomous


snakes

Example Sentence

"By the time the music starts throbbing at 9, there will undoubtedly be a colubrine line
slithering down Mass. Ave." (Christopher Muther, The Boston Globe, March 2002)

Did you know?

"Colubrine" may be less common than other animal words, such as "canine," "feline,"
and "bovine," but it has been around for a good long while. Ultimately derived from the
Latin "colubra" ("snake"), it slithered into the English language in the 16th century.
("Cobra," by the way, comes from the same Latin word, but entered English through
Portuguese.) Some other words for "snakelike" are "serpentine" (a more common
alternative) and "ophidian" (from the Greek word for snake: "ophis").
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Augean stable

\aw-JEE-un-STAY-bul\

noun

Meaning

: a condition or place marked by great accumulation of filth or corruption

Example Sentence

The presidency of Ulysses S. Grant was marred by his refusal to clean out the Augean
stables of his own administration.

Did you know?

"Augean stable" most often appears in the phrase "clean the Augean stable," which
usually means "clear away corruption" or "perform a large and unpleasant task that has
long called for attention." Augeas, the mythical king of Elis, kept great stables that held
3,000 oxen and had not been cleaned for thirty years — until Hercules was assigned the
job. Hercules accomplished this task by causing two rivers to run through the stables. The
word "Augean" is sometimes used by itself, too — it has come to mean "extremely
difficult and usually distasteful." We can refer to "Augean tasks," "Augean labor," or
even "Augean clutter."

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conquian
\KONK-ee-un\

noun

Meaning

: a card game for two played with 40 cards from which all games of rummy developed

Example Sentence

The two friends whiled away the long summer days with endless games of conquian.

Did you know?

Conquian is a very old card game, played more frequently in the past than now. Based on
the "draw and discard" principle that forms the basis for all modern games of rummy, it's
played with 40 cards of a 52-card deck. (The most common variations involve the
removal of either all face cards, or the tens, nines, and eights.) The goal of the game is to
form three or four of a kind, or sequences. "Conquian" comes to us from Mexican
Spanish, but the word is ultimately derived from the Spanish "¿con quién?" meaning
"with whom?"

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refurbish

\rih-FER-bish\

verb
Meaning

: to brighten or freshen up : renovate

Example Sentence

Bill and Marie bought the historic house with the intent of refurbishing it.

Did you know?

If you're wondering if "refurbish" implies the existence of an earlier "furbish," you are on
the right track. "Furbish" was borrowed into English in the 14th century from Anglo-
French "furbiss-," a distant relative of an Old High German word meaning "to polish." In
its earliest uses "furbish" also meant "to polish," but it developed an extended sense of
"renovate" shortly before English speakers created "refurbish" with the same meaning in
the 17th century. These days "refurbish" is the more common of the two words, although
"furbish" does continue to be used.

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noetic

\noh-ET-ik\

adjective

Meaning

: of, relating to, or based on the intellect

Example Sentence
Among the events sponsored by the neighborhood bar were monthly quiz nights, which
Jeanne enjoyed attending because they satisfied her thirst for noetic stimulation.

Did you know?

"Noetic" derives from the Greek adjective "noētikos," meaning "intellectual," from the
verb "noein" ("to think") and ultimately from the noun "nous," meaning "mind." ("Nous"
also gave English the word "paranoia" by joining with a prefix meaning "faulty" or
"abnormal.") "Noetic" is related to "noesis," a rare noun that turns up in the field of
philosophy and refers to the action of perceiving or thinking. The most notable use of
"noetic" might be in the name of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, a research organization
based in California that is devoted to studies of consciousness and the mind.

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Danelaw

\DAYN-law\

noun

Meaning

1 : the law in force in the part of England held by the Danes before the Norman Conquest

*2 : the part of England under the Danelaw

Example Sentence

In the 11th and 12th centuries, the Danelaw between the Rivers Tees and Thames was
governed much differently than areas to the south and west.

Did you know?


When the Vikings invaded the east coast of England in the late 800s, their conquests
reached as far as the southern kingdom of Wessex, where they were halted by the army of
Alfred the Great. The invaders, many of whom were Danish, retreated back north and
east to the lands they had conquered, and settled there. This region — stretching from
Essex, just above London, through East Anglia and the eastern Midlands, all the way up
to Northumbria — was distinguished from the surrounding territory by its unique legal
practices, which, because they were decidedly Danish in influence, made up what Old
English folks down south called the "Dena lagu" or, in today's English, the "Danes' law."
Historians later applied the term "Danelaw" not only to the legal system of the region but
to that geographical area itself.

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interdigitate

\in-ter-DIJ-uh-tayt\

verb

Meaning

: to become interlocked like the fingers of folded hands

Example Sentence

"The edges [of bridge expansion joints] often are shaped like combs, the teeth of one
interdigitating with teeth of the other." (The Washington Post, January 14, 1998)

Did you know?

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that "interdigitate" comes from the prefix "inter-,"
as in "interlock," and the Latin word "digitus," meaning "finger." "Digitus" also gave us
"digit," which is used in English today to refer to (among other things) the finger or toe of
any animal. "Interdigitate" usually suggests an interlocking of things with fingerlike
projections, such as muscle fibers or the teeth of an old-fashioned bear trap. The word
can also be used figuratively to imply a smooth interweaving of disparate things, such as
the blending of two cultures within a shared region.

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incoherent

\in-koh-HEER-unt\

adjective

Meaning

: lacking coherence: asa : lacking cohesion : loose*b : lacking orderly continuity,


arrangement, or relevance : inconsistentc : lacking normal clarity or intelligibility in
speech or thought

Example Sentence

I found myself unable to follow the movie’s rambling and incoherent plot.

Did you know?

Something that is coherent holds or sticks together firmly, with resistance to separation
(that is, it coheres). “Coherent,” ultimately from the Latin “co-” (“together”) and
“haerēre” (“to stick or cling”), entered English in the 16th century and almost from the
beginning was used both of physical things (“coherent stone”) and of things which hold
together in a much less palpable way (“coherent thoughts”). Its antonym, “incoherent,”
entered the language about three-quarters of a century later. Like “coherent,”
“incoherent” can be applied to both the tangible and the intangible. But, whether we are
speaking of sand or logic, all things incoherent have one thing in common: they do not
hold together, literally or figuratively, in a unified or intelligible whole.
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doldrums

\DOHL-drumz\

noun

Meaning

*1 : a spell of listlessness or despondency


2 often capitalized : a part of the ocean near the equator abounding in calms, squalls, and
light shifting winds
3 : a state or period of inactivity, stagnation, or slump

Example Sentence

"A vacation on a tropical island could be just the thing you need to fight against the
winter doldrums," said Christine as she handed me the resort's brochure.

Did you know?

Everyone gets the doldrums — a feeling of low spirits and lack of energy — every once
in a while. The doldrums experienced by sailors, however, are usually of a different
variety. In the mid-19th century, the word once reserved for a feeling of despondency
came to be applied to certain tropical regions of the ocean marked by the absence of
strong winds. Sailing vessels, reliant on wind propulsion, struggled to make headway in
these regions, leading to long, arduous journeys. The exact etymology of "doldrums" is
not certain, though it is believed to be related to the Old English "dol," meaning "foolish"
— a history it shares with our adjective "dull."

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