Word of The Day for Sunday, October 31, 2010


el•dritch (EL-drich)  adj

weird, spooky, eerie, unearthly, alien, supernatural

Synonyms: weird, spooky, eerie, unearthly, alien, supernatural

• And the woman, whose voice had risen to a kind of eldritch sing-song, turned with a skip, and was gone. - Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886

• Pearl, in utter scorn of her mother's attempt to quiet her, gave an eldritch scream, and then became silent. -The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850

The Storyline
It was a moment so detached from her present reality that it felt almost eldritch.

1500–10; Middle English from earlier elrich, equiv. to OE el*- (“foreign, strange, uncanny”) + rice** "realm, kingdom"; hence “of a strange country, pertaining to the Otherworld”
   * else
    O.E. elles "other, otherwise, different," from P.Gmc. *aljaz (cf. Goth. aljis "other," O.H.G. eli-lenti, O.E. el-lende, both meaning "in a foreign land;" see also Alsace), an adverbial genitive of the neut. of PIE base *al- "beyond"
   ** rich
    O.E. rice "wealthy, powerful, mighty," from P.Gmc. *rikijaz (cf. O.N. rikr, O.H.G. rihhi "ruler, powerful, rich," O.Fris. rike, Du. rijk, Ger. reich "rich," Goth. reiks "ruler, powerful, rich"), borrowed from a Celtic source akin to Gaulish *rix, O.Ir. ri (gen. rig) "king," from PIE base *reg- "move in a straight line," hence, "direct, rule" (see rex). The form of the word infl. in M.E. by O.Fr. riche "wealthy," from Frank. *riki "powerful," from the Gmc. source. The evolution of the word reflects a connection between wealth and power in the ancient world. Of food and colors, from early 14c.; of sounds, from 1590s. Sense of "entertaining, amusing" is recorded from 1760. The noun meaning "the wealthy" was in O.E.

Sources: Wiktionary

Why This Word:
Happy Halloween! What wordie could pass on an obscure word for eerie today? This word grows from the connection between foreign and dangerous. In its parts, it means "other realm". That together apparently has meant spooky and eerie, other-worldly - a reminder that most of our superstitious fears are really projections of our earthly insecurities.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Saturday, October 30, 2010


per•e•gri•na•tion (per-i-gruh-NEY-shuhn)  n

1. travel from one place to another, esp. on foot
2. a course of travel; journey

peregrinate verb

Synonyms: trip, excursion, expedition, navigate, perambulate, traverse, transit, travel
Related Words:: peregrine (falcon)

Sentence Examples:
• He didn't believe that she told lies in Twelfth Street; he thought she was too imperial to lie; and he wondered what she said to her mother when, at the end of nearly a whole afternoon of vague peregrination with her lover, this bridling, bristling matron asked her where she had been. -Georgina's Reasons, Henry James

• A great part of the life of Erasmus was one continual peregrination; ill supplied with the gifts of fortune, and led from city to city, and from kingdom to kingdom, by the hopes of patrons and preferment, hopes which always flattered and always deceived him; he yet found means, by unshaken constancy, and a vigilant improvement of those hours, which, in the midst of the most restless activity, will remain unengaged, to write more than another in the same condition would have hoped to read. -The Rambler, Samuel Johnson

• "Now I declare," said Don Quixote, "he who reads much and travels much sees and knows a great deal. I say so because what amount of persuasion could have persuaded me that there are apes in the world that can divine as I have seen now with my own eyes? For I am that very Don Quixote of La Mancha this worthy animal refers to, though he has gone rather too far in my praise; but whatever I may be, I thank heaven that it has endowed me with a tender and compassionate heart, always disposed to do good to all and harm to none."
"If I had money," said the page, "I would ask senor ape what will happen me in the peregrination I am making."
-The History of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes

• Whence, disappearing from the constellation of the Northern Crown he would somehow reappear reborn above delta in the constellation of Cassiopeia and after incalculable eons of peregrination return an estranged avenger, a wreaker of justice on malefactors, a dark crusader, a sleeper awakened, with financial resources (by supposition) surpassing those of Rothschild or the silver king. - Ulysses, James Joyce

The Storyline
Eyes shut, she imagined for a fleeting moment some exotic peregrination from island to island in the South Pacific - tranquil and serene.

1425–75;  late ME peregrinacioun, from O.Fr. peregrination (12c.), from L. peregrinationem (nom. peregrinatio) "a journey," from peregrinatus, pp. of peregrinari "to journey or travel abroad," from peregrinus "from foreign parts, foreigner," from peregre "abroad," properly "that found outside Roman territory," from per- (q.v.) + agri, loc. of ager "field, territory, land, country"

Sources: Dictionary.com, Online Etymology

Why This Word:
With a fine record of literary usage, peregrination is a word every well-read person should have at the ready. But it also adds another sense of meaning to one's store: more specific than travel, less confined than perambulate.
In addition to its relationship to peregrine falcon, peregrination also shares a root with agriculture and acre. (per- (q.v.) + agri, loc. of ager "field, territory, land, country")

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Friday, October 29, 2010


fan•tod (FAN-tod)  n

1. a state of extreme nervousness or restlessness; the willies; the fidgets (usually the fantods)
2. a sudden outpouring of anger, outrage, or a similar intense emotion

Sentence Examples:
• Words failed him and he sat quite still. Emily, who thought she knew him so well, was alarmed, and went towards the sideboard where she kept some sal volatile. She could not see the tenacious Forsyte spirit working in that thin, tremulous shape against the extravagance of the emotion called up by this outrage on Forsyte principles--the Forsyte spirit deep in there, saying: 'You mustn't get into a fantod, it'll never do. You won't digest your lunch. You'll have a fit!' -The Forsythe Saga, John Galsworthy
• This occurred with paralysing regularity and Spurge would promptly produce another fantod, which Ms. Peg'ole filed in a room to that effect, which in turn and in time became a department, which became a building with silos attached for unmanageable fantods that had suffered tears. - Lydia Thrippe!, Daniel Sloate, 1999

The Storyline
Crash! Anna heard the din from across the hall. And she closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing to hold off the fantods.

1839;  appar. fant ( igue ) (earlier fantique,  perh. b. fantasy  and frantic; -igue  prob. by assoc. with fatigue) + -od ( s ), of obscure orig.

Sources: Dictionary.com

Why This Word:
What we have here is an etymological mystery. All of the sources seem to agree that the origin of this word is uncertain and all they can do is guess. It's a part of what saves it from being just a Victorian Era curiosity. I submit, however, that there's more to this story. I've found quotes using fantod in a completely different sense.

An hour later three shearers, Bill, Fred, and Ben, riding at a gallop along the high road to Loo, came upon a man with a bundle walking cheerfully in the same direction. The horsemen pulled up.
"Hi, mate, have you seen anythin' of a strange sort of animal on this road?" cried Bill.
"Have I?" answered the man. "My word, I have! A great, big, red, hairy bunyip 'r somethin' charged out o' th' bush 'bout a mile back, bowled me
over an' went howlin' down th' road in a cloud o' dust."
"Which way?" gasped Bill.
The pedestrian pointed in the direction of Loo. "That's th' way he went," he said. "Cripes, I'd a' thought I seen a fantod on'y I bin teetotal fer a year." - The Missing Link, Edward Dyson, 1922
A hissing noise was heard as if from a score of rattlesnakes, and now the cow-punchers emerged on all sides from the darkness, stepping high,
with ludicrously exaggerated caution, and "hist"-ing to one another to observe the utmost prudence in approaching. They formed a solemn, wide
circle about the hat, gazing at it in manifest alarm, and seized every few moments by little stampedes of panicky flight.
"It's the varmint," said one in awed tones, "that flits up and down in the low grounds at night, saying, 'Willie-wallo!'"
"It's the venomous Kypootum," proclaimed another. "It stings after it's dead, and hollers after it's buried."
"It's the chief of the hairy tribe," said Phonograph Davis. "But it's stone dead, now, boys."
"Don't you believe it," demurred Dry-Creek. "It's only 'possumin'.' It's the dreaded Highgollacum fantod from the forest. There's only one way to destroy its life." -Rolling Stones, O. Henry
These authors are clearly using fantod to mean some fantastical being of a menacing nature, more akin to say, a fantom. And here's a quote that comes with a picture:
In the eighteenth shop they have visited, the cousin thinks he sees a rare sort of lustre jug, and Mr Earbrass irritatedly wonders why anyone should have had a fantod stuffed and put under a glass bell. -Amphigorey, Edward Gorey, 1980
Either this word has a separate and apparently undocumented meaning or authors have, over the span of time, repeatedly misused it in the about the same way. I think more likely the former.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Thursday, October 28, 2010


gus•ta•tor•y (GUS-tuh-tor-e)  adj

relating to or associated with eating or the sense of taste

gustation noun; gustatorily adverb

Synonyms:none found
Related Words: gusto, disgust

Sentence Examples:
• Possibly there have been bears of abnormal or vitiated tastes who have indulged in human flesh, just as there are men who eat decayed cheese and "high" game, but the gustatory sins of such perverts may not be visited justly on the species. There are few animals so depraved in taste as to dine off man except under stress of famine, and Bruin is not one of the few. He is no epicure, but he draws the line at the lord of creation flavored with tobacco. -Bears I Have Met, Allen Kelly, 1903
• His food was taken to him in the room he had made his habitation, and it was remarked that, though simple before in his gustatory tastes, he now--possibly owing to the sedentary life he led--became fastidious, insisting on recherché bits. -Prince Zaleski, M.P. Shiel, 1895
• "I could find my way around it in the dark. I'd go to the Ritz or the Carlton and order the finest dinner for three that the most experienced chef ever heard of. You don't know how good a dinner I can give—if I only have the money. I invite you both to become my guests in London as soon as this war is over and share my gustatory triumph." -The Hosts of the Air, Joseph A. Altsheler, 1915

The Storyline
Lost in thought, her eyes latched onto the half-eaten bagel she had abandoned earlier. But the distaste in her mouth from the scene she had just witnessed left no room for the simple gustatory pleasures that she had begun her day with.

1684, from L. gustatus, pp. of gustare "to taste" from PIE base *geus-  a root that forms words for "taste" in Gk. and L., but mostly meaning "try" or "choose" in Gmc. and Celt. + -ory

Sources: Merriam-Webster, Online Etymology

Why This Word:
I'm certain you can name the five senses. Now name the adjectives describing something related to those senses. I'm not sure why these words are less common given that our senses are how we get all of our information about the world. First to mind is probably visual, since those of us with sight get about 90% of our information that way. Maybe next is auditory or tactile, for hearing and touch. Some may get olfactory for smell. Gustatory is probably the least familiar. (In a Google Fight, gustatory lost to all of these terms.) Maybe food has become too processed and packaged and commodified and we've simply lost touch the pleasures of eating; or food has become too much a source of guilt and we won't allow ourselves to think about taste.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Wednesday, October 27, 2010


li•men (LY-muhn)  n

a threshold of a physiological or psychological response: point at which a stimulus is of sufficient intensity to generate a response 

liminal adjective; liminality adverb

Synonyms: threshold
Related Words:: limit (from O.Fr. limite "a boundary," from L. limitem "a boundary, embankment between fields, border," related to limen)
preliminary (from prae "before" + limen)
subliminal (from sub "below" + limen)
eliminate (from ex "off, out"  + limine, ablative of limen)
sublime (from sub "up to" + limen)

Sentence Examples:
• A subliminal association, then, may have its strength measured by the number of repetitions needed to bring it above the limen.
• Our thesis has not been controverted, namely that the upper limen of feeble-mindedness should be determined by ascertaining the limiting degree of intelligence necessary to make a living in the various occupations afforded by society, and not by the study of pathological institutional material.
• The in-between landscapes of the horizontal city are liminal because they remain at the margins awaiting a societal desire to inscribe them with value and status.

The Storyline
Crossing the threshold was also reaching the limen of another epiphany: she had littered her life with one distraction after another and that was no longer sufficient to keep her self-doubts at bay.

1895, Latin  limen transverse beam in a door frame, threshold

Sources: Wordsmith, Merriam-Webster, Online Etymology

Why This Word:
Limen is obviously a useful concept for psychologists, physiologists and social scientists. But limen and, in particular, liminal have also been appropriated by cultural theorists and their ilk who see limen not as a line but as a space. It's easy to see why the idea of a transitional space, neither here nor there and yet also both here and there, in between. Here, liminal is being used in a very different sense then it is for the psychologist or physiologist. The liminal person is in the process of moving between social statuses. The limen is the space they occupy during that transition.

While in the liminal state, human beings are stripped of anything that might differentiate them from their fellow human beings—they are in between the social structure, temporarily fallen through the cracks, so to speak, and it is in these cracks, in the interstices of social structure, that they are most aware of themselves. Yet liminality is a midpoint between a starting point and an ending point, and as such it is a temporary state that ends when the initiate is reincorporated into the social structure.
But you don't have to read pretentious academic journals to appreciate the concept of the limen, a threshold of awareness or change.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Tuesday, October 26, 2010


ex•ig•u•i•ty (eg-zi-gyoo'-i-tee)  n

the quality or condition of being scanty or meager

exiguous adjective

Synonyms: penuriousness, pennilessness, neediness, impoverishment, impecuniousness, impecuniosity, scarcity, poverty, lack
Related Words: exact, from L. exactus "precise, accurate, exact," pp. of exigere "demand, require"
exigence, exigency, exigent, from L. exigentia, from exigentem, prp. of exigere
essay,  from M.Fr. essai "trial, attempt, essay," from L.L. exagium "a weighing, weight," from L. exigere "test,"  the suggestion is of unpolished writing

Sentence Examples:
• Some women, I grant, would not appear to advantage seated on a pillion, and attired in a drab joseph and a drab beaver-bonnet, with a crown resembling a small stew-pan; for a garment suggesting a coachman's greatcoat, cut out under an exiguity of cloth that would only allow of miniature capes, is not well adapted to conceal deficiencies of contour, nor is drab a colour that will throw sallow cheeks into lively contrast. -Silas Marner, George Eliot
• That is, it was one of those diminutive structures which are known at French watering-places as "chalets," and, with an exiguity of furniture, are let for the season to families that pride themselves upon their powers of contraction. - Confidence, Henry James

The Storyline
A decided exiguity of options sprang to mind. So, instinctively Anna sought to extricate herself from the situation to clear her mind and quietly slipped back to her apartment.

1650s, from L. exiguus "small, petty, paltry, scanty in measure or number," from exigere "demand, require," lit. "to drive or force out," also "demand, finish, measure," from ex- "out" + agere "drive, lead, act".

Sources: Online Etymology, Free Dictionary

Why This Word:
Just 'cuz. What? You were expecting more?

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Monday, October 25, 2010


as•sev•e•rate (uh-sev'-uh-reyt)  v

to declare earnestly or solemnly; affirm positively; aver

asseverated past participle; asseverated past tense; asseverating present participle; asseverates 3rd person singular present; asseveration noun; asseverative adjective

Synonyms: assert, state, maintain
Related Words: severe; persevere, from per- "very" + severus "stern, strict, serious"

Sentence Examples:
• And I offer to those who have so interpreted me a declaration which I trust may relieve them from all responsibility of this kind in future; I hereby declare, asseverate, affirm, and whatever else means to swear, that I never have offered and never intend to offer any history whatever of my personal experience, social, literary, or emotional, to the readers of any magazine, newspaper, novel, or correspondence whatever. -1860, Atlantic Monthly
• I meet the question squarely and asseverate that protection does not raise prices. The opposite statement and the argument which backs it up, I purpose to state fairly, for we now come to the famous revenue-reform dilemma. -1921
• Even Mrs Walker and her daughter, and the Miss Prettymans, had so far given way that they had ceased to asseverate their belief in Mr Crawley’s innocence. -The Last Chronicle of Barset, Anthony Trollope

The Storyline
Anna asseverated to herself, "Changes will be made, changes must be made!"

1785–95; From Latin asseverare "to declare in earnest", from ad- "to" + severus "serious". Ultimately from the Indo-European root segh- "to hold", which is also the source of words such as hectic, scheme, scholar, and cathect.

Sources: Wordsmith

Why This Word:
I hereby do solemnly affirm and assert the value in brevity and conciseness in language and thereby the value in using one word in the place of "solemnly affirm and assert."

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Sunday, October 24, 2010


cav•il (kav'-uhl)


1. to raise irritating and trivial objections; find fault with unnecessarily
2. to oppose by inconsequential, frivolous, or sham objections
3. a trivial and annoying objection
4. the raising of such objections

caviled or cavilled past tense and past participle; caviling or cavilling present participle; cavils 3rd person singular present; caviler or caviller noun

Synonyms: carp, quibble, fuss, niggle, nitpick
Related Words:: calumny

• Certainly we ought not to cavil at this ; nor ought we to cavil at music we might consider a little too rapid and incessant, or ornaments we might consider a little florid, if they create in worshippers, especially in poor worshippers, an increased interest in the places in which they worship. But cavil we must, if ritualism goes farther. -1880
• "Are you disposed to cavil at that?" he repeats. "Are you inclined to add yourself to the number of the pack of hounds who are trying to hunt her down for having had the pluck to break those chains of slavery which were forged about her in her childhood, by a man who was base enough to marry her before she knew what love or her own mind was?" -All The Year Round, Charles Dickens

The Storyline
Right on cue, Kurt began to cavil at the still groggy Tyler about the mess he'd made dumping ashes on their thrift-store sofa.

1542; from M.Fr. caviller "to mock, jest," from L. cavillari "to satirize, argue scoffingly," from cavilla "jest, jeering," akin to Latin calvi to deceive

Sources: Dictionary.com, Online Etymology

Why This Word:
Turn on your favorite 24-7 cable new channel an you'll hear the clacking cacophany of the caviling cabal of critics finding fault in the most minute misstep of their appointed opponents. Nattering nabobs of negativity - harumph!
Okay. "Appointed opponents" isn't strictly speaking alliteration. Stop being so caviling.
Whatever it is in the Zeitgeist (perhaps it is fluoridation in the water after all), ours is the age of the cavil. Rather than engage in substantive discussions of some rather serious and consequential matters our political discourse focuses on each minor misstep or perceived misstep or manufactured misstep of "the other side".
It goes without saying, of course, that it isn't caviling when "our side" does it.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Saturday, October 23, 2010


zo•op•er•y (zoh-op'-er-ee)  n

1. the performing of experiments on animals, especially the lower animals

zooperal adjective; zooperist adverb

Synonyms: vivisection
Related Words:
zooerastia, n. - sexual intercourse with an animal
zoogamy, n. - sexual reproduction of animals
zoogenous, adj. - originating in animals
zoography, n. - description of animals
zooid, n. - organism resembling animal, especially asexually produced; sperm cell. zooidal, adj
zoolite, zoolith, n. - fossil animal
zoology, n. - study of animals. zoologist, n. zoological, adj
zoomancy, n. - divination by observation of animals. zoomantic, adj
zoometry, n. - measurement of animals
zoomimetic, adj. - imitating an animal or part of an animal
zoomorph, n. - object in form of animal. zoomorphic, adj
zoomorphism, zoomorphy n. - representing animals in decoractive arts; representation of God as lower animal
zoonic, adj. - pertaining to or derived from animals
zoonosis, n. - disease that can be communicated among animals or from animal to human. zoonotic, adj.
zooparasite, n. - a parasite of animals
zoopathology, n. - animal pathology
zoophaga, n. - an artificial group comprising various carnivorous and insectivorous animals
zoophagy, n. - feeding on animals. zoophagous, adj. zoophagan, n
zoophile, n. - lover of animals; plant pollinated by animals. zoophilia, zoophilist, n. zoophilous, zoophilic, adj
zoophobia, n. - dread of animals
zoophorus, zophorus, n. - sculptured relief frieze with a continuous pattern of humans or animals
zoophyte, n. - plant-like animal, as coral, sea anemone, etc. zoophytal, zoophytic, adj
, n. - study of plant-like animals
zoopsia, n. - hallucination of animals
zooscopy, n. - hallucination of seeing animals. zooscopic, adj
zootechny, zootechnics, n. - breeding and taming of animals. zootechnic, adj
zootheism, n. - attributing divine attributes to animals
zootomy, n. - study of animal anatomy. zootomic(al), adj. zootomist, n
zootrophy, n. - feeding of animals. zootrophic, adj
zootypic, adj. - of the animal type

• ...scheduled as he was, before a week was out, to undergo a required bit of zoopery with a psychiatrist. "It would of course be taken as healthier — more normal — for you to hate her," the psychiatrist muttered, sitting back and meditatively circling his foot. It was absurd: hate Isabel?

The Storyline
So perhaps as a defense mechanism, Anna watched the scene unfolding before her with a sense of detachment, like a zooperist observing rats in an artificial environment, drugged, dazed and navigating the experimenter's obstacles.

from Greek zoion, "animal" + peiran, "to experiment"

Sources: Free Dictionary, Luciferous Logolepsy, Webster's Unabridged (print)

Why This Word:
The one sentence fragment posted above is the only use of zoopery in a sentence, on the whole internet. (Feel free to prove me wrong.) So I have the opportunity to post the only complete sentence example freely available using zoopery (or derived form). So there's that.
The Greek root zoion, is a veritable argosy of derived words. (Zoo is two syllables, excepting in The Zoo.) So there's that too.
But what really drew me to the word was how rare the word is but how common the practice. Even though zoopery is an essential component of medical component of medical, food and cosmetic research, the practice is as invisible to most of us as the word.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Friday, October 22, 2010


in•ter•nec•ine (in-ter-nee'-seen, -nes'-een)  n

1. mutually destructive; most often applied to warfare
2. characterized by struggle within a group, usually applied to an ethnic or familial relationship

Related: noxious, necro-

• Unjust or inconsiderate retaliation removes the belligerents further and further from the mitigating rules of regular war, and by rapid steps leads them nearer to the internecine wars of savages. -1902
• When we speak of the struggle for existence, the popular view seems to construe this into the theory that the world is a mere cockpit, in which one race carries on an internecine struggle with the other. -1893

The Storyline
More the later, sad to say, lately was true: with the growing internecine conflict between the pair and self-destructive behavior evidencing itself presently.

1663, from L. internecinus "very deadly, murderous, destructive," from internecare "kill or destroy," from inter (inter-) + necare "kill", from nec-, nex violent death. Considered in the OED as misinterpreted in Johnson's Dictionary [1755], which defined it as "endeavouring mutual destruction," on association of inter- with "mutual" when the prefix supposedly is used in this case as an intensive. From Johnson, wrongly or not, has come the main modern definition of "mutually destructive."

Sources: Wiktionary, Online Etymology, LanguageHat

Why This Word:
Ok, so you probably knew this word. But you probably didn't know -  I didn't - that we've been using it wrongly for centuries. Of course, it's too late to go back.

Now, I don't want to start any conflict - doesn't that just end up hurting everyone - but it looks like Samuel Johnson screwed up. Internecinus means "very deadly, murderous, destructive." The word first appeared in 1663 used as a rendering of Latin internecinum bellum, in Samuel Butler's Hudibras. "The prefix inter– was here used not in the usual sense 'between, mutual' but rather as an intensifier meaning 'all the way, to the death.' This piece of knowledge was unknown to Samuel Johnson, however, when he was working on his great dictionary in the 18th century. He included internecine in his dictionary but misunderstood the prefix and defined the word as 'endeavoring mutual destruction.' Johnson was not taken to task for this error. On the contrary, his dictionary was so popular and considered so authoritative that this error became widely adopted as correct usage."

On a side note, Wiktionary compounds the error in their etymology for internecine, assigning the incorrect meaning of between to the prefix inter- in this case.. "From Latin interneci-vus, deadly, alternatively, Latin inter (between) and necare (to slay)." I think most savvy internet users know that wiki- means use with caution. And I try to check with other sources before taking anything from Wiktionary. But here's another example of language change by error. Words mean what we say they do, genealogy notwithstanding. And the dictionary is the place we go to find what words are "supposed" to mean. With the internet largely supplanting print dictionaries, it's not hard to see errors propagating and become so common that become the consensus, and thereby correct.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Thursday, October 21, 2010


ar•go•sy (ahr'-guh-see)  n

1. a large merchant vessel, especially one carrying a rich freight
2. fleet of ships, flotilla
3. a rich source or supply
4. a collection of lore
5. anglicism of the Argonautika of Apollonios Rhodios

Synonyms: cornucopia, gold mine, mother lode, treasure trove, wellspring

• The report, compiled by State Department Inspector General J. K. Mansfield, told of an argosy of luxuries and trivia bestowed under AID financing: a $2,111 car for the Japanese embassy in Santo Domingo, a stereophonic hi-fi system for the El Salvador embassy, wine glasses and $10,000 worth of pastel-colored bidets for the Dominican Republic. --Time 1968

• And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep,
In blanched linen, smooth, and lavendered,
While he from forth the closet brought a heap
Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd;
With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
And lucent syrups, tinct with cinnamon;
Manna and dates, in argosy transferred
From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one,
From silken Samarcand to cedared Lebanon.
--John Keats

The Storyline
And Anna thought back to when she first met the boys, the places they introduced her to and the argosy of goods they, the boys and the places, would become for her - for good and for ill.

1570s, from It. (nave) Ragusea "(vessel) of Ragusa," a maritime city on the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic (modern Dubrovnik in Croatia). Their large merchant ships brought rich Eastern goods to 16c. England.

Sources: Century Dictionary, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, Online Etymology

Why This Word:
From distant shores and past comes a word full meaning and history. Argosy transferred the meaning from the port of origin to the ships that came from that port to the goods that came off the ships. It's easy to imagine the magic and possibilities conjured up by the argosy, the large ships from far away with their exotic goods, and the lore that went with it. Arrrrr.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Wednesday, October 20, 2010


hy•poc•o•rism (hahy-pok-uh-riz-uhm)  n

1. a pet name
2. the practice of using a pet name
3. the use of forms of speech imitative of baby talk, esp. by an adult

hypocoristic adjective & noun; hypocoristically adverb

• Most first names of any currency had recognized hypocoristic forms. Some names attracted only one or two main forms; others had several; and there was scope for a fair degree of inventiveness.
• This hypocorism started about a century ago, as friendly British barmaids clipped the word's pronunciation slightly to use it as a term of endearment: "What'll yer 'ave, Luv?"

The Storyline
While Anna could not hear what Kurt said into Tyler's ear when he went to his aid, she amused herself by imagining some private hypocorism.

1840–50: Late Latin hypocorisma, a loan from Ancient Greek noun hypokórisma from the verb  hypokorízomai, “to talk in a childish manner”. The Ancient Greek verb hypokorízomai is compounded from  hypo-, “under, beneath, secretly” +  korízomai, “to caress”.

Sources: Wiktionary, Dictionary.com, Wikipedia

Why This Word:
Don't you just wub cutsie wittle pet names? And don't try to act like you've never done it.
Hypocorism can take the form of a shorter form of a word or given name (Elizabeth -> Beth); a reduction of a longer word to a single syllable, then adding -y or -ie to the end (television -> telly); a baby-talk form (love -> wub); pet-names (pookey-bear); a given name with a diminutive suffix (John -> Johnny); and duplication (Ben -> Ben-Ben).
In the 19th Century, hypocorism "was once briefly a buzzword among linguists, who used it rather broadly to mean 'adult baby talk,' that is, the altered speech adults use when supposedly imitating babies." Today, in an age of ads, Twitter and texting, we are awash in foreshortened speech of a different sort. I suppose it's arguable whether the abbreviations and pronunciation spellings, like wassup and gonna, of the 140-character set constitute hypocorism. Certainly it's informal speech meant to cultivate the same sort of familiarity as hypocorisms.
And it shouldn't go unnoticed that the title of this blog is something of a hypocorism. In addition to be a play on wordy and e-word, it's a play on wordie, as in foodie, implying being into words.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Tuesday, October 19, 2010


ob•dor•mi•tion (ob-dohr-mish-uhn) / ŏb'dôr-mĭsh'ən/   n

1. numbness in a limb, often caused by constant pressure on nerves or lack of movement
2. (obsolete) going to sleep; the state or condition of being asleep


Related Words: dormant, dormitory, dormer, dormouse

a sensation of tingling, pricking, or numbness of a person's skin with no apparent long-term physical effect
1857, from para- (here “disordered”) + Gk. aisthesis “perception”, from PIE base *au- "to perceive"Related: anesthesia, audience

• The bark decoction is taken once a day for seven days to fight a weariness from demanding job, ease body pain and legs obdormition after carrying heavy weights.
• Perhaps it is just obdormition of the brain, but you call me a far right blowhard and cannot see yourself in the same light.

The Storyline
A very fuzzy-headed Tyler awoke but could only manage cognizance of the obdormition of his right arm, followed hard on by the soft torture of paresthesia.

from Latin obdormire "to fall asleep," from L. dormire "to sleep," from PIE base *drem- "to sleep"

Sources: Wikipedia, Wordnik

Why This Word:

As recently the 1913 Webster's Dictionary, sleep is the only sense given.The 1914 Century Dictionary does list the sense of numbness and the sense of sleep as "rare." So the original Latin meaning of to fall asleep gave way to just sleep and even that fell into disuse with the word surviving only as a medical term, for a condition medicine is not particularly concerned about. Excluding references to the meaning of the word itself and uses in the now obsolete sense of sleep, I found almost no uses on the net, and none in Google Books, of obdormition with the contemporary meaning. But just as with pandiculation, it's a common experience and it's nice to know the word for it.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Monday, October 18, 2010


per•si•flage (pur-suh-flahzh) /pûrˈsə-fläzhˌ/   n

1. light, bantering talk or writing; light raillery
2. a frivolous or flippant style of treating a subject

Synonyms: banter, badinage, jesting
Related Words: sibilant, hissing, related the s or sh sound

Persiflage! but we must look deeper. So-called persiflage is often but the mask with which irony screens the wounded heart. 1884
Persiflage, I suppose, even in ordinary life, is much less easy to practise with perfect success than a graver and less artificial mode of speaking, though, perhaps for that very reason, it is apt to be more sought after: the persiflage of a writer of another nation and of a past age is of necessity peculiarly difficult to realize and reproduce. 1902
•'All right,' he said, looking up with sudden exasperation. 'Now go away then, and leave me alone. I don't want any more of your meretricious persiflage.'
'Is it really persiflage?' she mocked, her face really relaxing into laughter. She interpreted it, that he had made a deep confession of love to her. But he was so absurd in his words, also.
DH Lawrence, Women in Love, 1925

The Storyline
... it still unnerved him and he covered with a bit of well rehearsed persiflage, "Hey, doofus, you're doing it again, wake up!"


1757;  < F, deriv. of persifler  to banter; equiv. to per-  + siffler  to whistle, hiss < LL sifila-re,  for L si-bila-re; to whistle, + -age

Sources: Dictionary.com

Why This Word:
Not to be flippant, but, it's an attractive sounding word, pleasing to the ear. It's a useful word - describing the general tone of just about every situation comedy on television and, by extension, the cultural impact on everyday interactions. Who doesn't engage in quotidian persiflage with our coworkers? And it has no exact synonym. What's not to love?

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Sunday, October 17, 2010


som•ni•al (som-nee-uhl) /säm-nē-əl/   adj

of or pertaining to sleep or dreams

Related Words: insomnia, unable to sleep
somnambulant, sleep walking
somnifacient, somniferous, inducing sleep
somnifugous, fighting off sleep
somniloquence, sleep talking
somnipathy, a sleep disorder
somnolent, sleepy

• The somnial magic superinduced on, without suspending, the active powers of the mind. Coleridge
• On the other part, to presage or foretell an evil, especially in what concerneth the exploits of the soul in matter of somnial divinations, as much as to say that it giveth us to understand that some dismal misfortune or mischance is destined and prepared for us, which shortly will not pass to come to pass. Francis Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel

The Storyline
And as much as Kurt was by now used to being jolted awake by Tyler's somnial thrashing...


First used sometime before 1914, L. somnialis dream bringing, fr. somnium dream, fr. somnus sleep

Sources: The Free Dictionary

Why This Word:

I was dreamin' when I wrote this. Forgive me if it goes astray.
Actually, with this word I bend a self imposed rule. The Storyline page is meant to be an exercise, suggested to me by someone else, to use each daily word in an ongoing narrative. And I had determined to not choose words just to fit the story, but rather to pick words on what piqued my interest and then find some way to work the word in the next sentence. In the process of writing the sentence for tomorrow's word, I needed a word which meant pertaining to sleep or dreams. As common an activity as sleeping and dreaming is, I was surprised to find that somnial was so rarely used and so lacking in synonyms. Naturally, I felt that needed to be rectified, as I'm sure you will too. Sleep on it.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Saturday, October 16, 2010


u•bi•e•ty (yoo-bahy-i-tee) / y-b-t/   n

the property of having a definite location at any given time; state of existing and being localized in space

ubietous, adjective

Related Words: ubiquity

• And so every anecdote in Northern Ireland has to come accompanied by its refutation. One person will tell a story pointing up the ubiety of the sectarian divide, and how both groups can instantly identify one another and then someone else will chime up and say: but what about so-and-so.
• Bishop Pearson, alluding to a difficult question of the place or ubiety of a spirit (that is, how a spirit which is immaterial can have any place — a relation which seems necessarily to imply extension and circumscription qualities which again necessarily imply a material subject), says that the soul, "existing after death, and separated from the body, though of a nature spiritual, is really and truly in some place; if not
by way of circumscription as proper bodies are, yet by way of determination and indistancy; so that it is true to say this is really and truly present here, and not elsewhere".
•Nagle’s Moral Nuisances article, for example, takes as a case study a controversy over a nude beach in Oregon, with visibility of purportedly immoral behavior the issue and spatial separation to control visibility the cure. But if participants in a Kulturkampf insist on ferreting out examples from elsewhere of behavior and legal recognition and concerning themselves with them, then the scale is going to remain aterritorial and global as well as ubietous and local.

The Storyline
With so many turns and reversals in such a short time, Anna felt a bit dizzy, as if she had become bilocated or her ubiety was uncertain.

1665–75;  < L ubi  where? + -ety,  var. (after -i- ) of -ity

Sources: Dictionary.com

Why This Word:
I don't often use the word epistemology in everyday speech, but knowing it enables me to recognize an epistemological question when I see it. Ubiety, I think, falls into that class. It's one of those concepts thoughtful people need to help sort out the world they live in.
In quiddity, we looked at what-ness. With ubiety, we look at where-ness. At first blush, the ubiety of material objects seems rather straightforward and the ubiety of non-corporeal substances a subject of theology. Metaphorical ubiety of conceptual objects is a more fertile area. Bipartisanship is or isn't in a specific place. Or perhaps trying to locate it in a specific political body is a mistake. But either way its ubiety, or lack thereof, is one of the major points of debate surrounding the topic. And at closer inspection, the ubiety of material objects may not be that easily defined. We talk about dislocations or people or groups, but we're all always somewhere. A deracinated person or group may feel place-less because the where that is relevant to them is elsewhere. The difficulty of ubiety in everyday experience stems from the uncertainties over defining place. Is America the geographical entity defined on a map or something else, as seems to be indicated when people refer to the "real America" as some distinct entity? There's a very real sense in which defining where you are defines what you are, and feeling as though you are somewhere is a necessary prerequisite for feeling you can be something. Wars are fought over where people are and what some place is. The long and difficult Israeli-Palestinian conflict stems from conflicting notions of ubiety - where people sense themselves and others to be. Our sense of ubiety and what that means to us is determinative of our sense of quiddity in significant measure.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Friday, October 15, 2010


jac•ta•tion (jak-tey-shuhn)   n

1. (pathology) a tossing or shaking of the body; physical agitation, especially while asleep or confined to bed by illness
2. the action of throwing
3. boasting; bragging; showing off

 1. (law) a false boast or claim that is intended to harm someone, especially a malicious claim by a person that he or she is married to a particular person
2. involuntary tossing and twitching of the body and limbs

hurling or throwing

Related Words: ejaculation

• There are crises of convulsions, violent shouting, loud weeping, violent jactation, fainting, and semi-coma.
• Thus a sentence of jactitation of marriage only imports, that it did not appear that the parties were married at a particular time and place, and not that there was no marriage at any time or place.
• Grandfather Smallweed immediately throws the cushion at her. ‘Drat you, be quiet!’ says the good old man. The effect of this act of jaculation is twofold. It not only doubles up Mrs. Smallweed’s head against the side of her porter’s chair and causes her to present, when extricated by her granddaughter, a highly unbecoming state of cap, but the necessary exertion recoils on Mr. Smallweed himself, whom it throws back into HIS porter’s chair like a broken puppet. Bleak House, Dickens

The Storyline
But Kurt was roused from his stupor and Anna wheeled about at the sounds of Tyler's sudden jactations.

1570–80; Latin jactatare , "to throw." equiv. to jacta-t ( us ) (ptp. of jacta-re,  freq. of jacere  to throw) + -io-n-  -ion

1625–35; from Latin jactitation (tossing, false declaration), past participle of jactitare (to throw out publicly, to boast), frequentative of jactare (to throw about), frequentative of jacere (to throw)

1615–25;  < L jacula-tus  (ptp. of jacula-re  to throw the javelin), equiv. to jacul ( um ) javelin (n. use of neut. of jaculus  used for hurling, equiv. to jac-  hurl + -ulus  adj. suffix) + -a-tus -ate

Sources: Wicktionary, Wordsmith, Dictionary.com

Why This Word:
Three similar words. Two disparate meanings. What gives? My handy Latin-English Dictionary helps. (Doesn't everyone have one?)
jactantor: boastfully
jactatio: tossing to and fro
jactator: braggart
jacto: to throw, cast
Of course, what would be really helpful would be if I could find some source to sort this out. But it sure seems like two very similar Latin words became conflated and two out of our three English words today acquired both meanings.
The surviving sense of jactation is toss about, with a rarer use of boasting. The surviving sense jactitation is a boast, albeit of a specialized nature, with a rarer use of tossing about. And the surviving form of jaculation, is, well, that word - you know.
In any event, this mash up of meaning and words gives us a bit of a glimpse into the messiness of language change. We think of etymologies as clear chains of lineage. But apparently not always.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Thursday, October 14, 2010


kerf (kurf) \ˈkərf\

1. a cut or incision made by a saw, an ax or the like in a piece of wood (or metal)
2. the width of cut made by a saw or the like
3. (mining) a deep cut a few inches high, used to undermine a portion of a coal or mineral seam
4. a stroke with a weapon
to make a kerf or kerfs

Synonyms: chip, hack, indent, indentation, indenture, notch, nick
Related Words: carve

• When the kerf is well started, the whole weight of the saw may be applied. An easy light stroke is better than a furious one.
• Wood was dirt cheap in mid-19th-century America. So we made fast saws with a wide kerf -- like half an inch. Then we choked on the resulting sawdust.

The Storyline
... his face pressed against the kerfs in the wood frame left by the ill-advised attempt to cut their way in the last time Tyler and Kurt locked themselves out.

bef. 1000;  ME kerf, kirf,  OE cyrf  a cutting

Sources: Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, Wordnik

Why This Word:
It's a fun little word, kerf. It's also a word with a long history. Cutting things with a saw or an ax is in some ways that moment we became human as a species. We take it for granted today, unless you're a woodworker. But the cut itself, what's taken out, eventually became a significant problem at the point we needed to start to conserve materials and reduce waste. The kerf is an idea that is surprisingly rich in metaphorical implications, if we think about it.  It's what isn't there, what's removed, the cut itself. The kerf is the empty space created in the process of remaking the physical world. And by way of metaphor, there are more possibilities as well: the kerf of a budget cut, or severed relationship. Maybe it's time we started thinking about the kerf once again.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Wednesday, October 13, 2010


ter•giv•er•sa•tion  (tuhr-jiv-uhr-say-shuhn) \ˌtər-ˌji-vər-ˈsā-shən\   n

1. the act of practicing evasion or of being deliberately ambiguous
2. the act of abandoning a party or cause formerly advocated
3. the act of turning from a clear course of action

tergiversate verb; tergiversator, tergiversant noun; tergiversatory adjective

Synonyms: equivocate, palter, prevaricate, apostatise, circumlocution
Related Words: conversation, versus, convert, divert, invert (from vertere "to turn")

• The scales seemed to fall from his eyes, and the duplicity and tergiversation of which he had been guilty, stung him at once with remorse and shame. Sir Walter Scott
• Now this charge of "inconsistency" and tergiversation  has so long been popularly regarded as the heaviest and most damaging that can be brought against the character of politicians, that it is well worth while to spend a few moments in how it comes to be estimated, and how much of justice may be awarded to this estimate, when weighed in the balance of unprejudiced reason. 1852

The Storyline
And at the sight of that, Anna abruptly turned from her present cause without remorse for her tergiversation and left Kurt slumped against the open doorway...

1645–55;  < L tergiversa-tus  (ptp. of tergiversa-ri-  to turn one's back), equiv. to tergi-  (comb. form of tergum  back) + versa-tus,  ptp. of versa-re,  freq. of vertere  to turn

Sources: Wordnik

Why This Word:
Turn away. Turning away from clear meaning. Turning away from a clear path. Turning away from a clear conviction. Little wonder today's word connotes duplicity, subterfuge and evasion. Yet it's hard not to notice how much deliberate ambiguity and evasion in contemporary political debate happens exactly to present the appearance of being true to the cause. And among the senses of the word, turning against the cause is a much greater sin than turning away from a clear path or meaning. Which isn't to say that we don't notice the tergiversations in the say-anything-to-be-elected campaigns of the other side.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Tuesday, October 12, 2010


fu•lig•i•nous (fyoo-lij-uh-nus) / fyo͝o-lĭjˈə-nəs / adj
1. a : sooty b : (obscure) murky
2. having a dark or dusky color
3. (specifically, in zoölogy, and botany) very dark, opaque brown; of the color of soot

fuliginosity noun;  fuliginously adverb

Synonyms: ambiguous, arcane, cryptic, dark, deep, elliptic, enigmatic, equivocal, obscure, inscrutable, murky, mysterious, nebulous, opaque

• The diarist John Evelyn wrote in 1661 about the dreadful smoke from coal fires in London that was so bad that “Her Inhabitants breathe nothing but an impure and thick Mist, accompanied with a fuliginous and filthy vapour ... corrupting the Lungs, and disordering the entire habit of their bodies, so that Catharrs, Phthisicks, Coughs and Consumptions rage more in this one City than in the whole Earth besides.”
• He had a large, handsome head, and a large, sallow, seamed face — a striking, significant physiognomic total, the upper range of which, the great political brow, the thick, loose hair, the dark, fuliginous eyes, recalled even to a generation whose standard had dreadfully deviated the impressive image, familiar by engravings and busts, of some great national worthy of the earlier part of the mid-century. Henry James

The Storyline
The door was already open and Tyler was already passed out, face down on the stark red sofa and half-covered with the fuliginous debris from the ashtray he evidently overturned on his descent.

1621 Late Latin fuliginosus, from Latin fuligin-, fuligo soot; akin to Lithuanian du-lis cloud, vapor, and probably to Latin fumus smoke
In an early sense (now obsolete), "fuliginous" was used to describe noxious bodily vapors once thought to be produced by organic processes. The "sooty" sense, which English speakers have been using since the early 1620s, can be used to describe everything from dense fogs and malevolent clouds to overworked chimney sweeps.

Sources: Merriam-Webster, Wordnik

Why This Word:
Fowler's Modern English Usage hooked me by claiming fuliginous is "still found in the work of good authors, even though it is doubtful if one person in a hundred is aware of its etymology." We'll see about that!

If the word has fallen into disuse, it's because most of us are safely removed from the world of dirt and soot and only become aware of those who daily toil in it when they become trapped in a mining accident or when the muck escapes the bounds of its containment. Perhaps the spate of recent disasters is meant to remind us, or at least should remind us, that the fuliginous debris of the modern world cannot be escaped so long as we insist on making it.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Monday, October 11, 2010


cap•tious (kap-shuhs) \kap-shəs\ adj

1. marked by an often ill-natured disposition to find fault or raise objections
2. calculated to entrap or confuse, as in an argument

captiously adverb; captiousness noun

Synonyms: critical, carping, caviling, faultfinding, hypercritical, judgmental, overcritical, rejective
Related Words: taking from captus, pp. of capere "to take, catch": capture, caption, captivate, captive, capacity

• It is an easy matter to perceive by the tenor of one of them you have imbibed an Opinion that the Officers of this Army are captious, and that by attempting to remove one complaint, a Door is opened to others. The Writings of George Washington
• Some men are more captious than others; some are always wrong-headed: but every man living has such a share of Vanity, as to be hurt by marks of slight and contempt. Lord Chesterfield

The Storyline
But she resisted her captious urges and instead ushered the lost lamb to his door.

c.1400, capcyus, from M.Fr. captieux (15c.), from L. captiosus "fallacious, sophistical, insidious" from captio (gen. captionis) "a deceiving, fallacious argument," lit. "a taking (in)," from captus, pp. of capere "to take, catch" from PIE *kap- "to grasp"

Sources: Online Etymology, Merriam-Webster

Why This Word:
It's hard not to be captivated by the web of connections in meaning of the words drawn from capio - to take hold of, grasp. In Latin as in English, grasp means mental grasp (capacity) as well as physical (capture). And taken means taken in, deceived (captious) as well as captivated.

But, in truth, the reason captious originally captured my attention is the twinge of recognition. Any person interested in words and grammar certainly knows at least the impulse to criticize others' errors, albeit with the best of intentions.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Sunday, October 10, 2010


ne•mor•al   (nem-er-uhl) /nɛmərəl/   adj

of or pertaining to groves or woodland

Synonyms: arboraceous, forested, sylvan, timbered, tree-covered, tree-laden, treed, woody, wooded
Related Words: nemorous, full of trees; nemorivagant, wandering in a wood or forest; nemorose, growing in groves or woodland; nemophilous, fond of forests or woods, nemoricolous, nemoricoline, living in forests or groves

• Wildfires are rare events in the nemoral forest zone because litter decomposition is relatively fast and there is no large accumulation of flammable material.
• Of course, these men are exceptionally skillful craftsmen, the highest product of nemoral science and nemoral instinct combined ; and it may be urged that it is obviously unfair to compare them with the average man of another calling.

The Storyline
He stood before her slack-jawed and frozen, like some nemoral creature transfixed by oncoming headlights.

from French némoral or Latin nemoralis, from nemus "grove"

Sources: Wiktionary, AllWords.com

Why This Word:
Into the woods. Somewhere along the way most of our culture became estranged from the woods and the complex relationship humans have had with woodlands in the temperate zones for centuries. And with that went our vocabulary about the woods and our understanding. We clear cut trees, move into treeless subdivisions and navigate a barren landscape without the faintest twinge of loss or longing. But to the woods we are tied and always shall be. So into the words for woods we must go.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Saturday, October 9, 2010


a•born•ing  (uh-bawr-ning)   \ə-ˈbr-niŋ\

being born or produced
while being born or produced

Synonyms: nascent, budding, inceptive, inchoate, incipient
Related Words: aborn, born

• Before the mortar of his zeal has a chance to congeal, The cup is dashed from his lips, the flame is snuffed aborning.
• Whoever ruling a Principality cannot see an evil aborning is not truly wise — and this is given to few. Machiavelli

The Storyline
She opened the door, but whatever thought Kurt was trying to hatch died aborning and he stood vacant before her.

a- + English dial. borning, first used as adverb 1916, first used as adjective 1943

Sources: Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com

Why This Word:
I encountered aborning as a synonym for my first post incipient. I liked the fact that it described that specific moment of being produced, not birth, or having been born or in the process of forming, but during that moment of creation.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Friday, October 8, 2010


mulct  (muhlkt)   \məlkt\ 


1. to penalize by fining or demanding forfeiture
2. to acquire by trickery or deception
3. to defraud or swindle
a penalty such as a fine

mulcted past participle; mulcted past tense; mulcting present participle; mulcts 3rd person singular present; mulctation noun; mulctative, mulctatory, mulctuary adjective

Synonyms: balk, deceive, defraud, fine, fleece, forfeit, penalize, punish, rook, steal, swindle

• And as these irregularities are too frequently practised (as we have reason to believe) at coffee-houses, cook-shops and victualling-houses, all proctors and magistrates of the University are strictly required to be vigilant and careful in visiting all such public-houses and places of entertainment and idleness, and in duly punishing all young scholars whom they shall at any time find at such places; and likewise laying a mulct on the masters or mistresses of such houses for receiving and entertaining such scholars, contrary to the known rules, orders and statutes of the University. Given under our hand the day and year above mentioned. 1748
• To the government advocate it will belong to be upon the watch for every such instance of obstruction to justice, and to make demand accordingly for the infliction of the mulct. 1839
• It is a meaningless distinction to characterize the mulct tax as an additional penalty.

The Storyline
Anna scanned her possessions before moving toward the door and wondered with what rouse Kurt would attempt to mulct some small favor from her this time.

1591 from Fr. mulcter "to fine, punish," from L. mulctare, altered from multare "punish, to fine," from multa "penalty, fine," perhaps from Oscan or Samnite. Sense of "defraud" is first recorded 1748

Sources: Merriam-Webster, FreeDictionary, Thesaurus.com, Online Eytmology

Why This Word:
Even in its now largely unused legal sense, mulct meant taking by government. Starting in 1748 and contemporaneously, however infrequently, it's more apt to mean a taking of a less legitimate nature. And given our current political climate it's not hard to understand how mulct may have made the transition. We already use tax to mean something onerous and at times to mean costs other than a government levy, such as when arguments are made that environmental regulations are effectively a tax on business or consumers.

And on a side note, how great is it to find a quote with this new meaning from the same year it was first noted?

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Thursday, October 7, 2010


heb•e•tud•in•ous (heb-i-tood-n-uhs) / he-bə-ˌtüd-ə-nəs/   adj

1. dull or lethargic, especially relating to the mind

hebetude noun

Synonyms: lethargic, languorous, listless, debilitated, dilatory, dull, enervated, laggard, languid, languorous
Related Words: hebetate (to dull)

•“But somehow trouble always finds you,” Miss Devlin retorted, angry, but not sure why. “I've always suspected men like you wear guns in a futile effort to disguise your hebetudinous natures. The word "hebetudinous" rolled off Miss Devlin's tongue with the all the ostentation of the wise preaching to the foolish. It wouldn't be the first time she called a man stupid to his face with a word he couldn't understand. 
• The audience waits in a kind of hebetudinous fixation, perhaps astonished at the perfectly sustained level of mediocrity.
• Some of their proposals are sufficiently platitudinous — and hebetudinous — to convey antidote with their bane. Others, however, cannot thus be dismissed.

The Storyline
Just as suddenly as the hullabaloo arose, a now decidedly hebetudinous Kurt began mumbling Anna's name through the door.

1620s, from L. hebetudo, noun of quality from hebes “blunt, dull.”

Sources: Wordsmith, Online Etymology

Why This Word:
Hebetudinous isn't so rare that you can be certain that you'll never stumble upon it. And when you do, you wouldn't want to seem... hebetudinous. As one of the quotes aver, hebetudinous has a pretentious quality about it in use, which frankly is part of its appeal. But getting past that, it lies in the space mapped out by the intersection of dullness and lethargy and that starts to paint the picture. Who among has not encountered a hebetudinous youth whose mental dullness seems to stem more from a lack of motivation than ability? And now you can point that out to them without fear of them being able to take offense.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

Word of The Day for Wednesday, October 6, 2010


su•per•nal  (soo-pur-nl)  /səˈpərnl/  n

1. being or coming from on high, heavenly, ethereal, superlatively good
2. being on high or in the sky or visible heavens
3. being in or belonging to the heaven of divine beings; heavenly, celestial, or divine
4. lofty; of more than earthly or human excellence, powers, etc.

supernally adverb


Synonyms: divine, heavenly, superb, superior, superlative
Antonym: infernal
Related: superior, super-

• In this strange half of the world where nature's juggling hand dealt now in supernal beauty, now in horror without a name, how might they, puppets of their age, hold an even balance, know the mirage, know the truth?
• The second obvious element in Shelley's poetry is his love of beauty, not the common beauty of nature or humanity which Wordsworth celebrated, but a strange supernal beauty with no earthly quality or reality.
• In the tiny chalets perched on the mountain ridges, folks literally dwell in cloudland, and enjoy a kind of supernal existence, having for near neighbours the eagles in their eyries and the fleet-footed chamois or izard.

The Storyline

..no such supernal sentiments rushed to mind for Anna in this moment.


1475–85, "heavenly, divine," from O.Fr. supernal (12c.), formed from L. supernus "situated above, celestial" from super "above, over;" from PIE base *uper "over"

Sources: Merriam-Webster, Online Etymology, Dictionary.com,Wordnik

Why This Word:

Like yesterday's word, macarism, supernal's devlish counterpart, infernal, is far more common and widely used. As a superlative meaning superior, it has a lot of company, even among similarly derived words, like superior. But we often, incorrectly I think, misuse words like wonderful, fantastic and super as exact synonyms instead of sussing out the nuances and subtle differences to create a rich and varied cornucopia of superlatives.

Supernal has a unique niche in that assortment. Heavenly, but still in the visible sky. Supernal has an ethereal quality but isn't quite as ephemeral.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day