Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 26, 2016 is:
pidgin \PIJ-in\ noun
: a simplified speech used for communication between people with different languages
"In his 1992 book, A History of American English, the late linguist J.L. Dillard … demonstrates that the most originally American form of English was a pidgin, originating with sailor's language. Early explorers of North America, he argues, would have used nautical pidgins and passed those on to native people." — Sarah Laskow, Atlas Obscura, 17 July 2015
"Hawaiian Pidgin English developed during the 1800s and early 1900s, when immigrant laborers from China, Portugal, and the Philippines arrived to work in the plantations; American missionaries also came around that time. The immigrants used pidgins—first one that was based in Hawaiian and then one based in English—to communicate." — Alia Wong, The Atlantic, 20 Nov. 2015
Did you know?
The history of pidgin begins in the early 19th century in the South China city of Guangzhou. Chinese merchants interacting with English speakers on the docks in this port adopted and modified the word business in a way that, by century's end, had become pidgin. The word itself then became the descriptor of the unique communication used by people who speak different languages. Pidgins generally consist of small vocabularies (Chinese Pidgin English has only 700 words), but some have grown to become a group's native language. Examples include Sea Island Creole (spoken in South Carolina's Sea Islands), Haitian Creole, and Louisiana Creole. The word pidgin also gave us one particular meaning of pigeon—the one defined as "an object of special concern" or "accepted business or interest," as in "Tennis is not my pigeon."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 25, 2016 is:
berate \bih-RAYT\ verb
: to scold or condemn vehemently and at length
When her son arrived home way past curfew without so much as a phone call or text, Nancy berated him for his lack of consideration.
"We'd announced the tour and Mick looked at it and went, 'I can't do this,' which was not great news at all. I wanted to slightly berate him, 'What the heck?!,' but he sounded so sad. He really wasn't up to it." — Paul Rodgers, Billboard.com, 13 April 2016
Berate and rate can both mean "to scold angrily or violently." This sense of rate was first recorded in the 14th century, roughly two centuries before the now more familiar (and etymologically unrelated) rate meaning "to estimate the value of." We know that berate was probably formed by combining be and the older rate, but the origins of this particular rate itself are somewhat more obscure. We can trace the word back to the Middle English form raten, but beyond that things get a little murky. It's possible that rate, and by extension berate, derives from the same ancient word that led to the Swedish rata (meaning "to find blame, despise") and earlier the Old Norse hrata ("to fall, stagger"), but this is uncertain.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 24, 2016 is:
simulacrum \sim-yuh-LAK-rum\ noun
1 : image, representation
2 : an insubstantial form or semblance of something : trace
"Most theater shows aim to conjure a simulacrum of reality onstage." — Rohan Preston, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 21 Apr. 2015
"There, hanging above you, is a simulacrum of a tardigrade, otherwise known as a water bear or moss piglet, at about 5,000 times larger than life-size." — James Gorman, The New York Times, 3 Apr. 2015
It's not a figment of your imagination; there is a similarity between simulacrum and simulate. Both of those English words derive from simulare, a Latin verb meaning "to copy, represent, or feign." In its earliest English uses, simulacrum named something that provided an image or representation (as, for instance, a portrait, marble statue, or wax figure representing a person). Perhaps because a simulacrum, no matter how skillfully done, is not the real thing, the word gained an extended sense emphasizing the superficiality or insubstantiality of a thing.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 23, 2016 is:
vatic \VAT-ik\ adjective
: prophetic, oracular
"Compared with [Stan] Lee's wisecracking dialogue and narrative prose, [Jack] Kirby's writing was stilted and often awkward, though at times it rose to a level of vatic poetic eloquence." — Jeet Heer, The New Republic, 7 Aug. 2015
"[Walt Whitman] dreamed of a new democratic civilization, which he pictured ultimately as a worldwide revolutionary democracy of labor—the vision that you can see in his vatic and ecstatic processional poem 'Song of the Broad-Axe.'" — Paul Berman, Tablet (tabletmag.com), 3 May 2016
Some people say only thin lines separate poetry, prophecy, and madness. We don't know if that's generally true, but it is in the case of vatic. The adjective derives directly from the Latin word vates, meaning "seer" or "prophet." But that Latin root is, in turn, distantly related to the Old English wōth, meaning "poetry," the Old High German wuot, meaning "madness," and the Old Irish fáith, meaning both "seer" and "poet."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 22, 2016 is:
usufruct \YOO-zuh-frukt\ noun
1 : the legal right of using and enjoying the fruits or profits of something belonging to another
2 : the right to use or enjoy something
He has willed all of his property to the conservation society, though his children will retain the house as a 50-year usufruct.
"When there's no will, the state of Louisiana gives the surviving spouse a usufruct on the property." — Mary Anna Evans, Plunder, 2012
Thomas Jefferson said, "The earth belongs in usufruct to the living." He apparently understood that when you hold something in usufruct, you gain something of significant value, but only temporarily. The gains granted by usufruct can be clearly seen in the Latin phrase from which the word developed, usus et fructus, which means "use and enjoyment." Latin speakers condensed that phrase to ususfructus, the term English speakers used as the model for our modern word. Usufruct has been used as a noun for the legal right to use something since the mid-1600s. Any right granted by usufruct ends at a specific point, usually the death of the individual who holds it.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 21, 2016 is:
tactile \TAK-tul\ adjective
1 : perceptible by touch : tangible
2 : of, relating to, or being the sense of touch
"The keyboard has good tactile feedback, and the touch pad is responsive without being too twitchy." — Bruce Brown, PC Magazine, 20 Feb. 2001
"Sensitive 'robot skin' was developed by researchers at Georgia Tech in 2014. The skin makes use of flexible touch sensors that communicate with a memory device that can store tactile interactions, mimicking human sensory memory." — Karen Turner, The San Diego Union Tribune, 29 May 2016
Tangible is related to tactile, and so are intact, tact, contingent, tangent, and even entire. There's also the uncommon noun taction, meaning "the act of touching." Like tactile, all of these words can be traced back to the Latin verb tangere, meaning "to touch." Tactile was adopted by English speakers in the early 17th century (possibly by way of the French tactile) from the Latin adjective tactilis ("tangible"). Tactilis comes from tactus, a past participle of tangere.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 20, 2016 is:
winkle \WINK-ul\ verb
1 : (chiefly British) to displace, remove, or evict from a position
2 : (chiefly British) to obtain or draw out by effort
"In 1483 a new English king, Richard III, tried again to winkle Henry out of Brittany, but he found that the young man was now a significant pawn on the European chessboard." — Nigel Calder, The English Channel, 1986
"The reclusive actress, 48, had been winkled out of her New Mexico ranch and flown halfway around the world only to stand there and be ignored as Amal battled with her chiffon frills and the cameras rattled like gunfire." — Jan Moir, The Daily Mail (UK), 20 May 2016
If you have ever extracted a winkle from its shell, then you understand how the verb winkle came to be. The word winkle is short for periwinkle, the name of a marine or freshwater snail. Periwinkle is ultimately derived from Latin pina, the name of a mussel, and Old English wincle, a snail shell. Evidently the personnel of World War I's Allied Powers found their duty of finding and removing the enemy from the trenches analogous to extracting a well-entrenched snail and began using winkle to describe their efforts. The action of "winkling the enemy out" was later extended to other situations, such as "winkling information out of someone."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 19, 2016 is:
raconteur \ra-kahn-TER\ noun
: a person who excels in telling anecdotes
A bona fide raconteur, Taylor can turn even mundane experiences into hilariously entertaining stories.
"Her fans, any of whom would welcome the chance to share … a bowl of pimento cheese with her, know [Julia] Reed as a tremendous wit, a sharp observer of the complexities of Southern culture, a great storyteller and fabulous raconteur." — Greg Morago, The Houston Chronicle, 1 June 2016
The story of raconteur is a tale of telling and counting. English speakers borrowed the word from French, where it traces back to the Old French verb raconter, meaning "to tell." Raconter in turn was formed from another Old French verb, aconter or acompter, meaning "to tell" or "to count," which is ultimately from Latin computare, meaning "to count." Computare is also the source of our words count and account. Raconteur has been part of the English vocabulary since at least 1828.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 18, 2016 is:
astute \uh-STOOT\ adjective
1 : having or showing shrewdness and perspicacity
2 : crafty, wily
The candidate made a number of astute observations about both foreign and domestic policy during the debate.
"Sure, he was funny, but George Carlin was also an astute observer of the way humans think and behave." — Keith Magill, The Shawnee (Oklahoma) News-Star, 12 June 2016
Astute is similar in meaning to shrewd and sagacious, but there are subtle differences in connotation among them. All three suggest sharp thinking and sound judgment, but shrewd stresses practical, hardheaded cleverness and judgment ("a shrewd judge of character"), whereas sagacious implies wisdom and foresight combined with good judgment ("sagacious investors"). Astute, which derives from the Latin noun astus, meaning "craft," suggests cleverness, mental sharpness, and diplomatic skill ("an astute player of party politics").
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 17, 2016 is:
parlay \PAHR-lay\ verb
1 : to bet in a parlay
2 a : to exploit successfully
b : to increase or otherwise transform into something of much greater value
"Leong said she parlayed a measly $5 winning ticket into her big bonanza. First she exchanged the $5 winning ticket for another that won $10, and with that she bought a $10 ticket that won $100. She decided to try her luck two more times and used the winnings to buy two $20 tickets, one of which hit the mother lode." — Megan Cerullo & Nancy Dillon, The New York Daily News, 8 June 2016
"Johnson parlayed the experience she gained while writing her own fashion and lifestyle blog into her first job at New York social media marketing agency Attention." — Samantha Masunaga, The Waterbury (Connecticut) Republican-American, 13 June 2016
If you're the gambling type, you may already know that parlay can also be used as a noun describing a series of bets in which a person places a bet, then puts the original stake of money and all of its winnings on new wagers. But you might not know that parlay represents a modified spelling of the French name for such bets: paroli. You might also be unaware that the original French word is still occasionally used in English with the same meaning as the noun parlay. Be careful not to mix up parlay with the similar word parley, meaning "to discuss terms with an enemy." Although the spellings are very close, parley comes from the Latin word for "speech."