Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 28, 2017 is:
tristful \TRIST-ful\ adjective
: sad, melancholy
"Oberlus was at least an accomplished writer, and no mere boor; and what is more, was capable of the most tristful eloquence." — Herman Melville, The Piazza Tales, 1856
"I've been dreading the moment I wake. Waking is a tristful business for the man who reflects." — Howard Jacobson, The Independent (London), 27 Nov. 2010
Did you know?
The Middle English word trist, from which tristful is derived, means "sad." Today, we spell this word triste (echoing the spelling of its French ancestor, a descendant of the Latin tristis), whereas tristful has continued to be spelled without the e. Is there a connection between triste ("sad") and tryst ("a secret rendezvous of lovers")? No. Tryst also traces back to a Middle English trist, but it is a different word, a noun that is a synonym of trust. This other word trist eventually fell into disuse, but before doing so, it may have given rise to a word for a station used by hunters, which in turn led to tryst.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 27, 2017 is:
scapegrace \SKAYP-grayss\ noun
: an incorrigible rascal
"He embarks on an arduous ocean voyage to America, where he faces swindlers and scapegraces, and nearly dies of malaria—and maintains his sunny demeanor throughout." — Scot Lehigh, The Boston Globe, 1 Jan. 2016
"Theodore Roosevelt styled himself an incorruptible politician untainted by scandal. But in his path to the White House lay a troubling obstacle: his scapegrace brother, Elliott." — The Daily Beast, 19 Nov. 2016
At first glance, you might think scapegrace has something in common with scapegoat, our word for a person who takes the blame for someone else's mistake or calamity. Indeed, the words do share a common source—the verb scape, a variant of escape that was once far more common than it is today. Scapegrace, which first appeared in English in the mid-18th century (over 200 years after scapegoat), arrived at its meaning through its literal interpretation as "one who has escaped the grace of God." (Two now-obsolete words based on a similar notion are scape-thrift, meaning "spendthrift," and want-grace, a synonym of scapegrace.) In ornithological circles, scapegrace can also refer to a loon with a red throat, but this sense is rare.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 26, 2017 is:
perspicuous \per-SPIK-yuh-wus\ adjective
: plain to the understanding especially because of clarity and precision of presentation
The author's perspicuous prose helps even the simple layman to follow his explanations of this complicated topic.
"The whole is less than the sum of its parts and does not add up to either a perspicuous account or a judicious analysis." — Steven Marcus, The New York Times Book Review, 31 Mar. 1996
Perspicuous is based on Latin perspicere, meaning "to see through," so that which is perspicuous is clear and understandable. Perspicuous has a close cousin, perspicacious, which is used of a person with astute insight. Both words come directly from Latin adjectives that mean the same thing they do: perspicuous from perspicuus, and perspicacious from perspicax. Needless to say, it's possible to confuse the two. One easy way to keep out of trouble is to think of perspicUous as the "U" word, and remember that it means "Understandable"—in contrast to the "A" word, perspicAcious, which means "Astute."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 25, 2017 is:
argy-bargy \ahr-jee-BAHR-jee\ noun
: a lively discussion : argument, dispute
The tenants got into a bit of an argy-bargy over their shared porch.
"I would object to the leaders' debates much less if they took place only on the radio. Then there wouldn't be all the argy-bargy about who stands where, wearing what." — Charles Moore, The Daily Telegraph (London), 24 Apr. 2017
Argy-bargy and its slightly older variant argle-bargle have been a part of British English since the second half of the 19th century. Argy and argle evolved in certain English and Scottish dialects as variant forms of argue. As far as we can tell, bargy and bargle never existed as independent words; they only came to life with the compounds as singsong reduplications of argy and argle. Some other colorful words that can be used for a dispute in English are squabble, contretemps, and donnybrook.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 24, 2017 is:
volplane \VAHL-playn\ verb
: to glide in or as if in an airplane
"With uncanny calm, Fauchard switched off his engine as if he were preparing to volplane to the ground in an unpowered landing." — Clive Cussler, Lost City, 2004
"[Roadrunners] can run at sustained speeds of up to 19 mph for considerable distances, and usually only make short flights in order to escape danger or flush prey. Very rarely one might be seen volplaning, or gliding downward with wings extended, from a ridgetop or other high perch." — Marcy Scott, The Las Cruces (New Mexico) Sun-News, 13 Nov. 2016
Vol plané (meaning "gliding flight") was a phrase used by 19th-century French ornithologists to describe downward flight by birds; it contrasted with vol à voile ("soaring flight"). Around the time Orville and Wilbur Wright were promoting their latest "aeroplane" in France, the noun and the verb volplane soared to popularity in America as terms describing the daring dives by aviators. Fly Magazine reported in 1910, "The French flyers are noted for their thrilling spirals and vol planes from the sky." The avian-to-aviator generalization was fitting, since the Wright brothers had studied the flight of birds in designing their planes.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 23, 2017 is:
threshold \THRESH-hohld\ noun
1 : the section of wood or stone that lies under a door : sill
2 a : the means or place of entry : entrance
b : the place or point of beginning : outset
3 : the point or level at which a physical or mental effect begins to be produced
"[This role] was very physical. At one point, … I'm trying to steal third, and they catch me. And I'm running back to second, running back to third, running back to second, running back to third…. We did that 50 times. A tear rolled down my cheek. I learned what my threshold for pain was, and I went beyond it." — Chadwick Boseman, quoted in Ebony, April 2013
"My dog Jude was sleeping on the rug, dreaming of running, his wrists flicking, when he let out a long, eerily muffled howl.… Jude startled awake and leapt to his feet barking loudly, as if he'd carried the dream across the threshold to full consciousness…." — Carl Safina, Natural History, July/August 2015
The earliest known use of threshold in the English language is from Alfred the Great's Old English translation of the Roman philosopher Boethius's De consolatione philosophiae. In this translation, which was written around 888, threshold appears as þeorscwold (that first letter is called a thorn and it was used in Old English and Middle English to indicate the sounds produced by th in thin and this). The origins of this Old English word are not known, though it is believed to be related to Old English threscan, from which we get the words thresh, meaning "to separate seed from (a harvested plant) using a machine or tool" and thrash, meaning, among other things, "to beat soundly with or as if with a stick or whip."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 22, 2017 is:
bilious \BILL-yus\ adjective
1 a : of or relating to bile
b : marked by or suffering from liver dysfunction and especially excessive excretion of bile
c : appearing as if affected by liver dysfunction
2 : of or indicative of a peevish ill-natured disposition
3 : sickeningly unpleasant
"These two men, of hard, bilious natures both, rarely came into contact but they chafed each other's moods." — Charlotte Brontë, Shirley, 1849
"But [newspaper columnist Jimmy] Breslin's greatest character was himself: the outer-borough boulevardier of bilious persuasion." — Dan Berry, The New York Times, 20 Mar. 2017
Bilious is one of several words whose origins trace to the old belief that four bodily humors (black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood) control temperament. Just like phlegmatic ("of a slow and stolid phlegm-driven character"), melancholy ("experiencing dejection associated with black bile"), and sanguine ("of a cheerful, blood-based disposition"), bilious suggests a personality associated with an excess of one of the humors—in this case, yellow bile. Bilious, which first appeared in English in the mid-1500s, derives from the Middle French bilieux, which in turn traces to bilis, Latin for "bile." In the past, bile was also called choler, which gives us choleric, a synonym of bilious.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 21, 2017 is:
duende \doo-EN-day\ noun
: the power to attract through personal magnetism and charm
Her performances were said to be spellbinding: by all accounts she was a singer possessed of such duende that the audience seemed a single organism unable to look away.
"[The flamenco performers] may achieve the rare quality of duende—total communication with their audience, and the mark of great flamenco of any style or generation." — The Rough Guide to Spain, 2015
The word duende refers to a spirit in Spanish, Portuguese, and Filipino folklore and literally means "ghost" or "goblin" in Spanish. It is believed to derive from the phrase dueño de casa, which means "owner of a house." The term is traditionally used in flamenco music or other art forms to refer to the mystical or powerful force given off by a performer to draw in the audience. The Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca wrote in his essay "Teoria y Juego del Duende" ("Play and Theory of the Duende") that duende "is a power and not a behavior … a struggle and not a concept." Nowadays the term appears in a broader range of contexts to refer to one's unspoken charm or allure.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 20, 2017 is:
pervade \per-VAYD\ verb
: to become diffused throughout every part of
"While the editors and contributors are careful to avoid wading into nostalgic celebration, a wistful tone pervades almost every essay…." — Lily Geismer, The Washington Post, 7 May 2017
"It is not uncommon for people to have a vague notion of something called 'energy' that could be likened to the Force in 'Star Wars'—some mystical quality that pervades everything, something that holds the universe together, something that can be tapped to heal or communicate or run a motor or see the future." — David Hewitt, The Tulare (California) Advance-Register, 8 May 2017
English speakers borrowed pervade in the mid-17th century from Latin pervadere, meaning "to go through." Pervadere, in turn, was formed by combining the prefix per-, meaning "through," with the verb vadere, meaning "to go." Synonyms of pervade include permeate, impregnate, and saturate. Pervade stresses a spreading diffusion throughout every part of a whole ("art and music pervade every aspect of their lives"). Permeate implies diffusion specifically throughout a material thing ("the smell of freshly baked bread permeated the house"). Impregnate suggests a forceful influence or effect on something throughout ("impregnate the cotton with alcohol"). Saturate is used when nothing more may be taken up or absorbed ("the cloth is saturated with water").
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 19, 2017 is:
animus \AN-uh-muss\ noun
1 : a usually prejudiced and often spiteful or malevolent ill will
2 : basic attitude or governing spirit : disposition, intention
3 : an inner masculine part of the female personality in the analytic psychology of C. G. Jung
Barney's newspaper editorial had been heartfelt, and he was shocked by the animus in one published response.
"The precise rationale for the District's animus toward chicken ownership is unclear." — Peter Jamison, The Washington Post, 21 Apr. 2017
Animus has long referred to the rational or animating components of a person's psyche (it derives from Latin animus, which can mean "spirit," "mind," "courage," or "anger"). Since a key animating component of personality can be temper, the word came to mean animosity, especially ill will that is driven by strong prejudice. The term is also used in the analytic psychology of C. G. Jung in reference to an inner masculine part of the female personality. The English animus is closely related to words such as animosity, magnanimous, and unanimous, but it is not as closely related to other similar-looking terms such as animal and animate. Those latter terms derive from the Latin anima, a distinct term that means "soul" or "breath" and that suggests someone's physical vitality or life force—the breath of life.