Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 9, 2016 is:
daedal \DEE-dul\ adjective
1 a : skillful, artistic
b : intricate
2 : adorned with many things
The filmmaker makes daedal use of lighting effects and camera angles to create a noirish atmosphere.
"Applying makeup on trains … is not easy. That innumerable Japanese women choose to do so while commuting should, therefore, be seen as a testament to their steady hands as well as that country's steady trains. Indeed, undertaking such a daedal exercise on the Indian railway system—or any other public transport—would be foolhardy unless the intention is to emerge looking like Heath Ledger as the Joker." — The Economic Times, 29 Oct. 2016
Did you know?
You might know Daedalus as the mythological prisoner who fashioned wings of feathers and wax to escape from the island of Crete with his son Icarus. But it was as architect and sculptor, one said to have designed a labyrinth for King Minos on Crete, that he earned his name. Daedalus (from Greek daidalos) is Latin for "skillfully wrought." The same "skillful" Latin adjective gave English the adjectives daedal (in use since the 16th century) and Daedalian (or Daedalean), a synonym of daedal.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 8, 2016 is:
qui vive \kee-VEEV\ noun
: alert, lookout — used in the phrase on the qui vive
"All right. Lieutenant Howard, go see how the artillery wagons are managing, and on the way tell Major Mason that I need him again. Stay on the qui vive; you may find evidence of liquor." — William T. Vollmann, The Dying Grass: A Novel of the Nez Perce War, 2015
"Pasadena Heritage staged its Colorado Street Bridge Party July 16, and Police Chief Phillip Sanchez was clearly on the qui vive at the entrance to the bridge." — Patt Diroll, The Pasadena Star News, 24 July 2016
When a sentinel guarding a French castle in days of yore cried, "Qui vive?," your life depended upon your answer. The question the sentinel was asking was "Long live who?" The correct answer was usually something like "Long live the king!" Visitors not answering the question this way were regarded as suspect, and so to be "on the qui vive" meant to be on the alert or lookout, and qui vive came to mean "alert" or "lookout" soon afterward. Nowadays, the term is most often used in the phrase "on the qui vive," meaning "on the lookout."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 7, 2016 is:
bamboozle \bam-BOO-zul\ verb
1 : to deceive by underhanded methods : dupe, hoodwink
2 : to confuse, frustrate, or throw off thoroughly or completely
"Some consumers are so bamboozled by slick sales talk that they pay extra for amazingly bad deals. Just one example, a $49.99, four-year service plan on a DVD player that sells for $39.99." — Mike McClintock, The Chicago Tribune, 13 Feb. 2009
"We agree with those who filed the suits challenging the wording of the ballot question. We believe it is deceitful—and deliberately so, designed to bamboozle voters into thinking they are voting on a minor issue that simply codifies existing law instead of adding five years to a judge's term." — The Philadelphia Daily News, 10 Oct. 2016
In 1710, Irish author Jonathan Swift wrote an article on "the continual Corruption of our English Tongue" in which he complained of "the Choice of certain Words invented by some pretty Fellows." Among the inventions Swift disliked were bamboozle, bubble (a dupe), put (a fool), and sham. (Perhaps he objected to the use of sham as a verb; he himself had used the adjective meaning "false" a couple of years previously.) What all these words appear to have in common is a connection to the underworld as jargon of criminals. Other than that, the origin of bamboozle remains a mystery, but the over-300-year-old word has clearly defied Swift's assertion that "All new affected Modes of Speech . . . are the first perishing Parts in any Language."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 6, 2016 is:
salient \SAIL-yunt\ adjective
1 : moving by leaps or springs : jumping
2 : jetting upward
3 : standing out conspicuously : prominent; especially : of notable significance
The speech was filled with so much twisted rhetoric that it was hard to identify any salient points.
"Among the projects: … an $18 million makeover of Freedom Hall, substantial new meeting and storage space, a new ballroom and a new $70 million exhibit hall…. Those were the salient recommendations of a new master plan for the Kentucky Exposition Center…." — Sheldon Shafer, The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), 28 Oct. 2016
Salient first popped up in English in the 16th century as a term of heraldry meaning "rampant but leaning forward as if leaping." By the mid-17th century, it had leaped into more general use in the senses of "moving by leaps or springs" or "spouting forth." Those senses aren't too much of a jump from the word's parent, the Latin verb salire, which means "to leap." Salire also occurs in the etymologies of some other English words, including somersault and sally, as well as Salientia, the name for an order of amphibians that includes frogs, toads, and other notable jumpers. Today, salient is usually used to describe things that are physically prominent (such as a salient nose) or that stand out figuratively (such as the salient features of a painting or the salient points in an argument).
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 5, 2016 is:
ziggurat \ZIG-uh-rat\ noun
: an ancient Mesopotamian temple tower consisting of a lofty pyramidal structure built in successive stages with outside staircases and a shrine at the top; also : a structure or object of similar form
"The building itself is certainly distinctive: The bronze-meshed ziggurat moves upwards toward the sky and into the light." — Lisa Benton-Short, GWToday (gwtoday.gwu.edu, George Washington University), 10 Oct. 2016
"The opulence remains in Barbara de Limburg's expansive sets, but the dramatic point is the contrast of the family's poverty with the consumerist rapacity suggested by the Witch's lair—not the usual gumdrop-bedecked gingerbread house but a towering ziggurat of brightly packaged junk food…." — Gavin Borchart, The Seattle Weekly, 19 Oct. 2016
French professor of archaeology François Lenormant spent a great deal of time poring over ancient Assyrian texts. In those cuneiform inscriptions, he recognized a new language, now known as Akkadian, which proved valuable to the understanding of ancient Mesopotamian civilization. Through his studies, he became familiar with the Akkadian word for the towering Mesopotamian temples: ziqqurratu. In 1877 he came out with Chaldean Magic, a scholarly exposition on the mythology of the Chaldeans, an ancient people who lived in what is now Iraq. In his work, which was immediately translated into English, he introduced the word ziggurat to the modern world in his description of the ziggurat of the Iraqi palace of Khorsabad.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 4, 2016 is:
muckrake \MUCK-rayk\ verb
: to search out and publicly expose real or apparent misconduct of a prominent individual or business
Arn is an aggressive reporter, never afraid to ask difficult questions, hound evasive sources, or muckrake when things appear suspect.
"From his groundbreaking days of editing the iconic liberal magazines Ramparts and Scanlan's Monthly in the 1960s and '70s to his reliably irreverent columns for newspapers …, Mr. [Warren] Hinckle delighted in tweaking anyone in charge of anything and muckraking for what he fiercely saw as the common good." — Kevin Fagan, The San Francisco Chronicle, 26 Aug. 2016
The noun muckrake (literally, a rake for muck, i.e., manure) rose out of the dung heap and into the realm of literary metaphor in 1684. That's when John Bunyan used it in Pilgrim's Progress to represent man's preoccupation with earthly things. "The Man with the Muckrake," he wrote, "could look no way but downward." In a 1906 speech, President Teddy Roosevelt recalled Bunyan's words while railing against journalists he thought focused too much on exposing corruption in business and government. Roosevelt called them "the men with the muck-rakes" and implied that they needed to learn "when to stop raking the muck, and to look upward." Investigative reporters weren't insulted; they adopted the term muckraker as a badge of honor. And soon English speakers were using the verb muckrake for the practice of exposing misconduct.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 3, 2016 is:
vulpine \VUL-pine\ adjective
1 : of, relating to, or resembling a fox
2 : foxy, crafty
"There is something Gatsby-esque about the whole story. [Bernie] Madoff is a clear proxy for Meyer Wolfsheim, the vulpine, self-satisfied criminal seducer." — Daniel Gross, Newsweek, 12 Jan. 2009
"Flashing a vulpine grin, he's not a typical hunk—but like Casanova, a maestro of stylish manners and clever entrapment, an incorrigible cad proud of his powers of improvisational manipulation." — Misha Berson, The Seattle Times, 30 Oct. 2016
In Walden (1854), Henry David Thoreau described foxes crying out "raggedly and demoniacally" as they hunted through the winter forest, and he wrote, "Sometimes one came near to my window, attracted by my light, barked a vulpine curse at me, and then retreated." Thoreau's was far from the first use of vulpine; English writers have been applying that adjective to the foxlike or crafty since at least the 15th century, and the Latin parent of our term, vulpinus (from the noun vulpes, meaning "fox"), was around long before that.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 2, 2016 is:
wane \WAYN\ verb
1 : to decrease in size, extent, or degree
2 : to fall gradually from power, prosperity, or influence
"Last year, the station offered fans the chance to buy the CD online for the first time and also sold it in Target stores as usual. But unlike previous years, the limited-run compilation didn't sell out immediately, suggesting its popularity may be waning." — Ross Raihala, The Pioneer Press (TwinCities.com), 14 Oct. 2016
"And as public and political interest in space exploration waxed and waned over the following decades, the funding for the space program did too." — Dianna Wray, The Houston Press, 26 Oct. 2016
"Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour / Draws on apace four happy days bring in / Another moon: But oh, methinks how slow / This old moon wanes!" So Theseus describes his eagerness for his wedding night in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. As illustrated by Theseus' words, wane is a word often called upon to describe the seeming decrease in size of the moon in the later phases of the lunar cycle. The traditional opposite of wane is wax, a once common but now infrequently used synonym of grow. Wane and wax have been partnered in reference to the moon since the Middle Ages.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 1, 2016 is:
thaumaturgy \THAW-muh-ter-jee\ noun
: the performance of miracles; specifically : magic
"The place is still a favourite pilgrimage, but there seems to be some doubt as to which Saint John has chosen it as the scene of his posthumous thaumaturgy; for, according to a local guide-book, it is equally frequented on the feasts of the Baptist and of the Evangelist." — Edith Wharton, Italian Backgrounds, 1905
"Indeed, so keen was the horror at the hysteria that had taken hold in Salem that the mere mention of the place was sufficient to cool any passions that looked in danger of spiraling into outmoded and dangerous thaumaturgy." — Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review, 16 Dec. 2011
The magic of thaumaturgy is miraculous. The word, from a Greek word meaning "miracle working," is applicable to any performance of miracles, especially by incantation. It can also be used of things that merely seem miraculous and unexplainable, like the thaumaturgy of a motion picture's illusions (aka "movie magic"), or the thaumaturgy at work in an athletic team's "miracle" comeback. In addition to thaumaturgy, we also have thaumaturge and thaumaturgist, both of which mean "a performer of miracles" or "a magician," and the adjective thaumaturgic, meaning "performing miracles" or "of, relating to, or dependent on thaumaturgy."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 30, 2016 is:
soporific \sah-puh-RIFF-ik\ adjective
1 a : causing or tending to cause sleep
b : tending to dull awareness or alertness
2 : of, relating to, or marked by sleepiness or lethargy
The soporific effects of the stuffy classroom and the lecturer's droning voice left more than one student fighting to stay awake.
"The prose sparkles at every turn, but that's not to say it's without flaws. Some entire chapters … struck me as wholly soporific." — Andrew Ervin, The Washington Post, 13 Sept. 2016
"It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is 'soporific.' I have never felt sleepy after eating lettuces; but then I am not a rabbit." In The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies by Beatrix Potter, the children of Benjamin Bunny were very nearly done in by Mr. McGregor because they ate soporific lettuces that put them into a deep sleep. Their near fate can help you recall the history of soporific. The term traces to the Latin noun sopor, which means "deep sleep." (That root is related to somnus, the Latin word for sleep and the name of the Roman god of sleep.) French speakers used sopor as the basis of soporifique, which was probably the model for the English soporific.