Word of the Day

Saturday, November 14, 2020

triclinium

[ trahy-klin-ee-uhm ]

noun

Roman History.

a dining room, especially one containing a couch extending along three sides of a table, for reclining on at meals.

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What is the origin of triclinium?

The uncommon noun triclinium comes from Latin trīclīnium, straight from Greek triklī?nion “dining room.” A triklī?nion was more precisely an arrangement of three chaise longues in the shape of a capital Greek pi (Π) on three sides of a central table for dining (the fourth side was left open for servants or busboys). Triklī?nion is a compound made up of the Greek (and Latin) combining form tri– “three,” as in triangle (a “three-cornered” geometric figure), triathlete, and tripod (literally “three-footed”). Klī?nion is a derivative of klī?nē “couch, bed, sickbed,” source of English clinic and clinical. Lying on couches while dining was introduced into Greece in the early seventh century b.c. from Asia Minor (now western Turkey). The Romans adopted the Greek custom via the Etruscans, and the Etruscans (and Romans) scandalized the Greeks by allowing citizen women (such as wives), to participate in banquets. Triclinium entered English in the first half of the 17th century.

how is triclinium used?

Ancient Romans could recline on the triclinium’s long benches, discussing music, literature and other refined topics, while contemplating a vista of ecstatic abandon.

Karen Rosenberg, "Pompeii Style, B.C.E. (Before Catastrophic Eruption)," New York Times, October 23, 2008

The most elegant type of Hellenistic derivation has a curving headrest or fulcrum at one end; but a true triclinium evidently required a matching set of three fitted together …

Katherine M. D. Dunbabin, The Roman Banquet, 2003

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Friday, November 13, 2020

volte-face

[ volt-fahs, vohlt-; French vawltuh-fas ]

noun

a turnabout, especially a reversal of opinion or policy.

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What is the origin of volte-face?

Volte-face “a turnabout, reversal of opinion or policy, an about-face,” comes via French volte-face from Italian volta-faccia (also voltafaccia), a compound of volta, the imperative singular of the verb voltare “to turn” and the noun faccia “face.” Voltare comes from an unrecorded Vulgar Latin volvitāre, equivalent to Latin volvere “to turn, roll.” Faccia (and face) likewise come from the Vulgar Latin noun facia, from Latin faciēs “outward appearance, looks, face.” Volte-face entered English in the first half of the 19th century.

how is volte-face used?

Grubman had shocked the rest of Wall Street by upgrading A.T. & T., a company he had criticized for years, from neutral to buy. He tried to justify his volte-face by saying that the phone giant’s purchase of a big cable company, Telecommunications Inc., had transformed its prospects, but this explanation was greeted with skepticism.

John Cassidy, "The Investigation," The New Yorker, March 31, 2003

In the manner of the high school teacher he once was, Riordan begins with faint praise (“there are things I like about this adaptation”) before an abrupt volte face. “Having said that, here’s the bad news: The script as a whole is terrible,” he wrote, in a letter so beloved by his fans that it’s even been?given dramatic readings.

Allison Flood, "Rick Riordan: 'I feel very protective of my fans. I am aware of my responsibility to make them feel safe,'" Guardian, October 26, 2020

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Thursday, November 12, 2020

modicum

[ mod-i-kuhm, moh-di- ]

noun

a moderate or small amount.

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What is the origin of modicum?

Modicum?in Latin means “a small, modest amount,” specifically of money, if we may be so crass. Modicum is a noun use of the neuter singular of the adjective modicus “(used for) measuring, moderate, restrained, slight,” a derivative of the noun modus “measured amount or quantity, limit, measure, time, melody.” Modus is a derivative of the verb meditārī “to think about, ponder, meditate,” from the Proto-Indo-European root med-, mēd-, mod-, mōd– “to measure, take proper measures, judge, cure.” Further Latin derivatives from this set of roots include medērī “to heal, cure,” medicus “physician,” medicīna “the art of medicine, the practice of medicine, the administration of medicines,” remediāre “to treat (successfully), cure,” and its derivative noun remediātiō (stem remediātiōn-), source of English remediate and remediation. The variant mod– also yields Latin modestus “restrained, temperate,” and its opposite immodestus “unrestrained, licentious,” English modest and immodest. Modicum entered English in the second half of the 14th century.

how is modicum used?

But by relieving himself of his secret he discovers at least a modicum of peace.

Paul Morton, "The March of Progress Is Never Neat: Merle Miller's On Being Different," The Millions, November 15, 2012

Anxiety and?depression?naturally arise when we perceive we have no power over a situation. Doing something, such as documenting seasonal changes, is a way to restore a modicum of control and a sense of well-being.

Theresa Crimmins, "To Ease Climate Anxiety, Reconnect with the Rhythms of the Seasons," Scientific American, January 5, 2020

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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

fidelity

[ fi-del-i-tee, fahy- ]

noun

loyalty.

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What is the origin of fidelity?

Fidelity “loyalty, faithfulness” comes via Middle English and Old French from the Latin noun fidēlitās (inflectional stem fidēlitāt-), a derivative of the adjective fidēlis (familiar to Americans from the Marine Corps motto, Semper Fidelis “Always Faithful”). Fidēlis is a derivative of the noun fidēs “trust, assurance, guarantee.” The Latin forms come from the Proto-Indo-European root bheidh-, bhoidh-, bhidh– “to trust.” The variant bheidh– is the source of Latin fīdus “faithful, loyal,” fīdere “to trust, have confidence in,” Greek peísesthai “to trust, rely on, obey, be persuaded,” and Greek Peith? “(the goddess of) persuasion.” Bhoidh– is the source of Latin foedus “formal agreement, league, treaty” (source of English federal, federate, and confederate); the variant bhidh– forms Latin fidēs and Greek pístis “faith, trust, authentication,” and pistós “faithful, reliable, credible.” The English noun faith comes from Middle English feith, faith, from Old French feid, feit, fei, from Latin fidem, the accusative singular of fidēs. (The English pronunciation of faith is all but identical to that implied by the Old French forms, quite different from the modern French pronunciation.) Fidelity entered English in the early 16th century.

how is fidelity used?

Through it all he’s shown a deep and abiding fidelity to one of our cherished ideals as a people and that is equal justice under the law.

Barack Obama, "Remarks on the Resignation of Eric H. Holder, Jr., as Attorney General," speech, Washington D.C., September 25, 2014, The American Presidency Project.

The chiefs of staff of the Army, Navy and Air Force issued similar messages, reinforcing their fidelity to the Constitution and pledging to battle racism in their ranks.

Doyle McManus, "Trump finds an unexpected center of resistance: the Pentagon," Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2020

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Tuesday, November 10, 2020

lagniappe

[ lan-yap, lan-yap ]

noun

a small gift given with a purchase to a customer, by way of compliment or for good measure; bonus.

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What is the origin of lagniappe?

The word lagniappe “a gratuity, a tip” has wandered a very long way, indeed, from its original home. People rightly associate lagniappe with New Orleans, The Big Easy, renowned for its wonderful food, jazz, etc.; Mark Twain discusses lagniappe in his Life on the Mississippi (1883, chapter 44). Most Americans would think that lagniappe is a French word, which it is, but Louisiana French, not standard French (lagniappe is not a headword in the online Trésor de la Langue Fran?aise). Lagniappe comes from Spanish la ?apa, la yapa, la llapa with the same meaning. ?apa, yapa, llapa in turn comes from Quechua yápa “something a little extra, a bonus,” in Irish English “a tilly” (from Irish Gaelic tuilleadh “an additional item or amount”). Yápa a derivative of the verb yapay “to give more.” Quechua is the language of the Incas, still vigorous and flourishing in the Andes of South America. Lagniappe entered English in the middle of the 19th century.

how is lagniappe used?

During the holidays, New Orleans diners discover a?lagniappe?(little something extra) at their favorite fine-dining restaurants.

Wanda McKinney, "Where the Good Times Roll," Southern Living, December 2006

Certainly the goody bag is essentially worthless—a few candies and a set of earplugs make up the typical lagniappe.

Damon Darlin, "Flying With Shrieking Children? Give Your Neighbors a Goody Bag," New York Times, August 5, 2016

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Monday, November 09, 2020

duplicitous

[ doo-plis-i-tuhs, dyoo- ]

adjective

marked or characterized by deceitfulness in speech or conduct, as by speaking or acting in two different ways to different people concerning the same matter.

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What is the origin of duplicitous?

“Hateful to me as the gates of Hades is the man who hides one thing in his heart and speaks another” (Iliad, book 9) is one man’s reaction to duplicity. That man is Achilles, and he is talking about his lord Agamemnon, but Achilles is addressing Odysseus, who himself knows a trick or two about cunning speech. Duplicitous “deceitful in word or deed, as by behaving in different ways with different people about the same affair” is a derivative of the noun duplicity, ultimately from a noun of Latin origin, duplicitās (stem duplicitāt-), formed from the adjective duplex (stem duplic-) “twofold, double, folded double; deceitful.” Duplex is a compound of duo “two” and the Latin adjective suffix –plex (stem –plic-), which has the same function (and same Proto-Indo-European origin) as the English suffix –fold (as in twofold). The first recorded meaning of duplicitous in English is in U.S. law: “including two or more offenses in one count, or charge, as part of an indictment, thus violating the requirement that each count contain only a single offense”; the more common meaning “deceitful” occurs in the late 1950s. Duplicitous entered English in the early 1890s.

how is duplicitous used?

Cambridge Analytica obtained user data through duplicitous means, but similar data sets are widely and legally available; micro-targeting is commonplace on nearly all political campaigns.

Brian Barth, "Big Tech's Big Defector," The New Yorker, November 25, 2019

Rather, like his own duplicitous identity, Twain’s texts are double-voiced, both in form and in their equivocal stances toward freedom.

Lawrence Howe, "Catching Mark Twain's Drift," Mark Twain and the Novel: The Double-Cross of Authority, 1998

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Sunday, November 08, 2020

satisfice

[ sat-is-fahys ]

verb (used without object)

to choose or adopt the first satisfactory option that one comes across.

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What is the origin of satisfice?

It is easiest to take the verb satisfice, “to choose or adopt the first satisfactory option, select or pursue the minimum satisfactory result” as a blend of satis(fy) and (suf)fice. Satisfice contrasts with optimize, “to make as effective or useful as possible; make the best of.” A quote from the International New York Times shows this usage well: “Big business executives don’t really try to maximize profits but ‘satisfice’—that is, they try to make enough profit to keep stockholders and boards of directors happy without bringing the wrath of government regulators, consumer groups or business competitors down on them.” Satisfice, originally a northern English colloquialism, entered English in the first half of the 16th century.

how is satisfice used?

In the real world, neither people nor firms maximize utility. … What firms do instead is “satisfice,” to use Simon’s term: they content themselves with results that are “good enough.”

Christopher Caldwell, "Select All," The New Yorker, February 23, 2004

Most people fall somewhere in the middle. A person can maximize when it comes to some decisions and satisfice on others.

Elizabeth Bernstein, "How You Make Decisions Says a Lot About How Happy You Are," Wall Street Journal, October 6, 2014

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