To Subscribe to M-M's Word of the Day, click here.
Affront: The Middle English afronten, the ancestor of the Modern English verb affront, was borrowed from the Anglo-French afrunter, a verb which means "to defy" but which also has the specific meaning "to strike on the forehead" or "to slap on the face." These more literal senses reveal the word's Latin origins, a combination of the Latin prefix ad-, meaning "to" or "towards," and front-, frons, which means "forehead" (and which is also the source of the English word front). While the striking or slapping sense of afrunter was not adopted by English, it is alluded to in the oldest use of the Modern English word: "to insult especially to the face." (Merriam Webster's Word of the Day)
Not to be confused with --
noun: effrontery; plural noun: effronteries
Not to be confused with --
noun: effrontery; plural noun: effronteries
- insolent or impertinent behavior.
"one juror had the effrontery to challenge the coroner's decision"
synonyms:impudence, impertinence, cheek, insolence, cockiness, audacity,temerity, presumption, nerve, gall, shamelessness, impoliteness,disrespect, bad manners; More
Origina; late 17th century: from French effronterie, based on late Latin effrons, effront-‘shameless, barefaced,’ from ex- ‘out’ + frons ‘forehead.’ (Click here.)
Ampersand (&): Despite appearances, the history of ampersand owes nothing to amp or sand. The familiar character & derives from a symbol that was used in place of the Latin word et, which also means "and." In the late Middle Ages, single letters used as words—words like I—were, when spelled, incorporated into a phrase that clarified that they were in fact individual words. For I the phrase was I per se, I, which in Latin means "I by itself (is the word) I." In early lists of the alphabet, Z was followed by the symbol &, which was rendered & per se, and, meaning "& by itself (is the word) and." Over the years, that phrase (which when spoken aloud was pronounced "and per se and") was shortened by English speakers to ampersand. (Merriam Webster's Word of the Day)
Beholden: Have you ever found yourself under obligation to someone else for a gift or favor? It's a common experience, and, not surprisingly, many of the words describing this condition have been part of the English language for centuries. Beholden was first recorded in writing in the 14th century poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." Indebted, which entered English through Anglo-French, is even older, first appearing in the 13th century. English speakers in the 14th century would also have had another synonym of beholden to choose from: bounden. That word, though obscure, is still in use with the meaning "made obligatory" or "binding" (as in "our bounden duty"), but its "beholden" sense is now obsolete. (Merriam Webster's Word of the Day)
Bluestocking: In mid-18th century England, a group of women decided to replace evenings of card playing and idle chatter with "conversation parties," inviting illustrious men of letters to discuss literary and intellectual topics with them. One regular guest was scholar-botanist Benjamin Stillingfleet. His hostesses willingly overlooked his cheap blue worsted stockings (a type disdained by the elite) in order to have the benefit of his lively conversation. Those who considered it inappropriate for women to aspire to learning derisively called the group the "Blue Stocking Society." The women who were the original bluestockings rose above the attempted put-down and adopted the epithet as a name for members of their society. (Merriam Webster's Word of the Day)
Draconian: Draconian comes from Draco, the name of a 7th-century B.C.E. Athenian legislator who created a written code of law. Draco's code was intended to clarify existing laws, but its severity is what made it really memorable. In Draco's code, even minor offenses were punishable by death, and failure to pay one's debts could result in slavery. Draconian, as a result, became associated with things cruel or harsh. Something draconian need not always be as cruel as the laws in Draco's code, though; today the word is used in a wide variety of ways and often refers to measures (steep parking fines, for example) that are relatively minor when compared with the death penalty. (Merriam Webster's Word of the Day)
Druthere: Druther is an alteration of "would rather." "Any way you druther have it, that is the way I druther have it," says Huck to Tom in Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, Detective. This example of metanalysis (the shifting of a sound from one constituent of a phrase to another) had likely been around for some time in everyday speech when Twain put those words in Huck's mouth. By then, in fact, druthers had already become a plural noun, so Tom could reply, "There ain't any druthers about it, Huck Finn; nobody said anything about druthers." Druthers is essentially a dialectal term and it tends to suggest an informality of tone, but in current use it doesn't necessarily suggest a lack of sophistication or education. * Today, people would us druthers as in this example: If I had my druthers, I would have a zero period so I could get out of school after fifth.
Exculpatory: Exculpatory is Exculpatory the adjectival form of the verb exculpate, meaning "to clear from guilt." The pair of words cannot be accused of being secretive—their joint etymology reveals all: they are tied to the Latin verb exculpatus, a word that combines the prefixex-, meaning "out of" or "away from," with the Latin noun culpa, meaning "blame." The related but lesser-known term sinculpate and inculpatory are antonyms of exculpate and exculpatory. Inculpate means "to incriminate" and inculpatory means "incriminating." A related noun, culpable, means "meriting condemnation or blame for doing something wrong. (Merriam Webster's Word of the Day)
Gargoyle: In the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux reportedly complained about the new sculptures in the cloisters where he lived. "Surely," he is quoted as saying, "if we do not blush for such absurdities we should at least regret what we have spent on them." St. Bernard was apparently provoked by the grotesque figures designed to drain rainwater from buildings. By the 13th century, those figures were being called gargoyles, a name that came to Middle English from the Old French gargoule. The stone beasts likely earned that name because of the water that gargled out of their throats and mouths; the word gargoule is imitative in origin. (Merriam Webster's Word of the Day)
Immaculate: The opposite of immaculate is maculate, which means "marked with spots" or "impure." The Latin word maculatus., the past participle of a verb meaning "to stain," is the source of both words and can be traced back to macula, a word that scientists still use for spots on the skin, on the wings of insects, and on the surface of celestial objects. Maculate has not marked as many pages as immaculate, but it has appeared occasionally (one might say "spottily"), especially as an antithesis to immaculate. We find the pair, for example, in an article by Peter Schjeldahl in an April 2004 issue of The New Yorker. "Rob's apartment, with its immaculate ranks of album spines and its all too maculate strewing of everything else . . ." (Merriam Webster's Word of the Day)
Moot: Moot derives from gemōt, an Old English name for a judicial court. Originally, moot named either the court itself or an argument that might be debated by one. By the 16th century, the legal role of judicial moots had diminished, and the only remnant of them were "moot courts," academic mock courts in which law students could try hypothetical cases for practice. Back then, moot was also used as a synonym of debatable, but because the cases students tried in moot courts were simply academic exercises, the adjective gained another sense, "deprived of practical significance." Some commentators still frown on the use of moot to mean "purely academic," but most editors now accept it as standard. (Merriam Webster's Word of the Day)
Multifarious (mul-tuh-FAIR-ee-us): Multifarious means having or occurring in great variety, or diverse. Dictionary makers have dated the first appearance of multifarious in print as 1593—and rightly so—but before that time another word similar in form and meaning was being used: multifary, meaning "in many ways" and appearing (and disappearing) in the 15th century. Before either of the English words existed, there was the Medieval Latin word multifarius (same meaning as multifarious), from Latin multifariam, meaning "in many places" or "on many sides." Multi-, as you may know, is a combining form meaning "many." A relative of multifarious in English is omnifarious ("of all varieties, forms, or kinds"), created with omni- ("all") rather than multi-.
Niggard: The words niggard and niggardly are sometimes misinterpreted as racial slurs because they sound like the highly offensive word nigger. However, miggard ates back to Middle English. The first element nygg- or nig- was borrowed from a Scandinavian source, and adding the -d at the end of the word is a pejorative suffix. The English word niggardly is a modern English formation from niggard.
Prevaricate: Prevaricate and its synonyms lie and equivocate all refer to playing fast and loose with the truth. Lie is the bluntest of the three. When you accuse someone of lying, you are saying he or she was intentionally dishonest, no bones about it.Prevaricate is less accusatory and softens the bluntness of lie, usually implying that someone is evading the truth rather than purposely making false statements. Equivocate is similar to prevaricate, but it generally implies that someone is deliberately using words that have more than one meaning as a way to conceal the truth. (Merriam Webster's Word of the Day)
Rigmarole (RIG-uh-muh-rol): In the Middle Ages, the term Rageman or Ragman referred to a game in which a player randomly selected a string attached to a roll of verses and read the selected verse. The roll was called a Ragman roll after a fictional king purported to be the author of the verses. By the 16th century, ragman and ragman roll were being used figuratively to mean "a list or catalog." Both terms fell out of written use, but ragman roll persisted in speech, and in the 18th century it resurfaced in writing asrigmarole, with the meaning "a succession of confused, meaningless, or foolish statements." In the mid-19th centuryrigmarole (also spelled rigamarole, reflecting its common pronunciation) acquired its most recent sense, "a complex and ritualistic procedure." Example: Rather than go through the annual rigmarole of filling out tax forms, Maureen would rather pay an accountant to do her taxes for her. (Merriam Webster's Word of the Day)
Shill: Although some who shill are legitimately employed to extol the wonders of legitimate products, this was not always the case. In the first documented uses of the word shill, in the early 1900s, it was more likely that anyone hired to shill was trying to con you into parting with some cash. Practitioners were called shills (that noun also dates from the early 1900s), and they did everything from faking big wins at casinos (to promote gambling) to pretending to buy tickets (to encourage people to see certain shows). Shill is thought to be a shortened form of shillaber (an obscure noun synonymous with shill), but etymologists have found no definitive evidence of where that longer term originated. (Merriam Webster's Word of the Day)
Sycophant (SIK-uh-funt): the language of ancient Greece, sykophantēs meant "slanderer." The word derives from two other Greek words, sykon(meaning "fig") and phainein (meaning "to show or reveal"). How did fig revealers become slanderers? One theory has to do with the taxes Greek farmers were required to pay on the figs they brought to market. Apparently, the farmers would sometimes try to avoid making the payments, but squealers—fig revealers—would fink on them, and they would be forced to pay. Another possible source is a sense of the word fig meaning "a gesture or sign of contempt (such as thrusting a thumb between two fingers)." In any case, Latin retained the "slanderer" sense when it borrowed a version of sykophantēs, but by the time English speakers in the 16th century borrowed it as sycophant, the squealers had become servile, self-seeking flatterers(Merriam Webster's Word of the Day)
Testimonial: In 1639, Scottish poet William Drummond responded to the political scene of his day by writing a facetious set of new laws, among them that "no man wear a . . . periwig, unless he have a testimonial from a town-clerk, that he is either bald, sickly, or asham'd of white hairs." Testimonials take different forms, but always, like in Drummond's recommended law, they provide affirmation or evidence. (Our word traces to Latin testimonium, meaning "evidence, witness.") In the 19th century, a gift presented to someone as a public expression of appreciation for service rendered became the newest version of a testimonial. Then, it was likely to be a statue or portrait. In the 20th century, we came up with testimonial dinners to show our appreciation or esteem. Testimonials (usually solicited) that endorse products or services are also a 20th-century phenomenon. (Merriam Webster's Word of the Day)
Vaudeville: In the 15th century, several amusing songs became popular across France. These songs were said to have been written by a man named Olivier Basselin who lived in the valley of the river Vire in northwest France. The songs eventually became known as chansons du vau-de-Vire, meaning "songs of the valley of Vire." Other people began writing and performing similar songs, and as this form of entertainment became more widespread, the link to vau-de-Vire was forgotten, and the nickname was shortened to one word: vaudevire. As the phenomenon spread beyond France, further changes in pronunciation and spelling shifted vaudevire into vaudeville. The meaning also broadened to include humorous performances and variety shows. (Merriam Webster's Word of the Day)