Word of the Week

philtre | philter, n.
[‘ A potion, drug, or (occas.) charm supposed to be capable of exciting sexual attraction or love, esp. towards a particular person; a love potion. Also, more generally: any potion or drug having supposedly magical properties. Also fig.’]
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈfɪltə/, U.S. /ˈfɪltər/
Forms: 15– philter, 15– philtre, 16 18 filtre.
Etymology: < Middle French, French philtre (1381 in sense 1; 1611 in sense 2 (now obsolete in this sense); also as †filtre (17th–19th cent. in sense 1) < classical Latin philtrum philtrum n. Compare Spanish filtro (1549 in sense 1; also as philtro), Portuguese filtro (16th cent. in sense 1), Italian filtro (1598 as philtro in senses 1 and 2). With sense 2 compare slightly earlier philtrum n. 2.
1. A potion, drug, or (occas.) charm supposed to be capable of exciting sexual attraction or love, esp. towards a particular person; a love potion. Also, more generally: any potion or drug having supposedly magical properties. Also fig.?a1563 W. Baldwin Beware Cat (1584) ii. sig. Ciii, To make a Philtre to serue for my purpose.
1586 T. Newton Tryall Mans Owne Selfe 91 By any secret sleight or cunning, as drinkes, drouges, medicines, charmed potions, amatorious Philters, figures, characters, or any such lyke paltring instruments, deuises or practises.
1616 B. Jonson Epicœne iv. i, in Wks. I. 567 Trv...If I should make ‘hem all in loue with thee afore night! Dav. I would say thou had’st the best philtre.
a1618 J. Sylvester tr. Fracastorius Maidens Blush (1620) sig. C5v, The hellish Philtree made of Stygian Wave.
1621 R. Burton Anat. Melancholy i. ii. i. iii. 72 They can make friends enemies, and enemies friends, by philters.
1686 F. Fane Sacrifice i. ii. 28 Good Gods, what Charms! Her very Frowns are Philtres.
1700 S. L. tr. C. Schweitzer Relation Voy. in tr. C. Frick & C. Schweitzer Relation Two Voy. E.-Indies 347, I threw all over-board, for fear some trick or philter should have been play’d with them.
1731 E. Thomas Pylades & Corinna 273 Those called Witches..do secretly..learn strange poisoned Philters and Receipts, whereby they do much Hurt and Mischief.
1788 S. Low Politician Out-Witted ii. i. 16 Why you are positively the arrantest love-sick swain that ever had recourse to a philter.
1805 R. Southey Madoc i. i. 6 Some philtre..to lethargy The Briton blood, that came from Owen’s veins.
1830 T. Flint Shoshone Valley I. vi. 211 She spoke of philtres and medicated drinks, that..she had been taught..were of potency to inspire corresponding love in the man or maiden, who should drink of them.
1868 Tennyson Lucretius 16 A witch Who brew’d the philtre.
1900 J. Conrad Lord Jim iii. 20 They carried his soul away with them and made it drunk with the divine philtre of an unbounded confidence in itself.
1936 Amer. Home Feb. 42/1 Cloves were used by the Persians, Greeks, and Romans as the base of many of their love philters.
1989 W. Weaver tr. U. Eco Foucault’s Pendulum xxxvi. 231 When you feel that need, you have to watch your step: like having drunk a philter, the kind that makes you fall in love with the first thing you meet.
2002 N. Drury Dict. Esoteric 218/1 Monkshood was used by medieval witches in flying ointments and ‘love philtres’, but is one of the most poisonous and dangerous of all magical herbs.

†2. = philtrum n. 2. Obs. rare—0.

[categories words, OED]

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From the Writer’s Almanac

It was on this day in 1754 that the word “serendipity” was first coined.

It’s defined by Merriam-Webster as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” It was recently listed by a U.K. translation company as one of the English language’s 10 most difficult words to translate. Other words to make their list include plenipotentiary, gobbledegook, poppycock, whimsy, spam, and kitsch.

“Serendipity” was first used by parliament member and writer Horace Walpole in a letter that he wrote to an English friend who was spending time in Italy. In the letter to his friend written on this day in 1754, Walpole wrote that he came up with the word after a fairy tale he once read, called “The Three Princes of Serendip,” explaining, “as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.” The three princes of Serendip hail from modern-day Sri Lanka. “Serendip” is the Persian word for the island nation off the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka.

The invention of many wonderful things have been attributed to “serendipity,” including Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Charles Goodyear’s vulcanization of rubber, inkjet printers, Silly Putty, the Slinky, and chocolate chip cookies.

Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin after he left for vacation without disinfecting some of his petri dishes filled with bacteria cultures; when he got back to his lab, he found that the penicillium mold had killed the bacteria.

Viagra had been developed to treat hypertension and angina pectoris; it didn’t do such a good job at these things, researchers found during the first phase of clinical trials, but it was good for something else.

The principles of radioactivity, X-rays, and infrared radiation were all found when researchers were looking for something else.

Julius Comroe said, “Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer’s daughter.”

Wiktionary lists serendipity’s antonyms as “Murphy’s law” and “perfect storm.”

Word of the Week

advesperate, v.
[‘ intr. To grow dark, to become night.’]

Forms: 16 aduesperate, 16– advesperate.

Etymology: < post-classical Latin advesperat-, past participial stem (see -ate suffix3) of advesperare (5th cent.), alteration of classical Latin advesperāscere to draw towards evening < ad- ad- prefix + vesperāscere to grow towards evening < vesper evening (see vesper n.) + -sc- (compare -ish suffix2). Compare Anglo-Norman and Old French, Middle French, French †avesprer, also †avesprir (both 12th cent., used impersonally; both obsolete after the early 17th cent.).
Obs. rare (chiefly poet.).

intr. To grow dark, to become night.
1623 H. Cockeram Eng. Dict., Aduesperate, to waxe night.

1647 R. Baron Εροτοπαιγνιον iii. 39 Flaminius persisted on in his journey; but before he could reach the Citie Nicosia, it did advesperate.

1809 J. Hutton School for Prodigals iv. ii. 46 See, the red gleaming of the western skies, proclaims that day begins to advesperate!

1875 K. Rigbye Poet. Wks. 3 When the day advesperates they meet Within some neighbour's cot to hold debate.