Words of the Week

I just finished reading Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and have run across several words that aren’t used that much, but have a ring to them. Here are a few:

Vouchsafe: v. to give (something) to someone as a promise or a privilege

Huswife: n. hussy
   I guess now with so many working women, some of which would be hussies, this isn’t needed.

Yare: adj. swift

Forspoke: v. spoke against.

Shakespeare was a genius so he’d have a large vocabulary, but it seems that his audience would have known most of the words he used. Have our vocabularies shrunk? Yes, we use words like computer and telephone, but did they push out words the Bard and his contemporaries knew?



Word of the Week

multiloquence, n. Excessive talkativeness or loquaciousness; prolixity.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˌmʌlˈtɪləkw(ə)ns/,  U.S. /məlˈtɪləkw(ə)ns/
Etymology: <  post-classical Latin multiloquentia (Vetus Latina; translating ancient Greek πολυλογία polylogy n.) <  multi- multi- comb. form + -loquentia -loquence comb. form. Compare earlier multiloquent adj. and multiloquiousness n., multiloquy n.
 Now rare.
1760  ‘J. Copywell’ Shrubs Parnassus 147 Where Clamour wages war with Sense, And Oratory centres in Multiloquence.
1846  J. E. Worcester Universal Dict. Eng. Lang.Multiloquence, quality of being multiloquent; loquacity, talkativeness. [Citing J. Q. Adams.]
1893 Temple Bar 97 625 He would invariably flounder astray in his own multiloquence.
1923 Science 6 Apr. 418/1 Perhaps their silence on this matter, as contrasted with their relative multiloquence on the pedigree culture data, is indicative of a capacity to judge the comparative importance of the facts.
1952 Daily Tel. 23 Jan. 4/6 Multiloquence characterised by a consummate interfusion of circumlocution.

Word of the Week

Here’s a word I’ve never heard before. I wonder if I can get this to be widely used.

ogdoad \OG-doh-ad\ noun
1. the number eight.
2. a group of eight.

The monad, [that is,] the one tittle, is therefore, he says, also a decade. For by the actual power of this one tittle, are produced duad, and triad, and tetrad, and pentad, and hexad, and heptad, and ogdoad, and ennead, up to ten. For these numbers, he says, are capable of many divisions, and they reside in that simple and uncompounded single tittle of the iota.
— Hippolytus (170–235), The Refutation of All Heresies, translated by J. H. MacMahon, 1851

Ogdoad came to English from the Late Latin in the early 1600s and ultimately derives from the Greek ógdoos meaning “eighth.”

Word of the Week

I’m reading Dicken’s The Old Curiosity Shop and occasionally running across words like condign, which are new to me.

Condign, adj.
1. well-deserved; fitting; adequate:
example: condign punishment.

What is a Hobson’s Choice?

After watching David Lean’s film, I wanted to make sure I knew the meaning of a “Hobson’s Choice.”

What it, really?

A Hobson’s Choice is a choice between something that’s probably undesirable and nothing. “Take it or leave it..”

In the play and the movie, at the end, Henry Hobson, fittingly, is left with a Hobson’s Choice.

[categories film, words]

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 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 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]

Word of the Week

passepartout, n. – ‘ Originally: †a person who may go anywhere (obs.). Subsequently: a thing giving a person the right or opportunity to go anywhere; spec. a key that opens any or many doors, a master key; (occas.) a passport. Freq. in extended use and fig.’

Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈpaspɑːtuː/, /ˈpaspətuː/, /ˌpaspɑːˈtuː/, /ˌpaspəˈtuː/, U.S. /ˌpɑspɑrˈtu/
Forms: 16 paspartout, 16–17 passepartout, 17 passpartout, 17– passepartout.
Etymology: < French passe-partout (1564 in Middle French in sense ‘person who may go anywhere’, 1567 in Middle French in sense ‘key that opens many doors’, 1677 in figurative use, 1690 in sense 2a, c1830 in sense 2b) < passe- (see pass- comb. form) + partout everywhere (end of the 10th cent. in Old French as per tot; < par through, by (see per prep.) + tout all: see tout adv., n.4, and adj.).
1. Originally: †a person who may go anywhere (obs.). Subsequently: a thing giving a person the right or opportunity to go anywhere; spec. a key that opens any or many doors, a master key; (occas.) a passport. Freq. in extended use and fig.
[1655 J. Howell 4th Vol. Familiar Lett. xix. 52 A travelling warrant is call'd Passeport, wheras the Original is passe par tout.]
1675 W. Wycherley Country-wife i. 6 Now may in short the Pas par tout of the Town.
1680 Dryden Kind Keeper v. i. 55 With this Passe par tout, I will instantly conduct her to my own Chamber.
1700 W. Congreve Way of World iii. i. 38 Why this Wench is the Pass-par-tout, a very Master-Key to every Bodies strong Box.
1710 D. Manley Mem. Europe I. iii. 313 One of my Servants, who is gone with two of Monsieur Le Envoy's, and his passe par toute to Nova.
1749 Lady M. W. Montagu Let. to C'tess Bute 30 Nov., He opened his door with the passe-partout key.
1760 S. Foote Minor i. 23 My art, sir, is a pass-par-tout. I seldom want employment.
1826 M. Kelly Reminisc. I. iv. 71, I must say, that at the time I speak of, to be a native of Great Britain, was a passe partout all over Italy!
1833 C. MacFarlane Lives Banditti (1837) 365 Shortly after the prior went with a passe-partout, and opened the door of his cell.
1918 E. J. Dillon Eclipse of Russia x. 178 He showed them his passe-partout and they set him at liberty at once.
1987 Sunday Times 4 Oct. 64/2 The tale wields the dreamy passe-partout of extreme wealth.
2002 Sydney Morning Herald (Nexis) 23 May (News & Features section) 24 The chambermaids had passe-partouts, but when your key was in the keyhole you were assured privacy.

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

I really like the sound and meaning of this week’s word:

quiff: n.2 ‘A clever trick, ploy, or stratagem to achieve a desired end, esp. by unorthodox, irregular, or time-saving means; a dodge; a tip.’

Pronunciation: Brit. /kwɪf/, U.S. /kwɪf/
Forms: 18– quiff, 19– queef Sc., 19– quift Eng. regional (Lincs.), 19– whiff Eng. regional (Herts.).
Etymology:Origin unknown.
regional and slang (esp. Naut.).
A clever trick, ploy, or stratagem to achieve a desired end, esp. by unorthodox, irregular, or time-saving means; a dodge; a tip.

  • 1881 Advertiser Notes & Queries I. 77/2 Quiff. What is the origin of this word, so often used in the sentence, ‘I’ll teach thee a quiff’, meaning something clever. It is often heard in Cheshire.
  • 1890 A. Barrère & C. G. Leland Dict. Slang II. 164 Quiff..(Tailors), a word used in expressing an idea that a satisfactory result may be obtained by other than strictly recognised rules or principles
  • 1925 E. Fraser & J. Gibbons Soldier & Sailor Words 223 Quiff, any specially ingenious smart, tricky, or novel or improvised way of doing anything. (Navy). In the Army used of any drill method peculiar to a battalion, and not usually done in others. Where the wording of the Drill Book is vague, units often read different meanings into the phraseology and invent their own ‘Quiffs’.
  • 1925 N. Lucas Autobiogr. Crook v. 72 I’ll give you one quiff, right now, because I like your face and your nerve. Never touch the dope, it’s hell—and worse than that.
  • 1928 Weekly Dispatch 13 May 10/4 Suddenly a faint grey blur on the horizon in the expected direction. The seaman blinks his eyes—an old quiff which prevents many a false alarm—and then makes his report.
  • 1933 J. Masefield Bird of Dawning 107 It was young Mr. Abbott worked that quiff on you, sir.
  • 1961 F. H. Burgess Dict. Sailing 166 Quiff, a trick or artifice that makes a job easier.
  • 1996 C. I. Macafee Conc. Ulster Dict. 266/2 Quiff, a trick; a dodge.

Word of the Week

acyrology, n.‘ Incorrect use of language.’
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˌasᵻˈrɒlədʒi/, U.S. /ˌæsəˈrɑlədʒi/
Forms: 16 acurologie, 16 acyrologie, 16 18– acyrology.
Etymology: < post-classical Latin acyrologia incorrect use of language (from 4th cent. in grammarians) < Hellenistic Greek ἀκυρολογία< ancient Greek ἀ- a- prefix6 + κῦρος authority (see kyrine n.) + -λογία -logy comb. form. Compare acyrological adj. rare after 17th cent. Incorrect use of language.[1550 R. Sherry Treat. Schemes & Tropes sig. B8v, Acyrologia. Improprietas, when a worde nothynge at all in hys proper significacion is broughte into a sentence as a cloude.]

1577 H. Peacham Garden of Eloquence sig Dj, This vice or fault is called, Acyrologia: which is an vnproper speaking in forme and sense.
1609 Bp. W. Barlow Answer Catholike English-man 266 This Antilogie the Antapologer..would salue by a figure in Grammar called Acyrologie, and would scarre vp the wound by an improprietie of speech.

1645 J. Goodwin Innocency & Truth Triumphing 92 Not to impose any tax upon an acyrologie.

1659 R. Smith in R. Chilswell Let. R. Smith to H. Hammond conc. Creed (1684) 10 There is no Tautologie, or twice re-iteration of the self same thing, no acurologie or impropriety, contradiction or absurdity, no hysteron-proteron, no disorder in the position of it in the Creed.

1839 Lady Lytton Cheveley (ed. 2) I. x. 221 His work..was meant to be..a condensation of all the ‘logics’ and all the ‘ology’s’; but, unfortunately, tautology and acyrology were the only ones thoroughly exemplified.

1844 Lady Lytton Mem. Muscovite II. xi. 313, I bring my mother to a more specific declaration of her thoughts, freed from this species of acyrology which rendered them at least doubtful.

1994 Internat. Jrnl. Classical Trad. 1 42 Óláfr’s adaptation of Donatus’s treatise is particularly significant in two of these cases, acyrology and amphibology.

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