February word of the days

    Posted in : Words:
  • On : Jun 07, 2006

The Word of the Day for February 1 is:

abulia \ay-BOO-lee-uh\ noun
: abnormal lack of ability to act or to make decisions

Example sentence:
“Since his college graduation, my son seems to be suffering from abulia—he just can’t decide what he wants to do next,” sighed Philip.

Did you know?
“I must have a prodigious quantity of mind,” Mark Twain once wrote. “It takes me as much as a week, sometimes, to make it up.” The indecision Twain laments is fairly common; only when inability to make decisions reaches an abnormal level does it have an uncommon name: “abulia.” The English term we use today comes from a New Latin word that combines the prefix “a-,” meaning “without,” with the Greek word “boulÄ“,” meaning “will.” “Abulia” can refer to the kind of generalized indecision that makes it impossible to choose what flavor ice cream you want, though it was created to name a severe medical disorder that can render a person nearly inert.

The Word of the Day for February 2 is:

cathexis \kuh-THEK-sis\ noun
: investment of mental or emotional energy in a person, object, or idea

Example sentence:
The cathexis of a mother for her daughter can be the source of a girl’s confidence and stability later in life.

Did you know?
You might suspect that “cathexis” derives etymologically from a word for “emotion,” but in actuality the key concept is “holding.” “Cathexis” comes to us by way of New Latin (Latin as used after the medieval period in scientific description or classification) from the Greek word “kathexis,” meaning “holding.” It can ultimately be traced back (through “katechein,” meaning “to hold fast, occupy”) to the Greek verb “echein,” meaning “to have” or “to hold.” “Cathexis” first appeared in print in 1922 in a book about Freud’s psychological theories (which also established the plural as “cathexes,” as is consistent with Latin), and it is still often used in scientific and specifically psychological contexts.

The Word of the Day for February 3 is:

jubilate \JOO-buh-layt\ verb
: rejoice

Example sentence:
When Heather’s basketball team finally won a game after nine straight losses, they jubilated as if they’d won the state championship.

Did you know?
When things are going your way, you may want to shout for joy. “Jubilate” testifies to the fact that people have had the urge to give (loud) voice to their happiness for centuries. Although “jubilate” first appeared in print around the middle of the 17th century, its connection to vocal joy goes back much farther; it is derived from the Latin verb “jubilare,” which means “to shout for joy.” “Jubilare” has also played a role in the development of a few other closely related joyful English words, including “jubilant” (the earliest meaning was “making a joyful noise,” though it is now most often used to mean simply “exultant”) and “jubilation” (“an act of rejoicing”).

The Word of the Day for February 4 is:

querulous \KWAIR-yuh-luss\ adjective
1 : habitually complaining
*2 : fretful, whining

Example sentence:
“Georgia, I’m tired of waiting,” complained Grandfather in a querulous voice, his peevish expression revealing unmistakable irritation at the girl’s dawdling.

Did you know?
English speakers have tagged fearful whiners “querulous” since late medieval times. The Middle English form of the word, “querelose,” was an adaptation of the Latin adjective, “querulus,” which in turn evolved from the Latin verb “queri,” meaning “to complain.” “Queri” is also an ancestor of the English words “quarrel” and “quarrelsome,” but it isn’t an ancestor of the noun “query” (meaning “question”). No need to complain that we’re being coy; we’re happy to let you know that “query” descends from the Latin verb “quaerere,” meaning “to ask.”

deference \DEF-uh-runss\ noun
: respect and esteem due a superior or an elder; also : affected or ingratiating regard for another’s wishes

Example sentence:
“In deference to our visitors from Brazil,” the host said, “the ceremony will be conducted in both English and Portuguese.”

Did you know?
We need to be very specific when we tell you that “deference” and “defer” both derive from the Latin “deferre,” which means “to bring down” or “to carry away.” You might also have heard that “defer” traces to the Latin “differre,” which means “to postpone” or “to differ.” So which root is right? Both are. That’s because English has two verbs, or homographs, spelled “defer.” One means “to submit or delegate to another” (as in “I defer to your greater expertise”). That’s the one that is closely related to “deference” and that comes from “deferre.” The other means “put off or delay” (as in “we decided to defer the decision until next month”); that second “defer” derives from “differre.”

The Word of the Day for February 6 is:

velar \VEE-ler\ adjective
*1 : formed with the back of the tongue touching or near the soft palate
2 : of, forming, or relating to a velum and especially the soft palate

Example sentence:
Anglo-Norman scribes used “k” instead of the Old English “c” to represent the velar /k/ sound, and thus today we have “king” and “kind” instead of “cing” and “cind.”

Did you know?
“Velar” is ultimately derived from Latin “velum” (meaning “curtain” or “veil”), which was itself adopted into English by way of New Latin as a word for the soft palate (the fold at the back of the hard palate that partially separates the mouth from the pharynx). “Velar” is used by phonologists to refer to the position of the tongue in relation to the soft palate when making certain sounds. Other terms for what phonologists refer to as “places of articulation” are “palatal” (tongue against the roof of the mouth), “dental” (tongue against the upper teeth), and “alveolar” (tongue against the inner surface of the gums of the upper front teeth).

The Word of the Day for February 7 is:

oftentimes \AW-fun-tymz\ adverb
: often, repeatedly

Example sentence:
Because her job requires her to travel a lot, Janice will oftentimes be out of the office for two or three days in a row.

Did you know?
Despite its archaic, literary ring, “oftentimes” is quite alive today. In fact, it seems to be more popular even now than it was thirty years or so ago. Nor is “oftentimes” confined to writing—it appears frequently in quoted speech. “Oftentimes” was first used in the 14th century (the same century that gave us “often”), and its meaning hasn’t changed—as meanings oftentimes will—in all that time. It was formed as an extension of its slightly older synonym “ofttimes.” Today “ofttimes” is less common, but “oft” (which comes from Old English and also means “often” or “frequently”) is popular in combination with past participles, as in “oft-praised.”

The Word of the Day for February 8 is:

fissile \FISS-ul\ adjective
1 : capable of being split or divided in the direction of the grain or along natural planes of cleavage
*2 : capable of undergoing fission

Example sentence:
The only fissile material that occurs in usable amounts in nature is uranium-235.

Did you know?
When scientists first used “fissile” back in the 1600s, the notion of splitting the nucleus of an atom would have seemed far-fetched indeed. In those days, people thought that atoms were the smallest particles of matter that existed and therefore could not be split. “Fissile” (which can be traced back to Latin “findere,” meaning “to split”) was used in reference to things like rocks. When we hear about “fissile materials” today, the reference is usually to nuclear fission: the splitting of an atomic nucleus that releases a huge amount of energy. But there is still a place in our language for the original sense of “fissile” (and for the noun “fissility,” meaning “the quality of being fissile”). A geologist, for example, might refer to slate as “fissile.”

The Word of the Day for February 9 is:

kanban \KAHN-bahn\ noun
: a manufacturing strategy wherein parts are produced or delivered only as needed : just-in-time

Example sentence:
“To stay competitive,” Rob said, “we need to reduce our manufacturing costs by switching to a kanban system.”

Did you know?
Toyota Motor Company is credited with developing the kanban system of manufacturing, which takes its name from the Japanese word for “sign” or “placard.” In the kanban system, each shipment of parts used in making a product comes with a “kanban,” or sign. When the parts are nearly exhausted, the sign is sent to suppliers, who ship new ones to the assembly line. In the early 1980s, “kanban” became a buzzword in the American business community—offering a perfect example of how languages often reflect larger societal trends . . . and how trading partners often trade more than durable goods!

The Word of the Day for February 10 is:

catbird seat \KAT-berd-SEET\ noun
: a position of great prominence or advantage

Example sentence:
Nate and Brett want to buy a house but are waiting to see if the real estate market will change soon and put buyers back in the catbird seat.

Did you know?
“In the catbird seat” was among the numerous, folksy expressions with which the legendary baseball broadcaster Red Barber delighted listeners. Some say he invented the expression; others say that he dug it up from his Southern origins. But the facts may actually have an odd twist. In a 1942 short story titled “The Catbird Seat,” James Thurber featured a character, Mrs. Barrows, who liked to use the phrase. Another character, Joey Hart, explained that Mrs. Barrows must have picked up the expression from Red Barber. To Red, according to Joey, “sitting in the catbird seat” meant “‘sitting pretty,’ like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him.” But, according to Barber’s daughter, it was only after Barber read Thurber’s story that he started using “in the catbird seat” himself!

The Word of the Day for February 11 is:

gaffer \GAFF-er\ noun
1 : an old man
2 : British a : foreman, overseer b : employer
3 : a head glassblower
*4 : a lighting electrician on a motion-picture or television set

Example sentence:
Before the first day of shooting, the gaffer spent several days setting up all the lights.

Did you know?
Though movie and cinema buffs associate “gaffer” with Hollywood, the word actually predates motion pictures by about 300 years. The first recorded use of “gaffer” dates from the 16th century, when it was used as a title of respect for an older gentleman. Later it was used as a generic noun for any elderly man, and then it picked up the sense “foreman” (still used in British English), perhaps because the foreman was the most experienced and, most likely, the oldest person in a work crew. Today “gaffer” is usually applied to the head lighting electrician on a movie set. The gaffer’s assistant is called the “best boy.”

The Word of the Day for February 12 is:

walleyed \WAWL-eyed\ adjective
1 : having walleyes or affected with walleye
*2 : marked by a wild irrational staring of the eyes

Example sentence:
Being refused service at the restaurant left Trent so angry that he could only manage a walleyed stare.

Did you know?
The noun “walleye” has several meanings. It can refer to an eye with a whitish or bluish-white iris or to one with an opaque white cornea. It can also refer to a condition in which the eye turns outward away from the nose. The extended second sense of the adjective “walleyed” came from the appearance of eyes affected with the condition of walleye. You might guess that “walleyed” has an etymological connection with “wall,” but that’s not the case. Rather, it is derived from “wawil-eghed”—a Middle English translation of the Old Norse word “vagl-eygr,” from “vagl” (“beam”) and “eygr” (“eyed”).

The Word of the Day for February 13 is:

numen \NOO-mun\ noun
: a spiritual force or influence often identified with a natural object, phenomenon, or place

Example sentence:
We were in a village that had hardly changed in a thousand years, and we felt a numen that transcended earthly religions and human histories.

Did you know?
How did “numen,” a Latin term meaning “nod of the head,” come to be associated with spiritual power? The answer lies in the fact that the ancient Romans saw divine force and power operating in the inanimate objects and nonhuman phenomena around them. They believed that the gods had the power to command events and to consent to actions, and the idea of a god nodding suggested his or her awesome abilities—divine power. Eventually, Latin speakers began using “numen” to describe the special divine force of any object, place, or phenomenon that inspired awe (a mystical-seeming wooded grove, for example, or the movement of the sun), and “numen” made the semantic leap from “nod” to “divine will or power.” English speakers adopted the word during the 1600s.

The Word of the Day for February 14 is:

eradicate \ih-RAD-uh-kayt\ verb
1 : to pull up by the roots
*2 : to do away with as completely as if by pulling up by the roots

Example sentence:
Efforts to eradicate smallpox have been almost entirely successful.

Did you know?
Given that “eradicate” first meant “to pull up by the roots,” it’s not surprising that the root of “eradicate” is, in fact, “root.” “Eradicate,” which first turned up in English in the 16th century, comes from “eradicatus,” the past participle of the Latin verb “eradicare.” “Eradicare,” in turn, can be traced back to the Latin word “radix,” meaning “root” or “radish.” Although “eradicate” began life as a word for literal uprooting, by the mid-17th century it had developed a metaphorical application to removing things the way one might yank an undesirable weed up by the roots. Other descendants of “radix” in English include “radical” and “radish.” Even the word “root” itself is related; it comes from the same ancient word that gave Latin “radix.”

The Word of the Day for February 15 is:

zeitgeist \TSYTE-ghyste\ noun, often capitalized
: the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era

Example sentence:
Uncle Jerry reminisced about the free love and political and social activism that were all prominent in the zeitgeist of the 1960s.

Did you know?
Scholars have long maintained that each era has a unique spirit, a nature or climate that sets it apart from all other epochs. In German, such a spirit is known as “Zeitgeist,” from the German words “Zeit,” meaning “time,” and “Geist,” meaning “spirit” or “ghost.” Some writers and artists assert that the true zeitgeist of an era cannot be known until it is over, and several have declared that only artists or philosophers can adequately explain it. We don’t know if that’s true, but we do know that “zeitgeist” has been a useful addition to the English language since at least 1835

The Word of the Day for February 16 is:

pixilated \PIK-suh-lay-tud\ adjective
1 : somewhat unbalanced mentally; also : bemused
*2 : whimsical

Example sentence:
In 1998, Julie Taymor won a Tony Award for her original, pixilated costume and puppet designs that gave life to Disney’s The Lion King on the stage.

Did you know?
“Pixilated” is an American coinage that dates back to about the mid-19th century. A pixilated person behaves as if under the spell of pixies or enchanted by them. The word has been used to describe people who are confused (as though they have seen a pixie) or intoxicated (to the point that they are seeing pixies); it can also be used for people who are like playfully mischievous pixies themselves. Today, “pixilated” usually means “somewhat unbalanced mentally,” “bemused,” or “whimsical.” Additionally, it has fairly recently begun popping up in the digital realm as a word describing an image (as on a computer or television screen) that is made up of a small number of large pixels. This recent usage, which we are monitoring for entry in our dictionary, is also commonly spelled “pixelated.”

The Word of the Day for February 17 is:

bijou \BEE-zhoo\ noun
*1 : a small dainty usually ornamental piece of delicate workmanship : jewel
2 : something delicate, elegant, or highly prized

Example sentence:
Some jewelers believe that women who buy their own bijoux are the next growth market.

Did you know?
“Bijou” (which can be pluralized as either “bijoux” or “bijous”) has adorned English since the late 17th century. We borrowed it from French, but the word ultimately traces to Breton, a Celtic language (one closely related to Cornish and Welsh) spoken by inhabitants of the Brittany region of northwest France. Our modern English word derives from Breton “bizou,” which means “ring.” That history makes “bijou” a rare gem in English because, although the Breton people occupied part of England for many years before they were pushed into France by the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th and 6th centuries, very few Breton-derived words remain in our language (another Breton descendant is “menhir,” a term for a prehistoric monument).

The Word of the Day for February 18 is:

hallowed \HAL-oad\ adjective
1 : holy, consecrated
*2 : sacred, revered

Example sentence:
During the tour of the university campus, Derek was pleased to find himself walking the same hallowed halls that his father and grandfather had walked years before.

Did you know?
Something that is hallowed is looked upon with great respect, often due to its high stature or important role in history. Look into the history of the word, however, and it might just give you the shivers. “Hallowed” is the past participle of the verb “hallow,” a term that derives from the Middle English “halowen.” That word can in turn be traced back to “hālig,” Old English for “holy.” During the Middle Ages, “All Halowen Day” was the name for what Christians now call All Saints’ Day, and the evening that preceded All Halowen Day was “All Hallow Even”—or, as we know it today, Halloween.

The Word of the Day for February 19 is:

repugn \rih-PYOON\ verb
: to contend against : oppose

Example sentence:
“First and chief. . . . let the others repugn as they will: all Titles of Nobility, from Duke to Esquire, or lower, are henceforth abolished.” (Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution: A History)

Did you know?
“Repugn” is a word that was relatively common in English in the 16th and 17th centuries. These days, however, English speakers are more likely to be familiar with one of its close relatives, namely, the adjective “repugnant,” which formerly meant “hostile” but today most commonly means “exciting distaste or aversion.” The Latin root for both of these words is “pugnare,” meaning “to fight.” Other English derivatives from this root are “pugnacious,” meaning “belligerent,” and “impugn,” meaning “to assail with words or arguments.” Even “pungent” is a relative of “pugnare.” Therefore, don’t try to repugn, or impugn for that matter, the influence of “pugnare” on our language—lest you appear pugnacious!

The Word of the Day for February 20 is:

rictus \RIK-tus\ noun
1 : the gape of a bird’s mouth
2 a : the mouth orifice *b : a gaping grin or grimace

Example sentence:
Randy’s face contorted into a rictus that made his promise to keep Phoebe’s secret seem insincere.

Did you know?
When “rictus” was first used in English in the early 19th century, it referred to the hole formed by the mouth of a bird. Later, it was applied to the mouths of other animals, including humans. In Latin “rictus” means “an open mouth”; it comes from verb “ringi,” which means “to open the mouth.” In English, “rictus” eventually acquired a sense referring to the expression of someone grinning widely, as in Lawrence Durrell’s 1957 novel Justine: “This ghastly rictus gouged out in his taut cheeks.” Although “rictus” might be used to describe the mouth of a laughing or smiling person, it is not related to “risible,” a word associated with laughter. Rather, “risible” descends from Latin “ridÄ“re,” which means “to laugh.”

The Word of the Day for February 21 is:

impervious \im-PER-vee-us\ adjective
1 *a : not allowing entrance or passage : impenetrable b : not capable of being damaged or harmed
2 : not capable of being affected or disturbed

Example sentence:
“The church’s thick stone walls seemed to be impervious to noise. . . .” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 26, 2001)

Did you know?
The English language is far from impervious, and, of course, a great many Latinate terms have entered it throughout its history. “Impervious” is one of the many that broke through in the 17th century. It comes from the Latin “impervius,” which adds the prefix “im-” to “pervius,” meaning “passable” or “penetrable.” “Pervius,” which is also the source of the relatively uncommon English word “pervious,” meaning “accessible” or “permeable,” comes from “per-,” meaning “through,” and “via,” meaning “way.”

The Word of the Day for February 22 is:

pestilence \PES-tuh-lunss\ noun
1 : a contagious or infectious epidemic disease that is virulent and devastating; especially : bubonic plague
*2 : something that is destructive or pernicious

Example sentence:
Bert insisted to his dying day that computers were a pestilence that would destroy human interaction.

Did you know?
In the 14th century, the bubonic and pneumonic plagues ravaged Europe, casting the population into terror and leaving a death toll in the millions. It is easy to see why people of that grim period began using “pestilence,” a derivative of “pestis,” the Latin word for “plague,” to refer to the horrifying diseases wracking the land. Plague and death became common literary themes of the era, and Geoffrey Chaucer used “pestilence” to vivid effect in “The Pardoner’s Tale”:

Ther cam a privee theef men clepeth Deeth,
That in this contree al the peple sleeth,
And with his spere he smoot his herte atwo,
And wente his wey withouten wordes mo.
He hath a thousand slayn this pestilence.

The Word of the Day for February 23 is:

epistolary \ih-PIST-uh-lair-ee\ adjective
1 : of, relating to, or suitable to a letter
*2 : contained in or carried on by letters
3 : written in the form of a series of letters

Example sentence:
Pen pals Walter and Iris kept their epistolary relationship alive for 20 years before finally meeting in person.

Did you know?
“Epistolary” is formed from the noun “epistle,” which refers to a composition written in the form of a letter to a particular person or group. In its original sense, “epistle” refers to one of the 21 letters (such as those from the apostle Paul) found in the New Testament. Dating from the 13th century, “epistle” came to English via Anglo-French and Latin from the Greek noun “epistolÄ“,” meaning “message” or “letter.” “EpistolÄ“,” in turn, came from the verb “epistellein,” meaning “to send to” or “to send from.” “Epistolary” appeared in English four centuries after “epistle” and can be used to describe something that is contained in a letter (as in “epistolary greetings”) or composed of letters (as in “an epistolary novel”).

The Word of the Day for February 24 is:

snickersnee \SNIK-er-snee\ noun
: a large knife

Example sentence:
“The Lord High Executioner in The Mikado is someone who couldn’t bring himself to execute a fly with a newspaper let alone a fellow human being with a razor-sharp snickersnee.” (Canberra Times, November 30, 2003)

Did you know?
Back when pirates were swashbuckling around the seven seas, someone who got into “steake or snye” was engaging in cut-and-thrust sword and dagger fighting. “Steake or snye,” which came from a Dutch term meaning “to thrust or cut,” was eventually modified into “snick or snee,” but the meaning of the phrase remained the same. By around 1775, the phrase had been compressed into the single word “snickersnee,” which was used both as a verb for the act of such fighting and as a noun naming the knife used in such clashes.

The Word of the Day for February 25 is:

lambent \LAM-bunt\ adjective
1 : playing lightly on or over a surface : flickering
*2 : softly bright or radiant
3 : marked by lightness or brilliance especially of expression

Example sentence:
On a warm, clear night, Roger and Theresa strolled through the park beneath the lambent glow of the moon.

Did you know?
Fire is frequently associated with lapping or licking imagery: flames are often described as “tongues” that “lick.” “Lambent,” which first appeared in English in the 17th century, is a part of this tradition, coming from “lambens,” the present participle of the Latin verb “lambere,” meaning “to lick.” In its earliest uses, “lambent” meant “playing lightly over a surface,” “gliding over,” or “flickering.” These uses were usually applied to flames or light, and by way of that association, the term eventually came to be used to describe things with a radiant or brilliant glow, as Alexander Pope used it in his 1717 poem “Eloisa to Abelard”: “Those smiling eyes, attemp’ring ev’ry ray, Shone sweetly lambent with celestial day.”

The Word of the Day for February 26 is:

maunder \MAWN-der\ verb
1 : chiefly British : grumble
2 : to wander slowly and idly
*3 : to speak indistinctly or disconnectedly

Example sentence:
John had a tendency to maunder on about things of little interest, so we often tried to limit our conversations with him.

Did you know?
“Maunder” looks a lot like “meander,” and that’s not all the two words have in common—both mean “to wander aimlessly,” either physically or in speech. Some critics have suggested that while “meander” can describe a person’s verbal and physical rambling, in addition to the wanderings of things like paths and streams, “maunder” should be limited to wandering words. The problem with that reasoning is that “maunder” has been used of the physical movements of people since 1775, whereas “meander” didn’t acquire that use until 1831. These days, “meander” tends to be the more common choice, although “maunder” does continue to turn up in both applications.

The Word of the Day for February 27 is:

septentrional \sep-TEN-tree-uh-nul\ adjective
: northern

Example sentence:
My septentrional cousins were impressed by the tall stately palm that grows in our suburban Florida front yard.

Did you know?
What does the word “septentrional” have in common with the month of September and the Big Dipper? The Latin word “septem,” meaning “seven,” provides the connection. “Septem” is an ancestor of both “septentrional” and “September” (the ninth month now, but in the earliest Roman calendar, the seventh month). We picked up “septentrional” from “septentriones,” a Latin word used to refer to the seven principal stars of either of two prominent constellations of the northern sky: Ursa Major (Latin for “Greater Bear”) or Ursa Minor (“Lesser Bear”)—also known as the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper, respectively. “Septentriones” in turn derives from “septem” plus “triones,” meaning “plowing oxen.”

The Word of the Day for February 28 is:

panoptic \pan-OP-tik\ adjective
: being or presenting a comprehensive or panoramic view

Example sentence:
When tourists reach the top of New York City’s Empire State Building, they are dazzled by the panoptic view of the Big Apple.

Did you know?
The establishment of “panoptic” in the English language can be attributed to two inventions known as panopticons. The more well-known panopticon was conceived by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in 1787. Bentham’s panopticon was a circular prison with cells arranged around a central tower from which guards could see the inmates at all times. The other panopticon, also created in the 18th century, was a device containing pictures of attractions, such as European capitals, that people viewed through an opening. Considering the views that both inventions gave, it is not hard to see why “panoptic” (a word derived from Greek “panoptÄ“s,” meaning “all-seeing”) was being used by the early 19th century.