adjective: habitually disposed to disobedience and opposition
The nanny informed the parents that she would seek employment elsewhere if the froward child could not be compelled to be more obedient.
“I first saw [the great-tailed grackles] during that amazing week in Texas three years ago and looked forward to renewing our acquaintance. By the end of the trip I was happy to be rid of them—pushy, froward little party-crashing beasts that make rude, high-pitched squeals and constantly invite themselves to dinner, filching from unattended plates.” — From an article in the Lewiston Morning Tribune (Idaho), September 30, 2010
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Once upon a time, in the days of Middle English, “froward” and “toward” were opposites. “Froward” meant “moving or facing away from something or someone”; “toward” meant “moving or facing in the direction of something or someone.” (The suffix “-ward” is from Old English “-weard,” meaning “moving, tending, facing.”) “Froward” also meant “difficult to deal with, perverse”; “toward” meant “willing, compliant, obliging.” Each went its own way in the end: “froward” lost its “away from” sense as long ago as the 16th century and the “willing” sense of “toward” disappeared in the 18th century. A third relative, “untoward,” developed in the 15th century as a synonym for “froward” in its “unruly or intractable” sense, and later developed other meanings, including “improper or indecorous.”
noun: a person who predicts the future by magical, intuitive, or more rational means : prognosticator
The host of the radio show jokingly introduced the pundit as “a soothsayer of the old-fashioned sort, possessed of a mystical ability to predict the winner of any election.”
“New York Fashion Week kicks off Thursday, which means hundreds of women will trot about the city in weather-inappropriate shoes, and fashion soothsayers will scrutinize every stitch on the catwalks to make their trend predictions.” — From an article by Christopher Muther in The Boston Globe, February 6, 2014
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The origins of today’s word are straightforward: a “soothsayer” is someone who says sooth. You may, however, find that less than enlightening! “Sooth” is an archaic word meaning “truth” or “reality” that dates from Old English and was used until about the first half of the 17th century. (It is believed to share an ancestor with words suggesting truthfulness and reality in Old Norse, Greek, Old High German, Sanskrit, Latin, and Gothic languages.) “Soothsayer” itself has been documented in print as far back as the 14th century. Today, it is also a moniker of the insect the mantis, whose name means “prophet” in Greek.
adjective1 a : not having the mind or feelings engaged : not interested b : no longer interested 2 : free from selfish motive or interest : unbiased
To avoid any conflicts of interest, the company hired disinterested consultants to determine how to reorganize the company most efficiently.
“It received only four sparsely attended performances in Handel’s lifetime because Protestant Londoners were disinterested in a heroine who was a Roman Catholic saint and they missed the uplifting choruses and jubilant interludes featured in earlier oratorios like ‘Messiah.’” — From a music review by Vivien Schweitzer in The New York Times, February 4, 2014
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“Disinterested” and “uninterested” have a tangled history. “Uninterested” originally meant “impartial,” but this sense fell into disuse during the 18th century. About the same time, the sense of “disinterested” describing someone not having the mind or feelings engaged also disappeared, only to have “uninterested” take its place. The original sense of “uninterested” is still out of use, but the original (“not interested”) sense of “disinterested” revived in the early 20th century. The revival has come under frequent attack as an illiteracy and a blurring or loss of a useful distinction. However, actual usage shows that writers and speakers use these words with intention. For instance, a writer may choose “disinterested” in preference to “uninterested” for emphasis, as in “a supremely disinterested child.” Further, “disinterested” has developed a sense meaning “no longer interested,” which is clearly distinguishable from “uninterested.”
noun1 : something worthless or insignificant 2 : miserly economizing
“My wants were few, and I had no more desire for personal spending than had Ambrose, in his time, but this cheeseparing on the part of my godfather induced in me a sort of fury that made me determined to have my way and use the money that was mine.” — From Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel My Cousin Rachel
“While many charities have undergone painful downsizing, they fear that their operating model won’t survive the relentless cheeseparing the government is indulging in.” — From an article by Randeep Ramesh in The Guardian (London), May 15, 2013
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Those familiar with William Shakespeare’s history play Henry IV may recall how the portly Falstaff remembered the thin Justice Shallow “like a man made after supper of a cheese-paring.” Falstaff’s unusual food simile is one not easily forgotten, and people began to associate “cheese-parings” (bits of cheese trimmed off a larger portion) with other things of little significance and value. In the 19th century, the meaning of “cheeseparing” was extended to “miserly economizing.” (Presumably, the practice of paring off the rind so as to waste the minimum of cheese was viewed as an excessive form of frugality.)
noun: an environmental agent or event that provides the stimulus setting or resetting a biological clock of an organism
“Food availability seems to be a weaker zeitgeber than light. Although food is more essential than light for an animal’s survival, light exerts a finer control than food availability over the activity rhythm.” — From Roberto Refinetti’s 2006 book Circadian Physiology, Second Edition
“Night-shift workers also struggle, he says, because they don’t get the environmental and social cues that help adjust the circadian clock. The most important of these cues, called zeitgebers … is sunlight. But a zeitgeber could also be a scrambled-egg breakfast or children coming home from school in the afternoon.” — From an article by Tara Parker-Pope in New York Times Magazine, November 20, 2011
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Zeitgebers are nature’s alarm clocks—both biologically and etymologically. The word “zeitgeber” derives from a combination of two German terms, “Zeit,” which means “time,” and “Geber,” which means “giver”—so a “zeitgeber” is literally a “time giver.” In nature, zeitgebers tend to be cyclic or recurring patterns that help keep the body’s circadian rhythms operating in an orderly way. For plants and animals, the daily pattern of light and darkness and the warmer and colder temperatures between day and night serve as zeitgebers, cues that keep organisms functioning on a regular schedule. For humans, societally imposed cycles, such as the schedule of the work or school day and regular mealtimes, can become zeitgebers as well.
adjective: of little value : paltry; also : petty, small-minded
Jeanne only had picayune criticisms in regard to the new ad campaign, but that didn’t stop her from voicing them at the meeting.
“Currently, in our gridlocked federal government, we’ve read numerous accounts about legislators who won’t work together because they don’t like one another or suffered some kind of picayune slight.” — From an article in Suburban Trends (Morris, New Jersey), January 12, 2014
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In the 19th century, in Louisiana and other southern states, a picayune was a small coin (specifically, a Spanish half real) with a low monetary value. The coin’s name derives from “picaioun,” a word that means “small coin” in Occitan (a language spoken in Southern France). It ultimately derives from the Occitan word “pica,” which means “to jingle” and which was created to mimic the sound of coins jingling. The real as a monetary unit fell out of use, however, and “picayune” joined “two bits” in the category of small amounts of money whose name eventually came to be used instead for things that are paltry and small.
noun: a compensation (as money) given as solace for suffering, loss, or injured feelings
The judge ordered the company to pay a solatium to each of the unjustly fired workers.
“The amount of cash a politician was required by tradition to dispense regularly in the form of wedding gifts and funeral solatiums for people in his ever-expanding constituency was now, by itself, enough to bankrupt most wealthy men.” — From Robert Whiting’s 1999 book Tokyo Underworld : The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan
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In legal circles, a solatium is a payment made to a victim as compensation for injured feelings or emotional pain and suffering (such as the trauma following the wrongful death of a relative), as distinct from payment for physical injury or for damaged property. Like many legal terms, “solatium,” which first appeared in English in the early 19th century, is a product of Latin, where the word means “solace.” The Latin noun is related to the verb “solari,” which means “to console” and from which we get our words “solace” and “console.”