Word of the Day


Examples:
The paintings, filled with fantastical imagery conjured by the artist’s imagination, have a compellingly oneiric quality.

“Most of the actors here are double and triple cast, and if they barely differentiate among their roles, that just adds to the oneiric effect.” — From a theater review by Jeffrey Gantz in The Boston Globe, March 12, 2012
Did you know?
The notion of using the Greek noun “oneiros” (meaning “dream”) to form the English adjective “oneiric” wasn’t dreamed up until the mid-19th century. But back in the early 1600s, linguistic dreamers came up with a few “oneiros” spin-offs, giving English “oneirocriticism,” “oneirocritical,” and “oneirocritic” (each referring to dream interpreters or interpretation). The surge in “oneiros” derivatives at that time may have been fueled by the interest then among English-speaking scholars in Oneirocritica, a book about dream interpretation by 2nd-century Greek soothsayer Artemidorus Daldianus.

Word of the Day


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utopia \yoo-TOH-pee-uh\
noun: an impractical scheme for social improvement
Examples:
To some people, gated communities are visions of Utopia—safe, quiet, and out of the way.

“Peninsula Players has entertained generations of audiences since it was founded in 1935 by a brother-and-sister team, Caroline and Richard Fisher, who dreamed of an artistic utopia where actors, designers and technicians could focus on their craft while being surrounded by nature in a contemplative setting.” — From an article in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, March 12, 2014
Did you know?
In 1516, English humanist Sir Thomas More published a book titled Utopia. It compared social and economic conditions in Europe with those of an ideal society on an imaginary island located off the coast of the Americas. More wanted to imply that the perfect conditions on his fictional island could never really exist, so he called it “Utopia,” a name he created by combining the Greek words “ou” (meaning “no, not”) and “topos” (meaning “place,” a root used in our word “topography”). The earliest generic use of “utopia” was for an imaginary and indefinitely remote place. The current use of “utopia,” referring to an ideal place or society, was inspired by More’s description of Utopia’s perfection.

Word of the Day


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Walter Mitty \WAWL-ter-MIT-ee\
noun: a commonplace unadventurous person who seeks escape from reality through daydreaming
Examples:
Alan is a Walter Mitty who loves to read travel books but rarely ventures beyond the limits of his own small town.

“Ralphie eventually has to resort to his own Walter Mitty-esque flights of fancy to deal with his real-life predicament.” — From an article by Bill Eggert in The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pennsylvania), December 14, 2013
Did you know?
The original Walter Mitty was created by humorist James Thurber in his famous story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” In Walter’s real life, he is a reticent, henpecked proofreader befuddled by everyday life. But in his fantasies, Walter imagines himself as various daring and heroic characters. Thurber’s popular story was first published in The New Yorker in 1939. “Walter Mitty” has since become the eponym for dreamers who imagine themselves in dramatic or heroic situations.

Word of the Day


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madeleine \MAD-uh-lun\
noun1 : a small rich shell-shaped cake 2 : one that evokes a memory
Examples:
“The evening started with wine and snacks, which included house-made charcuterie, cheese, and cornbread madeleines—the latter, I thought, a clever mashup of French and US traditions….” — From an article by Tom Philpott on MotherJones.com, March 11, 2014 “Every year, the family gathered in the backyard to roast a whole pig in a pit. Between the smell and the smoke, it makes for my own 35-pound madeleine.” — From an article by Ana Menéndez in Gourmet, September 2007
Did you know?
The madeleine is said to have been named after a 19th-century French cook named Madeleine Paumier, but it was the French author Marcel Proust who immortalized the pastry in his 1913 book Swann’s Way, the first volume of his seven-part novel Remembrance of Things Past. In that work, a taste of tea-soaked cake evokes a surge of memory and nostalgia. As more and more readers chewed on the profound mnemonic power attributed to a mere morsel of cake, the word “madeleine” itself became a designation for anything that evokes a memory.

Word of the Day


collimate \KAH-luh-mayt\
verb: to make (something, such as light rays) parallel
Examples:
“Amazingly, some astrophysical jets—streams of charged particles collimated and accelerated over astronomical distances—also exhibit a helical structure.” — From an article by Mario Livio on The Huffington Post, November 20, 2013

“The higher cost and fixed eyepieces of the … binoculars are distinct disadvantages, but setup time is reduced—there’s no need to collimate optics or align tube assemblies.” — From a product review by Phil Harrington in Astronomy, February 2004
Did you know?
One might expect a science-y word like “collimate” to have a straightforward etymology, but that’s not the case. “Collimate” comes from Latin “collimare,” a misreading of the Latin word “collineare,” meaning “to direct in a straight line.” The erroneous “collimare” appeared in some editions of the works of ancient Roman statesman Cicero and scholar Aulus Gellius. The error was propagated by later writers—most notably by astronomers, such as Johannes Kepler, who wrote in Latin. And so it was the spelling “collimate,” rather than “collineate,” that passed into English in the 19th century.

Word of the Day


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kith \KITH\
noun: familiar friends, neighbors, or relatives
Examples:
Alan looked forward to the annual block party as a way to stay connected with his kith.

“Many urban dwellers, embedded in networks of kith and kin, wouldn’t dream of swapping the spiciness of the city for the white-bread pleasures of suburbia.” — From an article by David L. Kirp in The New York Times, October 20, 2013
Did you know?
“Kith” has had many meanings over the years. In its earliest uses it referred to knowledge of something, but that meaning died out in the 1400s. Another sense, “one’s native land,” had come and gone by the early 1500s. The sense “friends, fellow countrymen, or neighbors” developed before the 12th century and was sometimes used as a synonym of “kinsfolk.” That last sense got “kith” into hot water after people began using the word in the alliterative phrase “kith and kin.” Over the years, usage commentators have complained that “kith” means the same thing as “kin,” so “kith and kin” is redundant. Clearly, they have overlooked some other historical definitions, but if you want to avoid redundancy charges, be sure to include friends as well as relatives among your “kith and kin.”

Word of the Day


rancid \RAN-sid\
adjective1 : having a rank smell or taste 2 : offensive
Examples:
Although considered healthier, unsaturated fats become rancid much more easily than saturated fats do.

“Oddly enough, this wild conjecture is about as far as McGinniss goes into the rancid waters of tabloid gossip.” — From a book review by Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post, March 11, 2014
Did you know?
“Rancid” has a fairly straightforward history; it derives from Latin “rancidus,” itself from the Latin verb “rancēre,” meaning “to be rancid” or “to stink.” In addition to the related words “rancidness” and “rancidity,” another descendant of “rancēre” in English is “rancor,” meaning “bitter deep-seated ill will.” (“Rancor” passed through Middle French rather than being borrowed into English directly.) These days, “rancid” also has developed a second, extended sense which is used in the context of offenses to less literal or physical senses than those of smell or taste, and you might see references to “rancid behavior” or “a rancid personality.”