acerate

Pronounced: AS-uh-rate, adj

Notes: I don’t think I’ve every run across this useful word


Yesterday’s word

The word psittacism means “chattering; parroting or mimicking; mechanical, repetitive, and meaningless speech”

First usage

This word came into English in the late 1800s

Background / Comments

When I read the definition, a memory kicked in – a memory of a parrot disease called psittacosis. Also, the initial “ps” reminded me of the Greek letter psi. Sure enough, our word came from the Latin word psittacus (parrot)… and the Latin word came from the Greek word psittakós (parrot). Thus, talk that is parrot-like is the meaning of our word.

psittacism

Pronounced: SIT-uh-sihz-uhm, noun

Notes: I didn’t know this word, but after seeing the definition, I was pretty sure I knew the origin


Yesterday’s word

The word vedette has a couple of varied meanings

  • a leading state of film star
  • a mounted sentry or a scouting boat posted in an advanced position to observe the movements of an enemy
First usage

The first meaning is relatively new, dating back to the 1960s. The second meaning is older from the late 1600s

Background / Comments

Our word comes from the French word vedette (star – as in a film star; speedboat). The French word came from the Italian word vedetta, which came from veletta.

vedette

Pronounced: vuh-DEHT (alternatively, vih-DEHT), noun

Notes: Another interesting history


Yesterday’s word

The word saturnine means “sluggish or gloomy; slow or listless as though suffering from lead poisoning”

First usage

Our word came into English in the early to mid-1400s

Background / Comments

Our word came into English from the Latin word sāturnīnus (Saturn-like). This is not the planet Saturn, which is named for the Roman Titan god Saturn… but our word is not named for the Roman god either. Our word is based the meaning of saturn in alchemy – the metal lead. I thought that this word was used to describe a man who looked like Satan. I think this comes from reading where a man deliberately dressed to look Satan-like (Mephistophelean), and was also described as “saturnine”.

saturnine

Pronounced: SAT-uhr-nine, adj

Notes: I have run across this word in literature, but I didn’t know the correct meaning


Yesterday’s word

The word parboil means “to cook partially by boiling”

First usage

This word came into English in the late 1300s

Background / Comments

I find the background of our word very interesting. It originated from the Latin word perbullire (to boil thoroughly – note not partially), which is a combination of per- (thorough) and bullire (to boil). It came into Anglo-Norman as parboillir, with the alternate spelling perboillir. This word originally meant the same as the Latin – to cook thoroughly by boiling, but the par- prefix was confused with “partial” or “partly”, and thus the meaning changed to – to cook partially by boiling.

parboil

Pronounced: PAR-boil, verb

Notes: Cooks will know this word; it has an interesting history


Yesterday’s word

The word frangible means “easily broken; fragile and delicate”

First usage

This word came into English in the late 1300s or early 1400s

Background / Comments

Our word came into late Middle English from Old French, and into Old French as a derivative of the Latin word frangere (to break)

frangible

Pronounced: FRAN-juh-bull, adj

Notes: I didn’t know this word when I first ran across it


Yesterday’s word

The word Ruritanian means “relating to an imaginary place characterized by romance, adventure, and intrigue”.

First usage

This word began to be used in the late 1800s

Background / Comments

The book The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope was published in 1894. Ruritania was the fictional central European kingdom in which the action of the book takes place. It was (and remains) a popular story, and our word came about shortly after publication. I’ve not read the book, but I have watched one of the six film adaptations. There were three stage plays from this story, and numerous homages, including a classic Doctor Who serial and a couple of episodes of Get Smart.

Ruritanian

Pronounced: roor-ih-TAY-nee-uhn, adj

Notes: I recognized the source of the word, but didn’t get the meaning right


Yesterday’s word

The word polemic, as a noun, means “someone or something that is controversial”. As an adjective, it means “something that is controversial, argumentative, or contrarian”. The form polemical can be used as the adjectival form.

First usage

This word came into English in the early 1600s

Background / Comments

Our word came into English from the French word polémique (disputatious; argumentative). The French word came from the Greek word polemikós (of or for war), which is made up of pólemos (war) combined with -ikos (having some characteristics of).

polemic

Pronounced: puh-LEM-ick (alternatively, poh-), noun, adj

Notes: I wasn’t quite right on this word


Yesterday’s word

The word ecotopia means “an ecologically ideal place”

First usage

This word came into English in the 1970s

Background / Comments

This word came from the title of a novel by Ernest Callenbach – Ecotopia. In the book, this word is used to describe the west coast of the USA. The word itself is a blend of eco- (environmental; ecological) and utopia (an ideal place) – thus, an ideal environmental place. Incidentally, Utopia is the title of a book published in 1516 by Thomas More. As I noted yesterday, once you know the words it comes from, it’s simple to get the meaning.

ecotopia

Pronounced: EE-koh-toe-pee-uh (alternatively, EK-oh-toe-pee-uh), noun

Notes: I didn’t know the word, but it made sense later


Yesterday’s word

The word espy means “to see at a distance; catch sight of”

First usage

This word goes back to the late 1100s or early 1200s

Background / Comments

As I noted yesterday, I might have had the correct meaning, but I thought that the word was pronounced “ES-pee” and couldn’t guess the definition. Our word comes from the Middle English word espyen, which comes from the Old French word espier.

espy

Notes: If I had paid attention to the pronunciation, I would have known this word

Pronounced: ih-SPY, verb


Yesterday’s word

The word ensiform means “shaped like a sword or a sword blade”

First usage

This word came into English in the mid-1500s

Background / Comments

As I noted yesterday, this is a handy word to mean sword-like or looking like the blade of a sword. Another word to slip into conversation. It comes from the Latin words ensis (sword) and -form (shape).