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New Game: What's the Word?

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What's the Word? - WUNDERKIND

pronunciation: [VUN-də-kihnd]

 

Part of speech: noun

Origin: German, late 19th century

 

meaning:

1. A person who achieves great success when relatively young.

2. A child prodigy.

 

Example: 

"She earned the nickname Wunderkind when she sold her startup for $5 million at age 23." 
"The piano teacher always hoped that she might come across a wunderkind in her lessons."

 

About Wunderkind

All proud parents watching their children learn new skills might be tempted to use the word wunderkind. But you would be called rude if you pointed out that wunderkind should be reserved for a child prodigy who is producing work at the level of an adult. If their pride and joy grows up to be an unusually successful twentysomething they can use wunderkind again.

 

Did you Know?

Some things just sound cooler in a foreign language. You could call that talented kid a child prodigy, but wunderkind is so much more fun. The direct translation from German is wonder child, and don't forget to pronounce the "V" at the beginning of wunderkind.

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What's the Word? - SLIPSHOD

pronunciation: [SLIP-shawd]

 

Part of speech: adjective

Origin: English, late 16th century

 

meaning:

1. Characterized by a lack of care, thought, or organization.

2. (of shoes) worn down at the heel.

 

Example:

"The professor could tell the slipshod term paper was thrown together the night before the due date." 
"I just can't give up my favorite shoes, even though they are slipshod."

 

About Slipshod
Here's a word with a solidly English origin story. Shod means wearing a shoe, and slip is, well, slippers. The direct translation might make you think it could apply to anyone wearing backless footwear, but the adjective has pretty much always been an insult. Make a visit to the cobbler before someone accuses you of being slipshod.

 

Did you Know?
Slipshod was a condescending descriptor for someone wearing worn-out slippers. Today you can still use slipshod to describe run-down shoes, but you're more likely to hear it describing careless or shoddy (no etymological relation) work

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What's the Word? - SUPINE

pronunciation: [SOO-pine]

 

Part of speech: adjective

Origin: Latin

 

meaning:

1. (of a person) lying face upwards.

2. Failing to act or protest as a result of moral weakness or indolence.

 

Example:

"My perfect Sunday includes French toast and a supine position on the couch." 
"The mayor was criticized for remaining supine through accusations of bribery."

 

About Supine
You might have heard the phrase "I'm not going to take this lying down" to refer to standing up to some kind of injustice. If you don't take action, then you can be accused of being supine, which means failing to act, or quite literally, lying down.

 

Did you Know?
The word supine comes from the Latin word "supinus," meaning lying down with the face upwards. The Latin word has been incorporated into many languages, while holding onto the same definition: "supi" (Catalan), "supino" (Italian), "supino" (Portuguese), and "supino" (Spanish).


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What's the Word? - FUNICULAR

pronunciation: [fyoo-NIK-yə-lər]

 

Part of speech: adjective

Origin: Latin, mid-17th century

 

meaning:

1. Relating to a rope or its tension.

2. (of a railway, especially one on a mountainside) operating by cable with ascending and descending cars counterbalanced.

 

Example:

"The funicular pulley system in the barn let him hoist the large bales of hay by himself." 
"I don’t know how to ski, but I still enjoy taking the funicular tram to the top of the mountain."

 

About Funicular
Funicular comes from the Latin “funiculus,” which means rope. The adjective can be applied to any description of a rope and its tension, but it is most commonly used to describe a specific type of railway. Funicular can also be used as a noun, to name such a railway.

 

Did you Know?
The adjective funicular is commonly placed before railway to refer to a type of train system in which counterbalanced cars are propelled up a steep incline on a cable and pulley system. The first public funicular railway was the Funiculaires de Lyon, which opened in France in 1862. The first funicular railway in the United States was the Telegraph Hill Railroad, which was in operation in San Francisco from 1884 through 1886.

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What's the Word? - CHERUBIC

pronunciation: [chə-ROO-bik]

 

Part of speech: adjective

Origin: Hebrew

 

meaning:

1. Having the innocence or plump prettiness of a young child.

2. Having a sweet temperament.

 

Example:

"I picked out the perfect Valentine’s Day card, with a cherubic Cupid saying, 'Be Mine.'" 
"My dog is so gentle and cherubic that I named her Angel."

 

About Cherubic
Cherubic is the adjective form of the noun cherub. In the Bible a cherub is a member of the cherubim, or the second-highest order of angels. To describe something as cherubic means it is angelic, in demeanor, appearance, or both.

 

Did you Know?
You’re likely familiar with the images portraying Cupid as a cherubic, chubby-cheeked angel. Cupid is the Greek god of desire, erotic love, affection, and attraction, and Valentine’s Day adopted Cupid as its mascot. His image, along with his powerful love arrows, is seen on greeting cards every February 14.

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What's the Word? - DOUGHTY

pronunciation: [DOW-tee]

 

Part of speech: adjective

Origin: Middle English, pre-12th century

 

meaning:

1. Brave and persistent.

2. Displaying courage.

 

Example:

"The doughty knights of old were known for their courageous actions." 
"Even though he was young, he still showed that he was doughty and loyal in the face of difficulty."

 

About Doughty
This courageous word first appeared in Old English as dyhtig, which became dohtig. Then by the 13th century we see doughty. It was probably used in its earliest days to praise brave and fearless knights. It’s seen less often these days, but you should fearlessly include it in your vocabulary.

 

Did you Know?
While this word first popped up in Middle English, there are other European influences, which can be seen in similar words in other languages. In Danish, “dygtig” means virtuous and proficient. In Dutch, “duchtig” is severe or strict. In German, someone capable and efficient is “tüchtig.” “Dygðugur” is Icelandic for virtuous, and in Swedish, “duktig” is efficient or clever.

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What's the Word? - APÉRITIF

pronunciation: [ə-PEHR-i-teef]

 

Part of speech: noun

Origin: Latin, French, late 19th century

 

meaning:

1. An alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite.

2. (rare) An hors d'oeuvre, such as crackers, cheese, and olives, preceding a meal.

 

Example:

"The hostess greeted her guests at the door with an apéritif." 
"The menu included a light apéritif served before dinner."

 

About Apéritif
An apéritif is an alcoholic drink usually served before the meal to stimulate the appetite. Common apéritifs include vermouth, dry sherry, brandy, champagne, and gin. Usually the drier the better when it comes to an apéritif.

 

Did you Know?
The noun apéritif is taken from the French adjective of the same spelling, meaning stimulating appetite. The apéritif has been served in Europe and abroad since the 5th century, but it really gained traction in the mid-19th century. In America the tradition earned greater popularity in the 1970s and became known as “Happy Hour.”

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What's the Word? - GERMANE

pronunciation: [jer-MAIN]

 

Part of speech: adjective

Origin: Latin, 17th century

 

meaning: 

1. Relevant to a subject under consideration.

2. Closely related.

 

Example:

"Discussing the author’s childhood was germane to the lecture on his influences." 
"You can find germane sources listed in the appendix to the book."

 

About Germane
Germane, previously spelled “germain,” was synonymous with the adjective german (lowercase) in Middle English. Both words come from the Latin word “germanus,” meaning genuine, or of the same parents.

 

Did you Know?
The modern definition of germane — relevant to a given subject — first appears in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” “The phrase would bee more Germaine to the matter: If we could carry Cannon by our sides." (Yes, the alternate spellings are present in the text of “Hamlet.”)

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What's the Word? - CIPHER

pronunciation: [SY-fər]

 

Part of speech: noun

Origin: Arabic, 14th century

 

meaning:

1. A secret or disguised way of writing; a code.

2. A monogram.

 

Example:

"The twins developed their own cipher, a secret code for keeping notes hidden from their parents." 
"Her wedding registry was filled with household items marked with their new cipher."

 

About Cipher
"Cipher is a flexible noun that can refer to many things: A numeric or text character, a mark of interweaving characters (a monogram), a method of concealing text, a cryptography system, a secret message, a feature on a musical organ, even a hip-hop jam session."

 

Did you Know?
The Arabic word “ṣifr” means zero, or empty. Today you’re more likely to decipher a complex cipher with many letters and numbers, but there’s still a place for a few zeros. The groups of three zeros in extremely large numbers are called ciphers. Earn a billion dollars and you’ll have three ciphers in your account balance.

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What's the Word? - LIMPID

pronunciation: [LIM-pid]

 

Part of speech: adjective

Origin: Latin, early 17th century

 

meaning:

1. (of a liquid) free of anything that darkens; completely clear.

2. (of a person's eyes) unclouded; clear.

 

Example:

"The pictures showing limpid pools and endless rows of lounge chairs made her want to book a vacation immediately." 
"She knew her son was over his bout of flu when she saw his limpid eyes."

 

About Limpid
Limpid is an adjective used to clearly describe anything translucent or free from clouds and darkness. It’s most often used to describe liquid, but can also be used when someone has a clear and direct way with words. Just don’t fall guilty to the cliché in writing and describe your heroine as having “eyes like deep, limpid pools.”

 

Did you Know?
This word can easily be traced back to the Latin word “limpidus,” meaning clear. But there’s also a link to the Latin word “lymph,” for clear water. You just might find a nymph frolicking in the limpid lymph.

 

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What's the Word? - EFFLORESCE

pronunciation: [ef-lə-RESS]

 

Part of speech: verb

Origin: Latin, late 18th century

 

meaning:

1. Reach an optimum stage of development; blossom.

2. (of a substance) lose moisture and turn to a fine powder on exposure to air.

 

Example:

"The song starts out slowly, but it will effloresce when you reach the chorus." 
"You must keep the package sealed until you’re ready to use it, because it will effloresce when opened."

 

About Effloresce
When you break this word down into its Latin roots, one definition becomes quite clear. The prefix “E” means out and “florescere” means begin to bloom. However, effloresce is not usually referring to literal blooming flowers, but it’s a more figurative description of something developing and coming into maturity or peak performance.

 

Did you Know?
When using the second definition here of effloresce, it has a specific chemical usage. When the substance effloresces upon contact with the air, it will produce salt particles. The word can also be used to describe rocks or brickwork with a salt content that can crystallize on the surface.

 

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What's the Word? - EXIGENCY

pronunciation: [EKS-i-jən-see]

 

Part of speech: noun

Origin: Latin, late 16th century

 

meaning:

1. An urgent need.

2. A crisis that requires immediate action.

 

Example:

"He put the financial exigency of his family ahead of his personal desires." 
"The exigency of the natural disaster inspired many people to make donations and volunteer their time."

 

About Exigency
Exigency is a noun that, when used in the singular, describes a crisis or emergency that needs immediate attention. When used in the plural — exigencies — you can describe the overall pressing nature or demands of a situation. Either way, there’s work to be done.

 

Did you Know?
Even Latin evolves. This demanding noun can be traced back to “exigentia,” which means urgency, but that comes from the Latin verb “exigere,” which means to demand. The root words have merged into exigency, an English noun for an urgent demand or need.

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What's the Word? - EUPHONY

pronunciation: [YOO-fə-nee]

 

Part of speech: noun

Origin: Greek, 17th century

 

meaning:

1. The quality of being pleasing to the ear, especially through a harmonious combination of words.

2. The tendency to make phonetic change for ease of pronunciation.

 

Example:

"She wanted to pick out the perfect name for her baby — something unique and with euphony." 
"Some abbreviations are created purely for ease of speech and a sense of euphony."

 

About Euphony
English adopted the noun euphony from the French word “euphonie,” but it really goes back to the Greek word “euphōnia,” derived from the adjective “euphōnos,” meaning well sounding. You might recognize that any word containing “phon” can be traced to “phōnē,” which means sound.

 

Did you Know?
Euphony can be used to describe any pleasing sound, but it is most commonly applied to words. There is, however, a specific linguistic phenomenon described as euphony. Some speakers are drawn to easier to pronounce words, even going so far as to alter the pronunciation of words to make them simpler and faster to say. The development of contractions is an example of euphony.

 

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What's the Word? - PERQUISITE

pronunciation: [PER-kwə-zət]

 

Part of speech: noun

Origin: Latin, 15th century

 

meaning:

1. Another term for perk

2. A gratuity.

 

Example:

"Unlimited vacation time is a perquisite that more employers are offering to attract new talent." 
"She was surprised to find a $20 cash perquisite left on a $10 bill."

 

About Perquisite
The Latin word “perquirere” (search diligently for) is the root of this word. It makes sense, as you might be hunting for specific perks in your job, or in new housing. “Quaerere” (seek) is the base of “perquirere” and also the root of a few other seeking words: acquire, inquiry, query, and quest.

 

Did you Know?
When you start your first day at a new job, you might be handed a booklet describing your benefits. This probably includes your insurance, vacation policy, and other perks, such as a free shuttle or a gym membership. Perks is actually a shortening of the word perquisite. Impress the hiring manager at your next interview by asking about the benefits and perquisites of the job.

 

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What's the Word? - DUCTILE

pronunciation: [DUCK-tl]

 

Part of speech: adjective

Origin: Latin, 14th century

 

meaning:

1. (of a metal) able to be drawn out into a thin wire.

2. Able to be deformed without losing toughness; pliable, not brittle.

 

Example:

"Copper is quite ductile, which makes it perfect for both electrical work and jewelry." 
"The drafty window sill needs to be repaired with a ductile material to stand up to the winter winds."

 

About Ductile
Ductile can be used in a few different situations. There’s the easily coerced, or ductile, person. Then any sort of pliable material that can be molded can be called ductile. But if you’re a scientist, you’re most likely describing a metal that can be pulled into a thin wire as ductile.

 

Did you Know?
The adjective ductile comes from the Latin root “ductilis,” which means easily led. This makes sense if you’re talking about a person being ductile, or easily convinced. The word duke shares the same root. A duke might not be swayed, but he perhaps hopes that his subjects are nice and ductile.

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What's the Word? - FABULIST

pronunciation:  [FAB-yə-list]

 

Part of speech: noun

Origin: Latin, late 16th century

 

meaning:

1. A person who composes or relates fables.

2. A liar, especially a person who invents elaborate, dishonest stories.

 

Example: 

"Her fantastical debut novel earned her the reputation of a skilled fabulist." 
"He seemed to be a born fabulist, which only got him in trouble when his fibs were discovered."

 

About Fabulist
Fabulist is certainly related to the more easily recognizable adjective fabulous. While fabulous is now used to describe anything fashionable and glamorous, the original meaning was meant for anything related to fable, myth, or legend. A fabulist might tell fabulous stories of dragons and mermaids.

 

Did you Know?
The original root of fabulist is the Latin “fābula,” meaning talk or account. But English speakers acquired this word from the French “fabuliste,” with the same definition. In either French or English, there’s surely a fabulous tale coming from the fabulist.

 

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What's the Word? - BROMIDE

pronunciation: [BRO-miyd]

 

Part of speech: noun

Origin: English, 19th century

 

meaning: 

1. A trite and unoriginal idea or remark, typically intended to soothe or placate.

2. A compound of bromine with another element or group.

 

Example:

"She couldn't help but roll her eyes at the expected bromide coming from her father." 
"His upcoming chemistry test was sure to cover the chapter on compounds of bromide."

 

About Bromide
Bromine (symbol Br) is a chemical element discovered in the early 1800s. Its sharp and pungent aroma earned its name from the Greek word for stench. Creating a compound of bromine and another element will give you a solution named (other element) bromide. Silver bromide is commonly used in photographic development.

 

Did you Know?
We can thank the magic of chemistry for the definition of bromide as a commonplace, overused figure of speech. The sedative potassium bromide is no longer used as such today, but we can describe anything that is so dull it might put you to sleep as a bromide.

 

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What's the Word? - NADIR

pronunciation: [NAY-dər]

 

Part of speech: noun

Origin: Arabic, 15th century

 

meaning:

1. The lowest point in the fortunes of a person or organization.

2. The point on the celestial sphere directly below an observer.

 

Example:

"At the nadir of his sales career, he decided to try a new path and go back to school."
"I couldn’t find the Ursa Major constellation, because it was positioned at my nadir."

 

About Nadir
Nadir was originally used as an astronomy term to describe the point in the celestial sky directly below the observer. For example, stand outside and look up at the sky. Now draw an imaginary line from that point in the sky down through your body, straight through the Earth and into the sky on the other side of the world. That’s the nadir.

 

Did you Know?
Nadir doesn’t have its own definition so much as it is the opposite of something else. It comes from the Arabic word “naẓīr,” which means opposite to the zenith. The zenith is the highest (or directly above the observer) point in the celestial sky, so it follows that the nadir is the lowest point.

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What's the Word? - INSOUCIANCE

pronunciation: [in-SOO-see-əns]

 

Part of speech: noun

Origin: French, late 18th century

 

meaning:

1. Casual lack of concern; indifference.

2. Cheerful feeling with no worries.

 

Example: 

"I admire my partner’s insouciance toward traffic and other things that annoy me." 
"On the last day of school the children ran out of the building, riding high with insouciance."

 

About Insouciance
You might prefer to focus on the breezy, worry-free cheerfulness of insouciance, but it can have a less sunny connotation as well. Someone might be accused of displaying insouciance with careless behavior if they just can’t be bothered.

Did you Know?
 

Tossing out a “no worries” with a wave would be the perfect demonstration of insouciance. It translates directly from French, with “in” meaning not and “souciant” meaning worrying. Just don’t get “Hakuna Matata” stuck in your head, and you’ll remain carefree.

 

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What's the Word? - BISSEXTILE

pronunciation: [bi-SEKS-tile]

 

Part of speech: adjective

Origin: Latin, late 16th century

 

meaning:

1. (of a year) having the extra day (29 February) of a leap year.

2. Anything related to the extra day of a leap year.

 

Example:

"Since he was born in a bissextile year, his mother joked that he got his driver’s license when he was 4 years old." 
"Embrace the bissextile day every four years, and do something fun and out of the ordinary."

 

About Bissextile
Bissextile can be used to describe the day (February 29) or the full year that occurs every four years, also known as Leap Year. Earth travels around the Sun in 365 days and a little less than ¼ of a full day. Instead of adding on a random quarter of an afternoon every year, the Gregorian calendar accounted for the extra time by inserting an extra day into February.

 

Did you Know?
The word bissextile comes from Latin, with “bis” meaning twice and “sextus” meaning sixth. On February 29 the “sixth” might not make much sense, but in the previous Julian calendar, the extra day was the sixth day before the beginning of March. If February 24 was a bad day for you, you had a chance to do it over with a second February 24.

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