Saturday, August 27, 2005

Word of the Day for Saturday August 27, 2005

descant \DES-kant\, noun:
1. (Music) (a) A melody or counterpoint sung above the plain
song of the tenor. (b) The upper voice in part music.
2. A discourse or discussion on a theme.

\DES-kant; des-KANT; dis-\, intransitive verb:
1. (a) To sing or play a descant. (b) To sing.
2. To comment freely; to discourse at length.

[T]hese to their nests,
Were slunk, all but the wakeful nightingale;
She all night long her amorous descant sung.
--John Milton, [1]Paradise Lost

When they start on one of their polarised descants, whether
on state education, water rates, crime, the BBC or
whatever, they sound like a bumble bee and a wasp fighting
in a jam jar.
--Gillian Reynolds, "The biggest things to hit radio,"
[2]Daily Telegraph, May 14, 1999

Mr. Ackroyd's descant on "Great Expectations" is the work
of a master.
--Alison Lurie, "Hanging Out With Hogarth," [3]New York
Times, October 11, 1992

In a custom associated with Athenian gatherings but almost
certainly followed elsewhere as well, a myrtle branch was
passed around the room, and each of the assembled would
descant as the wine flowed.
--David Barber, "Children of Orpheus," [4]The Atlantic,
June 10, 1998

The police amusingly descant on these jottings: "I can't
believe he'd ever write a sentence like 'I shall be
compelled to take steps to silence you!'"
--Christopher Buckley, "The Chekhov of Coldsands-on-Sea,"
[5]New York Times, November 16, 1997

Descant is derived from Medieval Latin discantus, "a refrain,"
from Latin dis- + cantus, "song," from the past participle of
canere, "to sing."

Friday, August 26, 2005

Word of the Day for Friday August 26, 2005

bagatelle \bag-uh-TEL\, noun:
1. A trifle; a thing of little or no importance.
2. A short, light musical or literary piece.
3. A game played with a cue and balls on an oblong table
having cups or arches at one end.

Don't worry about that, a mere bagatelle, old boy!
--Eric Ellis, "Error Message," [1]Time, February 10, 2000

You know how it often happens; these strifes and disputes
frequently originate from a mere bagatelle.
--Alessandro Manzoni, [2]I Promessi Sposi

Excepting the regulars, the troops were raw as were
likewise most of their officers; and this march of
twenty-seven miles, which a year later would have been
considered a bagatelle, was now a mighty undertaking.
--James Ford Rhodes, [3]History of the Civil War

So if you eat at his restaurant every day -- off the menu,
of course -- and slosh the grub down with a 1966 Chateau
Margaux (£800-£1,000 a bottle in a restaurant), even a Ritz
bill will seem a mere bagatelle.
--"Do you take cash?" [4]The Guardian, December 23, 1999

Bagatelle derives from Italian bagattella, "a trifling matter;
a bagatelle," perhaps ultimately from Latin baca, "a berry."

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Word of the Day for Thursday August 25, 2005

peccadillo \peck-uh-DIL-oh\, noun:
A slight offense; a petty fault.

No peccadillo is too trivial: we learn that the mogul once
blew his top because his laundry came back starched
("'Fluff and fold!' he screamed").
--Eric P. Nash, "High Concept," [1]New York Times, May 10,

And besides, "what do they say? 'Don't judge lest you be
judged.' Everybody has their peccadilloes."
-- "Tyson has a friend in his corner," [2]Irish Times,
October 21,1999

Child of a dominant mother, victim of a guilt-ridden
conscience, [St. Augustine] wrote bewilderingly haunted
'Confessions,' in which infantile peccadilloes like
stealing apples and adolescent fumblings with instinctive
sexuality are bewailed with all the anguish of a frustrated
--Geoffrey Parker, "True Believers," [3]New York Times,
June 29, 1997

Peccadillo comes from Spanish pecadillo, "little sin,"
diminutive of pecado, "sin," from Latin peccatum, from
peccare, "to make a mistake, to err, to sin." It is related to
impeccable, "without flaw or fault."

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Word of the Day for Wednesday August 24, 2005

expatiate \ek-SPAY-shee-ayt\, intransitive verb:
1. To speak or write at length or in considerable detail.
2. To move about freely; to wander.

He had told her all he had been asked to tell--or all he
meant to tell: at any rate he had been given abundant
opportunity to expatiate upon a young man's darling
--Henry Blake Fuller, [1]Bertram Cope's Year

At the midday meal on fair day, a large one (meat loaf,
boiled potato, broccoli), Mrs. Lucas, married to the man
with the earache, expatiates on the difficulties of caring
for a parakeet her daughter has unloaded upon her and
which, let out of its cage for an airing, has escaped
through the door suddenly opened by Mr. Lucas.
--William H. Pritchard, [2]Updike: America's Man of Letters

His relationship with his family was for many years an
unhappy one, and he does not care to expatiate upon it.
--Barbara La Fontaine, "Triple Threat On, Off And Off-Off
Broadway," [3]New York Times, February 25, 1968

Expatiate is from Latin expatiari, "to walk or go far and
wide," from ex-, "out" + spatiari, "to walk about," from

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Word of the Day for Tuesday August 23, 2005

tyro \TY-roh\, noun:
A beginner in learning; a novice.

It's difficult to imagine a tyro publishing a book on
medical procedures or economic theory.
--Philip Zaleski, "God Help the Spiritual Writer," [1]New
York Times, January 10, 1999

He was a sensitive, fine soul alert to the pleasures of
being green, a tyro, an amateur, unwilling to close his
mind before it had been tempted.
--Paul West, Sporting With Amaryllis

And, though we were mere tyros, beginners, utterly
insignificant, he was invariably as kind and considerate
and thoughtful, and as lavish in the gift of his time, as
though he had nothing else to do.
--Leonard Warren, Joseph Leidy: The Last Man Who Knew

Tyro is from Latin tiro, "a young soldier, a recruit," hence
"a beginner, a learner."

Monday, August 22, 2005

Word of the Day for Monday August 22, 2005

vicissitude \vih-SIS-ih-tood; -tyood\, noun:
1. Regular change or succession from one thing to another;
alternation; mutual succession; interchange.
2. Irregular change; revolution; mutation.
3. A change in condition or fortune; an instance of mutability
in life or nature (especially successive alternation from one
condition to another).

This man had, after many vicissitudes of fortune, sunk at
last into [1]abject and hopeless poverty.
--Thomas Macaulay

Max had rescued his father's gold watch through every
vicissitude, but as it didn't go I took it to a watchmaker.
--Edith Anderson, [2]Love in Exile: An American Writer's
Memoir of Life in Divided Berlin

It has come about that this writer, who at the beginning
might have appeared in unique occupation of a marginal and
peripheral world, is instead writing from the center of a
historical vicissitude, utterly contemporary.
--Elizabeth Hardwic, "Meeting [3]V. S. Naipaul"

Vicissitude comes from Latin vicissitudo, from vicissim, in
turn, probably from vices, changes.

Synonyms: alternation, inconstancy, fluctuation. [4]Find more

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Word of the Day for Sunday August 21, 2005

schadenfreude \SHOD-n-froy-duh\, noun:
A malicious satisfaction obtained from the misfortunes of others.

That the report of Sebastian Imhof's grave illness might also have been tinged with Schadenfreude appears not to have crossed Lucas's mind.
--Steven Ozment, Flesh and Spirit

He died three years after me -- cancer too -- and at that time I was still naive enough to imagine that what the afterlife chiefly provided were unrivalled opportunities for unbeatable gloating, unbelievable schadenfreude.
--Will Self, How The Dead Live

Somewhere out there, Pi supposed, some UC Berkeley grad students must be shivering with a little Schadenfreude of their own about what had happened to her.
--Sylvia Brownrigg, The Metaphysical Touch

The historian Peter Gay -- who felt Schadenfreude as a Jewish child in Nazi-era Berlin, watching the Germans lose coveted gold medals in the 1936 Olympics -- has said that it "can be one of the great joys of life."
--Edward Rothstein, "Missing the Fun of a Minor Sin," New York Times, February 5, 2000

Schadenfreude comes from the German, from Schaden, "damage" + Freude, "joy." It is often capitalized, as it is in German.