Word of the Day

Word of the day

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

quagmire

[ kwag-mahyuhr, kwog- ] [ ˈkwægˌmaɪ<span class="superscript">ə</span>r, ˈkwɒg- ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling

noun

an area of miry or boggy ground whose surface yields under the tread; a bog.

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What is the origin of quagmire?

Quagmire “an area of miry or boggy ground” is a compound of the nouns quag and mire, both of which are synonyms of quagmire itself. Mire has a clear and well-studied history; it derives from Old Norse mȳrr “bog” and is a doublet, one of a pair of words derived from the same source but through different routes, of moss (from Old English mēos)—much like fjord and the recent Word of the Day firth. The story of quag, though, is far more muddled. Quag appears to be related to its dialectal English synonyms quab and quaw, and all three may be of imitative origin or come from an uncertain Old English source meaning “to shake, tremble.” For the latter hypothesis, the most popular proposal is a connection between quag and the verb quake, as in earthquake and Quaker. Quagmire was first recorded in English in the 1570s.

how is quagmire used?

More than a thousand miles downstream from the Chinese dams, the Mekong Delta’s seemingly endless network of marshes, canals, and polders—tracts of reclaimed land—stretches to the South China Sea. The delta has long been a literal and metaphorical quagmire …. The mix of salt water and freshwater in the delta, and the centuries of human efforts to direct it, have resulted in a complex engineered landscape, one that is too often treated as separate from the rest of the Mekong.

Michelle Nijhuis, “Harnessing the Mekong or Killing It?” National Geographic, May 2015

The higher-than-usual temps are also keeping people off lake and river ice, as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have warned people away from such bodies of water. This problem is not new, the Canadian Press points out. Supply trucks were stranded in 2010 … as winter roads thawed into muddy quagmires, prompting a few aboriginal chiefs to declare a state of emergency.

ICT staff, “Manitoba Aboriginals Roadless, on Thin Ice as Temps Soar,” Indian Country Today, January 7, 2012

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Monday, March 14, 2022

transcendental

[ tran-sen-den-tl, -suhn- ] [ ˌtræn sɛnˈdɛn tl, -sən- ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling

adjective

abstract or metaphysical.

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What is the origin of transcendental?

Transcendental “abstract or metaphysical” ultimately derives by way of Medieval Latin from the Latin verb trānscendere “to surmount,” a compound of the preposition trāns “across, beyond” and the verb scandere “to climb.” Trāns is a distant cognate of the English terms thorough and through; as we learned from the Word of the Day togated, because of a phenomenon known as Grimm’s law, Latin t often corresponds to English th. The opposite of trāns is cis “on this side.” The verb scandere (with stems including scand-, scans-, scend-, scens-, and scent-) is the source of terms such as ascension, descent, and scansorial “capable of or adapted for climbing.” Transcendental was first recorded in English circa 1620.

how is transcendental used?

[N]ew research by psychologists at Stanford and the University of Minnesota shows that experiencing awe can actually increase well-being, by giving people the sense that they have more time available. That sounds much more enjoyable than trying to power through one more hour on Redbull and fumes. Just what is this elusive emotion, and how can one nurture it in our time-pressed world? Although awe has played a significant role in the histories of religion, art, and other transcendental pursuits, it has received scant attention from emotion researchers.

Sarah Estes and Jesse Graham, “How Awe Stops Your Clock,” Scientific American, September 25, 2012

It was raining, and our orchestra was warming up to play with a celebrated conductor in Massachusetts’ Berkshire mountains, steps from the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne …. I felt a transcendental whoosh of history and emotional connection with my surroundings, and as I drew purposefully scratchy sounds from my instrument … I kept my eyes locked on our guest maestro, a man of my parents’ generation who had likely shared colleagues with them.

Adam Baer, "Tanglewood, My Family's Transcendental Homeland," NPR, July 5, 2012

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Sunday, March 13, 2022

duniewassal

[ doo-nee-wos-uhl ] [ ˌdu niˈwɒs əl ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling

noun

a gentleman, especially a cadet of a ranking family, among the Highlanders of Scotland.

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What is the origin of duniewassal?

Duniewassal “a gentleman among the Highlanders of Scotland” is based on a compound of Scottish Gaelic duine “man, person” and uasal “noble.” Duine is a distant descendant of the same Proto-Indo-European root, dhghem- “earth,” which is the source of two types of words in the Indo-European language family: “earth” words such as the recent Word of the Day chernozem (literally “black earth,” from Russian zemlyá “earth”) and “person” words such as the recent Word of the Day hominid (from Latin homō “man, person,” related to humus “earth”). There are two theories behind the origin of uasal: one connects uasal to the same root as Latin augēre (stem auct-) “to increase” (compare auction and augment), while the other links uasal to the same ultimate source as Ancient Greek hýpsos “height” (compare hypsometer “an instrument for measuring atmospheric pressure and sometimes altitude”). Duniewassal was first recorded in English circa 1560.

how is duniewassal used?

The armies differed as markedly in weapons and armour as they did in culture and language. The Islanders were on foot led by their chief and clan gentry of duniewassals … clad in … chainmail and shoulder capers … padded and quilted coats, saffron-dyed and thickly pleated long shirts, and high, conical, iron helmets. The rank-and-file clansmen had little body protection apart from round shields and relied on their speed and agility, supported by the courage inspired by their ancient warrior culture.

Alister Farquhar Matheson, Scotland's Northern Frontier: A Forgotten British Borderland, 2014

There are hills beyond Pentland and lands beyond Forth,
Be there lairds i’ the south, there are chiefs i’ the north!
There are brave duniewassals, three thousand times three
Will cry “Hoy!” for the bonnets o’ bonnie Dundee.

Sir Walter Scott, “Bonnie Dundee,” 1825

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