Word of the Day

Word of the day

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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Saturday, March 12, 2022

reconnoiter

[ ree-kuh-noi-ter, rek-uh- ] [ ˌri kəˈnɔɪ tər, ˌrɛk ə- ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling

verb (used with object)

to inspect, observe, or survey (the enemy, the enemy's strength or position, a region, etc.) in order to gain information for military purposes.

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What is the origin of reconnoiter?

Reconnoiter “to inspect to gain information for military purposes” is an adaptation of obsolete French reconnoître “to explore” (compare modern French reconnaître “to recognize”). Reconnoître derives from Latin re- “again” and cognōscere “to know,” and as we learned from the recent Word of the Day gnomon, the gni-/gno- element, meaning “knowledge,” is found in numerous Latin-derived terms, from cognitive and recognize to incognito and ignorant. Reconnoître became reconnaître in modern French because of a spelling reform; by the early 1800s, the digraph oi had developed two different pronunciations—“eh” and “wah”—that caused ambiguity in writing. To rectify this shift, the 1835 edition of the Académie française’s dictionary of the French language changed the spelling of all words that contained the oi pronounced as “eh” from oi to ai. This also explains why the word connoisseur, which was borrowed into English a century before this spelling reform, retains the original French spelling while its modern French counterpart, connaisseur, reflects the reformed spelling. Reconnoiter was first recorded in English in the first decade of the 18th century.

how is reconnoiter used?

The Enemy advanced Yesterday with a seeming intention of attacking us upon our post near Newport. We waited for them the whole day, but they halted in the Evening at a place called Mill Town about two Miles from us. Upon reconnoitering their Situation, it appeared probable that they only meant to amuse us in front, while their real intent was to march by our Right and by suddenly passing the Brandywine and gaining the heights upon the North side of that River, get between us and Philad[delphi]a and cut us off from that City.

George Washington, Letter to John Hancock, September 9, 1777, The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, Vol. 11, 19 August 1777 – 25 October 1777, 2001

Most undramatically, but crucially, [CIA operatives] were also taught how to reconnoiter restaurants .… As a space that is both public and private and relatively safe, the restaurant is an unshowy but invaluable cog in what the great spy writer John le Carré so eloquently calls “the grammar of intrigue.” It offers intelligence officers not only a place to exchange information (the envelope slid across the table; the briefcase switch; the taped message in the toilet tank) but a chance to evaluate their informants’ habits, temperament and coolheadedness, over a meal.

Nina Martyris, “Eat, Drink And Be Wary: Ex-CIA Officer Reveals How Eateries Are Key To Spycraft,” NPR, October 16, 2019

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Friday, March 11, 2022

ferrule

[ fer-uhl, -ool ] [ ˈfɛr əl, -ul ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling

noun

a ring or cap, usually of metal, put around the end of a post, cane, or the like, to prevent splitting.

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What is the origin of ferrule?

To the casual observer, ferrule “a ring or cap put around the end of something” looks like it is a compound of Latin ferrum “iron” (compare the chemical symbol Fe and Spanish hierro) and the suffix -ule “small, little,” but looks can be deceiving. In fact, ferrule is an alteration of English forms such as verrel or virl, with a spelling change based simply on an association with Latin ferrum. Verrel and virl derive from Latin viriola “small bracelet,” from viria “bracelet,” a word of Gaulish (continental Celtic) origin. As we learned from the recent Word of the Day cathartic, it is rather common to see folk etymology—spelling and pronunciation changes based on associations with unrelated words—at work in many languages. In English, folk etymology explains the spelling changes in words such as ferrule as well as author (by influence of authentic), gridiron (by influence of iron), and rosemary (by influence of rose and the name Mary). Ferrule was first recorded circa 1610.

how is ferrule used?

The ferrules on half his brushes had cracked, because they were cheap—a good ferrule was seamless, because the wooden handle absorbed water and cheap seamed metal would split …. When the nickel-plated ferrule finally broke, he’d repaired it with cotton strips, but it was practically useless now.

Elizabeth Hand, Mortal Love, 2004

Having pulled off the loose ferrule from his newly-purchased cane, he bored a hole in the bottom of it with the spike end of the file. Then, using the latter as a broach, he enlarged the hole until only a narrow rim of the bottom was left. He next rolled up a small ball of cottonwool and pushed it into the ferrule; and having smeared the end of the cane with elastic glue, he replaced the ferrule, warming it over the gas to make the glue stick.

R. Austin Freeman, The Singing Bone, 1912

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