Word of the Day

Word of the day

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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Thursday, March 10, 2022

cenote

[ suh-noh-tee ] [ səˈnoʊ ti ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling

noun

a deep natural well or sinkhole, especially in Central America, formed by the collapse of surface limestone that exposes groundwater underneath.

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What is the origin of cenote?

Cenote “a deep natural well or sinkhole” is a loanword from Mexican Spanish and derives from the word tz’onot in the Yucatec Mayan language. A common misconception is that Mayan is a single language, but it is in fact a language family comprising at least 20 languages that are spoken primarily in Belize, Guatemala, and southeastern Mexico. Yucatec Mayan is one of the best-known Mayan languages and has hundreds of thousands of speakers today in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, while Quiché (also K’iche’) is the most spoken Mayan tongue, with more than 1 million speakers in Guatemala. Though the Mayan languages share numerous grammatical features with other language families found in Mesoamerica, these similarities are most likely the result of language contact rather than a shared origin. Cenote was first recorded in English circa 1840.

how is cenote used?

A wooden canoe used by the ancient Maya and believed to be over 1,000 years old has turned up in southern Mexico .… The extremely rare canoe was found almost completely intact, submerged in a fresh-water pool known as a cenote, thousands of which dot Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, near the ruins of Chichen Itza, once a major Maya city featuring elaborately carved temples and towering pyramids.

David Alire Garcia, “Rare, ancient Maya canoe found in Mexico's Yucatan,” Reuters, October 29, 2021

At the cenote, the water was unbelievably calm and clear enough to reveal some of the underwater formations. The cave’s watery entrance beckoned—dark and forbidding, and yet somehow inviting. We were eager to break the smooth surface…

Joanne E. Dumene, "The watery world of the Yucatan, underground," Washington Post, March 25, 1990

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