“Covered in river scum, hair hanging down his forehead like oily kelp, he found his way to the hold, clambering on hands and knees, inching crabwise over rough-hewn wooden boards, and picking his way past intriguing crates of explorer supplies to find the out-of-view spot he’d settled on during his reconnaissance mission nine days before.” — Laurie Gwen Shapiro, Outside, 24 Jan. 2018
“It’s true that Tito’s actions aren’t really interrogated, and neither are the consequences of raising boys the way Lydia did—and does, with her grandson Alex. That’s a conflict the show is sidling up to crabwise, and I really do wonder what will happen if and when it finally confronts machismo head-on.” — Lili Loofbourow, Slate, 14 Feb. 2019
Did you know?
There’s no reason to be indirect when explaining the etymology of crabwise—we’ll get right to the point. As you might guess, the meaning of the word is directly related to that sidling sea creature, the crab. If you have visited a beach near the sea, you have probably seen crabs scuttling along, often moving sideways. Though the behavior is surely above reproach to the crabs themselves, English speakers tend to be suspicious of what comes at them from the side, and the modern meanings of crabwise reflect this suspicion of the crab’s lateral approach. The word crept into English in the early 19th century and has been sidling into our sentences ever since.
“After several operose months of the tear-out and build-up process, Brandon Stupka, the one who has been working on the remodel project…, has finally opened his doors for business….” — The McPherson (Kansas) Sentinel, 17 Apr. 2013
Did you know?
Operose comes from the Latin operōsus, which has the meaning of “diligent,” “painstaking” or “laborious.” That word combines opera, meaning “activity,” “effort,” or “work,” with -ōsus—the Latin equivalent of the English -ose and -ous suffixes, meaning “full of” or “abounding in.” In its earliest uses, in the mid-16th century, the word was used to describe people who are industrious or painstaking in their efforts. About a century later, the word was being applied as it more commonly is today: as an adjective describing tasks and undertakings requiring much time and effort.
Juncture has many relatives—both obvious and obscure—in English. Juncture derives from the Latin verb jungere (“to join”), which gave us not only join and junction but also conjugal (“relating to marriage”) and junta (“a group of persons controlling a government”). Jungere also has distant etymological connections to joust, jugular, juxtapose, yoga, and yoke. The use of juncture in English dates back to the 14th century. Originally, the word meant “a place where two or more things are joined,” but by the 17th century it could also be used of an important point in time or of a stage in a process or activity.
Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for September 20, 2020 is:
ubiquitous • \yoo-BIK-wuh-tuss\ • adjective
: existing or being everywhere at the same time : constantly encountered :widespread
“Within China, WeChat is ubiquitous, serving as an all-in-one app that’s important for making payments and even for displaying someone’s coronavirus test results.” — David Ingram, NBCNews.com, 7 Aug. 2020
Ubiquitous comes to us from the noun ubiquity, meaning “presence everywhere or in many places simultaneously.” Both words are ultimately derived from the Latin word for “everywhere,” which is ubique. Ubiquitous, which has often been used with a touch of exaggeration to describe those things that it seems like you can’t go a day without encountering, has become a more widespread and popular word than ubiquity. It may not quite be ubiquitous, but if you keep your eyes and ears open, you’re apt to encounter the word ubiquitous quite a bit.
“With the advancements in technology, there is an unprecedented demand for electronic products that are portable or more compact. This trend has been a fountainhead for most of the ‘smart’ devices that we see today, such as fit bands, smart bulbs, and smart watches.” — Business Wire, 10 June 2020
Did you know?
When it first entered English in the late 16th century, fountainhead was used only in a literal sense—to refer to the source of a stream. By the 17th century, however, it was already beginning to be used figuratively in reference to any original or primary source. In his 1854 work Walden, Henry David Thoreau used the word in its figurative sense, while paying full homage to its literal meaning as well: “Morning air! If men will not drink of this at the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some and sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their subscription ticket to morning time in this world.”
2 a : to make a careful or detailed search for information
b : to examine a subject in detail
“‘My brother and I,’ said he, ‘were, as you may imagine, much excited as to the treasure which my father had spoken of. For weeks and for months we dug and delved in every part of the garden, without discovering its whereabouts.'” — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of the Four, 1890
“They’ll soon release a second short, Climate Crisis, and Why We Should Panic. It will be voiced by Kiera Knightley, and delves into the cause of climate change and why governments must enter crisis mode to handle the issue.” — Angie Martoccio, Rolling Stone, 13 Aug. 2020
Did you know?
We must dig deep into the English language’s past to find the origins of delve. The verb traces to the early Old English word delfan and is related to the Old High German word telban, meaning “to dig.” For centuries, there was only delving—no digging—because dig didn’t exist until much later; it appears in early Middle English. Is the phrase “dig and delve” (as in the line “eleven, twelve, dig and delve,” from the nursery rhyme that begins “one, two, buckle my shoe”) redundant? Not necessarily. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, in some local uses, dig was the term for working with a mattock (a tool similar to an adze or a pick), while delve was reserved for work done using a spade.
“She leaned toward him, entreaty in her eyes, and as he looked at her delicate face and into her pure, limpid eyes, as of old he was struck with his own unworthiness.” — Jack London, Martin Eden, 1909
“Last summer, the edges of the Greenland ice sheet experienced up to three extra months of melting weather. Limpid blue pools formed on its surface; floods of melt gushed off the edge of the continent….” — Madeleine Stone, National Geographic, 7 July 2020
Did you know?
Since around 1600, limpid has been used in English to describe things that have the soft clearness of pure water. The aquatic connection is not incidental; language scholars believe that limpid probably traces to lympha, a Latin word meaning “water.” That same Latin root is also the source of the word lymph, the English name for the pale liquid that helps maintain the body’s fluid balance and that removes bacteria from tissues.
Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for September 16, 2020 is:
cronyism • \KROH-nee-iz-um\ • noun
: partiality to cronies especially as evidenced in the appointment of political hangers-on to office without regard to their qualifications
“From the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the New Deal, America’s national parties retained their incoherence because most of the important political power was at the state and local level…. Some states and cities were better governed than others, and there was plenty of cronyism and corruption throughout the country, but the stakes of national elections were lower than today.” — Lee Drutman, The Cato Policy Report (The Cato Institute), July/August 2020
“Civil service regulations attempted to eliminate cronyism by setting strict rules governing hiring, firing and promotions within professional government services…. Under the system used in Idaho Falls, promotions rely heavily on scores from written, oral and other tests.” — Bryan Clark, The Idaho Falls Post Register, 4 Apr. 2017
Did you know?
“Forsake not an old friend; for the new is not comparable to him” (Ecclesiasticus 9:10). Practitioners of cronyism would probably agree. The word cronyism evolved in the 19th century as a spin-off of crony, meaning “friend” or “pal.” Crony originated in England in the 17th century, perhaps as a play on the Greek word chronios, meaning “long-lasting,” from chronos, meaning “time.” Nineteenth-century cronyism was simply friendship, or the ability to make friends. The word didn’t turn bad until the next century, when Americans starting using cronyism to refer to the act of playing political favorites.
Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for September 15, 2020 is:
Sisyphean • \sis-uh-FEE-un\ • adjective
: of, relating to, or suggestive of the labors of Sisyphus; specifically: requiring continual and often ineffective effort
“I felt stuck in a Sisyphean loop, writing the same press release over and over. Even more, I was tired of promoting other people’s creations instead of creating something myself.” — Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Jinni, 2013
“In Beirut, balconies are the only spaces in public view that residents can … make theirs. Furniture is displayed; a birdcage is suspended; plants are meticulously arranged and watered—and everything is kept clean, in a Sisyphean battle against the dust.” — Bernardo Zacka, The New York Times, 9 May 2020
Did you know?
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king who annoyed the gods with his trickery. As a consequence, he was condemned for eternity to roll a huge rock up a long, steep hill in the underworld, only to watch it roll back down. The story of Sisyphus is often told in conjunction with that of Tantalus, who was condemned to stand beneath fruit-laden boughs, up to his chin in water. Whenever he bent his head to drink, the water receded, and whenever he reached for the fruit, the branches moved beyond his grasp. Thus to tantalize is to tease or torment by offering something desirable but keeping it out of reach—and something Sisyphean (or Sisyphian, pronounced \sih-SIFF-ee-un\) demands unending, thankless, and ultimately unsuccessful efforts.
The verb purport may be more familiar nowadays, but purport exists as a noun that passed into English from Anglo-French in the 15th century as a synonym of gist. Sir Walter Scott provides us with an example from his 19th-century novel Rob Roy: “I was a good deal mortified at the purport of this letter.” Anglo-French also has the verb purporter (meaning both “to carry” and “to mean”), which combines the prefix pur- (“thoroughly”) and the verb porter (“to carry”). In its original English use, the verb purport meant “to signify”; the “to profess or claim” sense familiar to modern English speakers didn’t appear until the 17th century.
“It was always G-rated trash talk—he is a devout Catholic, after all, and the strongest epithet he ever seemed to let loose was ‘Shoot’…. And his verbiage was often misunderstood. To opposing fans he was a mouthy loose cannon. To those who knew and understood him, it was just his joy and exuberance spilling over.” — Jim Alexander, The Daily News of Los Angeles, 10 Feb. 2020
Did you know?
Verbiage descends from French verbier, meaning “to trill” or “to warble.” The usual sense of the word implies an overabundance of possibly unnecessary words, much like the word wordiness. In other words, a writer with a fondness for verbiage might be accused of “wordiness.” Some people think the phrase “excess verbiage” is redundant, but that’s not necessarily true. Verbiage has a second sense meaning, simply, “wording,” with no suggestion of excess. This second definition has sometimes been treated as an error by people who insist that verbiage must always imply excessiveness, but that sense is well-established and can be considered standard.
If you had sore muscles in the 1600s, your doctor might have advised you to foment the injury, perhaps with heated lotions or warm wax. Does this sound like an odd prescription? Not if you know that foment traces to the Latin verb fovēre, which means “to heat or warm” or “to soothe.” The earliest documented English uses of foment appear in medical texts offering advice on how to soothe various aches and pains by the application of moist heat. In time, the idea of applying heat became a metaphor for stimulating or rousing to action. Foment then started being used in political contexts to mean “to stir up” or “to call to action.”