What's in a Word?

You may be familiar with the Word A Day e-mail service you can sign up for at Wordsmith.org. As you might intuitively figure, the service e-mails you a new word every day, along with its origins, a recently published example of its use and audio file pronunciation guides. For a word nerd like me, it makes each day just a little bit sweeter.

Every week's dose of words is presented in a different theme. This week's theme was "There's a word for it" (as in, "I wish there was a word for it ..."). I (in all my nerdiness) found them particularly fascinating. If you share my affinity, maybe you will too.

(Disclaimer: All writing below, other than that which is otherwise marked, should be credited to Anu Garg, the genius who sends these things.)


Monday: misology (mi-SOL-uh-jee) noun: Hatred of logic or reason.

[From Greek miso- (hate) + -logy (science, study).]

example: "Fletcher laughed. 'Your coyness smacks of misology. Sinking back down to that dark place within yourself, the one that you tried so desperately to suffocate.'" --Chris Mooney; Deviant Ways; Atria; 2000.


Tuesday: virga (VUHR-guh) noun: Rain or snow that evaporates before hitting the ground.

[From Latin virga (rod, streak).]

example: "Macduff [Everton]'s images are so physical and tactile, you can nearly feel the moisture in the virga." --George W Stone; 25 All-Time Best Photo Books; National Geographic Traveler (Washington, DC); Jan/Feb 2005.


Wednesday: incunabulum (in-kyoo-NAB-yuh-luhm) noun: A book printed during the infancy of printing, especially one produced before 1501.

[From Lation incunabula (swaddling clothes, cradle), from cunae (cradle, infancy). Ultimately from the Indo-European root kei- (to lie, bed, dar) that is also the source of such words as city, cemetary, and Sanskrit shiva.]

Imagine a newly-born book, swaddled in clothes. Etymology often shows the poetry of words. Gutenberg operated his pioneering printing press during the 1450s. Books printed during that time are known as incunabula though the term can be applied to any work of art or industry from its early period.

example: "The last public sale of a more or less complete copy of 'The Canterbury Tales' went to J. Paul Getty's Wormsley Library in 1998 for $4.2 million. We are thus assured that a strong financial incentive remains to preserve intact incunabula." --Joel Henning; Taking a Leaf From Celebrated Books; The Wall Street Journal (New York); May 12, 2005.


Thursday: omphaloskepsis (om-fuh-lo-SKEP-sis) noun: Contemplation of one's navel.

[From Greek omphalos (navel) + skepsis (act of looking, examination). Ultimately from the Indo-European root spek- (to observe) which is also the ancestor of suspect, spectrum, bishop (literally, overseer), despise, espionage, telescope, spectator, and spectacles.]

example: "Readers whose main interest is literary how-to or criticism can look elsewhere, in places specifically dedicated to those matters. Doing too much of it here would smack of omphaloskepsis." --Stanley Schmidt; About Science Fiction; Analog Science Fiction & Fact (New York); Jun 2001.


Friday: paraph (PAR-uhf, puh-RAF) noun: A flourish at the end of a signature, originally as a precaution against forgery.

[Via French and Latin from Greek paragraphos (a line showing a break in sense or a change of speakers), from para- (beside) + graphein (write). Ultimately from the Indo-European root gerbh- (to scratch), which also gave us crab, crayfish, carve, grammar, anagram, program, and graphite.]

example: "This was a considerable feat in that he had recognised not only the initial upon the bedcloth, but its unique paraph in one corner." --Linda Berdoll; Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife; Landmark; 2004.