Just to keep the content flowing here, I’m going to try to write a post like this every week, featuring Dictionary.com’s Words of the Day. Included will of course be the words, as well as the number one definitions (according to Dictionary.com) and the words’ origins (taken from the same site, along with the date of “first known use” according to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary). If I have one, I will say a little something about my personal favorite among the words, and I may try to put some or all of them into a sentence or two. I would be more definite about that last part, but depending on the words for any given week, it might be a very silly exercise. At any rate, words are fun, right? And learning is a good thing to do. The website tends to choose quirky and unusual words, so I can’t promise that the use of many of them will make you and me better writers. They’ll make us snobs, more likely. But I’m convinced that building a vocabulary makes for better thinkers in general. So, here are the words from this past week:
6/10: Umbra (noun) the invariable or characteristic accompaniment or companion of a person or thing. Origin: Umbra is borrowed from the same word in Latin, meaning “shadow.” First Known Use: 1638
6/11: Kerf (noun) a cut or incision made by a saw or the like in a piece of wood. Origin: Kerf comes from the Old English cyrf, “a cutting,” which relates to carve. First Known Use: 1523
6/12: Arroyo (noun) a small steep-sided gulch with a nearly flat floor: usually dry except after heavy rains. Origin: Arroyo is an Americanism, adopted from the Spanish term; akin to Latin arrūgia, “mine shaft.” First Known Use: 1843
6/13: Cosher (verb) to treat with special fondness. Origin: Cosher is a phonetic spelling of the Irish coisir, “feast, entertainment.” First Known Use: Not found
6/14: Orison (noun) a prayer. Origin: Orison derives from the Late Latin oratio-, a conjugation of the Latin “plea, oration.” First Known Use: 13th century
6/15: Crotchet (noun) an odd fancy or whimsical notion. Origin: Crotchet stems from the Middle English term for a staff with a hook at the end. The sense of whimsy most likely derives from its other meaning as a hook-shaped musical note. First Known Use: 14th century
6/16: Brindled (adjective) gray or tawny with darker streaks or spots. Origin: Brindled is alteration of brinded “brown or marked as if with brands” with -le, perhaps influenced by words like speckled, etc. First Known Use: 1620
Oh, my, look at all those nouns. So I won’t try the sentence thing this time.
I am unfamiliar with four of these words, and only slightly acquainted with the other three (umbra, arroyo and orison). Kerf, arroyo and brindled are good words to use for description, but I have difficulty imagining that the other four would be effective in ordinary writing. My favorite of the bunch, however, is probably orison. It’s the oldest word of the seven, which is fitting for such a basic human activity as prayer. I just think it’s the best-sounding word in this group, although umbra and arroyo also flow pleasingly.
One last note: cosher [KAH-sher] should not be confused with kosher [KOH-sher], a word from Judaism meaning “lawful to eat.” The familiarity of the latter word strikes a significant blow against the use of the former. Even when used properly, it will call inappropriate associations to mind.