Words (6/24 to 6/30)

The Dictionary.com “Words of the Day” for the past week, with that website’s definitions and word origins, and the date of first known use taken from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

6/24: Sabbatical (noun) any extended period of leave from one’s customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc. Origin: Sabbatical originates in reference to the Judeo-Christian Sabbath, and comes from the Greek sabbatikos. First Known Use: 1599

6/25: Torrefy (verb) to subject to fire or intense heat. Origin: Torrefy stems from the two Latin roots torrēre “to dry up” and facere “to put, or make so.” First Known Use: Not found

6/26: Sirocco (noun) any hot, oppressive wind, especially one in the warm sector of a cyclone. Origin: Sirocco enters English from the Italian scirocco, which in turn derives from the Arabic sharq, literally meaning “east.” First Known Use: 1617

6/27: Attenuate (verb) to weaken or reduce in force, intensity, effect, quantity, or value. Origin: Attenuate is based on the Latin attenuāre, “to thin, reduce.” First Known Use: 1530

6/28: Catawampus (adjective) off-center; askew; awry. Origin: Catawampus arose in the United States around 1840, during a particular vogue in elaborate coinages. Cata- stems from cater-, a now-archaic root meaning “diagonal,” while the source of –wampus is subject to debate. First Known Use: Not found elsewhere, but presumably around 1840

6/29: Aphorism (noun) a terse saying embodying a general truth, or astute observation. Origin: Aphorism comes from the Greek aphorismós, “definition.” First Known Use: 1528

6/30: Haw (verb) to utter a sound representing a hesitation or pause in speech. Origin: Haw has many senses, but the origin of this sense is uncertain, possibly imitative of the sound. First Known Use: 1632

The brutal sirocco torrefied the desert shrubs and knocked the nomad’s turban catawampus.

It is a useful aphorism that to haw during speech is to attenuate all subsequent words spoken.

Can you say “shoehorn”?

Anyway, here’s another interesting group of words that have come to English from various sources. This time, I can boast of recognizing five of the seven. Only catawampus and torrefy were previously unfamiliar to me. Of those, catawampus feels a bit obscure, and it’s certainly a big word for its meaning; torrefy, on the other hand, is a good verb, very specific (not just heat, but dry heat).

My favorite words in this bunch are the verbs, particularly torrefy, but also attenuate. I think the verbs are the most useful.

Aphorism is probably over-used. It’s certainly more valuable to hear an aphorism than to hear about the idea of one, seeing how the definition is a bit vague.

Haw is almost always used in tandem with hem — connoting more of a deliberate hesitation — and this is how it should be. There’s no reason to waste syllables on the merely accidental waste of syllables.

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