Words (7/8 to 7/14)

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.

7/8: Patois (noun) a regional version of a language differing from its standard, literary form. Origin: Patois enters English in the 1600s from the Old French patoier, “to handle clumsily.” First Known Use: 1643

7/9: Sublimate (verb) in psychology, to direct the energy of a primitive impulse into activities that are considered to be socially more acceptable. Origin: Sublimate is based on the Latin sublimatus, “to exalt.” First Known Use: 15th century

7/10: Skylark (verb) to frolic; sport. Origin: Skylark as a verb is nautical in origin, recorded from 1809, in reference to “wanton play about the rigging, and tops.” First Known Use: 1809

7/11: Trig (adjective) neat, trim, smart. Origin: Trig relates to the Middle English trigg, “true,” which is also the root of “trust.” First Known Use: 1513

7/12: Assay (verb) to examine or analyze. Origin: Assay stems from Middle French, a variation on essay. First Known Use: 14th century

7/13: Gumption (noun) initiative; aggressiveness; resourcefulness. Origin: Gumption comes from a Scottish term, possibly deriving from the Old Norse gaumr, “attention, heed.” First Known Use: 1719

7/14: Usufruct (noun) the right to use the property of another as long as it isn’t damaged. Origin: Usufruct is a legal term derived from two Latin roots, usu-, “use,” and fruct, “fruit.” First Known Use: c. 1630

He didn’t have the gumption to sublimate his violent tendencies into something more effective than slamming doors.

My lawyers will assay how your recent behavior fits into our usufruct agreement.

I’m loving the “S” words this week. Skylark is a simple yet very interesting little word, calling to mind the heights of human dreaming while remaining whimsical. But sublimate, I think, is the treasure of the week. Most of the words we’ve come across here are just that, words, and they do little more than stand in for a concept. Sublimate, however, brings out a whole world of ideas. Of course, it comes from sublime, which is one of the most beautiful words in the language. Made into a verb, the word gets colder, as if whatever is made “more acceptable” shouldn’t be allowed to see the light of day.

Of the other words, gumption and patois are good. The first, I think, is pretty commonly understood. The second runs the risk of being overused, since there are always so many variations on a given language. No one speaks strictly in the “standard, literary form.” Obviously, the difference needs to be stark.

Trig doesn’t do much for me. I prefer the words in the definition. In particular, “smart” is a word that I haven’t ever used in that sense, but it’s a good use for it.

Assay is a bit intellectual, and usufruct is straight-up jargon. Still, the definition of the latter is interesting. Who says you have to use the actual words here? Much can be learned just by knowing them and jumping off into other directions.

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