Words (7/22 to 7/28)

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 (except where noted).

7/22: Feign (verb) to represent fictitiously; put on an appearance of. Origin: Feign enters English through French, from the Latin fingere, “to shape, invent.” First Known Use: 13th century

7/23: Erubescent (adjective) becoming red or reddish; blushing. Origin: Erubescent comes from the same Latin root as “ruby.” First Known Use: mid-18th century (Oxford Dictionaries Online)

7/24: Somatic (adjective) of the body; bodily; physical. Origin: Somatic derives from the Greek somatikos, “of the body.” First Known Use: c. 1775

7/25: Handsel (noun) first encounter with or use of something taken as a token of what will follow. Origin: Handsel is a venerable English word, literally consisting of “hand” and an early word for “gift.” First Known Use: 14th century

7/26: Mantic (adjective) of or pertaining to divination. Origin: Mantic stems from the Greek mantikos, “of a soothsayer.” First Known Use: 1839

7/27: Hoary (adjective) tedious from familiarity; stale. Origin: Hoary derives from Middle English hor, from Old English har, “gray; old (and gray-haired).” First Known Use: 1530

7/28: Deadpan (adjective) marked by or accomplished with a careful pretense of seriousness or calm detachment. Origin: Deadpan is a coinage from the 1930s combining “dead” and the sense of “pan” referring to the head or face. First Known Use: c. 1928

No sentences this week, I’m afraid. It’s just too much of a stretch.

In this group, erubescent sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s a long and extremely fancy-sounding word. I can’t imagine enjoying a book that overuses the words “red” or “blushing” so much that erubescent is needed. Nevertheless, the word could possibly be used to comic effect.

Feign and hoary are both good words that convey interesting ideas and maintain the balance of sounding intelligent and not being generally unknown.

Somatic is probably most familiar within the term psychosomatic (usually referring to physical ailments that result from a mental state), and the word itself feels unnecessary, except in a scientific context.

Mantic is a good word, although coming across it may lead to an interesting but distracting study of entomological etymology.

Handsel is sort of the puzzle of the week. I hadn’t come across it before — which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s uncommon, of course, but I tend to think it is. It’s an old word with a very interesting meaning, but this might be a case where the definition should be pondered and used rather than the word itself.

My favorite word this week is deadpan. It is a description of a lot of my favorite humor; it’s simple, evocative, and it can be used as adjective, noun, or verb. Even including the word “dead” emphasizes the irony at the heart of deadpan humor. This is the first word coined in the twentieth century to be my favorite of the week (since I started doing this in June). I have nothing against new words, no matter how much I sing the praises of old ones. The 1930s just happened to be a golden age of American word-making.

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