Words (8/5 to 8/11)

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).

8/5: Overslaugh (verb) to pass over or disregard (a person) by giving a promotion, position, etc., to another instead. Origin: Overslaugh derives from the Dutch overslaan, with slaan meaning “to strike.” First Known Use: mid-18th century (Oxford Dictionaries Online)

8/6: Moxie (noun) vigor; verve; pep. Origin: Moxie enters common speech from the 1908 Moxie, a trademark name registered 1924 for a bitter non-alcoholic beverage; it was used as far back as 1876 as the name of a patent medicine advertised to “build up your nerve,” and it is perhaps ultimately from a New England tribal word. First Known Use: 1930

8/7: Nervure (noun) a vein, as of a leaf or the wing of an insect. Origin: Nervure is French for “rib.” First Known Use: 1816

8/8: Chaptalize (verb) to increase the alcohol in a wine by adding sugar. Origin: Chaptalize comes from the French chaptaliser, which is in turn named for the French chemist J.A. Chaptal. First Known Use: late 19th century (Oxford Dictionaries Online)

8/9: Amaranthine (adjective) unfading; everlasting. Origin: Amaranthine is a form of the Greek amarantos, “everlasting,” ascribed to an imaginary flower that never fades. First Known Use: 1667

8/10: Willowwacks (noun) a wooded, uninhabited area. Origin: Willowwacks is of uncertain origin. First Known Use: Not found

8/11: Billet (verb) to provide or obtain lodging. Origin: Billet stems from the French billet, “official register.” The word relates to the English bill. First Known Use: 1594

The amaranthine peace of these willowwacks would only be ruined were a settler to billet here, crushing every nervure of the leaves upon which he sits.

It’s always amusing to put these words one after another. At best, I know, my attempts to fit them into sentences have been forced, but it’s all in good fun.

The name of the game is learning new words, and this week there are only two that I had previously been familiar with. Moxie is a word that very much sounds like what it means. Just saying it conveys the attitude that’s described. It’s a word that I would assume is reasonably well-known, and yet incorporating it into either writing or conversation would make it stand out. So it’s the best of both worlds. Billet, though, is a bit more obscure. When I say that I was familiar with it, I’m only saying that I know I’ve seen it before. I definitely had to be reminded of what it means. It’s an old-fashioned-sounding word, and I can definitely hear it coming out of the mouth of someone in the nineteenth century. The two-pronged definition is interesting: someone can billet a place to stay for someone else or for himself.

Chaptalize and nervure are technical, scientific terms. I dare you to find some use for them outside of an arcane discussion of wine or insects.

Overslaugh has a great sound for what it describes, but unless I get into the world of business and hear it used, I will assume that it’s not widely known.

As for willowwacks, I found it curious that the origins of the word aren’t known. It sounds very much like an American colloquialism to me, although perhaps it has only evolved to sound that way. The fact that it was not in the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary would seem to be a sign that the use of it will get attention. I suppose the word “wilderness” may have unwanted connotations, in which case this would be a very interesting substitute.

Amaranthine is my favorite word of the week. I just think it’s absolutely gorgeous. Obviously, anything to do with eternity is going to be a beautiful thought, but there’s a great nuance here. Something is amaranthine if it is unfading, so when we use the term, we use it for something that would ordinarily be thought of to fade. Fade, rather than die — like a memory, or an idea, or a work of art. These things don’t die; they always transcend the lives of the people who make them. Yet Death touches them eventually, as time gradually crowds them out with new things. Amaranthine carries the promise that this can be overcome. This word gets on the short list of my favorites for this particular exercise, that’s for sure. Incidentally, Amarantine, an alternate spelling, is apparently the name of an Enya album. So I’ll have to give that a listen.

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