A WORD A DAY is a daily email newsletter that holds great fascination, at least for those of us wit an excessive interest in the English language — perhaps to the detriment of other areas of our knowledge..
The newsletter was created by Anu Garg, who has been called “a great and sensitive painter of the play of words in English -- their history, their quirks, their shades of meanings, even their sounds”.
I am intrigued both by the words I know and those I have never run across.
Here are three I knew but enjoyed reading about:
catawampus (kat-uh-WOM-puhs) , adjective:
1. Off-center; askew; awry.
2. Positioned diagonally; cater-cornered.
“A well-used Old Town canoe lies catawampus at the entrance to the cellar.”
Stephen Williams; Why Ask for the Moon? The New York Times; Jun 10, 2007.
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.
profligacy (PROF-li-guh-see), noun:
1. Reckless extravagance.
2. Shameless dissoluteness.
3. Great abundance.
The extravagance and general profligacy which he scrupled not to lay at Mr. Wickham’s charge, exceedingly shocked her; the more so, as she could bring no proof of its injustice.
-- Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
pneumatic (noo-MAT-ik, or nyoo-MATik), adjective
1. Of or relating to air, wind, or gases.
3. Buxom, zaftig.
From Greek pneuma (breath, wind, spirit). Ultimately from the Indo-European root pneu- (to breathe), which is also the source of pneumatic, pneumonia, apnea, sneer, sneeze, snort, snore, and pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. Earliest documented use: 1624.
“The Greyhound from Toronto pulled up and with a sucking pneumatic hiss.”
James Bartleman; As Long as the Rivers Flow; Knopf; 2011.
THREE I HAD never heard of are similar, in spelling, at least , to these more familiar words — luminous, apropos and forward:
numinous (NOO-muh-nuhs, NYOO-)adjective:
1. Supernatural, mysterious, or awe-inspiring.
From Latin numen (nod of the head, command, divine will). Earliest documented use: 1647.
Example: “Rol and Noey’s lives unfold in an atmosphere of mildly magical realism: a numinous shimmer at the edges of the everyday.”
Geordie Williamson; Unsettled by Pain; The Australian (Sydney); Dec 3, 2011.
malapropos (mal-ap-ruh-POH) ,
1. inappropriate; out of place; inopportune; untimely
2. inappropriately; inopportunely
Originated in 1668; from Fr. mal à propos “inopportunely, inappropriately,” lit. “badly for the purpose,” from mal “evil, ill, wrong, wrongly,” from L. male (adv.) “badly,” or malus (adj.) “bad, evil” + proposer “propose” from pro- “forth” + poser “put, place”
Example: Such malapropos wise cracks are driven home with a relentlessly upbeat soundtrack which serenades scenes of human tragedy with bouncy, Disneyesque melodies.
-- Steve Rabey, “Noah’s Ark’ hits bottom: Miniseries suffers from lack of accuracy”, Arlington Morning News, May 21, 1999
froward (FROH-werd) , adjective:
1. Not easily managed; contrary
Originated about. 1300, Old English fromweard “turned from or away,” from from + -weard. The opposite of toward, it was Latin pervertus in early translations of the Psalms, and also meant “about to depart, departing,” and “doomed to die.”
Example: The mule is a froward animal.
A Word A Day: A Romp Through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English is a book Anu Garg has written. He includes curious stories told in letters he and his AWAD editors have received. His e-mail newsletter, Wordsmith.org, has 600,000 subscribers who form a worldwide community of word lovers.