Words (7/29 to 8/4)

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).

7/29: Aureate (adjective) characterized by an ornate style of writing or speaking. Origin: Aureate originally comes from the Latin aureus, “golden.” First Known Use: 15th century

7/30: Gazump (verb) to cheat (a house buyer) by raising the price, at the time a contract is to be signed, over the amount originally agreed upon. Origin: Gazump evolves from the earlier gazoomph, “to swindle,” which is an argot (jargon among thieves) word of uncertain origin. First Known Use: 1920s (Oxford Dictionaries Online)

7/31: Ambsace (noun) the smallest amount or distance. Origin: Ambsace stems from the Old French ambes as, “both aces.” First Known Use: 13th century

8/1: Melismatic (adjective) characterized by the singing of several notes to one syllable of text, for emotional impact, as in blues and other musical styles. Origin: Melismatic finds its source in the Greek melisma, “music.” First Known Use: c. 1880

8/2: Entelechy (noun) a realization or actuality as opposed to a potentiality. Origin: Entelechy is built from the Greek roots telos “goal” and ech “to have.” First Known Use: 1593

8/3: Hacienda (noun) a large estate, especially one used for farming or ranching. Origin: Hacienda enters English from the Spanish word of the same meaning, which derives from the Latin facienda, “things to be done or made.” First Known Use: c. 1772

8/4: Aesopian (adjective) conveying meaning by hint, euphemism, innuendo, or the like. Origin: Aesopian gets this general sense from its original meaning as a reference to the inferential nature of Aesop’s fables. First Known Use: 1728

Any attempt to put all of these words into a sentence would inevitably be aureate, so before I gazump my unsuspecting readers with a melismatic yet unending string of words, I shall merely attempt the ambsace of what this sentence could easily become — a brief collection of thoughts whose aesopian drift will surely be understood by the astute reader, pondering the intricacies of language in his or her hacienda, where…oh, look at that, this sentence has reached its entelechy after all.

It’s safe to say this is the most difficult set of seven words that we’ve come across thus far. Don’t feel at all bad if you got to hacienda and breathed a sigh of relief: “Yes!  I do know some words!” I had much the same reaction. Melismatic was somewhat familiar to me, but being reminded of the definition was helpful. Hacienda might actually be the only truly useful word in the bunch. But that’s all right. I would hope that half the fun of this little exercise is just to learn interesting words, to discover something about where they came from, and maybe provide the seeds for ideas. So, by all means, let’s have fun with these crazy words.

Using the word aureate in writing would, I think, be somewhat like saying the word esoteric around someone who doesn’t know what it means. So don’t use it, but be glad that from now on you won’t get caught not knowing it.

Gazump would make a great onomatopoeia, and when it was first used, it might have been one.

Ambsace has a secondary definition of “bad luck,” since the term comes from throwing “snake eyes” at dice. It’s unfortunate that it’s such a difficult word with such a simple meaning, because it has an interesting sound to it, and it’s not just any bad luck, but the kind that comes when you get less than you expect.

Melismatic, again, is a great word, conveying a common idea in all kinds of music. But really, it’s a word that attempts to explain one of the ineffable qualities of music. In ordinary speech the drawing out of a single syllable would in most cases be comical. Music goes somewhere beyond words, though.

Entelechy is a philosophical and hopelessly fancy word, another example where the words in the definition will do just fine. Still, it’s always good to be reminded of how “having a goal” and “realizing a goal” should be distinguished.

Hacienda is, naturally, a Spanish word, and outside of its natural context it tends to be simply a spicy synonym for house. But, despite all the times I’ve said you should use simple words, I do support the use of interesting synonyms when they’re readily understood. That’s really the issue, and it’s a balancing act. It’s easy to be too simple and end up not saying much of anything. But too many big words will distract or annoy even people with very good vocabularies.

Finally, Aesopian is a good word, but context is key for making the meaning clear. The origin of the word will probably be immediately understood, but the precise way that Aesop is being channeled needs to be made clear, or we’d have another aureate/esoteric situation.

To close, my favorite word of the week has to melismatic, because it has a lovely sound, and I also love music.

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