Words (8/12 to 8/18)

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).

8/12: Mundify (verb) to purge or purify. Origin: Mundify is built from two Latin roots, mundi-, “to clean,” and ficare, “to do.” First Known Use: 1375-1425 (Dictionary.com)

8/13: Holus-bolus (adverb) all at once; altogether. Origin: Holus-bolus comes from a mock-Latin rhyming compound based on the phrase “whole bolus.” First Known Use: 1857

8/14: Burke (verb) to suppress or get rid of by some indirect maneuver. Origin: Burke owes its existence as a verb to W. Burke, hanged in 1829 in Edinburgh for a series of brutal murders. First Known Use: 1829

8/15: Polemic (noun) a controversial argument, as one against some opinion, doctrine, etc. Origin: Polemic is an adaptation of the Greek polemikos, meaning “war-like.” First Known Use: 1638

8/16: Polysemous (adjective) having a diversity of meanings. Origin: Polysemous combines the Greek roots poly-, “many,” and sema, “sign.” First Known Use: 1884

8/17: Jointure (noun) property given to a woman upon marriage, to be owned by her after her husband’s death. Origin: Jointure stems from the Latin junctura, “join.” First Known Use: 14th century

8/18: Purloin (verb) to take dishonestly; steal. Origin: Purloin has an ancestor in the Old French porloigner, “to put off, delay,” but the sense of “to steal” is an English addition. First Known Use: 15th century

The prowler silently burked the young bride, then turned to purloin her jointure holus-bolus.

A stranger sentence you may never find, but I couldn’t help myself. Well, “O” and “U” are clearly the vowels of the week. That makes for an interesting connection among these words.

Polemic, jointure and perhaps holus-bolus are probably the best bets for use in general writing. The last of those three in particular might make a fun change of pace. But it shouldn’t be confused with “willy-nilly.” Jointure is, I think, still commonly understood, and the context should make it clear. Polemic feels like it’s acquired a negative connotation, as if to accuse someone’s argument of being a polemic would silence that argument. Putting the word “controversial” in the definition is terrifically unhelpful. Merriam-Webster defines it as “an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another.” This feels more like a sustained barrage of arguments with the intent of destroying someone else’s opinion. I think that gets to the heart of the word.

Mundify, like so many other words we’ve come across here, feels unnecessary. It’s far too Latin, I feel, for the kind of writing that really grabs people. “Purge” is a great word.

Burke could actually be a very interesting word to try. I used the secondary definition in my sample sentence, which is an extremely specific definition, for which the word sounds pretty flippant. In any case, the word suffers from having as its origin a person’s name. It doesn’t evoke anything 182 years later.

Polysemous is definitely useful when writing about writing, but that’s probably it.

Purloin falls into the same category as mundify. It calls Edgar Allan Poe to mind, which may or may not be appropriate. The curious nuance of the definition is that the victim is someone who had trusted the purloiner. You couldn’t purloin something from a stranger.

The more I think about it, my favorite word has to be burke. I now feel the challenge to make use of it. Good monosyllabic words are priceless. Sure, there are people alive today who have it for a last name, but they needn’t be offended, need they? It might be tough, but the rewards could be great.

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