Words (9/2 to 9/8)

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).

9/2: Darkle (verb) to grow dark, gloomy, etc. Origin: Darkle is a back-formation from the obsolete darkling, “to be in the dark.” First Known Use: 1800

9/3: Nebulize (verb) to become vague, or indistinct. Origin: Nebulize takes the ancient Proto-Indo-European root nebh-, “mist,” and adds the Greek suffix -lize, “to make.”  The word first appears in the 1800s. First Known Use: 1872

9/4: Braird (verb) to sprout; appear above the ground. Origin: Braird derives from the Old English brerd, “edge, top.” First Known Use: 1400-1450 (Dictionary.com)

9/5: Paralipsis (noun) the suggestion, by deliberately brief treatment of a topic, that much of significance is being omitted, as in “not to mention other faults.” Origin: Paralipsis owes its English sense to the Greek paraleíp(ein), “to leave on one side.” First Known Use: late 16th century (Oxford Dictionaries Online)

9/6: Gammon (verb) to deceive. Origin: This sense of gammon owes its meaning to the Middle English gamen, the ancestor of the Modern English “game.” First Known Use (with this definition): 1789

9/7: Aplomb (noun) assurance of manner or of action; self-possession; confidence; coolness. Origin: Aplomb is from the French word meaning “perpendicularity, equilibrium, steadiness, assurance,” from the Old French phrase a plomb, from a, “according to” (from Latin ad) + plomb, “lead weight” (from Latin plumbum, “lead”). First Known Use: 1823

9/8: Inculcate (verb) to teach and impress by frequent repetition or instruction. Origin: Inculcate is from Latin inculcare, “to tread upon, to force upon,” from in-, “in, on,” + calcare, “to trample,” from calx, calc-, “heel.” First Known Use: 1539

Her closing paralipsis, delivered with quiet aplomb, caused his understanding of the situation to nebulize and darkle; he soon decided that she was merely gammoning him.

This week, it seems to me that the origins of the words are the most interesting thing. Latin, Greek, Old French, Indo-European, back-formations, words cobbled together from multiple languages and words taken, unchanged, from another language.

Gammon, when used with this definition (it can also be a noun referring to “a cured or smoked ham”), has its origins in the game of backgammon. So, it carries the sense of playing with a person’s mind, deceiving them in a playful or silly way. This word might be best used in reference to the game, but it adds an interesting nuance to the idea of deception.

Aplomb also has a fascinating origin. Transcribed as a whole from the French word, it comes from a physical steadiness and balance. The assurance is plain to see. Aplomb is a wonderful word to use, and probably one of the most common that we’ve seen here.

Nebulize and darkle have similar meanings. Context would have to determine which is more appropriate, because they’re both very cool words.

Braird can also be a noun referring to the first crops of a new season. Dictionary.com says that it’s a “Chiefly Scottish” word, which is what it sounds like. Outside of that context, it feels obscure. I would suggest “first-fruits,” a biblical word.

Paralipsis is most interesting for giving a name to a common figure of speech, “not to mention…” It can be used as a snarky comeback the next time someone uses those words, or perhaps in literary criticism (if the phrase is overused or used effectively, for example).

Finally, we have inculcate, which is likely the second most-familiar word this week. The word has a rather violent origin, which probably feels appropriate to anyone who has been the subject of inculcation, à la “to beat [one] over the head” with information.

As for my favorite word this week, the problem is not a lack of words that I like, but an overabundance of them. Darkle, nebulize and inculcate are my top three, but I won’t rank them.

I will close with an announcement. Unfortunately, once a week is starting to feel like too much for this feature. I need to concentrate on other things right now. But I’m not going to drop it entirely. Instead, starting in October, I will have a “words” post on the first Friday of every month, in which I will select seven words from the previous month (in this case, from today, September 9, to the end of the month). In addition, I will include the corresponding “words of the day” from the Urban Dictionary. I’ll have to decide what features to include in this new format, but it will probably stay about the same. In essence, there will be fewer posts of this type, but those posts will almost certainly be more extensive, and, I hope, more useful. Fourteen words a month, and even wackier sentences than before. I’m looking forward to it, and I hope you are too. Until then, keep writing and loving words.

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