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Merriam-Webster's - Word of the Day

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 23, 2014 is:

bas-relief • \bah-rih-LEEF\  • noun
: sculptural relief in which the projection from the surrounding surface is slight and no part of the modeled form is undercut; also : sculpture executed in bas-relief

Jamal admired the bas-reliefs carved into the walls of the ancient Assyrian palace.

"Nearly 50 people … came to the unveiling on Friday afternoon and watched as Mayor Marina Khubesrian and Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, pulled the covering off the bas-relief to reveal a father reading to his three daughters." — From an article by Zen Vuong in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune (California), March 22, 2014

Did you know?
The best way to understand the meaning of "bas-relief" is to see one—and the easiest way to do that is to pull one out of your pocket. Just take out a penny, nickel, or other coin and examine the raised images on it; they're all bas-reliefs. English speakers adopted "bas-relief" from French (where "bas" means "low" and "relief" means "raised work") during the mid-1600s. A few decades earlier, we also borrowed the synonymous "basso-relievo" from Italian. The French and Italian terms have common ancestors (and, in fact, the French word is likely a translation of the Italian), but English speakers apparently borrowed the two independently. "Bas-relief" is more prevalent in English today, although the Italian-derived term has not disappeared completely from the language.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 22, 2014 is:

cock-a-hoop • \kah-kuh-HOOP\  • adjective
1 : triumphantly boastful : exulting 2 : awry

The driver's pit crew was cock-a-hoop as they watched her cross the finish line to victory lane.

"The cock-a-hoop pride and sensitivity of these former colonials were mere annoyances, almost impossible to take seriously for a nation with a world war to win." — From Patricia Brady's 2011 book A Being So Gentle: The Frontier Love Story of Rachel and Andrew Jackson

Did you know?
The adjective "cock-a-hoop" comes from a curious 16th- and 17th-century expression, "to set cock a hoop," which meant "to be festive" or "to drink or celebrate without restraint." Etymologists, however, are not entirely certain about the origin of that old expression. Although no one knows if it originally had any connection with the "rooster" sense of "cock," many people thought it did—and this perceived association influenced the current meaning of "cock-a-hoop." The cock is known for its triumphant crow, and "cock-a-hoop" is now used to refer to something triumphantly boastful.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 21, 2014 is:

minutia • \muh-NOO-shee-uh\  • noun
: a minute or minor detail

The self-help book said it was easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of everyday life and fail to notice important opportunities.

"Jackson, though, is smart enough to hire people to figure out salary caps and contract minutia." — From a column by Tim Dahlberg via the Associated Press, March 18, 2014

Did you know?
"Minutia" was borrowed into English in the late 18th century from the Latin plural noun "minutiae," meaning "trifles" or "details" and derived from the singular noun "minutia," meaning "smallness." In English, "minutia" is most often used in the plural as either "minutiae" or, on occasion, as simply "minutia" (as illustrated in our second example sentence). Latin "minutia," incidentally, comes from "minutus," an adjective meaning "small" that was created from the verb "minuere," meaning "to lessen." A familiar descendant of "minutus" is "minute."


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 20, 2014 is:

cockamamy • \kah-kuh-MAY-mee\  • adjective
: ridiculous, incredible

Ted missed the meeting again, phoning the receptionist with some cockamamy excuse.

"Colin Farrell is good in this time-traveling romance, but it's tastefully cockamamie and increasingly gloppy." — From a movie listing in The Hartford Courant (Connecticut), February 20, 2014

Did you know?
By the look and sound of it, "cockamamy" (also spelled "cockamamie") seems like an arbitrarily coined nonsense word—but a reasonable explanation for its origin exists. Supposedly, "cockamamy" is an altered form of the term "decalcomania," which denotes a process of transferring pictures and designs from specially prepared paper to surfaces such as glass or porcelain. The word "decalcomania" comes from the combination of French "décalquer," meaning "to copy by tracing," and "-manie," meaning "mania." In the 1940s, painted strips of paper with images capable of being transferred to the skin were called "decals" or "cockamanies." They were naturally regarded by many as silly novelties. Hence, in time, the variant "cockamamie" came to be used as an adjective meaning "ridiculous."


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 19, 2014 is:

oblige • \uh-BLYJE\  • verb
1 : to constrain by physical, moral, or legal force or by the exigencies of circumstance 2 a : to earn the gratitude of b : to do a favor for or do something as a favor

"The state's highest court Monday ruled that Long Island guitar-string maker D'Addario & Co. is not obliged to pay $227,000 in interest for reneging on a 2006 real estate deal." — From an article by Joe Ryan in Newsday (Long Island, New York), November 19, 2012

"He was already in Nashville and had left his warm jacket in Jackson. He asked if I could bring it to the airport, since we were on the same flight. I obliged, delivered the jacket and began a friendship that I treasure." — From an article by Dan Morris in the Jackson Sun (Tennessee), March 15, 2014

Did you know?
"Oblige" shares some similarities with its close relative "obligate," but there are also differences. "Oblige" derived via Middle English and Anglo-French from Latin "obligare" ("to bind to"), a combination of "ob-" ("to or toward") and "ligare" ("to bind"), whereas "obligate" descended directly from the past participle of "obligare." Both "oblige" and "obligate" are frequently used in their past participle forms to express a kind of legal or moral constraint. "Obligated" once meant "indebted for a service or favor," but today it typically means "required to do something because the law requires it or because it is the right thing to do." "Obliged" is now the preferred term for the sense that Southern author Flannery O'Connor used in a 1952 letter: "I would be much obliged if you would send me six copies."

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