Posts tagged `Wednesday’s Word`
n. An act of deliberate killing of another human being.

Murder is a word which is familiar to just about every English speaker in the world; it gets used every day in newspapers and television, especially given the glut of crime shows on the air recently. Every Law & Order or CSI uses it, though mostly in the criminological sense of an intentional killing (“malice aforethought” is, I believe, the part official definition for murder in the first degree).

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§6026 · March 23, 2011 · 1 comment · Tags: , ,

adj. wastefully extravagant.

“Prodigal” may be one of the most frequently misused words in the English language, and it’s all the Bible’s fault. Because the Bible is a rich part of the western world’s literary tradition, even for people who are not believers, the story of the “prodigal son” (Luke 15:11-32), or at least the phrase “prodigal son” has entered into our cultural consciousness in reference to someone who goes away and eventually returns home. Which is, of course, not at all what it means.

In fact, the phrase “prodigal son” doesn’t even exist in the original texts, but English translations of the Bible favored chapter headings, at which point “The Prodigal Son” began to appear on the above passage; you can see it at work in the Douay-Rheims Bible, for instance. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, here it is.

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§6910 · February 2, 2011 · (No comments) · Tags: ,

n. A room or area for preparing food.

A coworker mused aloud just the other day, “Why is it we have bedroom, dining room, living room, bathroom and….. kitchen.”

Why indeed? Of course, we are simplifying things a bit too much, excluding even current room names like basement, foyer, and office, and more archaic room names like boudoir, parlor, and study. But nonetheless, why the preponderance of -rooms and the rather unique “kitchen” in our modern household terminology?

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§5994 · September 29, 2010 · (No comments) · Tags: , , ,

n. The practice of responding to conflict with dialogue.
n. Set of policies relating to governmental and legal matters.

Gore Vidal once famously quipped that “‘Politics’ is made up of two words, ‘poli,’ which is Greek for ‘many,’ and ‘tics,’ which are blood-sucking insects”, and that’s perhaps one of the nicer things said about the practice and its practitioners. It seems as though politics has always been reviled, even back to the earliest statesmen.

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§5928 · September 15, 2010 · (No comments) · Tags: , ,

n. The cardinal number occurring after seven and before nine.

Arabic Numerals

You may or may not know that the system of numerals (from the Middle French numéral ← Latin numerālisnumerālis (“number” or “quantity”) ← PIE *nem (“assign, distribute, allot”)) we use is the sole province of very smart people in the near East. Though our language and literary culture is dominated by the Greeks and Romans and later by western Europe, the early days of math owes just about everything to such tongue-twistable personages as Aryabhata (positional notation), Al-Khwarizmi (algebra), and Brahmagupta (zero). What’s more, our numerals are relatively straightforward transplants from the Hindu-Arabic system of numerals. Such was the influence of the East on early math and numerical theory that there was never any real competitors in Europe—the unwieldy Roman Numeral system simply couldn’t compete, lacking any real form of positional notation or zero, and being almost impossible to work with in algebra.

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§5904 · September 8, 2010 · (No comments) · Tags: , ,