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These are the words you could find on this page:
Abnegate, Albedo, Ampersand, Analemma, Balloon, Bibliotaphy, Bikini, Boreal
, Brio, Brummagem, Bus, Cadre, Cahoot, Casino, Crocodile, Dead ringer, Diurnal, Enervate, Ephemeral, Ersatz, Febrile, Feckless, Feldspar, Fracas, Fuddy duddy, Fulcrum, Hoary, Garrulous, Gerrymander, Gossamer, Lithe, Macabre, Mad as a hatter, Marauder, Mawkish, Mordant, Nostrum, Obstreperous, Octothorp, Pasquinade, Phytoremediation, Pilgarlic, Platitude, Proselytize, Pterylology, Puerile, Redolent, Rhabdomancy, Sartorial, Solipsism, Spoof, Spurious, Talion, Tetraskelion, The bee's knees, Varvel, Verisimilitude, Vitriolic, Wit, Xylophagous

Abnegate [v. AB-nih-gayt]
To abnegate something is to give it up, renounce it, deny it to yourself, or to surrender or relinquish it. To do so is the act of abnegation [n. ab-nih-GAY-shun]. Example: "As part of his spiritual purification, Jim chose to abnegate all forms of liquor."
The immediate ancestor of these words was the Latin abnegare (to refuse), a compound of ab- (away) and negare (to deny). Thus, to abnegate something is literally to "deny it away."
Here are more "denial" words from negare:
negate: nullify; neutralize; rule out; deny
deny: declare untrue; disavow; contradict; refuse
renegade: one who rejects; outlaw; deserter
renege: fail to keep a contract; renounce; disown
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Albedo [n. al-BEE-doh]
An object's albedo is the fraction of electromagnetic radiation that is reflected from its surface. Usually, the word refers to visible light, and the object is a celestial body. Example: "The Earth's overall albedo is higher during winter in the northern hemisphere, when so much ground is covered with snow."
In Late Latin, albedo was whiteness, from Latin albus (white). That root gave us many "whiteness" words, including these:
albino: person or animal lacking pigment
album: originally, an autograph book
albite: white variety of the mineral feldspar
albumen: the white of an egg
albescent: becoming white or whitish
aubade: music about the breaking of day
auburn: reddish brown, from Old French aborne (blond)
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Ampersand [n. AM-pur-sand]
An ampersand is the character &, which means "and." Although it is not usually used in formal text, it has become quite common in commercial writing, and is even part of some corporate names. The ampersand also has special meanings in various computer programming languages.
The ampersand was invented in 63 BC by a Roman named Tiro as part of his Latin shorthand system. The symbol is a condensed form of the Greek word et (and). Depending on which font your computer is using to show this text, you might be able to see the crossed "t" at the lower right corner of the "&" symbol.
The English name of the symbol comes from the way English school children used to say the alphabet. At the end, they would say "X, Y, Zed, and per se and." The last part refers to the "&" symbol, which is per se (by itself) the word "and." Over time, "and per se and" became "ampersand."
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Analemma [n. an-uh-LEM-uh]
If you record the exact position of the Sun in the sky at the same clock time every day for a year, the resulting collection of points is called the Sun's analemma. It's a figure-8 with the northern loop smaller than the southern loop.
The shape is the result of the tilt of the Earth's axis and the shape of its orbit around the Sun. Because the Earth's orbit is not perfectly circular, the analemma is a loopy shape rather than a simple line.
To properly calibrate a sundial, one must know the Sun's analemma and the local latitude. The word is Latin for sundial, from the Greek analambanein (to take up), from ana- (upward) and lambanein (to take).
Also from that root is analeptic [adj., n. an-uh-LEP-tik] (restorative or stimulating, or a stimulating medication).
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Balloon [n. buh-LOON]
Most balloons are bags that are full of gas. Big balloons filled with hot air or helium can lift people into the sky, while others are small enough to hold in the hand. There is also the speech balloon, an outlined, drawn shape in which words appear to indicate what a comic strip character is saying.
A ball and a balloon are both usually round, and both words came from the same ancient root, Prehistoric German balluz (round object). That word entered Old Norse as bollr, then moved into French as ballon and Italian as ballone. In English, it took on the meaning of "inflated object."
More "round" words from the same ancient root:
boulder: large, rounded stone
ballot: sheet of paper to register a vote; originally, a small ball
bowl: hemispherical vessel wider at the top
bale: large bundle; originally a rolled-up bundle
boll: seed capsule of cotton or flax
bole: tree trunk

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Bibliotaphy [n. BIB-lee-oh-TAF-ee]
Bibliotaphy is the practice of hoarding or hiding books, and someone who engages in bibliotaphy is a bibliotaph.
Like many "bookish" words, this one includes the biblio- prefix, from the Greek biblion (book), which also gave us Bible. The suffix, -taphy, is from Greek taphos (tomb), since the books hoarded or hidden might as well be entombed.
Another word from taphos is cenotaph [n. SEN-uh-taf] (an empty tomb that commemorates someone who is actually buried elsewhere), with the prefix ceno- from Greek kenos (empty).
Here are more "bookish" words:
bibliopegy: the art of binding books
bibliopolist: a seller of books, especially rare or used ones
bibliotics: examination of documents for authenticity

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Bikini [n. bih-KEE-nee]
A bikini is a very brief two-piece bathing suit worn by a woman, or it is a similar one-piece suit worn by a man. There is also the Bikini Atoll, a tropical island in the Pacific Ocean.
When French fashion designer Louis Reard introduced his very revealing two-piece women's bathing suits in 1946, he looked for a good name for them. Since the U.S. had just started atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll, the name was in the news and he adopted it for his new suits.
Although Reard later claimed that he named the suit after the islands, not the atomic bomb tests, clearly the tests contributed to the name's popularity. Another designer named Jacques Heim had also created a tiny bathing suit, which he named "The Atome" (The Atom).
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Boreal [adj. BOR-ee-ul]
If something is boreal, then it is in or from the north. A more specific sense of the word relates to the northern, coniferous forests of the world. Example: "The boreal forests of Canada extend all the way to the edge of the tundra."
The Roman god of the north wind, Boreas, is the source of this word. His name in turn was derived from the Greek boreios (coming from the north). The opposite of boreal is austral, from the Latin auster (south).
The Romans had a legend about the "Hyperboreoi," a race of people who were from "above the north," beyond the reach of Boreas. They lived in a land of perpetual sunshine. From their name, we have hyperborean [adj. HY-pur-BOR-ee-un], describing anything relating to the extreme north, especially people indigenous to these areas, such as Eskimos.
We also have the aurora borealis (northern lights) which shimmer in the arctic sky, and their opposite, the aurora australis.
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Brio [n. BRE-oh]
First thing in the morning most of us lack brio. After breakfast or a cup of coffee, when we've perked up, this noun might be more applicable. Brio is verve or enthusiastic vigor. Example: "Despite his brio and wit, Alan was unable to charm the young salesclerk."
This spirited word entered English in the 18th century from the Italian. Taken from the Spanish brio (energy, determination), it was likely derived from the Celtic brigos which was related to the Old Irish brig (power, strength, force).
Near synonyms include: vim, pep, liveliness, sprightliness, and vivacity.
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Brummagem [n., adj. BRUM-uh-jum]
If something is brummagem then it is a cheap and showy imitation, lacking real value. The word is usually applied to phony jewelry or shiny metallic items. Example: "Those glittery earrings of glass and tinfoil are nothing but worthless brummagem."
This slang word is an alteration of the name of Birmingham, England, and is also pronounced the same way that some locals pronounce the city's name. The Romans called the place Bremenium [bruh-MEN-ee-um].
This word has a dark, little known history. In the sixteenth century, Great Britain took part in a thriving slave trade, in which cheap, poorly made trinkets were traded for slaves in Africa. Birmingham was a center for the production of this gaudy garbage or "Brummagem ware," which included shiny jewelry, mirrors, beads and knives.

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Bus [n. BUS]
A bus is a long passenger vehicle with a central aisle and seats along the sides. It can also be a cart for carrying dishes in a restaurant, a metal bar that distributes electricity to many different devices, or a group of electrical lines that carries data signals. Strangely, all these meanings are closely related.
In France in 1828, a new kind of conveyance was invented. It was called a "voiture omnibus," where the first word was French for "carriage" and the second was Latin for "for all." The new kind of carriage caught on quickly in England, where it was simply called the omnibus. In a strange twist of linguistics, the name was shortened to bus, leaving only the suffix of the original Latin word without the root.
Since a bus carried a collection of diverse people, the same word became applied to other things having to do with diverse collections, such as the cart for dishes and the electrical cables for power and data distribution.

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Cadre [n. KAHD-ree]
A cadre is a group of competent people who work together, usually at the center of a larger organization. Example: "Among the many rescue workers present in the aftermath of the bombing was a cadre of paramedics, without whose aid many people would have died."
A cadre can also be a framework, and this sense is most closely related to the word's origin. Just as a cadre of people can support and stabilize an organization, so a connected group of squares can support a framework. The root is the Latin quadrum (square), which entered Italian as quadro, then migrated to French, where it took on the current meaning.
More "square" words from Latin quadrum:
squad: a small group of workers; a team
square: four-sided regular polygon
quadrant: circular arc of 90 degrees; one quarter of a circle
quarrel: crossbow bolt; square hammer; diamond shaped window pane
quarry: open pit where stone is cut (often in rectangular blocks)
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Cahoot [n. kuh-HOOT]
Cahoot is almost always seen as part of the phrase "in cahoots." The noun refers to a partnership or conspiracy. Someone in league with another is in cahoots with them. Example: "Anna knew she was lost when she saw that Eric and Sarah were in cahoots on the project."
To be in cahoots often implies that someone is in a slightly disreputable alliance with another person or a group. This phrase suggests that the partnership was formed for some questionable or nefarious purpose.
In use since the early 1820s, cahoot is a North American slang word. There are two main explanations of its origins. The first states that cahoot comes from French cahute. It is a combination of cabane (cabin) and hutte (hut), and refers to the relationship that would develop between people living in the close quarters of a cabin or hut. A second explanation says that cahoot is ultimately linked to the Latin word cohort (company or band).
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Casino [n. kuh-SEE-no]
A casino is a public room or building for gambling and other entertainment. There is also a card game called casino, which took its name from the first sense of the word. A casino can also be an Italian country house.
The oldest sense of the word is the third one, which is closest to its origin. A casino in Italian is a simple little casa (house). Italian casa was itself derived from Latin casa (cottage, hut, hovel).
The Italian word shifted gradually from a country house to a place where people could gather socially. Eventually, it was applied mainly to public houses where people could dance, play games, and listen to music. Today, gambling is a big business, and casinos are usually far larger and grander than the country cottages from which they got their name.
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Crocodile [n. KROK-uh-dyl]
A crocodile is a large predatory reptile that lives in swamps, rivers, or lakes in tropical regions. Their skin is thick and armored, and their snout is long and heavily toothed.
The original Greek krocodilos was a small lizard that lived in stone walls. The name is a compound of kroke (pebble, stone) and drilos (worm), so the lizard was literally a "stone worm." When the Greeks saw the much larger "water lizards" that swam in Egypt's Nile River, they gave them the same name.
This word has been changed twice by "taboo deformation," in which syllables of a word for something fearsome are reversed or shifted. First, as it entered French from Latin, the "r" shifted and it became cocodril. Then it entered English as cokedrille, and the "r" shifted back, giving the modern form.
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Dead ringer
This phrase usually appears with the word "for" as in this example: "That fellow over there is a dead ringer for my uncle Carl." It means there is such a strong resemblance that the two people might almost be twins.
A ringer was originally a counterfeit gold coin. One could tell the fake by dropping it on a hard surface. If it rang like a bell, it was fake.
Later, in horse racing, a ringer was a horse of a high class (high skill) that was secretly substituted for a similar-looking horse in a lower class race. The ringer could then be bet on by those who knew of the substitution.
Today "ringer" is also applied to look-alike people. But why are these ringers dead? That word also appears in the phrases "dead on" (exactly correct) and "dead center" (exact center), where it adds a sense of precision and strengthens the whole phrase. The origin of this usage is unknown.
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Diurnal [adj. or n. di-UR-n'l]
Diurnal refers to an everyday recurrence, like brushing your teeth, or to a daily cycle, such as the tides. It can also mean occurring or primarily active in the daytime. For example, diurnal flowers are those that open during the day and close at night.
Diurnal has been in use in English since the 14th century. It comes from the Latin diurnalis (of the day), from diurnus (daily), from the root dies (day).
Other contemporary words that share the Latin root dies:
* journal and diary (both accounts of day-to-day events)
* journey (a day's travel)
* dial (a face upon which some measurement is registered, originally a sundial)
* circadian (occurring in approximately 24-hour cycles)
* meridian (a great circle on the earth passing through the poles)
* quotidian (occurring every day)
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Enervate [vt. EH-nur-vate or adj. ih-NUR-vut]
To enervate is to reduce the mental vigor or lessen the vitality of someone or something. Near synonyms of this verb include: unnerve and deplete. Example: "Carrie was enervated by the long hours and lack of sleep."
The adjective enervate (note the different pronunciation!) means lacking in physical strength, mental strength, or strength of character. ("Enervated", from the verb, can also be used for this purpose.) Near synonyms of this sense include: spiritless and debilitated.
Enervate is from the Latin enervatus past participle of enervare which is formed by the prefix e- and nervus (sinew). The adjective appeared first in 1603; the verb form followed shortly thereafter.
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Ephemeral [adj. or n. ephemeral]
If something is ephemeral it is short-lived. Near synonyms include: passing, transient, brief, and transitory. Example: "Her fame had been ephemeral; now she worked 9 to 5 as others did."
The original specific meaning of ephemeral was lasting one day. It has been in English since the late 1500s and comes from the Greek ephemeros (short living) from ep- (on) and hemeros (an adjective derived from hemera, meaning day).
The noun ephemeral refers to anything that is short lived, such as certain insects.
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Ersatz [adj. UR-zats or UR-sats or ur-ZATS or ur-SATS]
Walking around a flea market, you may be impressed by the prices on brand name purses or sunglasses, but these items are likely to be ersatz.
Ersatz describes something that serves as a substitute or an imitation of the original. It is usually of inferior quality. Near synonyms include: counterfeit, phony, inauthentic, synthetic, or artificial.
Ersatz was borrowed from the German in the 1870s. It is a derivation of ersetzen (to replace) from the Old High Germanic irsezzan which combines ir- (out) and sezzan (to set).
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Febrile [adj. FEE-bryl or FEB-bryl]
Febrile describes something that is marked by fever. A near synonym is feverish. In broader usage, febrile can describe someone who is especially nervous or excited as if by fever. Example: "Her febrile ranting had her mother worried that she would never recover from the bee sting."
The noun fever (abnormally high body temperature) shares the same roots as febrile. Both words can be traced back to the Latin febris (fever). Fever is seen in English before 1000 but febrile didn't enter the language until the 1600s, via the French.
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Feckless [adj. FEK-lis]
Someone who is feckless is feeble or ineffective, lacking purpose and vitality, or careless and irresponsible. Example: "Although seemingly feckless, clumsy, and inept, Jar Jar Binks managed to save the day."
The suffix -less can mean "not having" (hopeless, careless, witless), or it can mean "beyond the range of," (countless, numberless). The first meaning applies to our word, but what does a feckless person not have?
Someone who is feckless is effectless, or having no effect. The original root was the Scottish feck, a contraction of effect and the source of the modern English efficacy. The original root was Latin efficere (to accomplish).
Another interesting -less word is ruthless. In this case, what is lacking is ruth, a word that means "compassion or remorse." Someone who is ruthless does not have either of these qualities, so they are merciless and without remorse.
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Feldspar [FELD-spar]
One of the most common minerals in the Earth's crust is feldspar, any of several varieties of aluminum silicate with various other elements mixed in. Feldspar is usually light colored, with flat surfaces where it has broken (cleaved) along crystal planes.
German farmers plowing their fields used to turn up this light colored mineral, often broken by the plow into flat-edged fragments. They called this mineral feldspath, from feld- (field) and spath (spar, a stone that cleaves). There are also other kinds of spar, including "iceland spar" (a clear variety of calcite).
Today, the Old High German name for the mineral survives as a technical adjective, feldspathic (relating to or containing feldspar).
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Fracas [n. FRAE-kus or FRAK-us]
Being involved in a fracas is something that most of us seek to avoid. A fracas is a noisy argument, a disorderly disturbance, or fight. Example: "Eric was reluctant to join the violent fracas outside the stadium so he remained in his seat."
This English noun comes from the French word fracasser, which in turn comes from the Italian fracasso. Fracasso was derived from the Italian verb fracassare (to make an uproar), which was probably derived from the Latin frangere (to break) and quassare (to shake).
Near synonyms include row, uproar, altercation, quarrel, and run-in.
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Fuddy duddy [n. FUD-ee DUD-ee]
A fuddy duddy is an old-fashioned person with fussy, hyper-critical ways. Example: "Professor Higgins is such a fuddy duddy, he won't even let his boys play in the yard on Saturdays."
The origin of this phrase is uncertain. It seems to have first gotten started around 1900 in Maine, a place and time of puritanical, straight-laced attitudes. Some dictionaries suggest that the phrase is related to "fuddled," an old word meaning "drunk or confused," but that theory seems unlikely because a fuddy duddy is not the kind of person who is likely to get drunk.
A more intriguing theory is that it emerged from the letters sometimes found after the names of clergymen who were also professors, something fairly common in those days. Someone known as "James Witherspoon, Ph.D., D.D." might have been called "James Witherspoon, fuddy duddy" by those with little respect for his credentials.
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Fulcrum [n. FOOL-krum or FUL-krum]
This noun specifically refers to the support at which something is balanced or the point at which a lever turns. An extension of this meaning sees fulcrum used to describe a part of an animal that serves as hinge or support.
Fulcrum is used in the figurative sense to mean something that is the main subject or the pivotal point. Example: "The fulcrum of the group's argument was freedom of speech."
A fulcrum can also be an agent, something that makes action possible.
Fulcrum traces back to the late 1600s. It is borrowed from the Latin fulcire (to prop).
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Hoary [adj. HOR-ee]
Something that is hoary is colored gray or white because of old age, or it is covered with gray or white hairs, or it is something that is extremely ancient, inspiring veneration. Example: "The hoary leaves of dusty miller bear thousands of tiny hairs to conserve water."
Today the word carries two primary senses: color and age. The original sense was the color, in the ancient Indo-European root koi-. From that root came the German color-related heiter (bright) and age-related herr (mister), as well as the Dutch mijnheer (sir, mister).
The source in English was Old English har, which led to hoar. That word is part of hoarfrost (ice crystals condensed from the air that form a white coating). The -y ending was added about five hundred years ago, but both forms of the word are still correct.

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Garrulous [adj. GAR-uh-lus or GAR-yuh-lus]
Someone who is garrulous talks a great deal, especially about things that are of little importance. Near synonyms include: gabby, long-winded, loquacious, and talkative.
This adjective can also refer to a speech that is especially wordy, rambling, or verbose.
Garrulous entered the English language between 1605 and 1615. It comes from the Latin garrulus (talkative) which is derived from garrire (to chatter, prattle).
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Gerrymander [v., n. JER-e-man-der or GER-e-man-der]
To divide land into voting units that will benefit one group, party, or constituency is to gerrymander. This word for manipulating the electoral boundaries in order to gain an unfair advantage was first coined in 1812.
Gerrymander is a combination of the last name of Governor Elbridge Gerry and salamander. Gerry decided in 1812 to rearrange the Congressional Districts in Massachusetts to boost the fortunes of his Democratic party. An editorial artist for a Boston paper drew a caricature that turned the new map of Essex County into a lizard-like amphibian which was dubbed a gerrymander.
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Gossamer [n., adj. GOS-uh-mer]
Anything that is light, delicate, and flimsy can be described as gossamer, and gossamer is also any fabric or material that has those properties. The oldest sense of the word describes thin, filmy spiderwebs drifting in the air. Example: "The luna moth's gossamer wings are a lovely transparent green."
The origins of this word are somewhat mysterious. The most common theory relates to the time of year when delicate spiderwebs are most likely to be seen: the warm, dry spells of mid-autumn, in Europe. That time of year is also when goose is most likely to be cooked. For that reason, it was known in Middle English as gosesomer (goose summer), and in German as Gaensemonat (goose month).
It's not difficult to imagine that someone might have described the filmy spiderwebs of autumn as "gosesomer webs." From there, the word might have evolved its current meanings, as the original one dropped away.
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Lithe [adj. LYTH]
Something that is lithe bends readily. This adjective describes someone or something that is able to move and bend with ease. Near synonyms include: pliant, limber, supple, and flexible. Example: "Adrian found he was more lithe if he stretched out before and after a game."
Lithe can also describe a person who is light, graceful, and flexible -- like a dancer or gymnast. Near synonyms of this sense include agile and nimble.
Lithe has been in use by the English since before 900. The Middle English lith was a variant on the Old English lithe (flexible, mild).
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Macabre [adj. muh-KAHB, muh-KAH-bruh, muh-KAY-bruh]
Something that relates to death can be called macabre, especially if it's horrifying. Example: "Lisa had this macabre fascination with the more sensational crime stories in the paper." Near synonyms include ghastly, grisly, and hideous.
This French word is taken from the phrase danse macabre (dance of death, in which a figure of death is seen enticing people to dance with him until they die). The origins of the phrase are unclear, but some trace it to the Maccabees, 2nd-century Jewish patriots associated with reverence for the dead.
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Mad as a hatter
If someone says you are mad as a hatter, they are accusing you of being quite irrational. The sense of madness here is "suffering from a disorder of the mind; insane." This phrase usually refers not to someone who is actually insane, but rather to a more normal person who is behaving in an irrational way.
The phrase emerged in England in the 19th century. Hatmakers in those days used a lot of felt that was treated with chemicals including lead, arsenic, and mercury.
Unfortunately, those chemicals are highly toxic. The symptoms of such poisoning include palsy, confused speech, and distorted thinking. Today, making hats is a much safer profession, but the phrase survives.
An interesting alternate explanation of the phrase derives hatter from Anglo-Saxon atter (poison), which is related to adder (a poisonous snake whose bite was thought to cause insanity).

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Marauder [n. muh-RAWD-er]
A marauder is one who roves around looking for something to plunder or steal. Example: "They were attacked by marauders who hurled stones and set the camp on fire."
Marauder is a noun derivation of the verb maraud which is to raid or plunder. The word entered English between 1705 and 1715 from the French maraudeur (rogue, vagabond). There were also similar Spanish (merodear) and German (marodiren) versions of the verb to maraud at this time.
When the French word was adopted into German in the 17th century it was associated with Count Merode, an imperialist general in the Thirty Years War, whose troops were notorious for their lack of discipline.
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Mawkish [adj. MAW-kish]
A sappy television movie could be described as mawkish. Near synonyms include syrupy, cloying, mushy, and over-sentimental.
Mawkish can also mean having an unpleasant taste. Near synonyms include sour and rancid.
Both of these meanings are tamer versions of this adjective's literal meaning. The original word mawk is derived from the Middle English mawke (maggot), which developed from the Old Norse word mathkr of the same meaning.
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Mordant [adj., n., vt. MORE-dnt]
A mordant wit is a biting one. Someone who is mordant is sharply sarcastic, incisive, or cruel. Example: "His mordant humor made him an unusual clown, unwelcome at children's birthday parties."
Mordant traces back to the 1400s. It entered Middle English from the Middle French mordre (to bite). This word has its roots in the Latin mordere of the same meaning. Mordere is also the root word for the English words morsel (a piece bitten off) and remorse (painful regret).
There are also noun and verb forms of mordant that have a specific usage in visual arts. A mordant is a substance used to fix the coloring matter when dyeing something. This noun also is an acid or other corrosive substance used in etching. To mordant is to treat something with a mordant.

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Nostrum [n. NOS-trum]
If a medicine contains secret ingredients, is highly recommended by the person who prepared it, and lacks scientific proof that it works, then it might be called a nostrum. A nostrum can also be a questionable scheme or remedy for some vexing problem. Example: "Senator Harvey's proposal for tax incentives was widely derided as an expensive nostrum."
In the days of "patent medicine," there were traveling salesmen all over North America, selling various kinds of mostly ineffective nostrums. The word today implies quackery and fraud, but prior to the nineteenth century its meaning was much more honest.
The word comes from a Latin phrase, "nostrum remedium" (our remedy), and its root meaning is simply "ours." Starting in the early 1600s, medicines were marked with the Latin phrase, to show that they were the unique product of the maker.
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Obstreperous [adj. ab-STREP-ur-us]
Someone who is loudly resisting control, management, or advice could be described with the adjective obstreperous. Near synonyms include: difficult, obstinate, contrary, and unruly.
Obstreperous also describes noisy, clamorous, boisterous or vociferous people. Example: "Emily loved her nephews but they were so obstreperous it tired her out to have them visit."
Obstreperous traces back to the Latin obstreperus (clamorous) akin to obstrepere (to make noise at) which comes from ob- and strepere (to rattle). It was first used in the English language in the late 1500s.
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Octothorp [n. AHK-tuh-thorp]
You may know it as the "pound key" or as the "number sign." It's the "#" symbol on the telephone dial, also known as the octothorp (sometimes spelled octothorpe).
Apparently, the word was coined in the 1960s by a telephone company employee who wanted a single word for the symbol. All of our sources agree that octo- refers to the eight points on the symbol, but there are many stories about the origin of -thorp.
According to one story, the person who invented the word was involved in an effort to have the gold medals of the athlete Jim Thorpe returned from Sweden, so he added -thorpe to the word.
Another possibility is that -thorp is related to Old Norse thorpe (village, farm, hamlet), maybe because the symbol looks something like eight fields around a village.
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Pasquinade [n., v. PAS-kwuh-NAYD]
A satirical poem, song, or story about someone in particular that has been posted in a public place is a pasquinade, and to post such a lampoon is to pasquinade the person who is being satirized. Usually, pasquinades are anonymous.
The word originated in Rome, Italy. According to one story, there was a shop there in the 15th century owned by a man named Pasquino. Outside of his shop there was a somewhat mutilated statue, where satirical poems were frequently posted. Pasquino himself was said to be quite a wit, and was thought to have been the source of most of the poems.
The satirical pasquinades did not go unanswered. Some distance across town, there was a very old statue called Marforio. On that statue, replies to the pasquinades were posted.

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Phytoremediation [n. FY-toe-ruh-mee-dee-AY-shun]
Phytoremediation is the use of living plants to remove toxic substances from soil, water, or air. It's a relatively new concept that takes advantage of plants' natural ability to absorb and process toxins.
This word has two parts. Phyto- is based on the Greek phuton (plant), which comes from phuein (to cause growth). There are many other words using this root, including these:
epiphyte: plant that grows on another plant
phytography: science of describing plants
phytophagous: feeding on plants
The second part can be a word by itself. Remediation is solving a problem by correcting a fault or deficiency. It's from the Latin remedium (cure), from re- (again) plus mederi (to heal). Related words include remedy, medicine, and medicate.

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Pilgarlic [n. pil-GAR-lik]
This obsolete word almost always appears after "poor." It's an expression of false pity or amused contempt for someone with a bald head. Example: "Lost in the muddy back alleys of London, Friar Marlson thought, 'How did such a poor pilgarlic as I get into such a mess?'"
The connection with baldness has to do with the origin of the word. Literally, it means "peeled garlic," since pil was the ancestor of today's peel. So a poor pilgarlic is someone whose head resembles a peeled garlic clove.
The dark side of the word is that the original meaning also included the sense of how the man's head became bald: through the ravages of the pox, a deadly disease. In time, the connection with disease was lost, and by the end of the eighteenth century the phrase itself was falling out of use.

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Platitude [n. PLAT-ih-tood or PLAT-ih-tyood]
A platitude is a boring, meaningless, and unoriginal remark. Often meant to sound fresh or perceptive, it falls flat instead because of its triteness. Example: "The press on the campaign bus were tired of hearing the candidate's platitudes about the glory of patriotism."
Platitude also means the quality of being flat or lacking in originality, particularly in speech or writing. Near synonyms of this sense include insipidity, dullness, and triteness.
Since it is ultimately derived from the vulgar Latin plattus (flat) it is no surprise that platitude has meant a flat remark in English since the early 1800s. It was borrowed from the French which literally meant flatness. The vulgar Latin Plattus (which may go back to the Greek platus for broad) is also the root of the English words plate, platter, platform, and plateau.
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Proselytize [v. PROS-uh-li-tize]
To proselytize is to attempt to persuade someone to change their political or religious beliefs, or the way that they live their lives. Near synonyms include: reorient, recruit, inculcate, and win over.
Proselytize is related to the noun proselyte (a new convert). Proselyte comes from the late Latin proselytus which is derived from the Greek proselytos (newcomer), a variant on the verb proserchesthai (to come, approach).

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Pterylology [n. TER-ul-OL-uh-gee]
If you engage in pterylology then you are studying the arrangement of feathers on birds, and you are a pterylologist.
Like other sciences, pterylology gets its -ology suffix from the Greek suffix -logia (the study of). Informally, an ology is a field of scientific study.
The ptery- prefix is from Greek pteron (feather, wing). That root has been adopted into words for a wide variety of feathery or winglike things, including these:
pteridology: ths study of ferns (whose leaves are often feathery)
ornithopter: a machine with wings that flap like a bird's wings
pterodactyl: extinct flying reptile whose wings are supported by long toes
pteropod: sea butterfly, a marine mollusc with winglike lobes on the foot
pteryla: area of a bird's skin from which feathers grow
pteronophobia: fear of being tickled by feathers

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Puerile describes someone or something that is youthful, juvenile, or childish. Quite often this adjective has a negative connotation describing something or someone as childishly foolish, immature, or silly. Example: "Tired of Jake's puerile pranks, Greg decided it was time to move out."
Puerile entered English in the 1650s from the Latin puerilis. This was a conjunction of puer (boy or child) and ilis (ile). Near synonyms include: childish, sophomoric, infantile, and naive.
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Redolent [adj. reh-D'L-ent]
Redolent is an adjective used to describe something that has or emits a fragrance, especially a pleasant one. Near synonyms include: aromatic and sweet-smelling.
Something that prompts memories, evokes feelings or suggests a certain time, event, or place, can also be redolent. Example: "The living room was still redolent with the scent of her late father's pipe." This broader sense of the word was first recorded in the early 19th century.
A word first used in Middle English, redolent was taken from the Latin redolent (via Middle French). It is a variant on redolere (to emit a scent). The Latin word olere is related to the contemporary English word odor (scent).
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Rhabdomancy [n. RAB-duh-man-see]
If you tell fortunes by casting sticks or rods, or if you seek out water or underground ores using a rod or a stick, then you practice rhabdomancy. Seeking out water or ore with a stick is also known as dowsing.
The first part of the word comes from the Greek rhabdos (rod). The second part is from the Greek -manteia (-mancy), a suffix form of manteuesthai (to prophecy), which was derived from mantis (seer, prophet).
The insect called the praying mantis (or mantid) also got its name from the same source, because of the "prayerful" way it holds its forelegs while waiting to catch prey, similar to the way a seer might pose while awaiting a vision.
Here are more ways to tell fortunes:
oneiromancy: from dreams
lithomancy: from the patterns of scattered stones
spodomancy: from the patterns of ashes
halomancy: from spilled salt
bibliomancy: from random pages in a book
rhapsodomancy: from random pages in a poetry book
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Sartorial [adj. sar-TOR-ee-ul]
If something is sartorial then it has to do with tailoring or tailored clothing, more specifically, men's clothing. Example: "At our exclusive menswear showroom, you can experience the latest sartorial splendors, in an atmosphere of tasteful elegance."
The root of this word is Late Latin sartor (tailor). Originally, the word referred only to tailors and their work, but the meaning broadened in the mid-1800s.
There is also the sartorius, the longest muscle in the human body. It runs obliquely across the front of the thigh, from hip to tibia. This muscle is used when the legs are crossed in the "broken four" position, which was the position of tailors at work in Roman times.
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Solipsism [n. SOL-ip-SIZ-um]
The doctrine of solipsism says that all that is truly knowable is the self, and that anything that seems to be outside is a projection of the mind. In other words, only the self exists and all else are mere images. There is also a more recent meaning of solipsism, in which it describes a self-indulgent attitude.
The word first appeared in English in the late 1800s. It came over from France, where the philosopher Rene Descartes developed the concept of solipsism as an inquiry into the nature of reality. The word is a combination of two Latin words: solus (alone) and ipse (self).
The original source was probably a French satirist named Giulio Clemente Scotti, who wrote a play in 1652 called "La Monarchie des Solipses" (The Kingdom of Solipsists).
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Spoof [n., v. SPOOF]
A spoof is a bit of nonsense or tomfoolery, or it is a gentle satire, and to spoof is to deceive or carry out a spoof. Example: "The hilarious spoof of 'Star Trek' was the best sketch of the evening."
This word started out as the name of a card game invented in the 1880s by Arthur Roberts, a British comedian. As one might expect of a game invented by a comedian, Spoof was a humorous game that included elements of trickery and pretense.
By 1889, the word was being used in a more general sense to indicate nonsense, trickery or deceit, with a negative connotation. It was not until the 1920s that the lighter sense of "gentle satire" appeared. Today both meanings are considered valid.
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Spurious [adj. SPYOOR-ee-us]
Spurious means false or inauthentic. Near synonyms include sham and counterfeit. For example, a spurious quotation would be one that doesn't come from the source claimed. Spurious can also mean plausible but false; illegitimate. Example: "She rejected his spurious arguments knowing that he had not read the background materials."
This adjective comes from the Latin word spurius (illegitimate). It was first seen in English in the early 1600s.
A botanical use of spurious describes two or more plants or parts that have a similar appearance but a different structure.
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Talion [n. TAL-ee-un]
If the punishment for an offense is exactly the same as the offense, then it is a talion, and it is talionic punishment. Example: "For the crime of murder, the talion is death."
In Latin, talio was retaliation, which is another word from the same root. The idea was that retaliation should be measured out to exactly balance the offense, as in the expression "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth."
The ancient root was tele-, which had meanings related to lifting, supporting, and weighing, with derivatives relating to measuring and money.
From the same ancient root, we also have these words:
toll: fee paid for passage or service; extent of loss or damage
tolerate: to allow; to endure
talent: marked innate ability, specific weight of gold or silver
tola: the weight of one silver Indian rupee
extoll: to praise highly ("lift up")
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Tetraskelion [n. tet-ruh-SKEL-ee-un]
The mark with four bent arms that was used as a national symbol by Nazi Germany during World War II was the tetraskelion, better known as the swastika.
Although many people today have negative feelings about the tetraskelion, it is actually an ancient symbol that carries positive meanings having to do with power, energy, and migration. While the Nazi symbol had arms that bent to the right, the mirror image form with left-bending arms has also been used.
The word is made from the Greek prefix tetra- (four) and -skelion, from the Greek skelos (leg). The swastika is also known as the Hackenkreuz in Germany, the crux gammata in Latin countries, the fylfot in England, and the gammadion in Greece.
There is also a three-armed symbol called the triskelion.
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The bee's knees
If something is the bee's knees, it's the very best, or the most desirable. Example: "Everyone agreed that Harry's diamond studded cufflinks were just the bee's knees."
This strange expression is one of many that emerged during the 1920s "flapper" period, when anything excellent was likely to receive a catchphrase having something to do with an animal part. There were "monkey's eyebrows," "gnat's elbows," "bullfrog's beard," "elephant's adenoids," "cat's pajamas," and many more.
Not many of these creative descriptions survive today. We'd like to see the custom revived. How about some new terms of excellence? We suggest: "tapir's toes," "polliwog's wiggle," and "eagle's eye." Why not invent your own?
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Varvel [n. VAR-vul]
Until the end of the nineteenth century, people who harbored hunting birds (falconers) used flat, silver or brass rings called varvels to identify their birds. Engraved with the owner's coat of arms or address, the varvel hung at the end of leather straps attached to the bird's legs.
Varvels are no longer used because they are heavy and can become caught in vegetation. Today, birds are identified by markings on small bells, or even by the radio transmissions of tiny electronic beacons.
The art of falconry has generated many interesting words, including these:
eyas: a young falcon, still untrained
bewits: small leather straps that fasten a bell to the legs
cadge: a portable perch for several birds
creance: a long line used to train the bird to return
feak: to clean the beak by scrubbing it against the perch
jesses: leather straps attached to the bird's legs
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Verisimilitude is the appearance of truth or reality. Near synonyms include credibility, likelihood, and probability. Example: "His testimony gave verisimilitude to her claim."
Verisimilitude can also mean an accurate portrayal of reality in art or literature. A near synonym of this sense is realism.
In the late 1500s, verisimilitude was taken from the Latin verisimilitudo. This was a variant on verisimilis from the Latin veri (a singular form of verum which meant truth) and similis (like).
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Vitriolic [adj. vit-ree-OL-ik]
In common use, this adjective applies to a person's manner. To be vitriolic is to be bitterly critical, with strong emotion. Example: "Phil was surprised by the intensity of Harry's vitriolic accusations."
There is a more technical meaning of the word that led to its common meaning. Vitriolic substances are sulfates like copper sulfate or sulfuric acid, which is also known as oil of vitriol. Someone who is being vitriolic is being emotionally caustic, like chemically caustic sulfuric acid.
Why are sulfate chemicals called vitriols? Some of them can have a glassy appearance in the crystalline form, so the Latin root vitrum (glass) was modified to name them.
Here are more "glassy" words:
vitreous: glassy
vitrify: to make into glass, usually by melting and cooling
vitrescent: like glass, able to be vitrified
vitrine: glass paneled cabinet for displaying small items
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Wit [n. WIT]
Wit can be simple intelligence, or it can be the ability to use intelligence in an ingeniously humorous way. The word also may appear in the plural as wits, where it refers to keenness of perception and ingenuity, or to soundness of mind. Finally, a person can be a wit if he or she possesses wit in one of the first two senses described above.
All of these meanings have to do with intelligence, knowing, and sensing. The original meaning was sensory, from the ancient root weid- (to see). Our words visible and vision came from this root. In Old English, wit was mind, judgment, and sense, leading to the expressions "keep your wits about you" and scared out of my wits."
There is also the nearly obsolete expression "to wit," which means "that is to say," or "in other words." In this phrase, wit is a contraction of witness, a verb that sprang from Old English witan, from the same ancient root.
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Xylophagous [adj. zy-LOF-uh-gus]
If a life form is xylophagous, then it either eats wood, or it is destructive to wood. Example: "A primary ocean pest is the xylophagous teredo or shipworm, a mollusc that bores into floating driftwood and the hulls of unprotected ships."
The first part of the word is the prefix xylo-, from the Greek xulon (wood). It also shows up in these words:
xylograph: a drawing engraved on wood
xylotomy: preparation of wood slices for microscopic observation
xylene: a chemical mixture distilled from wood
xylem: water-conducting tissue of plants; woody tissue
The second part, -phagous, is an adjective suffix from the Greek phagein (to eat), and also gives the prefix phago-. Here are more "eating" words:
bacteriophage: a virus that "eats" bacteria
phagocyte: a cell that engulfs other cells
phytophagous: feeding on plants
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