Have you been keeping up with Word Genius? This month, we learned a word for good-humored teasing. We also learned a word for self-confidence in demanding situations and a word describing a lush olive green, perfect for describing the transition between spring blossoms and the deep green leaves of summer. Refresh your memory of the origins, the “did you knows,” and the interesting truths behind every word-of-the-day that entered your inbox in May 2021.
May 1, 2021 — Raillery
What does it mean? Good-humored teasing.
Where does it come from? This word developed from the French words raillerie and railler ("to rail").
Did you know? The roast — a comedic event where a guest of honor consents to be subjected to raillery by comedians, fans, friends, and family members — originated in a New York nightclub in the 1940s. A roast usually consists of a blend of insult humor, teasing, and genuine compliments, with the goal of making the audience (and the guest of honor) laugh.
May 2, 2021 — Imprimatur
What does it mean? "Imprimatur" can either mean “(in singular) a person's acceptance or guarantee that something is of a good standard” or “an official license by the Roman Catholic Church to print an ecclesiastical or religious book.”
Where does it come from? This word developed from the Latin word imprimere ("let it be printed").
Did you know? A blurb is an example of imprimatur in the literary world. A blurb is a short promotional piece that accompanies a work; on a book, it can usually be found on the dust jacket, the back of the book, or sometimes on the cover. Seeing a blurb from a famous author or celebrity may persuade more people to buy and read it.
May 3, 2021 — Zelig
What does it mean? A person who is able to change their appearance, behavior, or attitudes, so as to be comfortable in any situation.
Where does it come from? This word originated in American English in the 1980s based off of Woody Allen's character Leonard Zelig, the titular character in the movie Zelig (1983). Eponyms are not always proper nouns, but “Zelig” is usually seen capitalized.
Did you know? A Zelig is a person who is able to change their appearance, behavior, or attitudes to be comfortable in any situation. Similarly, a chameleon is a reptile who is able to change its physical appearance, but not to simply camouflage itself against a background as cartoons might make one believe. Instead, chameleons often change colors to regulate temperature, indicate changes in mood, and communicate with other chameleons.
May 4, 2021 — Anamnesis
What does it mean? "Anamnesis" can either mean “the remembering of things from a supposed previous existence (often used with reference to Platonic philosophy)” or “(medicine) a patient's account of a medical history.”
Where does it come from? This word originated from the Greek word anamnēsis, which means “remembrance.”
Did you know? Experiencing déjà vu — intense feelings of having experienced something before — is often attributed to anamnesis, but may have a more practical explanation. Rather than remembering specific moments from another life, researchers believe that déjà vu occurs because of a few different possibilities: a minor brain “glitch” where short-term memories can be confused with long-term memories, a memory that someone doesn’t properly remember, or possibly from a dream or other subconscious experience.
May 5, 2021 — Corrigendum
What does it mean? A thing to be corrected, typically an error in a printed book.
Where does it come from? "Corrigendum" originates from the Latin word corrigere, which means to “bring into order.”
Did you know? Books go through a lengthy process to get to publication. Part of that process involves Advance Readers Copies (ARC), which are printed copies of books used for promotional purposes. ARCs are distributed to bloggers, reviewers, and PR in order to create some buzz, and also provide a way for authors, editors, and publishers to evaluate their work for corrigendums before the book is finally published.
May 6, 2021 — Redoubtable
What does it mean? (humorous) (of a person) Formidable, especially as an opponent.
Where does it come from? This word developed in Late Middle English by way of the Old French word redoutable, which comes from the combination of the words redouter ("to fear") + douter ("to doubt").
Did you know? Video game developers specialize in creating formidable antagonists. The goal is for a game to start at a moderate amount of difficulty, which increases as the player progresses and becomes more familiar with the material. The main villain, often referred to as the final boss, is the most redoubtable character and the hardest to overcome.
May 7, 2021 — Primacy
What does it mean? "Primacy" can either mean “the fact of being primary, preeminent, or most important” or “the office, period of office, or authority of a primate (chief bishop or archbishop) of certain churches.”
Where does it come from? This word came into prominence in Late Middle English, but originally started out as the Old French word primatie, derived from the Latin words primatia, primas, and primat (which all mean “of the first rank”).
Did you know? The development of the American highway system welcomed the primacy of automobile travel. The Interstate Highway System was approved in 1956 under President Eisenhower. Regular automobile traffic spread across the network of roads, but interstate commerce and trucking also expanded, thanks to the highway system.
May 8, 2021 — Capstone
What does it mean? "Capstone" can either mean “a stone fixed on top of something, typically a wall” or “(archaeology) a large flat stone forming a roof over the chamber of a megalithic tomb.”
Where does it come from? This word originated in Middle English from a combination of the words “cap” and “stone,” and references the stone that often “caps” the top of an architectural structure, such as a wall.
Did you know? Capstone can be an architectural or archaeological term, but it also applies to other academics. A capstone can be an academic thesis students use to demonstrate their knowledge through a final body of work. A poetry student might create a portfolio focusing on a particular subject or technique for their capstone. What a capstone project looks like depends on the career path a student is pursuing.
May 9, 2021 — Equable
What does it mean? "Equable" can either mean “(of a person) Not easily disturbed or angered; calm and even-tempered” or “not varying or fluctuating greatly.”
Where does it come from? The modern definition of “fair and equitable” comes from the Latin words aequabilis and aequare ("make equal").
Did you know? If the continual temperature fluctuation in a climate with four seasons seems rough to handle, it might be time to seek out an equable climate. An equable climate is one that has very little temperature variation. Some parts of Florida and California, for example, largely experience the same temperatures throughout the year, making them popular destinations for retirees and snowbirds.
May 10, 2021 — Stalwart
What does it mean? "Stalwart" can either mean “loyal, reliable, and hardworking” or “(dated) strongly built and sturdy.”
Where does it come from? "Stalwart" originated in Late Middle English as a Scots variant of the obsolete word “stalworth,” a combination of the Old English words “stǣl” ("place") and “weorth” ("worth").
Did you know? Many television and radio stations rely heavily on stalwart supporters in order to survive. PBS has been made famous by its slogan that says production is possible by “viewers like you.” The statement is formulated to emphasize the importance of viewer support.
May 11, 2021 — Egress
What does it mean? "Egress" can either mean “the action of going out of or leaving a place” or “a way out.”
Where does it come from? "Egress" developed from the Latin words egressus ("gone out") and egredi, which came from the combination of ex ("out") + gradi ("to step").
Did you know? Architects carefully construct egress windows into bedrooms and basements in order to keep buildings up to code. These windows are specifically designed for an easy exit in the case of an emergency, such as a fire or floods, and professionals often include a ladder for an even hastier exit.
May 12, 2021 — Countervail
What does it mean? Offset the effect of (something) by countering it with something of equal force.
Where does it come from? "Countervail" developed in Late Middle English by way of the Anglo-Norman French word contrevaloir. This word is derived from the Latin term contra valere ("be of worth against").
Did you know? The first scales relied on a simple equal arm device, much like how a seesaw works. However, as scales grew more complex, being able to accurately balance items on both sides of the scale became an important development. By using rocks, weights, and other materials to countervail what was being weighed, merchants could ensure that they were buying and selling the right amount every time.
May 13, 2021 — Abstruse
What does it mean? Difficult to understand; obscure.
Where does it come from? "Abstruse" comes from the Latin word abstrusus ("put away, hidden"). This word developed in turn from the word abstrudere ("conceal"), a combination of ab ("from") + trudere ("to push").
Did you know? Although this word sounds similar to “obtuse” ("slow or difficult to understand"), "abstruse" has both a different meaning and word root. "Abstruse" is derived from the Latin word abstrusus ("hidden, put away"), while "obtuse" is derived from the Latin word obtustus ("to beat against"). Although they have similar pronunciation and meanings, "abstruse" references something that has been obscured or is difficult to understand, while "obtuse" can also refer to someone who has difficulty understanding a clear situation.
May 14, 2021 — Compote
What does it mean? "Compote" can either mean “fruit preserved or cooked in syrup” or “a bowl-shaped dessert dish with a stem.”
Where does it come from? This word originated from the Old French word composte ("mixture") — the perfect description for this mixture of fruit and sugar.
Did you know? Fruit compote first appeared in 17th-century France. While undoubtedly delicious with sour cream and biscuits (as it was originally served), compote was thought to have a practical effect too. The French originally believed that fruit cooked in sugar syrup helped balance the body’s humidity. Regardless of effect, compote, which was relatively inexpensive and easy to make, became a popular dessert.
May 15, 2021 — Refection
What does it mean? "Refection" can either mean “(literary) refreshment by food or drink” or “a meal, especially a light one.”
Where does it come from? While the word "refection" found prominence in Middle English, its origins lie in Old French. Old French borrowed the term from the Latin words refection and reficere ("renew").
Did you know? While diners seem as American as apple pie, they weren’t always there to provide refection to passing travelers. One of the earliest examples of the diner can be found in 1872, when Rhode Island entrepreneur Walter Scott sold refreshments out of a horse-pulled cart to workers. Diners with fixed locations took off in the 1940s and ’50s and quickly became a staple of American culture.
May 16, 2021 — Tarry
What does it mean? Stay longer than intended; delay leaving a place.
Where does it come from? While "tarry" can be traced back to Middle English in the late 1200s and early 1300s, both its origins and original meaning are uncertain.
Did you know? While “to tarry” describes staying longer than intended or delaying leaving a place, sometimes people purposely try to delay something. The word that describes this is “stall.” While someone might accidentally tarry, someone trying to stall is trying to extend the amount of time they have before something occurs, such as a particularly anxiety-inducing live performance.
May 17, 2021 — Accede
What does it mean? "Accede" can either mean “(formal) agree to a demand, request, or treaty” or “(formal) assume an office or position.
Where does it come from? "Accede" developed in Middle English as a word that meant “come forward” or “to approach” via the Latin word accedere, which comes from the combination of the words ad ("to") + cedere ("give way, yield").
Did you know? While most people are familiar with the way royal titles change when one person accedes to the throne — like when a prince or princess becomes a king or queen — the meanings of other titles can be confusing without explanation. England’s nobility, for example, follows a strict hierarchy: A baron is the lowest royal position, while a duke is second only to a prince. This makes royal succession easier to visualize — while a prince might accede to the throne in the case of an absent monarch, for example, a duke has the right to do so as well in the case of an absent prince.
May 18, 2021 — Complaisant
What does it mean? Willing to please others; obliging; agreeable.
Where does it come from? This word developed in French from the word complaire ("acquiesce in order to please"), but originally came from the Latin word complacere ("to please").
Did you know? While "complaisant" is similar in spelling and in pronunciation to the word "complacent," they have very different meanings. Both "complaisant" and "complacent" come from the Latin word complacere ("to please"), but have evolved over time to comprise the different aspects of this term. "Complaisant" describes a sense of being willing to please others, while "complacent" means being self-satisfied (or even smug) with one’s personal accomplishments — to a negative degree.
May 19, 2021 — Astir
What does it mean? "Astir" can either mean “in a state of excited movement” or “awake and out of bed.”
Where does it come from? This word developed from the combination of “a” ("on") and the noun “stir” ("a slight physical movement").
Did you know? Every metropolis has the reputation of being astir at all hours, but none more so than New York City. While NYC is the OG “City that Never Sleeps,” other cities have also assumed this bustling moniker — from Las Vegas, Nevada, to Tokyo, Japan.
May 20, 2021 — Filial
What does it mean? "Filial" can either mean “of or due from a son or daughter” or “(biology) denoting the generation or generations after the parental generation.”
Where does it come from? "Filial" developed in Middle English from Old French, but originally came from the Latin words filialis, filius ("son"), and filia ("daughter").
Did you know? Ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius emphasized the importance of filial piety — treating parents, elders, and ancestors with utmost respect. Confucius even laid out a full list of specific filial duties for sons and daughters, including observing good conduct to reflect well on parents and to show love, respect, and deference towards them.
May 21, 2021 — Canard
What does it mean? "Canard" can either mean “an unfounded rumor or story” or “a small winglike projection attached to an aircraft forward of the main wing to provide extra stability or control, sometimes replacing the tail.”
Where does it come from? In French, “canard” means both “duck” and “hoax.” It originated from the Old French word caner ("to quack").
Did you know? Anyone can spread a small canard, but it takes a truly dedicated person to pull off a full-fledged hoax. Throughout history, many hoaxes have taken in a gullible public — including the Cardiff Giant (a 10-foot-tall man discovered to be a sculpture), the Turk (a chess-playing automaton controlled by an actual player), and Clever Hans (a horse who was advertised to perform simple calculations, but actually relied on hints from his trainer).
May 22, 2021 — Rejoinder
What does it mean? "Rejoinder" can either mean “a reply, especially a sharp or witty one” or “(law, dated) a defendant's answer to the plaintiff's reply or replication.”
Where does it come from? This word developed in Late Middle English by way of the Anglo-Norman French word rejoindre ("to reunite something again").
Did you know? According to the BBC, one of the ways to craft a witty comeback is to work on your listening skills. By listening precisely and actively to conversations — as well as by utilizing humans’ ability to think faster than they speak — you can more easily form a well-timed, snappy rejoinder the next time your friend pokes some fun at you.
May 23, 2021 — Descant
What does it mean? "Descant" can either mean “(music) an independent treble melody usually sung or played above a basic melody” or “a discourse on a theme or subject.”
Where does it come from? This word developed in Middle English, but originally came from the Old French word deschant by way of the medieval Latin word discantus ("part-song, refrain").
Did you know? Many popular songs sample a basic melody from another well-established song. The singers make the musical composition their own by performing a descant incorporating different lyrics or a slightly different style. For example, MC Hammer’s ‘90s hit “Can’t Touch This” samples from Rick James’ hit “Super Freak,” which came out a full decade earlier.
May 24, 2021 — Olivaceous
What does it mean? Of a dusky yellowish green color; olive green.
Where does it come from? This word originated from the Latin word olīvāceus, from a combination of the words olīv(a) ("olive") and aceous ("the nature of").
Did you know? "Olivaceous" describes an olive green, deeper than grass green. Olive trees are native to Asia Minor, but have spread throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean. This evergreen is the world’s oldest-known cultivated tree, known for being grown by farmers before the onset of written language.
May 25, 2021 — Yare
What does it mean? "Yare" can either mean “(of a ship) responding promptly to the helm” or “easily manageable.”
Where does it come from? "Yare" developed from the Middle English word (borrowed from Old Germanic) “gearu,” meaning “prepared, ready.” It is also thought to be related to the Dutch word gaar ("done, dressed") and the German word gar ("ready").
Did you know? Bigger ships are likely to be less yare than smaller ones, especially when it comes to emergency stops. A CNN article describes the experience as operating a small, floating city — one that comes without emergency brakes. Captains of gigantic container and cruise ships rely on modified steering wheels and a good sense of weather and direction to ensure smooth sailing.
May 26, 2021 — Aplomb
What does it mean? Self-confidence or assurance, especially when in a demanding situation.
Where does it come from? This word developed to mean “perpendicularity, steadiness” from the French term à plomb, meaning "according to a plumb line."
Did you know? "Aplomb" partially comes from the French word à plomb, meaning "according to a plumb line" — but what is a plumb line? With origins that can be traced back to ancient Egypt, a plumb bob is a line with a pointed weight (usually made of brass or steel) affixed to the end. When the weight is dangled, it creates a vertical line known as a plumb line, which was used by architects, builders, and engineers as a vertical reference point. While plumb bobs are still used in their original form, there is a more efficient update often used in their place — a laser level, which can project both vertical and horizontal lines hands-free.
May 27, 2021 — Clerisy
What does it mean? A distinct class of learned or literary people.
Where does it come from? "Clerisy" developed from the German word Klerisei, which is thought to have originated from the Greek word klēros ("heritage").
Did you know? The word “clerisy” was first introduced by poet and writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Influenced heavily by the German word for “clergy” and the Greek word for “heritage,” Coleridge believed that creating a class of learned, literary intellectuals would be key for humanity’s survival. As evidenced from the careful reasoning behind the creation of this word, Coleridge was as much a critic and literary analyst as he was an artistic soul.
May 28, 2021 — Scintilla
What does it mean? A tiny trace or spark of a specified quality or feeling.
Where does it come from? This word originated from Latin, where it translates literally to “spark.”
Did you know? The noun “scintilla” and the verb “scintillate” come from the same root. Both words originate from Latin, where the word “scintilla” translates directly to “spark” or “ember.” As a noun, it’s a tiny speck, but as the verb, a sparkling light is shining.
May 29, 2021 — Epigrammatic
What does it mean? Of the nature or in the style of an epigram; concise, clever, and amusing.
Where does it come from? "Epigrammatic" originated from the word "epigram," a noun that describes a short and witty poem or verse. While the modern usage of the word developed from French, its roots are in the Latin word epigramma ("an inscription") and the Greek words epigramma ("an inscription on a tomb or public monument") and epigraphen ("to write on or inscribe").
Did you know? "Epigrammatic" is an adjective for describing something in the style of an epigram — a pithy saying or remark that expresses an idea in a concise yet clever fashion. From quotes on inspirational posters to one-liners from an action movie, if it’s clever and concise, it’s epigrammatic.
May 30, 2021 — Adduce
What does it mean? Cite as evidence.
Where does it come from? This word made its way into Late Middle English by way of the Latin word adducere, a combination of the words ad ("towards") and ducere ("to lead").
Did you know? Don’t believe everything you read — unless the writer can adduce the appropriate sources. To adduce a source means the writer has researched and vetted the source. Depending on where and how something is published, citation methods and styles vary. The most commonly used citations are Chicago Manual Style (used for history, economics, and social sciences), MLA Style (developed by the Modern Language Association for arts and the humanities), and APA Style (social sciences and psychology).
May 31, 2021 — Consanguineous
What does it mean? Relating to or denoting people descended from the same ancestor.
Where does it come from? "Consanguineous" originated from the Latin word consanguineus, or “of the same blood,” which came about from the combination of the words con ("together") + sanguis ("blood").
Did you know? Testing DNA is a relatively recent invention, but now almost anyone can provide a saliva or cheek swab sample to receive their genetic profile from any one of several services. Even beyond discovering consanguineous relations, people are now able to learn more about their health and predispositions to certain conditions.