Word of the Day Roundup: September 2020

14 min read

Have you been keeping up with Word Genius this month? Refresh your memory of the origins, the “did you knows,” and the weird truths behind every word that entered your inbox in September 2020.

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From a term declaring a passionate enthusiasm for technology to a word that describes worshipping the stars, we covered a lot of ground in September. A new month means new words to learn and enjoy. Start off October by mastering the words from last month in preparation for the next 31 days of learning.

September 1, 2020 — Fain

What does it mean? “Fain” can either mean to be “pleased and willing under the circumstances” or “compelled by the circumstances; obliged.”

Where does it come from? "Fain" is an Old English word that doesn't have a lot of modern context, but it is related to the verb "fawn." They both come from the Germanic word fægen, meaning to be happy or pleased. Today "fawn" is obsequious adoration, while fain describes a willingness or obligation.

Did you know? If doing something wasn't your idea, but you're happy to do it, the adjective for that is "fain." There's usually some kind of extenuating circumstances surrounding the activity, but you'll get the job done anyway.

September 2, 2020 — Maunder

What does it mean? “Maunder” can either mean to “talk in a rambling manner” or to “move or act in a dreamy or idle manner.”

Where does it come from? Sometimes a word doesn't have a traceable origin. It had to come from somewhere, but we just can't pin it down. “Maunder” is such a word. It used to mean to beg, but that definition dropped away. Today's maunder concerns how you speak or move about.

Did you know? They're not etymologically related, but maunder and meander have similar spellings and meanings. To meander means to wander at random, and maunder means to speak in a rambling way.

September 3, 2020 — Beadle

What does it mean? “Beadle” can either mean “a ceremonial officer of a church, college, or similar institution” or “a minor parish officer dealing with petty offenders.”

Where does it come from? The spelling of this word has been altered over the years. In Old English, a bydel was a person making a proclamation. As it shifted to mean an officer of the church, the spelling changed to “bedel” (from Old French influences). Some universities with ceremonial practices still spell it "bedel," but for the most part, "beadle" is the preferred modern spelling.

Did you know? There are a few different definitions of beadle, but they're all an officer of some sort. A beadle might be an officer of the church or learning institution, in a ceremonial sense. In Scotland, the beadle assists the minister. And if you're in a small town, the beadle is in charge of enforcing minor legal offenses.

September 4, 2020 — Endogenous

What does it mean? “Endogenous” can either mean “having an internal cause or origin” or to be “confined within a group or society.”

Where does it come from? Endogenous is a term most often used in biology to describe something with an internal cause or origin. If used in a social sciences capacity, it means a trait found within a certain group or society.

Did you know? Endogenous and exogenous are often used as points of contrast. "Endo" means inside and "exo" means outside. Paired with "genous," producing or originating in, you have the words that describe if something has an internal (endogenous) or external (exogenous) cause.

September 5, 2020 — Kissogram

An image of an open red mailbox against a pink background.

What does it mean? A novelty greeting or message delivered by a person who accompanies it with a kiss, arranged as a humorous surprise for the recipient.

Where does it come from? Yes, the kissogram is a real thing. A messenger would deliver a kiss to your sweetheart, along with a song or humorous message. These days, you might be better off sending your love a bouquet of flowers.

Did you know? Fans of the Doctor Who TV series will know what a kissogram is. Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan, has a job as a kissogram before she becomes the Doctor's companion. He mistakes her for a police officer, but she reveals her uniform is because she's a kissogram.

September 6, 2020 — Apiary

What does it mean? A place where bees are kept.

Where does it come from? An apiary can be as simple as a box in your backyard, although beekeeping is not simple. Anywhere that bees are kept, or a collection of hives, can be called an apiary. It comes from the Latin word for bee, apis. In the 17th century it was called an apiarium, but today it's just apiary.

Did you know? There can only be one queen bee in an apiary. She can live up to several years, but when her time is up, the worker bees start creating a new queen from the fertilized larvae. A newly hatched queen will sting and kill the unhatched potential queens. If two queens are born, they must fight to the death.

September 7, 2020 — Cartomancy

What does it mean? Fortune telling by interpreting a random selection of playing cards.

Where does it come from? A fortune teller practices cartomancy when they promise to tell your fortune with a deck of cards. It might be a tarot deck, or a deck of playing cards, but it's up to you whether you believe it or not.

Did you know? If you want to practice cartomancy, you need a deck of cards. A standard deck of playing cards includes the suits of clubs, diamonds, spades, and hearts. If you're holding a tarot deck, there will be wands, cups, swords, and coins. Choose your cards wisely.

September 8, 2020 — Helicoid

What does it mean? An object of spiral or helical shape.

Where does it come from? The thread on a screw is a perfect example of a helicoid. It's a shape formed by moving a straight line along an axis as it turns. You can find manmade helicoid structures like a spiral staircase, or you can find many examples of helicoids in the natural world.

Did you know? Visit the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan and you will find yourself inside a helicoid. The works of art are on display in galleries that shoot off a massive spiral-shaped ramp. You can view the helicoid from either the inside or outside of the Guggenheim.

September 9, 2020 — Confabulate

What does it mean? “Confabulate” can either mean to “engage in conversation; talk” or be a psychiatric term for “fabricating imaginary experiences as compensation for loss of memory.”

Where does it come from? In Latin, fabula is a fable and con is a prefix meaning "come together." The psychiatric context of "confabulate" is closer to this original meaning. A person suffering memory loss may make up stories, or fables, to compensate for the gaps.

Did you know? "Confabulate" is a formal term for an everyday activity — chitchat. If you want to describe a serious discussion, or maybe a business negotiation, "confabulate" is an appropriately distinguished term.

September 10, 2020 — Microclimate

A picture of a bolt of lightning striking a plain during a storm.

What does it mean? The climate of a very small or restricted area, especially when this differs from the climate of the surrounding area.

Where does it come from? It's a pretty self-explanatory term — "microclimate" means the weather in a small area. These mini weather patterns exist because of both manmade and natural influences that change the wind, precipitation, or other weather elements.

Did you know? Due to the steep changes in elevation and the effects of the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean, the weather of San Francisco can be changeable. When it's sunny in one neighborhood, it may be cold and foggy less than one mile away. The locals have even nicknamed the thick fog that rolls across the city Karl.

September 11, 2020 — Organza

What does it mean? A thin, stiff, transparent fabric made of silk or a synthetic yarn.

Where does it come from? This fashionable term comes from French, naturellement. In the late 16th century, English adopted "organza" to describe the stiff, transparent, silk fabric that was used to make elaborate ball gowns.

Did you know? Today you're more likely to find organza made of a synthetic material, but the original fabric was made of silk. "Organzine" is silk thread that is twisted together with each fiber in a contrary direction. Organzine is woven together to make organza. The methods for making the thread and fabric produce a fine, transparent, but still stiff, product.

September 12, 2020 — Technomania

What does it mean? Passionate enthusiasm for technology.

Where does it come from? It's made of ancient components, but the word "technomania" is very modern. The Greek word tekhnē means art or craft, and the suffix "mania" implies a madness. In the 1970s, the word "technomania" came to mean a passion for all of the newly developed technology.

Did you know? The modern evolution of technomania can perhaps be attributed to the launch of the iPhone in 2007. While personal computers and digital organizers like the Palm Pilot were around years before the iPhone, the Apple devices kicked off the era where almost everyone has a smartphone in their pocket.

September 13, 2020 — Gonzo

What does it mean? “Gonzo” can either mean “of or associated with journalistic writing of an exaggerated, subjective, and fictionalized style” or “bizarre or crazy.”

Where does it come from? In Spanish, ganso means goose or fool. In Italian, gonzo means foolish. There might be some pretty outrageous activities described, but "gonzo" was adopted into English to describe the wild, literary, stylized journalism popularized in the 1970s.

Did you know? Perhaps the most famous figure of gonzo journalism is Hunter S. Thompson. His book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, was brought to the big screen in an adaptation featuring Johnny Depp. His work was often controversial, but it earned him a place in magazines including Esquire, Harper's, and Rolling Stone.

September 14, 2020 — Haven

A picture of a blue-green harbor dotted with several white boats.

What does it mean? “Haven” can either be “a place of safety or refuge” or “an inlet providing shelter for ships or boats; a harbor or small port.”

Where does it come from? When an English word doesn't have Latin or Greek roots, we can usually trace it to Anglo-Saxon origins. In Old Norse, we have hǫfn and in Late Old English, it is hæfen. The feeling of safety and security is the same in English and Dutch with haven, and in German, Hafen means harbor.

Did you know? The original Old Norse meaning applied to a harbor or small port where their boats would be safe. This feeling of security meant that "haven" was used to describe any sort of safe place or sanctuary.

September 15, 2020 — Chambray

What does it mean? A linen-finished gingham cloth with a white weft and a colored warp, producing a mottled appearance.

Where does it come from? "Chambray" is a specific type of fabric woven with a white weft and colored warp. If you're not a weaver this might not mean much, but it produces a slightly mottled colored fabric.

Did you know? Fans of the "Canadian Tuxedo" will have a bit of chambray in their closet. Most modern chambray is a lightweight version of denim, and will complete an all-blue jeans ensemble quite nicely.

September 16, 2020 — Astrolatry

What does it mean? The worship of stars and other celestial objects.

Where does it come from? The "-latry" suffix comes from Greek and denotes worship of a certain thing. In addition to worshipping idols (idolatry) and stars (astrolatry), you can worship books (bibliolatry), Shakespeare (bardolatry), the sun (heliolatry), images (iconolatry), and animals (zoolatry).

Did you know? Not astrology, but close. Where astrology looks to the stars for guidance, astrolatry takes it one step further and worships the stars.

September 17, 2020 — Buck-And-Wing

What does it mean? A lively solo tap dance, typically done in wooden-soled shoes.

Where does it come from? It's believed that Irish indentured servants and African enslaved people shared their dancing and musical heritages on Southern plantations, and these styles influenced the modern traditions of tap dancing. Buck-and-wing was an early style of tap dance, performed solo with heavy wooden shoes.

Did you know? Before tap dancing, there was buck-and-wing. This fast and flashy type of dance combined elements of Irish clogging and African rhythms for a style that was very popular in 19th century minstrel shows.

September 18, 2020 — Surrey

What does it mean? A light four-wheeled carriage with two seats facing forward.

Where does it come from? You can call it a buggy, but a surrey is a particular type of horse-drawn carriage. It has four wheels and two seats, capable of carrying four passengers. The name comes from the British county of Surrey, where the cart was originally invented.

Did you know? Broadway fans will surely be familiar with the tune "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma! When handsome cowboy Curley wants to take a girl for a ride in a surrey, "Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry."

September 19, 2020 — Miscellany

An image of a bunch of different screwdrivers, wrenches, and other tools piled on top of each other.

What does it mean? “Miscellany” can either mean “a group or collection of different items; a mixture” or “a book containing a collection of pieces of writing by different authors.”

Where does it come from? From Latin, miscellanea is the plural noun for miscellaneous items. The French borrowed it for miscellanées, and we use "miscellany" as a more charming description for a collection of items that don't deserve to be called junk.

Did you know? As a publishing term, "miscellany" describes a volume that collects work from different authors or sources. It could even be a novelty book gathering trivia or bits of memorabilia. Miscellaneous writing and knowledge can be gathered in a miscellany.

September 20, 2020 — Hardscape

What does it mean? The man-made features used in landscape architecture, e.g. paths or walls, as contrasted with vegetation.

Where does it come from? "Hardscape" is the name for the man-made elements you'll find in landscaping, such as paved paths or statues or a gazebo. Your landscape architect will consider the hardscape just as much as the natural environment.

Did you know? "Xeriscape" is a type of landscaping that requires little to no water. It features rocks and drought-resistant plants to make a beautiful landscape in a dry climate, possibly with some hardscape as well.

September 21, 2020 — Soniferous

What does it mean? “Soniferous” can either mean something “that conveys or bears sound” or something “that produces (a lot of) sound.”

Where did it come from? This is a pretty high-falutin' way to say "it's loud." In Latin, "son" words have to do with sound and "ifer" means bearing or carrying. Add an "-ous" in English and you have an adjective describing something carrying sound. It could be any old sound, but it's most often LOUD.

Did you know? If you followed the Grateful Dead in the '70s you would have witnessed the soniferous display of "The Wall of Sound," a massive PA system thought to be the largest of its time. This soniferous system of amps, speakers, subwoofers, and tweeters stood over three stories tall and 100 feet wide.

September 22, 2020 — Neophilia

What does it mean? “Neophilia” can either mean “love of, preference for, or great interest in what is new” or “a love of novelty.”

Where does it come from? The great thing about Ancient Greek is that so many new words can be created from its roots. "Neo" means new and "philia" means fondness. "Neophilia," quite simply, is a love or preference for all that is new and trendy.

Did you know? The first documented usage of "neophilia" was in Political Science Quarterly, an academic journal founded in the late 19th century. Millennial and Gen Z social media influencers are the perfect purveyors of "neophilia," or a love of new trends.

September 23, 2020 — Arborist

What does it mean? A tree surgeon.

Where does it come from? The Latin word for tree — arbor — has been used to create a variety of tree-like words. "Arbor" in English means a shady alcove created by trees. "Arboriculture" means cultivation of trees, and "arboretum" is a botanical garden devoted entirely to trees. An arborist, a tree surgeon, helps these trees grow strong and healthy.

Did you know? If you have a problem with trees, you're going to want to call an arborist. An arborist, or a tree surgeon, will be able to diagnose a fungus, or pests, or some other thing that only an arborist will be able to identify.

September 24, 2020 — Moleskin

A picture of a black notebook and leaves on a white table.

What does it mean? “Moleskin” can either mean “the skin of a mole used as fur” or “a thick, strong cotton fabric with a shaved pile surface."

Where does it come from? While moleskin originally meant the fur from an actual mole, it now applies to a cotton fabric with a soft nap, similar to the animal's fur. It's also used in American English to refer to the soft adhesive fabric you'll put in a new shoe to avoid blisters.

Did you know? Say "moleskin" and people might think you're talking about Moleskine, an Italian stationery company. It produces notebooks, sketchbooks, and various writing accessories favored by writers and creative types across the world.

September 25, 2020 — Bergamot

What does it mean? “Bergamot” can either mean “an oily substance extracted from the rind of the fruit of a dwarf variety of the Seville orange tree used in cosmetics and as flavoring in tea” or “a dessert pear of a rich and sweet variety.”

Where does it come from? In Northern Italy there's a city and province called Bergamo. But there's also a Turkish word — begarmudu — that means "prince's pear." Between the orange extract and the pear, bergamot is likely a mix of these origins.

Did you know? So many versions of bergamot, so little time! A Seville orange tree produces the fruit from which bergamot is extracted for Earl Grey tea. Then there's also a variety of herb in the mint family called bergamot, and finally we have a type of pear called bergamot.

September 26, 2020 — Pantophagous

What does it mean? “Pantophagous” can either mean “eating all kinds or a great variety of food” or to be “omnivorous.”

Where does it come from? You might have thought "omnivorous" was a fancy way of saying you eat everything, but we'll give you one level up with "pantophagous." The prefix "panto-" is Greek for "all," and "-phagous" means subsisting on a specific food. All food, that is.

Did you know? To be pantophagous can mean that you have a preference for a variety of foods, but evolution also has something to do with it. If a carnivorous (meat eating) species cannot find enough meat in their environment, they might adapt to eat more vegetation. Being pantophagous usually means that a species has more food security during stressful times.

September 27, 2020 — Scuttlebutt

What does it mean? “Scuttlebutt” can mean either “rumor” or “gossip.”

Where does it come from? Sailors have the best words for things. On a 19th century ship, a "butt" was a cask of drinking water, and a "scuttle" was the hole made for drinking. The sailors would gather at the scuttlebutt for a bit of chit-chat. Now we have the term "scuttlebutt" for watercooler gossip.

Did you know? If you're in Australia, "furphy" is slang for a story too good to be true. It comes from the name of the manufacturer of water carts used to supply soldiers in World War I. "Scuttlebutt" or "furphy," it's all just a bit of watercooler gossip.

September 28, 2020 — Adynaton

What does it mean? A figure of speech by which an impossible (or highly unlikely) situation is used for emphasis; an instance of this.

Where does it come from? If you take a rhetoric class, you'll learn tools for persuasive writing and public speaking. One of these tricks is "adynaton," or a figure of speech in which an impossible situation is described to make a point. Think: "raining cats and dogs" or "when pigs fly."

Did you know? Parents might use the tale of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf '' as adynaton to teach their children not to exaggerate or tell false stories. In this case, a bit of exaggeration is used as a lesson about the dangers of exaggeration.

September 29, 2020 — Sempiternal

What does it mean? Eternal and unchanging; everlasting.

Where does it come from? You might have seen monuments and memorials engraved with the words semper fidelis, meaning "always faithful." The Latin word semper means always. Joined with the word aeternus, or eternal, it represents a word with an enduring, everlasting presence.

Did you know? Bring Me the Horizon, a British metalcore band, had their 2013 album "Sempiternal" debut at No. 3 on the UK Album Chart — an album that later went on to receive critical acclaim. The band obviously wanted their album to last forever; whether they succeeded or not is up to their fans.

September 30, 2020 — Tombola

What does it mean? A game in which people pick tickets out of a revolving drum and certain tickets win immediate prizes, typically played at a fete or fair.

Where does it come from? This word will make you want to do a flip. "Tombola" comes from the Italian word tombolare, which means "to turn a somersault." It's not just limited to a tombola; bingo callers have their own somersaulting cages.

Did you know? If you have participated in a charity raffle, you might have played a tombola. Traditionally from Italy, tombola games have tickets that are attached to immediate prizes — provided you pick the right one, of course.

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