Word of the Day Roundup: December 2020

12 min read

Have you been keeping up with Word Genius? While everyone’s been finishing up holiday shopping and possibly shoveling snow, we picked up an adjective to describe bare trees and a noun for extra gifts. We also learned a word for a resident of the true north … such as that dude who took a sleigh ride around the world on Christmas Day. Refresh your memory of the origins, the “did you knows,” and the intriguing truths behind every word that entered your inbox in December 2020.

December 1, 2020 — Nurdle

What does it mean? A very small pellet of plastic which serves as raw material in the manufacture of plastic products.

Where does it come from? Like so many things plastic, this word came about during the 1990s. While its exact origins are unknown, nurdle has become synonymous with the little pellets used for plastics manufacturing.

Did you know? A nurdle can also refer to the wave-shaped blob of toothpaste seen in commercials. The next time you go to put the dentist-recommended, pea-sized amount of toothpaste on your toothbrush, you have a name for it.

December 2, 2020 — Aglet

What does it mean? A metal or plastic tube fixed tightly round each end of a shoelace.

Where does it come from? Aglet came from the French word aiguillette, meaning "small needle" — which makes sense, given the way they look.

Did you know? The animated Disney Channel show Phineas and Ferb featured a song called "A-G-L-E-T" about — what else — the little round, metallic or plastic tubes on your shoelaces.

December 3, 2020 — Widdershins

What does it mean? Widdershins can either mean something that moves “in a direction contrary to the sun's course, considered as unlucky” or “anticlockwise.”

Where does it come from? This adverb developed from a mix of the Middle Low German word weddersins and the Middle High German word widersinnes. Despite being spelled differently, both of these words came from the same roots — wider (against) and sin (direction).

Did you know? If you've traveled anywhere south of the equator, you've probably noticed something odd about draining water — it travels widdershins, or counterclockwise, down the drain, compared to clockwise in the northern hemisphere.

December 4, 2020 — Mirific

What does it mean? Mirific can either mean “that works wonders; exciting wonder or astonishment; marvellous” or, humorously, “in weakened sense.”

Where does it come from? Mirific first developed from the Latin word mirificus (wonderful). Then it transitioned into its modern usage through the Middle French adaptation mirifique, which means "causing wonder and admiration."

Did you know? It might sound cliché, but there are few things as mirific as watching a sunrise (or sunset) over the mountains; the feeling of astonishment at the sight can be overwhelming.

December 5, 2020 — Superficies

What does it mean? Superficies can either mean “a surface” or, from a literary perspective, “an outward part or appearance.”

Where does it come from? Superficies developed from the Latin words super (above) and facies (face).

Did you know? You're probably already familiar with the word superficies due to the word "superficial" — a word that means something that exists or occurs on a surface level.

December 6, 2020 — Innominate

What does it mean? Not named or classified.

Where does it come from? Innominate originated from the Latin word innominatus — which can be broken down into the words in (not) and nominatus (named).

Did you know? Many scientists dream of finding an innominate species, or one that hasn't been named or classified yet. After all, there's always the potential that the finder can name the new species after themselves.

December 7, 2020 — Ratoon

What does it mean? A new shoot or sprout springing from the base of a crop plant, especially sugar cane, after cropping.

Where does it come from? Ratoon comes from the Spanish word retoño, which means — simply enough — "a sprout."

Did you know? If you plant the spiky top (sucker) of a pineapple in the dirt, it grows several new ratoons around it. Why grow one pineapple when you can grow several?

December 8, 2020 — Bibelot

What does it mean? A small, decorative ornament or trinket.

Where does it come from? Bibelot originated from an early French construction of bel, which means beautiful. It developed over time to also contain the meaning "fanciful formation," a perfect descriptor of the baubles, tchotchkes, and doodads you might find scattered around your house.

Did you know? Among many holiday traditions, the practice of decorating Christmas trees is especially beloved. While you can buy bibelots and baubles to hang on your branches, the best ones are often heirlooms — or handmade with love.

December 9, 2020 — Nocturne

What does it mean? Nocturne can either mean “(music) a short composition of a romantic or dreamy character suggestive of night, typically for piano” or “(art) a picture of a night scene.”

Where does it come from? Nocturne developed in French by way of the Latin word nocturnus, meaning "of the night."

Did you know? There's something so peaceful and even romantic about the night sky. Use the poetic noun "nocturne" to describe any art you produce inspired by the evening and midnight hours.

December 10, 2020 — Housewright

What does it mean? A builder of houses, especially those constructed largely of timber; a house carpenter.

Where does it come from? Housewright developed as an American word in the 16th century through the combination of the words house and wright (an old Germanic word that means maker or builder).

Did you know? You could hire a handyman to do general repairs around your house, but if you have detailed woodwork, you'll want a housewright. This term was popular in 18th-century colonial America to refer to craftsmen who cut timber and assembled it into houses.

December 11, 2020 — Personalia

What does it mean? Personal allusions, belongings, writings, information, etc.

Where does it come from? Personalia developed from the classical Latin word personālia (personal); however, its first use in this context was found in the magazine "The North American Review" in the mid-19th century.

Did you know? Pop artist Andy Warhol was obsessed with keeping all the miscellaneous objects of his life. He kept "time capsules" filled with notes, receipts, letters, toys, coins, anything and everything. These collections of personalia can be seen on display at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

December 12, 2020 — Aphyllous

What does it mean? (Botany) Having no leaves.

Where does it come from? Aphyllous developed as the Latin word aphyllus via the Greek word áphyllos. Both words mean leafless.

Did you know? While holiday lights draped over aphyllous trees make a cheery seasonal sight, they also have a practical reason — for certain cold sensitive plants, these lights provide just enough warmth for the winter season.

December 13, 2020 — Flivver

What does it mean? A cheap car or aircraft, especially one in bad condition.

Where does it come from? While we know that this word developed in the early 20th century, which was when odd nicknames for vehicles first began popping up, its exact origins are unknown.

Did you know? Just because a car is cheap doesn't mean that it is also a flivver. If you're looking for a used car, it's a good idea to take along your mechanic or automotive-minded friend to check it out and make sure it is good quality.

December 14, 2020 — Camber

What does it mean? The slightly convex or arched shape of a road or other horizontal surface.

Where does it come from? Camber developed in Middle English but finds its roots in the Old French word chambre (arched) and the Latin word camurus (curved inwards).

Did you know? Isn't a road supposed to be flat? Traditional roads and paths often are. However, roads are built with a camber for several important reasons — such as easy drainage during rainstorms.

December 15, 2020 — Lagniappe

What does it mean? Something given as a bonus or extra gift.

Where does it come from? Lagniappe has American roots — it developed in Louisiana French by way of the Spanish word la ñapa (an extra or a gratuity).

Did you know? Thinking about gifting some lagniappes to your loved ones this holiday season? There are many fun things that you can stuff into stockings or gift to Secret Santas — peruse local and online businesses, bake cookies, or create matching jewelry, for just a few ideas!

December 16, 2020 — Sodality

What does it mean? A confraternity or association, especially a Roman Catholic religious guild or brotherhood.

Where does it come from? While this word might bring a bubbly beverage to mind, it originates from the French and Latin words sodalité and sodalis, which both mean comrade.

Did you know? Belonging to a sodality can impact you socially beyond getting invited to parties. Over 76% of U.S. Congressmen and Senators belong to a fraternity, and Greek life contributes to a lot of our societal and cultural development.

December 17, 2020 — Indite

What does it mean? To write; compose.

Where does it come from? Variations of indite developed in Middle English (endite) and French (enditier). However, its origins can be traced back to the Latin word indicere (to proclaim).

Did you know? Would you like to be a better writer? Beyond all the courses, books, and podcasts that promise to make it easier to indite, one of the best ways to improve is to establish a daily writing habit.

December 18, 2020 — Lagom

What does it mean? The principle of living a balanced, moderately paced, low-fuss life.

Where does it come from? Lagom developed in the 1830s as a Swedish word meaning moderation. It is also thought to have developed in some part from the word lag, which means law.

Did you know? Our hectic lives seem to revolve around work, and you might find yourself getting burnt out. Think about establishing a lifestyle based more on lagom for yourself. Your work-life balance will improve, and your future self will thank you.

December 19, 2020 — Janissary

What does it mean? Janissary can either mean “(historical) a member of the Turkish infantry forming the Sultan's guard between the 14th and 19th centuries” or “a devoted follower or supporter.”

Where does it come from? Janissary developed from the French word janissaire, but originally comes from the Turkish word yeniçeri, where yeni means new and çeri means troops.

Did you know? While it was originally the title of an elite group of Turkish soldiers in the Ottoman Empire, today the word "janissary" can be applied to any group of particularly loyal supporters. Synonyms include devotee, disciple, worshipper, admirer, and believer.

December 20, 2020 — Campanology

What does it mean? The art or practice of bell-ringing.

Where does it come from? Campanology developed from the Latin words campanologia and campana, which both mean "bell."

Did you know? One of the most enduring December sounds is the chime of the bell ringer stationed by donation boxes. This campanology is meant to remind people to donate, but the bell ringing is also a nostalgic, wintry sound.

December 21, 2020 — Schwag

What does it mean? Products given away free, typically for promotional purposes.

Where did it come from? Schwag was altered in the 1990s from the word swag, which came from a Middle English word meaning "bulging bag." It is thought that the "sch" addition was modeled after Yiddish words.

Did you know? Schwag may be free, but that doesn't mean that the products inside are cheap! The annual Oscars gift bags, which are given to attendees of the star-studded event, regularly contain items priced over six figures.

December 22, 2020 — Farrago

What does it mean? A confused mixture.

Where does it come from? Farrago is a Latin word that originally meant "mixed fodder" or "corn." This catch-all word for getting your grain mixed up eventually became a confused mixture.

Did you know? The household junk drawer is about as American as apple pie — nearly everyone has one. While it is nice to have a place to store every miscellaneous item without a home, it's probably better to organize that drawer a bit.

December 23, 2020 — Depute

What does it mean? Depute can either mean to “appoint or instruct (someone) to perform a task for which one is responsible” or to “delegate (an authority or a task).”

Where does it come from? This word developed in Middle English via influences from French and Latin. The original Latin word deputare (consider to be; assign) came from the words de (away) and putare (consider).

Did you know? Do you need a word to describe someone who has been deputed a task? Call them a deputy. A deputy is a representative of an authority who has been delegated a task to complete — similar to how the word depute means delegating a task to an individual.

December 24, 2020 — Hyperborean

What does it mean? An inhabitant of the extreme north.

Where does it come from? While the word hyperborean further developed through Middle English and Latin, it finds its roots in the Greek word huperboreos, which can further be broken down into huper (beyond) and boreas (north wind).

Did you know? There are many reasons why Santa Clausbecame the most famous hyperborean. Luckily, he travels all over the world delivering presents for the holidays. Try using Google's Santa Tracker to follow him around the globe before he returns to the North.

December 25, 2020 — Flitch

What does it mean? Flitch can either mean “a slab of timber cut from a tree trunk, usually from the outside” or “a side of bacon.”

Where does it come from? The word flitch developed from the Middle English word flicce (which stood for the salted and cured side of any meat product), but originally came from German.

Did you know? While enjoying eggs with a flitch seems timeless, bacon as part of a hearty breakfast is less than a century old and the result of really good PR. To sell more pork products, one company reached out to doctors, asking them to co-sign the idea that a heavier breakfast is a healthier one. The rest is history.

December 26, 2020 — Hobbledehoy

What does it mean? A clumsy or awkward youth.

Where does it come from? It is unknown exactly how and where the word hobbledehoy came from, although we do know that it was first used in the 16th century. The noun's playful cadence was used to describe an awkward, youthful person.

Did you know? Nearly everyone was a hobbledehoy at some point — it's a normal part of adolescence to feel a little awkward. Encouragement, praise, and support goes a long way in helping your loved ones feel more confident in themselves as they grow up.

December 27, 2020 — Mensuration

What does it mean? Mensuration can either mean “measuring” or “the measuring of geometric magnitudes, lengths, areas, and volumes.”

Where does it come from? This noun comes from the Latin word mensurare, which means "to measure."

Did you know? Carpenters know how important mensuration is; the saying "measure twice, cut once" reminds anyone working with wood that an accurate mensuration the first time saves time and material.

December 28, 2020 — Gewgaw

What does it mean? A showy thing, especially one that is useless or worthless.

Where does it come from? Here's another word with unknown origins. While we know that gewgaw was first used in earnest in the 16th century, there's no information on how this word developed in the first place.

Did you know? Home personalization is hard. Whether you love gewgaws or not, try taking inspiration from magazines, sticking to a theme, or asking for advice. Encourage your personal sense of interior design to shine.

December 29, 2020 — Fulsome

What does it mean? Fulsome can either mean “complimentary or flattering to an excessive degree” or “of large size or quantity; generous or abundant.”

Where does it come from? This adjective comes from Middle English, and developed from the words full (filled to the limit) and some (a group of a particular number).

Did you know? While fulsome is a homonym (a word with multiple meanings for the same spelling/pronunciation), its earlier definition of "generous or abundant" is seen by some critics as incorrect. These critics say that fulsome was originally intended to refer to "words of flattery." What do you think?

December 30, 2020 —  Ambit

What does it mean? The scope, extent, or bounds of something.

Where does it come from? Ambit developed from the Latin word ambitus (circuit) and its predecessor ambire (go round).

Did you know? Word sleuths will recognize that ambit forms the first half of another popular word: "ambitious." Someone who is ambitious has their sights set way beyond what's in front of them; the official definition is "having or showing a strong desire and determination to succeed."

December 31, 2020 — Roister

What does it mean? To enjoy oneself or celebrate in a noisy or boisterous way.

Where does it come from? Roister has a diverse background (including its past interation in France as rustre, or ruffian) but it predominantly originates from the Latin word rusticus (rustic).

Did you know? Not every loud gathering is roisterous. If the mood of the party is cheerful but still rowdy, then you're roistering. Those lucky enough to be in Times Square when the New Year's Eve ball drops are very familiar with this sort of festive mood.

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