Have you been keeping up with Word Genius? This month, we celebrated National Pi Day with a word for a deep dish, spiced apple pie and learned a word for a pale yellow or green color for St. Patrick’s Day. We also learned a word for all things of, in, or appropriate to spring… just in time for the first day of spring! Refresh your memory of the origins, the “did you knows,” and the interesting truths behind every word that entered your inbox in March 2021.
March 1, 2021 — Nonage
What does it mean? The period of immaturity or youth.
Where does it come from? While this word developed in Late Middle English, its roots are found in the Old French word nonage.
Did you know? While "nonage" describes a period of immaturity or youth, you do not have to be physically young to retain a youthful outlook on life. Some ways to retain a fresh spin on life include continually learning, making new friends, and enjoying the little pleasures that come your way.
March 2, 2021 — Epexegesis
What does it mean? Epexegesis can either mean “the addition of words to clarify meaning” or “words added for the purpose of clarifying meaning.”
Where does it come from? Epexegesis evolved from the Greek word epexēgēsis, a combination of epi (addition) + exēgēsis (explanation) — an “additional explanation.”
Did you know? An epexegesis can appear in multiple formats — such as the making of footage for films, postscripts on letters, and annotations in journal articles. If it is text that seeks to clarify the meaning of something, then it is an epexegesis.
March 3, 2021 — Ineluctable
What does it mean? Unable to be resisted or avoided; inescapable.
Where does it come from? This adjective originated from the Latin word ineluctabilis, which comes from a combination of the words in (not) and eluctari (struggle out).
Did you know? Ancient Greek mythology believed that destiny was ineluctable, and the outcomes were left up to three women — the Fates. Each woman was responsible for a different aspect of a person’s lifetime: One spun the thread of life, another measured it to determine the length of that human's life, and the last cut the thread at the end of life.
March 4, 2021 — Moppet
What does it mean? A small endearingly sweet child.
Where does it come from? Moppet is an English word through and through. The noun first evolved from the now-obsolete word “moppe,” which means “baby” or “rag doll.”
Did you know? There’s a very big difference between referring to someone as a “muppet” and as a “moppet.” A moppet is a small, endearing child, while a muppet is a term for a combination puppet and marionette, as coined by puppeteer Jim Henson. Still cute, but muppets tend to be shaggier.
March 5, 2021 — Empyrean
What does it mean? Relating to heaven or the sky.
Where does it come from? While this word evolved in Late Middle English, it first originated from medieval Latin and Greek — specifically the word empurios, from en (in) and pur (fire).
Did you know? While "empyrean" functions here as an adjective, it can also be used as a noun. The noun "empyrean" also relates to the skies and the heavens, but specifically describes the highest part of the heavens. In medieval times, the highest heavens were believed to possess their own fire — which is where one of the roots of this word (pur, or fire) probably comes from.
March 6, 2021 — Kvell
What does it mean? Feel happy and proud.
Where does it come from? Kvell comes from the Yiddish word kveln, a word that developed from the Middle High German term quellen (to well up).
Did you know? Yiddish has given us a wealth of words that we use in our everyday lives. Besides "kvell," we also have the words "schtick" (a comedic routine), "klutz" (a clumsy person), and "bupkis" (nothing), among many others.
March 7, 2021 — Nobby
What does it mean? Describing a person of wealth or high social position.
Where does it come from? The closest guess is that “nobby” developed by way of the Scottish word knab (a person of importance) as slang for high society.
Did you know? Don’t mix these homophones up. "Knobby" is an adjective that describes something that has a lot of knobs — such as a pilot’s switchboard or an old branch. "Nobby" is an adjective that specifically describes a wealthy person or one who has a high social position. Both are adjectives, but possess different meanings.
March 8, 2021 — Ethos
What does it mean? The characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.
Where does it come from? While "ethos" is Latin, its roots are in the Greek word ēthos, which means “nature, disposition.”
Did you know? Ethos, Logos, and Pathos are practical methods of persuasion, aka rhetorical appeals, originally taught by Aristotle. In this context, Ethos refers to credibility, Pathos means emotion, and Logos means logic. These are all things that can be used to make speech more persuasive.
March 9, 2021 — Limn
What does it mean? Limn either means to “depict or describe in painting or words” or to “suffuse or highlight (something) with a bright color or light.”
Where does it come from? This word originally developed from the Latin word luminare and the French word luminer, which both mean “make light.” It also found roots in Middle English from the obsolete word lumine (illuminate) as a means to describe the art of illumination.
Did you know? Illuminated manuscripts are artistic pages where text is supplemented with borders, gilding, and illustrations. In the ancient world, monks and other scholars would carefully limn pages with illustrations that either complemented or explained the text in some way.
March 10, 2021 — Cynosure
What does it mean? A person or thing that is the center of attention or admiration.
Where does it come from? This word developed from a combination of French, Latin, and Greek words — specifically the Latin word cynosura and the Greek word kunosoura, or “dog’s tail,” as taken from the words kun (dog) and oura (tail).
Did you know? "Cynosure" was originally used to describe the center of attention in the sky — the constellation Ursa Major (aka the Big Dipper). The pole star in this constellation was used as a guide by navigators on land and at sea, allowing them to both explore and return safely home.
March 11, 2021 — Pictograph
What does it mean? Pictograph can either mean “a pictorial symbol for a word or phrase” or “a pictorial representation of statistics on a chart, graph, or computer screen.”
Where does it come from? "Pictograph" originated from a combination of the Latin word pict (painting) + graph (a Greek word that means something drawn or written).
Did you know? While most modern languages use an alphabet of letters to assemble words, ancient cultures used pictographs to represent written language. Some notable examples include Nordic runes, Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Mesopotamian cuneiforms, which all use carved characters and pictures to represent a word, idea, or phrase.
March 12, 2021 — Chinook
What does it mean? A chinook can be a wind or a fish. Specifically, a warm dry wind which blows down the east side of the Rocky Mountains at the end of winter, or a large North Pacific salmon.
Where does it come from? The word "chinook" entered English during the 19th century from the languages of Salish and Chinook Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest.
Did you know? The word "chinook" is a type of wind, or a certain breed of salmon, but it originally described an Indigenous tribe. The Chinook people are widespread throughout the Pacific Northwest — not to be confused with the Salish Indigenous people, who originate from the same area and first used this word to describe another tribe.
March 13, 2021 — Notional
What does it mean? Notional can either mean “existing only in theory or as a suggestion or idea” or “existing only in the imagination.”
Where does it come from? While "notional" evolved in Late Middle English, it finds its roots in medieval Latin — specifically the word notionalis (relating to an idea), which originated from notion (idea).
Did you know? Some notional actions can be harnessed for your benefit. Visualization, or purposefully imagining a specific action or outcome, has been linked to greater athletic performance and academic achievement. It can also help change habits — imagining completing an action successfully and doing the same thing in real life helps reinforce positive choices.
March 14, 2021 — Pandowdy
What does it mean? A kind of spiced apple pie baked in a deep dish.
Where does it come from? It’s believed this word originated in the 19th century, but its exact origins are unknown. Classified as an “Americanism,” or an English slang word developed in the U.S., this word may have developed from the word pan (referring to the custard-like dessert) or as a reference to the pan that pies are prepared in.
Did you know? While nothing is as American as a well-baked pandowdy, apple pies were not actually invented in America. Apple pies were created in Europe during the pie-making craze of the 13th and 14th centuries, and, due to a sugar shortage, didn’t even have crusts. The modern apple pie was created by Dutch bakers, who introduced the iconic lattice-style crusts that are recognizable to bakers today.
March 15, 2021 — Horology
What does it mean? Horology can either mean “the study and measurement of time” or “the art of making clocks and watches.”
Where does it come from? This word originates from a combination of the Greek words hōra (which means “time”) and ology (a subject of study or interest).
Did you know? Horology, or the art of making clocks and watches, is a skilled process. All components of the clock must work together in harmony to properly deliver the time, but there is an artistic element as well. Cuckoo clocks, for example, include mechanisms that allow a toy to pop out and announce a new hour. Gedackt pipes produce the distinctive “cuckoo” sound these clocks are known for.
March 16, 2021 — Pleonasm
What does it mean? The use of more words than are necessary to convey meaning (e.g. see with one's eyes), either as a fault of style or for emphasis.
Where does it come from? "Pleonasm" originated in Greek by way of Latin — specifically from the Greek words pleonasmos and pleonazein, which mean to “be superfluous.”
Did you know? Pleonasm can be described by a more flowery term: purple prose. Purple prose is extravagant writing that uses more words than necessary to convey meaning. Sometimes intentionally, it often calls attention to the writing style rather than the topic at hand.
March 17, 2021 — Chartreuse
What does it mean? Chartreuse can either mean “a pale green or yellow liqueur made from brandy and aromatic herbs” or “a pale yellow or green color resembling the liqueur chartreuse.”
Where does it come from? "Chartreuse" originated in French, specifically from the La Grande Chartreuse, a monastery that produced the liquor of the same name.
Did you know? The specific shade of green now recognized as chartreuse comes from an alcoholic beverage of the same name. Chartreuse, a liquor made from brandy and a blend of aromatic herbs, is named for the La Grande Chartreuse, the monastery that first made it. This beverage is imbibed on its own, but is best appreciated as an addition to a cocktail.
March 18, 2021 — Schuss
What does it mean? A straight downhill run on skis.
Where does it come from? "Schuss" originated from the German word schuss, which means “shot.”
Did you know? "Schuss" is a word referencing a straight downhill run on skis, but is also notable as the name of one of the first official Olympic mascots. Schuss was a little man on skis who became the face of the 1968 Grenoble Winter Olympics, sold on merchandise like keyrings, magnets, and pins. Despite his polished, minimalistic appearance, Schuss’ design was thrown together in a hurry — the designer reportedly only had one night to put together a submission.
March 19, 2021 — Twig
What does it mean? (as verb) Understand or realize something.
Where does it come from? The noun "twig" (a slender woody shoot) comes from the old English word twigge (as well as the Dutch twijg and German zweig). Its origins as a verb describing the action of realization are largely unknown.
Did you know? The word "twig" is probably best known as the slender, woody shoots that protrude from trees and other plants. These twigs, however, can help gardeners and homeowners twig, or understand, the health of their trees. If it is green inside, the tree is alive, while a rotten or dry twig might indicate a sick tree.
March 20, 2021 — Vernal
What does it mean? Of, in, or appropriate to spring.
Where does it come from? This word originated from the Latin word vernalis, which developed from the words vernus (of the spring) and ver (spring).
Did you know? "Vernal" is a word used to describe all things related and associated with the season of spring — including a species of crocus (scientific name Crocus vernus), the spring snowflake flower (scientific name Leucojum vernum), and the Spring Equinox (also known as the Vernal Equinox).
March 21, 2021 — Cognoscente
What does it mean? A connoisseur; a discerning expert.
Where does it come from? This word — which translates directly into “people who know” — developed in the late 18th century from the Italian words cognoscent (getting to know) and cognoscere.
Did you know? While there are specific training programs that one can apply to in order to become a wine cognoscente, a person can also become a connoisseur through personal experience. Attending workshops on the craft, listening to recommendations from people established in the field, and getting hands-on experience in wineries are all recommended ways to get started as a sommelier.
March 22, 2021 — Auspice
What does it mean? A divine or prophetic token.
Where does it come from? "Auspice" developed in French, but finds its roots in Latin — specifically the Latin word auspicium, from auspex (observer of birds) and the combination of avis (bird) + specere (to look).
Did you know? Many different cultures see birds as an auspice, both positively and negatively. For example, birds appearing in a dream are often considered a sign of life, rebirth, and hope for the future. On the other hand, birds often disappear before natural disasters, leading many people to look to them and other animals for warnings to the future.
March 23, 2021 — Lagomorph
What does it mean? A mammal of the order Lagomorpha; a hare, rabbit, or pika.
Where does it come from? While this word developed from the Latin word lagomorpha (referring to the order of the animal), it also has roots in the combination of the Greek words lagos (hare) + morpha (an individual in a certain species).
Did you know? “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter, tells the story of a family of anthropomorphic lagomorphs (rabbits that act like people). The mother warns her four rabbit children — Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter — about the dangers of a vegetable garden’s caretaker, but Peter risks it. Originally published in 1902, the story has gone on to become one of the best-selling children’s books of all time.
March 24, 2021 — Leitmotif
What does it mean? A recurrent theme throughout a musical or literary composition, associated with a particular person, idea, or situation.
Where does it come from? "Leitmotif" originated from the German word leitmotiv, composed of the words leit (leading) and motiv (motive).
Did you know? It can refer to literature, but "leitmotif" originally applied to musical compositions only. The German loanword is notably demonstrated by the operas of Richard Wagner. Short, recognizable melodies are repeated through the work to tie the larger piece together.
March 25, 2021 — Sheepshank
What does it mean? A kind of knot used to shorten a rope temporarily.
Where does it come from? While we know that this noun first originated in the 17th century as shorthand for the sheepshank knot (a temporary knot used to shorten a rope), it’s literal origins are largely unknown.
Did you know? A sheepshank is a knot that can quickly be tied to take up slack on a rope. It’s not very stable, so it shouldn’t be used in situations that require a secure hold.
March 26, 2021 — Coeval
What does it mean? A person of roughly the same age as oneself; a contemporary.
Where does it come from? "Coeval" developed from the Latin word coaevus, the combination of the words co (jointly) + aevum (age).
Did you know? Folks who belong to the same generation are coevals, or roughly the same age. Millennials are coevals born between 1981 and 1996, but Gen Z is starting to come of age. They were born between 1997 and 2012.
March 27, 2021 — Nodus
What does it mean? A problem, difficulty, or complication.
Where does it come from? "Nodus" developed in Late Middle English as a way to describe a knotty swelling; it originated in Latin as the literal translation for “knot.”
Did you know? Escape rooms are a novel way to spend some time with friends. A group of people is locked into a room filled with puzzles and clues. They must solve each nodus within a set period of time to be released.
March 28, 2021 — Asterism
What does it mean? Asterism can either mean “a prominent pattern or group of stars, typically having a popular name but smaller than a constellation” or “a group of three asterisks (⁂) drawing attention to following text.”
Where does it come from? "Asterism" evolved from the Greek word asterismos, from aster (star).
Did you know? Stargazers might be able to easily point out the Big Dipper in the night sky, but it’s not actually a constellation. Instead, the seven stars of the Big Dipper are an asterism, located within the larger constellation of Ursa Major.
March 29, 2021 — Obnubilate
What does it mean? Darken, dim, or cover with or as if with a cloud; obscure.
Where does it come from? This word developed from the Latin word obnubilat, which means “covered with clouds or fog.”
Did you know? The power of clouds to obnubilate, both figuratively or literally, is a popular concept in music, especially from folk singer Joni Mitchell. In “Both Sides Now,” she croons, “I've looked at clouds from both sides now / From up and down and still somehow / It's cloud's illusions I recall / I really don't know clouds at all.”
March 30, 2021 — Amuse-gueule
What does it mean? A small savory item of food served as an appetizer before a meal.
Where does it come from? This word originated from the French words for “amuse” and “mouth” — literally, food that amuses your mouth.
Did you know? Amuse-gueule, also known as amuse-bouche, are hors d’oeuvres, but are slightly different from an appetizer. Traditionally, amuse-gueules are offered for free as part of a meal, rather than ordered and paid for via a menu.
March 31, 2021 — Sprachgefühl
What does it mean? Sprachgefühl can either mean “the essential character of a language” or an “intuitive feeling for the natural idiom of a language.”
Where does it come from? This word originated in German from a combination of the words Sprache (speech, a language) + Gefühl (feeling).
Did you know? Sprachgefühl is one of the ways experienced wordsmiths instinctively know that something sounds off. Experience working with words, as well as familiarity with the language as a whole, allows a writer to intuit that a certain pause might require a comma, or when the order in a list might need to be rearranged.