Have you been keeping up with Word Genius? In honor of the spookiest month, we learned the term for a magician’s assistant and a verb to protect against evil spirits. But then we dove into the world of whales and dolphins and learned about the makers of bespoke fashions. Refresh your memory of the origins, the “did you knows,” and the weird truths behind every word that entered your inbox in October 2020.
October 1, 2020 — Cetology
What does it mean? The branch of zoology that deals with whales, dolphins, and porpoises.
Where does it come from? The Latin word for whale, cetus, joins with "-ology," the Latin suffix for "the study of a subject." Many other words are paired with "-ology" — biology (the study of life), psychology (the study of how people think), and entomology (the study of insects).
Did you know? While cetology is the study of whales, dolphins, and porpoises, a person who has committed to studying these same animals is a cetologist. It is fair to say that a cetologist will have a deep love and interest in whales — childhood fans of "Free Willy," might have considered becoming such a scientist.
October 2, 2020 — Adhocracy
What does it mean? A flexible, adaptable, and informal organizational structure without bureaucratic policies or procedures.
Where does it come from? This word, created in the 1960s, is a combination of the Latin phrase ad hoc (meaning something created for a specific purpose) and "bureaucracy," a system where elected officials make decisions. Your book club is likely an adhocracy — it was created for the purpose of discussing the latest novels, but it's a loose structure without a lot of rules.
Did you know? If you've ever been a part of a group or a project with loose rules and regulations, or one that is generally informal, that's an adhocracy. If you think it sounds too good to be true, it's no surprise that adhocracies feature in many a science fiction fantasy.
October 3, 2020 — Blarney
What does it mean? “Blarney” can either mean “talk that aims to charm, pleasantly flatter, or persuade” or “amusing and harmless nonsense.”
Where does it come from? The word "blarney" comes from Blarney Castle and its famous stone, which is supposed to give whoever kisses it the gift of blarney, or persuasive, charming, flattering speech.
Did you know? Have you ever been told that you have the gift of gab? In Ireland, the person who manages to reach and kiss the Blarney Stone is rumored to be blessed with the gift of compelling speech that can woo and court any listeners.
October 4, 2020 — Toponym
What does it mean? A place name, especially one derived from a topographical feature.
Where does it come from? Those of you familiar with "topography," the study of the shape and attributes of land, might know that "top" is from the Greek word topos, or place, while the Greek root word nym means name. A “toponym” is a name of a specific place. It could be a country, like France, or a general region, such as Wine Country.
Did you know? Toponymy is the study of place names. As times have changed, so too have the names, or toponyms, of different locations. By studying toponymy, experts are able to find out information about the development and exchange of language, historical landmarks and features of the area.
October 5, 2020 — Couturier
What does it mean? A fashion designer who manufactures and sells clothes that have been tailored to a client's specific requirements and measurements.
Where does it come from? Naturellement, this fashionable word comes from French. Couture means sewing or dressmaking in French, but it has come to refer to a specific design of high-fashion garments made to specific measurement. "Couturier" is the word for the person who makes such specialized clothes.
Did you know? Not just any fashion designer can be called a couturier. If a designer qualifies in France, they could be invited to be a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Well-known members include Chanel, Dior, Givenchy, Schiaparelli, and Giambattista Valli.
October 6, 2020 — Pervicacity
What does it mean? “Pervicacity” can either mean “the quality or state of being pervicacious” or “obstinacy; stubbornness; willfulness.”
Where does it come from? This noun, synonymous with stubbornness or willfulness, deserves to be brought back into the regular lexicon. It comes from the Latin pervicacitas, meaning obstinacy.
Did you know? "He's stubborn as a mule!" What did mules do to earn a reputation of pervicacity? They're the result of cross-breeding a horse and a donkey, and Charles Darwin himself documented mules with more strength, intelligence, and, yes, stubbornness than the parents.
October 7, 2020 — Haboob
What does it mean? A violent and oppressive wind blowing in summer, especially in Sudan, bringing sand from the desert.
Where does it come from? In Arabic, habūb means "blowing furiously." This word has proven to be quite useful to describe the strong sandy winds blowing across Sudan, but other desert climate residents have also adopted the word.
Did you know? Every gust of wind doesn't count as a haboob, but a group of Arizona meteorologists decided that the intense dust storms that swept across Phoenix in 1971 qualified. They described wind speed, a rise in humidity and a drop in air temperature that all counted as "classic haboob characteristics."
October 8, 2020 — Forfend
What does it mean? “Forfend” can either mean to “avert, keep away, or prevent (something evil or unpleasant)” or to “protect (something) by precautionary measures.”
Where does it come from? You're more likely to hear the second half of this word in modern conversation. One might fend against sunburn by wearing a hat and long-sleeved shirt. "Defend" has come to serve the purpose of "forfend," but the older term still deserves a place in your vocabulary.
Did you know? You might have heard someone exclaim "Heaven forbid!" to express mock horror, but the original version of this phrase was "Heaven forfend." The intention is quite tongue-in-cheek with dismay at the thought of some ill-advised activity taking place.
October 9, 2020 — Tertiary
What does it mean? “Tertiary” can either mean “third in order or level” or “relating to or denoting the medical treatment provided at a specialist institution.”
Where does it come from? Quite simply, tertiary means third. But it has specialized definitions in many applications. To geologists, "tertiary" is a specific period of the Cenozoic area. Chemists use the term to describe particular organic compounds, and ecologists call carnivores that eat other carnivores "tertiary."
Did you know? Elementary school is required across the board, as is secondary school (commonly known as middle and high school in the U.S.). But education beyond that is a personal choice. In the United States you can go to college, but in Britain it's called “tertiary education.”
October 10, 2020 — Herbary
What does it mean? An herb garden.
Where does it come from? From Latin, herba means grass or green crops. Middle English used "herb" for "any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume." The herbary is where such plants are grown.
Did you know? A medicine garden is a type of herbary with plants grown specifically for their healing applications. Traditional medicine plants include Holy Basil, Wild Bergamot, Echinacea, Mint, Garlic, Aloe, Lavender, Sage, Calendula, and St. John's Wort.
October 11, 2020 — Desideratum
What does it mean? Something that is needed or wanted.
Where does it come from? "Desideratum" is a want or a need, but it goes beyond needing a gallon of milk from the grocery. It usually applies to a philosophical need, or the ultimate desire or outcome. As it comes from the Latin for "something desired," the plural is "desiderata."
Did you know? "Desiderata" is a poem written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann. It rose in popularity in the 1960s, even being recorded by Leonard Nimoy as "Spock Thoughts." The desideratum is clear in the last lines: "Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."
October 12, 2020 — Panegyric
What does it mean? A public speech or published text in praise of someone or something.
Where does it come from? While the modern version of "panegyric" comes from the French word panégyrique, it originated in Greece as panēgurikos. The word, which means to assemble, is made up of pan, meaning "all," and aguris, which means "assembly." This word has gradually transitioned into being used as an address made in front of an assembled audience.
Did you know? While the word "panegyric" often applies to speech, it can also describe a genre of poetry. Heroic poetry, which can be found in the form of an epic or a blend of fantasy and reality, relies on metaphor to create a poem, or a panegyric, exulting the actions of a hero.
October 13, 2020 — Famulus
What does it mean? An assistant or servant, especially one working for a magician or scholar.
Where does it come from? While this noun originates from Latin, where famulus means "servant," it has since evolved to also reference being an assistant. If you are assisting your friend with a task, you might playfully refer to yourself as their famulus.
Did you know? If "famulus" sounds familiar, it might be because this word reminds you of the concept of a familiar — a magical companion often seen alongside witches and magic practitioners. While the most common familiar is the classic black cat, the toad is also a popular choice.
October 14, 2020 — Copse
What does it mean? A small group of trees.
Where does it come from? The Latin word colpus, or “blow,” transitioned into the Old English word "coppice," which described the act of cutting back shrubbery to encourage new growth. Since the new growth often ended up taking over the area, the word was shortened into "copse" to describe the group of trees that resulted.
Did you know? While a copse can be artificially created by growing and maintaining seedlings in a close group, those found in the wild often sprout from the stumps of cut or felled trees. This is why trees within a copse grow so close to each other — often, several new sprouts emerge from the same stump.
October 15, 2020 — Inculcate
What does it mean? “Inculcate” can either mean to “instill (an attitude, idea, or habit) by persistent instruction” or to “teach (someone) an attitude, idea, or habit by persistent instruction.”
Where does it come from? This verb will leave an imprint on your vocabulary; it comes from the Latin word inculcare, which roughly translates as "to tread into." The act of instilling a particular idea, habit, or attitude into another person is similar to leaving a footprint behind in the soft earth — it creates a guide to rely on for future behavior.
Did you know? People wishing to inculcate a certain habit into their lifestyle could hire a personal trainer or ask friends to hold them accountable. Regardless of the means of transmission, people who are attempting to create healthier habits often need instruction and encouragement to keep going.
October 16, 2020 — Prolegomenal
What does it mean? Prefatory, introductory, preliminary.
Where does it come from? "Prolegomenal" was first introduced a mid 19th century issue of The Times, but its origins can be found in the noun "prolegomenon." This word refers to a critical introduction in a book, and originates from the Greek words pro, meaning "before," and legein, or "to say," combining to create a word that means "to say beforehand."
Did you know? You've heard of a prologue before -- but now you can use "prolegomenal" as a way to describe an introduction. If you are a teacher, your syllabus is the prolegomenal piece of your curriculum for your students.
October 17, 2020 — Fugleman
What does it mean? “Fugleman” can either mean “a soldier placed in front of a regiment or company while drilling to demonstrate the motions and time” or “a leader, organizer, or spokesman.”
Where does it come from? "Fugleman" comes from a combination of the German words flügel," meaning "wing," and "mann" (drop the extra “n” in English), making the direct translation, "wingman." This word originally meant the leader of the group, but can also refer to your friend who is there for you through thick and thin.
Did you know? Traditionally, a "fugleman" is a soldier that serves as a guide for the rest of the group. A modern day example of a fugleman is the wingman — a friend who supports you and models actions to follow in your dating endeavors. Love really is a battlefield.
October 18, 2020 — Veridical
What does it mean? “Veridical” can either mean “truthful” or “coinciding with reality.”
Where does it come from? Broken down into its components, "veridical" tells you to say what you mean. It originates from the Latin word veridicus, which means "to say truth."
Did you know? After a vivid dream, you might wonder what was veridical and what was the construct of your sleeping brain. Keep a dream journal to make sense of your most out-there thoughts.
October 19, 2020 — Soubrette
What does it mean? An actress or other female performer playing a lively, flirtatious role in a play or opera.
Where does it come from? "Soubrette" used to refer to a particular character played for comedy relief, but can now also describe a young woman who behaves flirtatiously. This makes sense, as the word originates from the French word soubreto, which means "coy."
Did you know? In opera and other theatrical performances, the soubrette traditionally has been used for comedic relief. A flirty young woman was played as a source of humor, as their intense actions were often considered inappropriate for the time period.
October 20, 2020 — Merino
What does it mean? “Merino” can either mean “a sheep of a breed with long, fine wool” or “a soft woolen or wool-and-cotton material resembling cashmere, originally of merino wool.”
Where does it come from? While this word comes from an 18th century Spanish word, its exact origins are a mystery. You can use the noun (sometimes an adjective) "merino" to refer to a sheep or your sweater and be completely correct both times.
Did you know? A single merino sheep produces a lot of wool in its lifetime — more than 200 pounds, to be exact. The wool is not only cozy, but also wicks up to 30% of its weight in moisture without getting damp.
October 21, 2020 — Limitrophe
What does it mean? “Limitrophe” can either mean “a borderland” or “an immediately neighboring country.”
Where did it come from? "Limitrophe" comes from Middle French. However, its origins might also be traced back to the Latin words limit and trophus, which mean "limit" and "supporting," respectively.
Did you know? Sometimes the limitrophes between countries can get tricky. Baarle, a town on the border of the Netherlands and Belgium, is divided into several enclaves that belong to either country — making a simple stroll no small task.
October 22, 2020 — Terrine
What does it mean? “Terrine” can either mean “a meat, fish, or vegetable mixture that has been cooked or otherwise prepared in advance and allowed to cool or set in its container, typically served in slices” or “a container used for a terrine, typically of an oblong shape and made of earthenware.”
Where does it come from? In its original French, "terrine" was written as terrin and referred to a large earthenware pot where food items were stored. Think of it as an ancient version of your favorite mason jars.
Did you know? A terrine dish can also be referred to as a pâté. This French dish translates to "paste," and is made by grinding ingredients into a spreadable paste that can be served with bread, crackers, or whatever the diner prefers.
October 23, 2020 — Georgic
What does it mean? Rustic; pastoral.
Where does it come from? "Georgic" comes from the Greek word geōrgos, which means farmer. Since farmers often live in rural areas, it makes sense that this eventually evolved into a description of rustic areas.
Did you know? If you are looking for beautiful georgic views, try visiting a rural area. Areas are denoted as rural based on their low population density, but fewer people often means more untouched displays of natural beauty — along with quaint towns, hamlets, and villages.
October 24, 2020 — Conurbation
What does it mean? An extended urban area, typically consisting of several towns merging with the suburbs of one or more cities.
Where does it come from? The Latin words con, meaning "together," and urb, meaning "city," eventually developed into the word "conurbation," which describes multiple neighboring cities or towns grouped together in a region.
Did you know? According to the United Nations, more than half of the world's population lives in an urban area – and that percentage is expected to jump to 70% by 2050. This means more likely than not, you are also a member of a conurbation of some sort.
October 25, 2020 — Lulu
What does it mean? An outstanding example of a particular type of person or thing.
Where does it come from? Not much is known of the origins of the word "lulu." The best guess is it might have begun as slang or as a shortened pet name for the name Louise.
Did you know? If someone is outstanding in their field of practice, then they can be considered a lulu. The Nobel Prize, for example, is awarded to lulus from a variety of different backgrounds, including scientists, writers, and progenitors of peace.
October 26, 2020 — Sororal
What does it mean? Of or like a sister or sisters.
Where does it come from? Sororal originates from the Latin word soror, which means sister. If you are particularly close to a female friend, you might say that you have a sororal relationship.
Did you know? If the word sororal sounds familiar to you, it might be because it reminds you of "sorority." Sororities, first established in the U.S. in 1851, are communities for college-aged women. Members often refer to each other as "sisters."
October 27, 2020 — Quaesitum
What does it mean? That which is sought; the answer to a problem.
Where does it come from? This noun originates from the Latin word quaesītum, or "to seek." When searching for a quaesitum to a particular conundrum, you may have to seek out clues to help you come to the right conclusion.
Did you know? People love reading about characters discovering a quaesitum; the world's best-selling author of all time, Agatha Christie, is well-known for her "whodunit" mystery novels.
October 28, 2020 — Mien
What does it mean? A person's look or manner, especially one of a particular kind indicating their character or mood.
Where does it come from? "Mien" most likely originated from the French word mine, which means "expression." It might also be a shortened form of the word "demeanor," which describes your general bearing.
Did you know? People who speak in American Sign Language are experts at utilizing different miens. Since the language doesn't use sound, body language and facial expression are important to successfully convey something to an audience.
October 29, 2020 — Subitaneous
What does it mean? “Subitaneous” can either mean “that occurs or is manifested suddenly, spontaneously, or in haste; sudden, hasty, unexpected” or “of an egg (of certain invertebrates): hatching very soon after being laid, without a period of dormancy.”
Where does it come from? This noun comes from the classical Latin word subitāneus, which means "sudden." Any situation, thought, or action that is unexpected can be considered subitaneous in nature.
Did you know? Mathematician Archimedes is the master of the subitaneous idea. Archimedes was struck by sudden inspiration for a difficult math problem. Overjoyed, he ran through the streets of Greece shouting, Eureka! — Greek for "I have found it!"
October 30, 2020 — Moiety
What does it mean? “Moiety” can either mean “each of two parts into which a thing is or can be divided” or “a part or portion, especially a lesser share.”
Where does it come from? Moiety meets in the middle of languages, Middle English and Old French, to be exact. However, its roots are in Latin, from the word medius, which means "middle."
Did you know? If you are a mediator, you might already be an expert in dividing a moiety. Mediators are specially trained in helping people come to a mutual agreement, whether dividing an inheritance or simply dividing a cake.
October 31, 2020 — Grimoire
What does it mean? A book of magic spells and invocations.
Where does it come from? This noun comes from an alteration to the French word "grammaire," or "grammar." Could grammarians be wizards? Their mastery over language might indicate that they are.
Did you know? Grimoires have been present throughout much of ancient and modern history. These books — a mixture of spells, conjurations, and secret knowledge — are closely entwined with religion, the growth of printed media, and a burgeoning interest in science.