Words of the week


1)    parlous          \PAR-luhs\ ,          adjective:

             Attended with peril; fraught with danger; hazardous.

It was a parlous time on the Continent, when Communists and fascists vied brutally for supremacy.
— Howard Simons, “Shots Seen Round the World”, New York Times, September 22, 1985

The Crisis left Indonesia’s state finances in such a parlous state that the government is now heavily exposed to future risks.
— Penny Crisp and Jose Manuel Tesoro, “The Buck Stops Here”, Asiaweek, July 7, 2000

ORIGIN: Parlous derives from Old French perillous, perilleus, from Latin periculosus, adjective form of periculum, “peril, danger, hazard.”


2)        Modicum         \MOD-ih-kum\ ,           noun:  

               A small or moderate or token amount.

Abraham Lincoln’s childhood education, conducted almost entirely by himself, with only a modicum of schooling, is one of the most familiar stories in American history.
— Douglas L. Wilson, Honor’s Voice

Ruth worked in the sociology department which had a garden in an internal courtyard that gave the place a modicum of charm.
— Gillian Slovo, Every Secret Thing

While he derived a modicum of pleasure from his son’s rambunctiousness, he was also disturbed by it.
— Jonah Raskin, For the Hell of It

ORIGIN: Modicum is from Latin modicus, moderate, from modus, measure.


3)       raillery         \RAY-luh-ree\ ,          noun:  

           1. Good-humored banter or teasing.
           2. An instance of good-humored teasing; a jest.

 I moved from one knot of people to another, surrounded by a kind of envious respect because of Sophie’s interest in me, although subjected to a certain mordantraillery from some of this witty company.

— Peter Brooks, World Elsewhere

Her raillery and mockery are fun — but ultimately rather tiring, and tiresome.
— Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, “Eastward Ho!” review of Shards of Memory, by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, New York Times, September 17, 1995

ORIGIN: Raillery is from French raillerie, from Old French railler, “to tease, to mock.”


4)     Tutelage         \TOO-tuhl-ij; TYOO-\ ,            noun:  

  1. The act of guarding or protecting; guardianship; protection.
  2. The state of being under a guardian or tutor.
  3. Instruction, especially individual instruction accompanied by close attention and guidance.

But he was not yet free of his father’s legal tutelage and had still to decide on a career.

— Roland Huntford, Nansen: The Explorer as Hero

This was the Puerto Rico that the United States invaded on July 25, 1898–a country that wanted political, economic, and social justice, but not colonial tutelage, however well meant.

— Jose Trias Monge, Puerto Rico: The Trials of the Oldest Colony in the World

Many years under my grandfather’s tutelage had made me the best calligrapher in the entire school.

— Da Chen, Colors of the Mountain

Under her tutelage he picks up not only Greek but Hebrew, Arabic and Japanese before moving on to the rest of the major spoken languages and a slew of minor ones.

— Myla Goldberg, “Paternity Suitor”, New York Times, October 15, 2000

ORIGIN: Tutelage is from Latin tutela, “protection; guardian” (from the past participle oftueri, “to watch, to guard”) + the suffix -age.


5)     ineffectual \in-ih-FEK-choo-uhl\ , adjective:  

           Not producing the proper effect; without effect; weak; useless; futile; unavailing.

Rush, the aging black Labrador that had waited patiently outside during lunch, ran joyfully on the beach, splashing in the water, making ineffectual attempts to catch a seagull.

— Annabel Davis-Goff, The Dower House

The case sobered Coley not only because of the speed with which the cancer killed, but because of the crude, puny, and utterly ineffectual obstacles hurled by her doctors to impede its fatal course.

— Stephen S. hall, A Commotion in the Blood

On the one hand, the North Korean leadership resolutely refused to experiment with any serious economic reforms and only dabbled in ineffectual foreign investment legislation.

— Nicholas Eberstadt, The End of North Korea

ORIGIN: Ineffectual ultimately comes from Latin in-, negative prefix + effectus, “effect, result,” from efficere, “to produce, to effect,” from ex, “out of” + facere, “to make.”


6)      Succinct             \suhk-SINGKT\ ,             adjective:  

          Characterized by compressed precise expression with no wasted words; brief; concise.

Susan was many things, and almost all of them wondrous, but she was notsuccinct. I minded this less than I might have, because I loved to listen to her talk.

— Robert B. Parker, Sudden Mischief

Then Colin Powell stepped forward and gave the president the most succinctnational security briefing of Ronald Reagan’s entire presidency. “The world is quiet today, Mr. President,” said Powell.

— Michael Reagan with Jim Denney, The City on a Hill

ORIGIN: Succinct is from Latin succinctus, past participle of succingere, “to gird below or from below, to tuck up,” from sub-, “below, under” + cingere, “to gird.”


7)       perquisite      \PUR-kwuh-zit\ ,          noun:  

  1.   A profit or benefit in addition to a salary or wages.
  2.   Broadly: The benefits of a position or office.
  3.   A gratuity or tip for services performed.
  4.   Anything to which someone has or claims the sole right.

In a tight market for skilled labor . . . corporations are increasingly buying homes for hot new hires — a perquisite once reserved for top executives.

— Jennie James, “For Many Europeans, There’s No Place Like Home”, Time, May 8, 2000

It is a shock to find the master, whom we cannot help thinking of as the greatest gentleman in the history of art, regarding petty larceny as a perquisite of office and diverting the wages of sweepers and cleaners.

— Sir Lawrence Gowing, “Obsessed by Ambition, Saved by Art”, New York Times, August 10, 1986

She is dressed in an inexpensive but stylish outfit, impeccably coordinated gloves, hat, shoes, and matching purse–the sole perquisite of her husband’s hand-to-mouth pattern-cutting job in the ladies garment industry.

— Ann Druyan, “A New Sense of the Sacred”, Humanist, November 2000

After having long been a narrowly aristocratic perquisite, the opportunity for adventurous cuisine was “democratized” in early modern, increasingly capitalistic Europe, by the spreading quest for upward social mobility, imperial service abroad, and thickening networks of social commerce.

— Robert Mccormick Adams, “Introduction: Case Histories”, Social Research, Spring 1999

ORIGIN: Perquisite derives from Medieval Latin perquisitum, from the past participle of Latinperquirere, “to search for eagerly,” from per-, “through, thoroughly” + quaerere, “to seek.” In Middle English it meant “property acquired by means other than inheritance.” By 1565 it had acquired the sense “fringe benefit”; by 1721 it had also come to signify “a tip or gratuity.” 

Source: Dictionary.com

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