Learn A Word A Day
1. segue \SEG-way; SAYG-way\ , intransitive verb:
1. To proceed without interruption; to make a smooth transition.
1. An instance or act of segueing; a smooth transition.
The gratifying thing about McCourt is that he can drop his professional character act and segue into a smart, emotionally direct conversation faster than you can say “Top o’ the morning.”
— “Malachy Mccourt: How a Rogue Becomes a Saint”, New York Times, July 29, 1998
A melody will start innocuously enough, then segue into the inevitable buildup, with swelling strings and bursting brass.
— “Woe to Shows That Put On Operatic Airs”, New York Times, July 20, 1997
Addie later recalled her host’s charming segue to topics more pleasant.
— Gary Kinder, Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea
Segue is from the Italian, meaning “there follows,” from seguire, “to follow,” from Latin sequi.
2. palimpsest \PAL-imp-sest\ , noun:
1. A manuscript, usually of papyrus or parchment, on which more than one text has been written with the earlier writing incompletely erased and still visible.
2. An object or place whose older layers or aspects are apparent beneath its surface.
The manuscript is a palimpsest consisting of vellum leaves from which the “fluent and assured script” of the original Archimedes text and 55 diagrams had been washed or scraped off so that the surface could be used for new writings.
— Roger Highfield, “Eureka! Archimedes text is to be sold at auction”, Daily Telegraph, October 3, 1998
Each is a palimpsest, one improvisation partly burying another but leaving hints of it behind.
— Robert Hughes, “Delight for Its Own Sake”, Time, January 22, 1996
It’s a mysterious many-layered palimpsest of a metropolis where generations of natives and visitors have left their mark, from Boadicea and the Romans, through the Middle Ages and the Elizabethan era to the present.
— Philip French, “Jack the knife”, The Observer, February 10, 2002
Palimpsest is from Latin palimpsestus, from Greek palimpsestos, “scraped or rubbed again,” from palin, “again” + psen, “to rub (away).”
3. bete noire \bet-NWAHR\ , noun:
Something or someone particularly detested or avoided; a bugbear.
Even more regrettable, as far as Dame Edna is concerned, is the presence of her oldbete noire, the extravagantly disgusting Sir Les Patterson.
— “The Dame’s New Man”, Daily Telegraph, April 18, 1998
Never an exceptional student, Andrews somehow managed to navigate the academy’s rigorous courses with satisfactory grades, though all forms of mathematics were agonizing to him, remaining what he called his “bete noire” throughout life.
— Charles Gallenkamp, Dragon Hunter: Roy Chapman Andrews and the Central Asiatic Expeditions
Bête noire is French for “black beast.”
4. farrago \fuh-RAH-go; fuh-RAY-go\ , noun:
A confused mixture; an assortment; a medley.
Ivan Illich writes “a farrago of sub-Marxist cliches, false analogies, non sequiturs, false or bent facts and weird prophesies.”
— “The Paul Johnson Enemies List”, New York Times, September 18, 1977
Roy Hattersley will upset much of Scotland by calling Walter Scott’s lvanhoe “afarrago of historical nonsense combined with maudlin romance.”
— “Literary classics panned by critics”, Independent, January 18, 1999
From the moment the story of the Countess of Wessex and the Sheikh of Wapping broke, there has been a farrago of rumour, speculation and fantasy of which virtually every newspaper should be ashamed.
— Roy Greenslade, “A sting in the tale”, The Guardian, April 9, 2001
Farrago comes from the Latin farrago, “a mixed fodder for cattle,” hence “a medley, a hodgepodge,” from far, a sort of grain.
5. expatiate \ek-SPAY-shee-ayt\ , intransitive verb:
1. To speak or write at length or in considerable detail.
2. To move about freely; to wander.
He had told her all he had been asked to tell–or all he meant to tell: at any rate he had been given abundant opportunity to expatiate upon a young man’s darling subject–himself.
— Henry Blake Fuller, Bertram Cope’s Year
At the midday meal on fair day, a large one (meat loaf, boiled potato, broccoli), Mrs. Lucas, married to the man with the earache, expatiates on the difficulties of caring for a parakeet her daughter has unloaded upon her and which, let out of its cage for an airing, has escaped through the door suddenly opened by Mr. Lucas.
— William H. Pritchard, Updike: America’s Man of Letters
His relationship with his family was for many years an unhappy one, and he does not care to expatiate upon it.
— Barbara La Fontaine, “Triple Threat On, Off And Off-Off Broadway”, New York Times, February 25, 1968
Expatiate is from Latin expatiari, “to walk or go far and wide,” from ex-, “out” +spatiari, “to walk about,” from spatium, “space; an open space, a place for walking in.”
6. nadir \NAY-dir; nay-DIR\ , noun:
1. [Astronomy]. The point of the celestial sphere directly opposite the zenith and directly below the observer.
2. The lowest point; the time of greatest depression or adversity.
Exploitation reached a nadir in the 1920s, when high government officials were implicated in a flourishing international slave trade and domestic forced labor.
— Bill Berkeley, The Graves Are Not Yet Full
At the nadir of every recession, business pages fill up with stories of belt-tightening families who move to Vermont and buy their food in bulk.
— Peter T. Kilborn, “Splurge”, New York Times, June 21, 1998
Nadir is derived from Arabic nazir, “opposite.”
7. protean \PRO-tee-un; pro-TEE-un\ , adjective:
1. Displaying considerable variety or diversity.
2. Readily assuming different shapes or forms.
The [Broadway] musical was ceaselessly protean in these years, usually conventional but always developing convention, twisting it, replacing it.
— Ethan Mordden, Coming Up Roses
Roosevelt’s performance in the civil rights meeting illustrated one of the central operating principles of his protean executive style, a style that transformed the presidency, and the nation: a willingness to delay decisions, change his mind, keep his options open, avoid commitments, or even deceive people in the relentless pursuit of noble objectives.
— William Doyle, Inside the Oval Office
He was a protean character who constantly adapted to his environment.
— David Maraniss, The Clinton Enigma
Protean is derived from Proteus, an ancient Greek god who had the ability to change his shape at will.
8. fulsome \FUL-sum\ , adjective:
1. Offensive to the taste or sensibilities.
2. Insincere or excessively lavish; especially, offensive from excess of praise.
He recorded the event in his journal: “Long evening visit from Mr. Langtree–afulsome flatterer.”
— Edward L. Widmer, Young America: The Flowering of Democracy in New York City
Concealed disgust under the appearance of fulsome endearment.
— Oliver Goldsmith, The Citizen of the World
Fulsome is from Middle English fulsom, from full + -som, “-some.”
9. constitutional \kon-stih-TOO-shuhn-uhl; -TYOO-\ , noun:
A walk taken for one’s health.
Kerensky was, I imagine, on his usual early morning constitutional.
— Richard Elman, Namedropping: Mostly Literary Memoirs
“Estha Mon!” he would call out, in his high, piping voice, frayed and fibrous now, like sugarcane stripped of its bark. “Good morning! Your daily constitutional?”
— Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
A constitutional is so called because it is taken for the benefit of one’s constitution.
10. quondam \KWAHN-duhm; KWAHN-dam\ , adjective:
Having been formerly; former; sometime.
A quondam flower child, she spent seven years at the Royal College of Art, before becoming a lecturer at Edinburgh School of Art.
— “Interview: Cool, calm collector”, Independent, December 13, 1997
For the unregenerate “peasant” . . . had gone there with the successful glass distributor, shrewd investor, versatile talker, and quondam bon vivant whose motto was “The best is good enough for me.”
— Ted Solotaroff, Truth Comes in Blows: A Memoir
There was an exception to this in the form of Mrs Edna Parsons, a formidable Englishwoman who had once been the Prince’s nanny and now served as proctor, supervising his behaviour. She was about fifty and true to her quondamprofession, she could be quite strict.
— David Freeman, One of Us
Quondam comes from the Latin quondam, “formerly,” from quom, “when.”