Word of the Week: Terraform

Word: terraform

Pronunciation: TE-rə-form

Part of Speech: verb

Definition: transform a planet so as to resemble the earth, especially so that it can support human life

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Earth Day was this past weekend, but I’d still like to acknowledge the date one more time with a related vocabulary word. I learned today’s Word of the Week from watching my boyfriend play Elite: Dangerous, a space exploration game scaled to scientifically accurate proportions. Every once in a while, he discovers a water world on his travels through the galaxy, and scanning it will reveal, among other data, whether the planet can be modified to become habitable. These are naturally the most valuable planets when exchanging data for in-game credits; a world that humans could “terraform” would be the ultimate treasure of space!

To “terraform” a planet would be to transform it to resemble Earth, especially with the purpose of supporting human life. This word was coined in 1942 by the science fiction author Jack Williamson, who first used the term in his short story “Collision Orbit”, published in Astounding Science Fiction magazine. The verb comprises the Latin noun terra “earth” and the suffix -form “having the shape of”.

Given its hypothetical nature, the word “terraform” is especially popular in science fiction, but it does have a place in real science as well. The potential colonization of Mars, for example, is a subject that often ties in with the concept of “terraforming“, as altering the planet’s surface and climate would make it hospitable to human beings. The idea is so fascinating and has so many possibilities, it’s really no wonder that it’s such a popular subject in sci-fi stories and scientific debates alike! If you write science fiction about the transformation and colonization of extraterrestrial worlds, “terraform” is a must-use word for your stories!

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Word of the Week: Prognosticate

Word: prognosticate

Pronunciation: prahɡ-NAH-stə-kayt

Part of Speech: verb

Definition: foretell or prophesy an event in the future

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Today’s vocabulary entry is about another word I happened to pick up from Oxford Dictionaries‘ Word of the Day list. Though I’ve long been familiar with “prognostic” and “prognosis”, it was interesting to stumble upon a verb form of these words. Funny how hard it is for me to “prognosticate” what strange new words will make it into my Word of the Week segment!

To “prognosticate” a future event is to prophesy or foretell it. The word arose in late Middle English and comes from the Latin verb prognosticare, meaning “to make a prediction”. This word traces back through the adjective prognosticus to the Greek adjective prognōstikós “foreknowing”, which in turn comprises the prefix pro- “before” and the adjective gnōstikós “knowing”.

As mentioned above, the verb “prognosticate” is related to the adjective “prognostic” (meaning “serving to predict the likely outcome of a disease or ailment”) and the noun “prognosis” (meaning “the likely course of a disease or ailment”). Note that despite their primary use as medical terms, both these words can function as nouns indicating the prediction of future events, though this sense for “prognostic” has become archaic in modern use. If your characters often make predictions about the future, “prognosticate” may be a good word to add to your vocabulary!

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Word of the Week: Laud

Word: laud

Pronunciation: LAHD

Part of Speech: verb

Definition: praise a person or their achievements highly, especially in a public context

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Here’s another word that’s overdue to appear on my blog, since I learned it a long time ago from studying vocabulary flashcards. Since first reading it years ago, I’ve seen it used several times in reference to people deserving of praise, mostly those in the public eye. When simply “praising” someone isn’t formal enough, you can always “laud” their accomplishments instead!

To “laud” a person or their achievements is to praise them highly, especially in public. The word arose in late Middle English and traces back through the Old French verb laude to the Latin verb laudare, meaning “to praise”. This verb stems from the noun laus, which means “glory”.

Aside from its primary use as a verb, “laud” can also function as a noun to mean “praise” or a “hymn of praise”, though this sense has become archaic in modern language. The word is classified as formal in Oxford Dictionaries, making it most appropriate for formal writing, but I believe it can work just as well in certain stories depending on the author’s writing style. A common derivative of this word is the adjective “laudable”, meaning “deserving praise and commendation”. If your characters’ achievements are often worthy of praise, “laud” may be a good word to include in your vocabulary!

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Word of the Week: Ignominious

Word: ignominious

Pronunciation: ig-nə-MI-nee-əs

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: deserving or causing public disgrace or shame

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


How about a fun new word to kick off the humorous month of April? Have you ever found yourself—or put your characters—in a situation that was more than a little embarrassing? Or perhaps you’ve already overused words like “humiliating” and “mortifying” in your stories and need a new synonym to keep your writing fresh? If so, you may find some use for today’s Word of the Week! When a scenario is too embarrassing or shameful for common adjectives, try calling it “ignominious” instead!

To be “ignominious” is to cause or deserve public shame or disgrace. The word arose in late Middle English and traces back through the French adjective ignominieux to the Latin adjective ignominiosus, meaning “disgraceful”. This adjective stems from the noun ignominia “disgrace”, which in turn comprises two roots: the prefix in- “not” and the noun nomen “name”.

To be honest, the first time I read the word “ignominious”, I assumed it was similar in meaning to the word “ignorant”, though I suppose they aren’t too unrelated, as being the latter can lead to suffering the former. For the funny and ridiculously purple way it sounds, I myself would probably reserve the use of this word to humorous contexts, but I’m sure it can work just as easily, if not more appropriately, in formal writing. If your characters often find themselves in disgraceful and humiliating situations, “ignominious” may be a good word to add to your vocabulary list!

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Word of the Week: Pontificate

Word: pontificate

Pronunciation: pahn-TI-fi-kayt

Part of Speech: verb

Definition: express one’s opinions in a way considered annoyingly pompous and dogmatic

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


You know, maybe if you hadn’t been sitting there pontificating about what a great parker you were, you might have got the space.
– Elaine Benes, Seinfeld (Season 3, Episode 22 – The Parking Space)

Oh yes, I still like to watch Seinfeld reruns from time to time! A few weeks ago, I made a note to write about a word I heard in the parking space episode, when Elaine criticizes George’s pausing to brag about his parking skills as the reason he’s now stuck in a deadlock with Kramer’s friend Mike. She definitely has a point; his inclination to “pontificate” certainly didn’t help him in this situation at all!

To “pontificate” is to express opinions in an irritatingly dogmatic and pompous way. The word arose in late Middle English as a noun, while the verb dates back to the early 19th century. This word comes from the Latin noun pontificatus “the office of pontiff”, which in turn stems from the noun pontifex “high priest”. This noun comprises two roots: the noun pons “bridge” and the verb facere “to make”.

Relating to the Roman Catholic Church, a alternative definition for this verb is to “officiate as bishop”, and the word can also be used as a noun in the sense “the office or period of office of a pope or bishop”. As a verb, “pontificate” likely originated in the sense “to act like a pontiff”, that is, “to express one’s opinions pompously and dogmatically as if they were absolutely correct”. If your characters tend to go on and on about their opinions in the most overbearing and arrogant way possible, “pontificate” may be the next great word you can add to your stories!

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Word of the Week: Meritorious

Word: meritorious

Pronunciation: me-rə-TOHR-ee-əs

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: deserving reward or praise

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Here’s another new word I picked up from a Dictionary.com Word of the Day entry. As we continue through National Women’s History Month, it’s worth writing about a word that accurately describes the amazing people we celebrate in March. For all their value and hard work over generations, the efforts of women are indeed “meritorious”!

To be “meritorious” is to deserve praise or reward. The word arose in late Middle English and comes from the Latin adjective meritorius, meaning “hired”. This adjective stems from the adjective meritus “deserved”, which in turn derives from the verb merere “to earn”.

Although I haven’t yet used it myself, I assume the word “meritorious” can be used to describe people as much as actions, though the latter seems to be more common. Naturally, an easy way to remember its definition is by the root word “merit”, which means “the quality of being particularly good or worthy”. In North American English, this adjective can also be used in Law to describe an action or claim, in the sense “likely to succeed on the merits of the case”. If you write characters who are worthy of reward and praise for their efforts, “meritorious” may be a good word to keep on your vocabulary list!

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