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Word of the Week: Cabal

Word: cabal

Pronunciation: kə-BAHL / kə-BAL

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: a secret political clique or faction

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Continuing from last week’s vocabulary post, here’s another new word I learned from playing Destiny 2. The story campaign of the game centers around an attack on humanity by a hostile alien army, led by a warlord whose goal is to steal the “Traveler’s Light”, a gift of enlightenment to the human race, and keep it for himself. Given the tightly knit organization of its army, the political motives that drive its leader’s actions, and the negative connotation of the word itself, I’d say “Cabal” was an appropriate choice of name for this alien race!

A “cabal” is a secret political faction or clique. The word arose in the late 16th century and traces back through the French noun cabale to the Latin noun cabala. This noun derives from the Hebrew noun kabala, meaning “something received” or “tradition”.

According to Wikipedia, a more complete definition of “cabal” is “a group of people united in some close design together, usually to promote their private views or interests in an ideology, state, or other community, often by intrigue, usually unbeknown to persons outside their group”. The word originates from the name Kabbalah (one of several different spellings of the word), which refers to the Jewish mystical interpretation of Hebrew scripture. Today, the word carries a heavy negative connotation of secretiveness and insidious influence, and is frequently associated with conspiracy theories. If your characters are part of a secret group with shady political goals, you might have fun writing about the “cabal” in your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

Word of the Week: Philomath

Word: philomath

Pronunciation: FI-lə-math

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: a lover of learning; a student or scholar, especially of mathematics, natural philosophy, etc.

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Here’s an interesting word that I’ve recently picked up from two very different sources: the productivity app Habitica and the sci-fi action role-playing game Destiny 2. The Habitica blog mentioned today’s Word of the Week in a post featuring guilds dedicated to learning and studying, while Destiny 2 uses it in the name of one of its Warlock armor sets (Warlocks in this world being akin to scholars). Of course, regardless of whether I read it in a blog post or a video game, I know I can easily identify with this word; my whole life, I’ve always been a “philomath”!

A “philomath” is someone who loves to learn, especially such academic subjects as philosophy and mathematics. The word arose in the early 17th century and comes from the Greek noun philomathḗs, meaning “fond of learning”. This noun comprises two roots: the adjective phílos “loving” and the verb manthánō “to learn”.

The word “philomath” is considered a historical term and has an interesting background as a pseudonym: King James VI and I created the character Philomathes to represent one side of a philosophical dialogue in his dissertation Daemonologie, while Benjamin Franklin used Philomath os one of his many pen names. According to Oxford Dictionaries, this word was once used specifically as a term for an astrologer or prognosticator, but this definition has since become obsolete. Note that “philomath” should not be confused with “philosophy”, as the former refers to learning while the latter refers to wisdom. If your characters love to learn, you can have plenty of fun writing about a “philomath” or two in your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

Word of the Week: Anathema

Word: anathema

Pronunciation: ə-NA-thə-mə

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: something or someone that one vehemently dislikes

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


George: Students can’t clean. It’s anathema. [Jerry looks confused] …They don’t like it.

Jerry: How long have you been waiting to squeeze that into a conversation?

Seinfeld (Season 2, Episode 6 – The Statue)

Yep, it’s another word from Seinfeld! I’m sure we all know someone who will occasionally learn a new word and sit on it until they finally find the right moment to show it off in conversation (even if they don’t always get it right). In George’s case, that moment is during a conversation with Jerry about the grad student who’s coming to clean the apartment. Although Jerry’s response focuses on the unusual word itself, George may have a point; messy dorm rooms everywhere attest to the idea that cleaning is “anathema” to students!

“Anathema” refers to someone or something that one vehemently dislikes. The word arose in the early 16th century as an ecclesiastical Latin noun meaning “excommunication”. This noun stems from the Greek noun anáthema “accursed thing”, which in turn derives from the verb anatíthēmi “to set upon”.

Aside from its first definition, “anathema” can be used in a more specific context as a word for “a formal curse by a pope or a council of the Church, excommunicating a person or denouncing a doctrine”. It can also function as a literary term meaning “a strong curse”. Interestingly, while the original Greek noun referred simply to an offering, the word was later influenced by the Hebrew noun herem “excommunication”, leading to the modern word’s negative connotation. If there are certain people or things your characters really don’t like, you may find a good use for “anathema” in your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

Word of the Week: Multifarious

Word: multifarious

Pronunciation: məl-tə-FE-ree-əs

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: many and of various types

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Continuing from last week’s vocabulary entry, today’s Word of the Week is another word brought to my attention by Judith from I Choose How I Will Spend the Rest of My Life. Honestly, I found this one just as interesting as the first, if not more, which is hardly surprising given how many different topics I’ve covered on my blog and how many colorful descriptions I’ve used in my fiction. By all accounts, my interests are certainly “multifarious”!

“Multifarious” describes any group of things that are numerous and consist of various types. Similarly, “multifarious” can also describe a single thing with several varied aspects or parts. The word arose in the late 16th century and comes from the Latin adjective multifarius, meaning “manyfold”.

When including the word “multifarious” in your writing, note that its primary definition is mostly synonymous with “various” (as in “various things”) while its secondary meaning is more synonymous with “diversified” (as in “a diversified group”). In Law, it refers to “a lawsuit in which either party or various causes of action are improperly joined together in the same suit” (more commonly known as a “misjoinder”). To extend the word’s function, you can also use its derivative forms: the adverb “multifariously” and the noun “multifariousness”. If you tend to describe things that come in a wide variety, “multifarious” may be a good word for your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

Word of the Week: Ineluctable

Word: ineluctable

Pronunciation: in-ə-LƏK-tə-b(ə)l

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: unable to be resisted or avoided; inescapable

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Today’s Word of the Week was suggested by Judith from I Choose How I Will Spend the Rest of My Life. She actually provided several words, all of which I found interesting, so expect to see at least one more of them appear in my vocabulary segment. When I think about it, it’s funny how well today’s word describes my approach to vocabulary; for me, the lure of an interesting new word is simply “ineluctable”!

“Ineluctable” describes something that can’t be avoided, resisted, or escaped. The word arose in the early 17th century and comes from the Latin adjective ineluctabilis, meaning “from which there is no escape”. This adjective comprises the prefix in- “not” and the verb eluctari “to struggle out.”

Though I’d never heard the word “ineluctable” before Judith suggested it for this segment, I’m sure it could easily be used as a substitute for such synonyms as “inevitable”, “irresistible”, and “inescapable”. If you want to broaden the word’s use in your writing, you can also use its derivative forms: the noun “ineluctability” and the adverb “ineluctably”. If your characters often run into situations they simply cannot avoid or resist, you may have fun writing about their “ineluctable” predicaments!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

Word of the Week: Hegemony

Word: hegemony

Pronunciation: hə-JE-mə-nee / HE-jə-moh-nee

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: leadership or dominance, especially by one country or social group over others

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


So funny story: the other day I stumbled upon a reminder to write a Word of the Week entry for today’s vocabulary word, but I neglected to add a note about where I first learned it. I want to say it’s another word I picked up from a game in the Elevate – Brain Training app, but it could just as easily have come from a recent political article. In any case, if it isn’t the latter, it very well could be soon; I wouldn’t be surprised if shifting perceptions of “hegemony” became the next hot topic of debate!

“Hegemony” is a form of dominance or leadership, typically of a state or social group over others. The word arose in the mid 16th century and comes from the Greek noun hēgemonía, meaning “leadership”. This noun stems from the noun hēgemṓn “leader”, which in turn derives from the verb hēgéomai “to lead”.

While “hegemony” refers specifically to political states or groups in formal contexts, it can just as frequently refer to the dominance of a certain social group over another, though it’s worth noting that this form of rule stipulates a level of consent from the subordinate group as opposed to dominance by pure force. If you want to expand this word’s use, you can also use the related noun “hegemon”, meaning “a supreme leader”. If your characters are divided into dominant and submissive groups on any scale, “hegemony” may be a good word to use in your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

Word of the Week: Parsimony

Word: parsimony

Pronunciation: PAHR-sə-moh-nee

Part of Speech: noun

Definition:

  1. extreme unwillingness to spend money or use resources
  2. the scientific principle that things are usually connected or behave in the simplest or most economical way

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Fun fact: today’s Word of the Week features another word I learned through its secondary meaning in science. While studying phylogenetics in grad school, I learned about different approaches to building and analyzing evolutionary trees, one of which involves inferring the fewest possible changes in a species’ history. It’s easy to see why this scientific criterion is so popular; when it comes to tracing evolution, you can hardly get any simpler than “parsimony”!

“Parsimony” is an extreme unwillingness to use resources or spend money. In science, it refers to the principle that things are connected or behave in the simplest way. The word arose in late Middle English and comes from the Latin noun parsimonia, meaning “frugality”. This noun stems from the verb parcere, which means “to spare”.

When working this word into your fiction, note that its primary definition is synonymous with “cheapness” and “penny-pinching”, while its second definition is often used interchangeably with “Occam’s razor“, a similar principle which states that “in explaining a thing, no more assumptions should be made than are necessary”. If you’re looking for an adjective to describe people guilty of “parsimony”, you can also use “parsimonious” alongside such words as “miserly” and “selfish”. If your characters are extremely stingy (or happen to be evolutionary biologists), “parsimony” may be an excellent word to add to your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

Word of the Week: Penumbra

Word: penumbra

Pronunciation: pə-NƏM-brə

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: the partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Continuing from last week’s theme of the total solar eclipse, today’s Word of the Week features a related word also used as an astronomy term. While a small portion of the U.S. was in the path of the totality, most viewers were only able to see a partial eclipse at its peak. Still, the whole event was quite the experience, even for those of us who only got to view it from the “penumbra”!

“Penumbra” refers to the partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object, typically by the moon or the Earth during an eclipse. The word arose in the mid 17th century and is a modern Latin noun meaning “partial shadow”. This noun comprises two roots: the adverb paene “almost” and the noun umbra “shadow”.

Similar to “umbra”, “penumbra” can also be used as a different astronomy term for “the less dark outer part of a sunspot, surrounding the dark core”. The word can also function as a figurative term for an area of uncertainty between mutually exclusive states or an area on the edge of something. If you’re writing about an eclipse or want to refer to any sort of shadowy area, “penumbra” is a good word to consider for your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

Word of the Week: Umbra

Word: umbra

Pronunciation: ƏM-brə

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: the fully shaded inner region of a shadow cast by an opaque object, especially the area on the earth or moon experiencing the total phase of an eclipse

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Today’s the big day of the total solar eclipse! If you’re in the United States, you’ll have a chance to see at least a partial eclipse from wherever you are, so be sure to check NASA’s timetable of viewing times for your location (or if you’re anywhere else in the world, be sure to catch NASA’s live stream)! In the meantime, here’s a new vocabulary word to celebrate this rare event! Most of us here in the U.S. will get to see part of the eclipse, but only the lucky few total eclipse viewing areas will be in the path of the “umbra”!

“Umbra” refers to the fully shaded inner region of a shadow cast by an opaque object, typically the area on the moon or the Earth experiencing the total phase of an eclipse. The word arose in the late 16th century and was originally used to denote a ghost or phantom. This noun stems from the Latin noun umbra, meaning “shadow” or “shade”.

Aside from its primary meaning, “umbra” is a literary term for “shadow” or “darkness”, while in astronomy, it can also refer to “the dark central part of a sunspot”. You may remember the Latin root umbra from another word I’ve written about before, which also means “to overshadow”. If you’re writing about an eclipse or simply want to work a more literary word for “shadow” into your stories, “umbra” is a good word to include in your vocabulary!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

Word of the Week: Vituperate

Word: vituperate

Pronunciation: və-TYOO-pə-rayt / vy-T(Y)OO-pə-rayt

Part of Speech: verb

Definition: blame or insult (someone) in strong or violent language

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Time for another vocabulary word from the Elevate – Brain Training app! This is another word I picked up from the Association game, in which the player must match a given word to one of four possible synonyms. Though I failed to correctly match this word to the verb “insult”, I couldn’t blame myself for not knowing what it meant because I’d never heard it before. After all, it’s much simpler to “blame” someone angrily than to “vituperate” them!

To “vituperate” someone is to insult or blame them in violent or strong language. The word arose in the mid 16th century and comes from the Latin verb vituperare, meaning “to blame” or “to scold”. This verb comprises two roots: the noun vitium “fault” and the verb parare “to prepare”.

Interestingly, while “vituperate” sounds similar to “vitriolic“, these words actually have different roots, the former’s being “fault” and the latter’s being “acid”. Note that “vituperate” is considered archaic, so you may want to limit its use to more old-fashioned contexts, along with its noun form “vituperator”. If your characters often blame or insult each other in a highly hostile manner, “vituperate” may be a good word to consider for your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

About J.C. Wolfe

J.C. Wolfe is a fiction writer, biologist, and aspiring novelist of science fantasy and romance. A natural-born American and graduate in Marine Ecology from a university in Brazil, J.C. now writes for a living in California while spending free time blogging and penning stories and poetry.

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