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Word of the Week: Kakistocracy

Word: kakistocracy

Pronunciation: ka-ki-STAH-krə-see

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: government by the least suitable or competent citizens of a state

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Happy Presidents’ Day! To celebrate, here’s a new political word to add to your vocabulary. Yes, I know I said I don’t like getting political on my blog, but with so many interesting words floating around my news feeds these days, I couldn’t pass up the chance to feature a few more of them in my Word of the Week segment! Don’t ask me where I found this one (not that it isn’t obvious); I just thought it was so eye-catching that I had to write about it here. It’s definitely relevant for many people this year; I’m sure none of us expected to be faced with the possibility of a “kakistocracy” in our lifetimes!

A “kakistocracy” is a government run by the least competent or suitable citizens of a state. The word arose in English in the early 19th century and was coined by English author Thomas Love Peacock as an antonym for “aristocracy” (in the sense “government of a state by its best citizens”). This noun comprises two Ancient Greek roots: the adjective kákistos “worst” and the noun krátos “power”.

Whenever I read the word “kakistocracy”, the first image that comes to mind is a dystopian society. What else would you expect from a government run by the least qualified people imaginable? The word certainly seems fitting for fiction about states on the verge of collapse, though it’s more terrifying to think it’s becoming common in nonfiction media. If your story is set in a world run by an incompetent government, you may have created your own “kakistocracy”!

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

Word of the Week: Enamor

Word: enamor

Pronunciation: i-NA-mər / e-NA-mər

Part of Speech: verb

Definition: be filled with a feeling of love for

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Romance writers will surely be familiar with today’s Word of the Week. Of course, you’ve probably read it most often in the passive voice, that is, as something you are rather than something you do. It’s a popular word in romance for sure; what better inspiration is there for love stories than the types of people who “enamor” us?

To “enamor” someone is to cause them to fall in love, while to be “enamored” with/of/by someone is to be filled with a feeling of love for them. The word arose in Middle English and comes from the Old French verb enamourer, meaning “to fall in love”. This verb comprises the prefix en- “in” and the noun amour “love”.

If you love writing romance (like I do), “enamored” is probably a common word in your stories. It can be used in the sense of feeling romantic love for a person as well as “having a liking or admiration for” a place or thing. On the other hand, I’ve never seen the word “enamor” used in its active form, which means to captivate or make someone fall in love. Still, feel free to use it however you see fit! If you tend to write stories about characters falling head over heels for each other, “enamor” is a good word to keep on your list! Happy Valentine’s Day!

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

Word of the Week: Maudlin

Word: maudlin

Pronunciation: MAHD-lən

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: self-pityingly or tearfully sentimental

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Here’s an interesting word I stumbled across a few weeks ago. I can’t remember exactly where I read it, just that it caught my attention for how poetic it sounded. I don’t usually care for tragic words, but some may consider it fitting for February due to the impending pressure of Valentine’s Day. Here’s hoping you don’t find yourself feeling “maudlin” this month!

To be “maudlin” is to be tearfully or self-pityingly sentimental. The word arose in late Middle English as a noun denoting Mary Magdalene and comes from the Old French name Madeleine. This name derives from the ecclesiastical Latin name Magdalena, also a reference to Mary Magdalene.

It’s easy to see how this adjective evolved from the image of Mary Magdalene, as she was often depicted weeping in religious art. The North American entry for this word in Oxford Dictionaries includes “often through drunkenness” in its definition, though this needn’t necessarily be the cause of such emotion. If your characters ever find themselves in a deep state of self pity or excessive sentimentality, you may want to consider including the word “maudlin” in your stories!

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

Word of the Week: Iconoclast

Word: iconoclast

Pronunciation: ai-KAH-nə-klast

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Here’s a word that’s made it on many vocabulary prep lists, or at least the ones I’ve studied. I remember always being intrigued by this word when I came across it in my flashcard stacks because it sounded so unusual and poetic. Of course, its definition isn’t quite as lyrical as its tone might suggest; I’d be interested in reading about an “iconoclast”, but not in being one!

An “iconoclast” is someone who criticizes or attacks cherished institutions or beliefs. The word arose in the mid 17th century in the sense “destroyer of religious figures” and comes from the Greek noun eikonoklástēs, meaning “breaker of images”. This noun in turn comprises the noun eikṓn “figure” and the verb klázō “to break”.

Aside from its primary definition, “iconoclast” can also refer to “a destroyer of images used in religious worship”. Oxford Dictionaries’ entry lists two historical examples as sub-definitions: 1) “a supporter of the 8th- and 9th-century movement in the Byzantine Church that sought to abolish the veneration of icons and other religious images”, and 2) “a Puritan of the 16th or 17th century”. If you’ve created a character who attacks or criticizes certain religious beliefs, institutions, or images, you’re definitely writing an “iconoclast” into your stories!

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

Word of the Week: Excoriate

Word: excoriate

Pronunciation: ik-SKO-ree-ayt / ek-SKO-ree-ayt

Part of Speech: verb

Definition: censure or criticize severely

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Have you ever witnessed someone say or do something so ridiculously stupid that to “criticize” them just wasn’t enough? Maybe you feel you’ve overused words like “censure” and “condemn” in your writing and find yourself looking for a fresh alternative. If so, you’re in luck, because just this month I learned a new word that addressed this same issue for me, a word that instantly caught my eye as an interesting potential addition to my vocabulary list. When people act far too dully for ordinary criticism, it may be time to “excoriate” them instead!

To “excoriate” someone is to criticize or censure them severely. The word arose in late Middle English and comes from the Latin verb excoriare, meaning “to skin”. This verb in turn consists of the preposition ex “out of” and the noun corium “hide”.

Though I wasn’t yet familiar with “excoriate”, the tone of the word and the context in which I saw it made it easy to understand from the moment I first read it. It’s worth noting that “excoriate” has a more formal connotation that “criticize”, so you may want to spare it for narrative writing over dialogue. If your characters tend to censure each other in the sharpest manner possible, “excoriate” could be an excellent addition to your vocabulary list!

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

Word of the Week: Inauguration

Word: inauguration

Pronunciation: i-nah-ɡ(y)ə-RAY-sh(ə)n

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: the beginning or introduction of a system, policy, or period

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Was there any other word I could have chosen for today’s Word of the Week? Being American and a blogger only since April 2013, this is the first opportunity I’ve had to write about this word while it’s relevant to current events. The event in question has been in the news for weeks, what the entire campaign of 2016 has been leading up to, and now it’s only days away: the “inauguration” of the next U.S. President!

An “inauguration” is the introduction or beginning of a period, system, or policy. The word is the noun form of the verb “inaugurate” (meaning to “begin or introduce a system, policy, or period”), which arose in the late 16th century and comes from the Latin verb inaugurare, meaning “to interpret omens from the flight of birds”. This verb consists of the preposition in “within” and the verb augurare “to predict”.

The history of the word “inauguration” dates as far back as Ancient Rome, when Roman priests would interpret through rituals and bird flight patterns if the gods deemed a public official worthy of assuming office. Notably, aside from its primary meaning, “inauguration” also has two sub-definitions. The first is “the formal admission of someone to office”, which applies to the aforementioned political event. The second is “a ceremony to mark the beginning of something”, such as the opening of a building or recreational area. If you like to write about the beginning of an era or the grand opening of a new facility, you could have fun creating a good “inauguration” scene for your stories!

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

Word of the Week: Emolument

Word: emolument

Pronunciation: ə-MAHL-yə-mənt

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: a salary, fee, or profit from employment or office

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

You may recall seeing today’s Word of the Week floating around the news a while back. A few months ago, some controversy in American politics likely sent a handful of people to the dictionary (myself included) to better understand the Title of Nobility Clause of the United States Constitution. Having done some research on the subject, I can understand why this was such a hot topic: we don’t want a president who’s going to be in violation of the “Emoluments” Clause from day one!

An “emolument” is a profit, salary, or fee from office or employment. The word arose in late Middle English and comes from the Latin noun emolumentum, meaning “advantage” or “benefit”. This noun derives from the verb emolere “to grind up”, which in turn consists of the preposition e- “throughout” and the verb molere “to grind”.

The original meaning of “emolument” in Latin was probably “payment to a miller for grinding grain”, hence its root in the Latin word for “grind”. This word is considered formal and is typically used in the plural form “emoluments”, as in the above example from the U.S. Constitution. If your stories include details about businesses and earnings from employment, “emolument” may be a good word to add to your vocabulary!

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

Word of the Week: Surreal

Word: surreal

Pronunciation: sə-REE-əl

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: having the qualities of surrealism; bizarre

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson

Happy New Year! It’s the first Word of the Week of 2017, and since I ended 2016’s vocabulary segment with Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year, I figured it would be fun to start this year with Merriam-Webster‘s. This word was chosen for having been looked up far more often in the last year than in previous years, especially after certain significant events, and I couldn’t agree more: 2016 was an incredibly “surreal” year!

“Surreal” refers to anything that displays the qualities of Surrealism, that is, what is bizarre and irrational in nature. The word arose in the 1930s as a back-formation of the noun “surrealism”, defined as “a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind”. This noun derives from the French noun surréalisme, which comprises two roots: the prefix sur- “over” and the Latin adjective realis “actual”.

For years, “surreal” has been a favorite adjective of mine for describing things I find unbelievable or particularly unusual. Merriam-Webster defines the word as “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream”, a quality that defines the distinct style of the surrealist art movement. If the details in your stories tend to challenge the limits of reality, you may be set to create some interestingly “surreal” art in 2017!

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

Word of the Week: Post-Truth

Word: post-truth

Pronunciation: pohst-TROOTH

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

It’s finally the end of 2016, and while I usually take this final week to write about an uplifting word to close the year’s Word of the Week segment, this year I decided to shake things up by featuring Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year. After a long and tumultuous year in which emotions have run high and too much fake news has been mixed in with real news, it’s really no surprise that a relevant vocabulary word was chosen to sum it all up. Regardless of which side of history you find yourself on, one thing is certain: we’ve already long been living in a “post-truth” world!

“Post-truth” is a political term that refers to circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to personal belief and emotion. The word comprises the prefix “post” (in the sense “belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant”) and the noun “truth” (“the state of being true”). The term in its current definition was likely coined in 1992 by the Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich, having first appeared in an essay he wrote for The Nation magazine, while the contemporary phrase “post-truth politics” surfaced in 2010 in a Grist magazine column by blogger David Roberts.

Simply put, “post-truth” politics is a political culture in which facts are not as important as feelings. While some people and media outlets contest and falsify truth, “post-truth” refers to a phenomenon in which truth is rendered of secondary importance to appeals to emotion. The term is considered contemporary and is largely associated with social media, though the concept likely dates much farther back than the Internet; George Orwell, for example, incorporated the idea of a “post-truth” state in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. If the characters in your stories tend to let truth take a back seat to emotion, you may already be creating a “post-truth” world of your own!

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

Word of the Week: Magnanimous

Word: magnanimous

Pronunciation: maɡ-NA-nə-məs

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: very generous or forgiving, especially toward a rival or someone less powerful than oneself

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

The holiday season is upon us once more, and you know what that means: time for a vocabulary word about the giving spirit! Last year I wrote about the word “munificent“, an adjective for describing gifts or sums of money that are more generous than is usual or necessary. This year, I chose another word for generosity, this time including the virtue of forgiveness. Those who can find it in their hearts to show kindness to their adversaries are “magnanimous” people indeed!

To be “magnanimous” is to be extremely forgiving and generous, particularly toward rivals or others less powerful than oneself. The word arose in the mid 16th century and comes from the Latin adjective magnanimus, meaning “generous” or “noble in spirit”. This adjective comprises the adjective magnus “great” and the noun animus “soul”.

“Magnanimous” is a word I’m sure we’ve all heard at one time or another, though how it’s usually used is another matter. It seems to be such a popular word for generosity that I’m sure I’ve heard it at least once in a sarcastic sense to describe someone whose altruism could be seen as exaggerated, though this is likely still an exception to the traditional sense of the word. A notable related word is “magnanimity“, the virtue of being great of mind and heart, which is generally considered a synonym of “generosity”. If your characters are giving and forgiving toward everyone, especially toward their rivals or people of lower rank, you certainly have some “magnanimous” acts to write about in your stories! Good luck, and Happy Holidays!

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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