Posts tagged ‘Webster’s New World Dictionary’

Word Nerd Wednesday: An Epic Rant


I promised an epic rant, and here it is, fellow Word Nerds. I was on Facebook yesterday for just a few minutes, and not once, not twice, but THREE times did a post refer to its topic as “epic.”

I don’t even remember what they were specifically. (You’d think I’d remember, if truly they were epic, wouldn’t you?) But I’ve recently seen epic dance moves, epic failures, epic pranks, epic comebacks, epic this, epic that.

Apparently we have an epic amount of epic things happening in this epic period of our epic history.

It’s all about social media. (Social media is so easy to blame, yes? So easy to forget that if the enemy is social media, the enemy is…us!)

Remember when everything was “cool?” (Back before everything was “hot.”) Our clothes were cool. Our music was cool. Our friends were cool. Even our schools were cool, right? Meanwhile, our parents rolled their eyes and wondered if we’d lost our vocabulary.

Think about it. Everything on social media is cool, or the poster wouldn’t bother to post it. So how do you set your cool post apart from the others?

You need something bigger than cool. Bigger than hot.

You need epic.

Here’s the problem: Does anyone even know what epic means? Epic comes from the Greek, epikos/epos meaning “word, story, poem.” Yep. Like the Odyssey, or Beowulf. The Online Etymology Dictionary adds: “Extended sense of ‘grand, heroic’ first recorded in English 1731.”

Is a dance move, or a prank really grand or heroic? Adventurous on the scale of Odysseus or Frodo Baggins or, even the Revolutionary War?

There’s the crux of my rant.

If everything is labeled epic, where do we go from here? What’s bigger than “epic?”

If we overuse a word, doesn’t it lose its meaning?

Oh, let’s use epic, but let’s use it for epic things!

Here’s the definition from Daniel Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:
EP’IC, a. [L. epicus; Gr. a song, or to speak.] Narrative; containing narration; rehearsing. An epic poem, otherwise called heroic, is a poem which narrates a story, real or fictitious or both, representing, in an elevated style, some signal action or series of actions and events, usually the achievements of some distinguished hero, and intended to form the morals and affect the mind with the love of virtue. The matter of the poem includes the action of the fable, the incidents, episodes, characters, morals and machinery. The form includes the manner of narration, the discourses introduced, descriptions, sentiments, style, versification, figures and other ornaments. The end is to improve the morals, and inspire a love of virtue, bravery and illustrious actions.

[epic. 2014. In Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language.        Retrieved April 2, 2014, from

Let’s keep epic epic!

Fight on, fellow Word Nerds, fight on!

And, please share in the comments words that you see overused.



(N.B.: I followed through with the epikos spelling of the Greek root word, simply because the Greek language does not have a letter c. Webster used an Americanized version. Also, though Webster does not list the use of epic as an adjective, it is listed as such in my Webster’s New World College Dictionary: “having the nature of an epic poem…heroic; grand; majestic; imposing”)

Word Nerd Poll: NERD

This week, y’all get to vote on the etymology of a very important word.

Cover of "If I Ran the Zoo (Classic Seuss...

Cover of If I Ran the Zoo (Classic Seuss)


‘Cuz there’s two very, very different options (other dictionaries say something to the effect of “uncertain American origin”). Therefore, YOU get to choose!

Here’s what the Online Etymology Dictionary says:

<<nerd (n.) 1951, U.S. student slang, probably an alteration of 1940s slang nert “stupid or crazy person,” itself an alteration of nut. The word turns up in a Dr. Seuss book from 1950 (“If I Ran the Zoo”), which may have contributed to its rise.>>


And here is what the Webster’s New World  College Dictionary (Fourth Edition) says about nerd:

<<[[? Rhyming slang for TURD]] a person regarded as socially dull, unsophisticated, awkward,  etc., specif. as from being preoccupied with schoolwork, an intellectual hobby, etc.>>

This terribly important decision about this terribly burning issue counts as this week’s WORD NERD CHALLENGE. Vote early, vote often, in this very first Word Nerd poll. Tune in on Friday for the results, too.





Word Nerd Wednesday: Eating Paste

"Dinner Impossible" chef Robert Irvi...

“Dinner Impossible” chef Robert Irvine giving his verdict on finished item (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, the other day on his Food Network show, “Restaurant Impossible,” chef Robert Irvine offered a critique of a failing restaurant in an effort to help the owners save their restaurant.

He took a piece of apparently overcooked pasta, smashed it in his hands and showed the resultant goo on his fingers to the camera. “Pasta should not be paste,” he declared.

Since paste is made of flour and water, and so is pasta, my inner Word Nerd set off an alarm, and I find myself in the P section of my Webster’s New World College Dictionary today.

Guess what? The word pasta comes from the Italian (no surprise), through the Latin (no surprise), and originates from the Greek word paste, which means “mess of barley porridge” (there’s the surprise.)

Hmmm. No wonder they got the idea to invent noodles rather than eat a mess of porridge.

Delicious barley porridge


English: A plate of cellentani (also referred ...

The ultimate root of paste is the Greek verb passein…to sprinkle. [The Online Etymology Dictionary says the mess of barley porridge was sprinkled with salt.]

In fact, the first four definitions of paste (the New World Dictionary lists the oldest definitions first) have to do with food.

No wonder elementary school kids eat paste in school!

It’s  not official, but it is my Word Nerd’s guess that the Greek paste is related to the Indo-European root pat, which led to the Latin words pastor and panis (bread) and also to our English words pasture and food (which came to us through the Middle English rather than the Latin). Too primal of a term not to at least be related, to my thinking.

Other words from the Greek paste include:






 Bet you didn’t think you’d get an art lesson today, huh? But I’ll leave it to your inquisitive minds to discover how pastels are made, and what impasto is.

WORD NERD CHALLENGE OF THE WEEK: Discover for yourself the origin of the word porridge! Let me know what you find out.

Blessings, Fellow Word Nerds!


P.S. Robert Irvine also had a Food Network show called “Dinner Impossible,” from which I got the CC picture I included in today’s blog.

Also check out my blog post: Beer, Bread, and Fever.

Word Nerd: Passion Week

( )

( ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Passion Week.It’s the most important time of the year in the Christian life, in which we remember and honor the Passion of Jesus on the cross, then celebrate his resurrection.

So, follow me, today, Fellow Word Nerds! We shall explore passion!

Passion comes from the Latin passio/pati, “suffer, endure” (noun and verb forms). It took the French route to the English language, and was specifically about Jesus’ suffering on the cross.

Too often, I diminish the suffering Jesus endured. I’d like to think it’s because the suffering is too much for me to comprehend. But in reality, my very human brain reasons, “Well, He was God. He could handle it, no biggie. Besides He rose again three days later.”

True, but it totally misses the suffering that was inflicted on Jesus’ human body, the suffering he endured.

And minimizes my sin that imposed that suffering on him. Not Roman/Jewish politics of the day, but MY SIN. The sin that, without Jesus’ suffering, keeps me separated from God.

All worthy thoughts to bring me to thankfulness and worship. However, the really interesting stuff started happening when I looked up passion in Noah Webster‘s 1828 Dictionary online.

The first definition in 1828: “The impression or effect of an external agent upon a body; that which is
suffered or received.” Wow. What a perfect description for what Jesus went through. The cross was imposed on His body by the external agent of the Romans, at the behest of Jewish leaders.

Just remember, He ALLOWED it to be imposed on him. In John 6:51, Jesus proclaims, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

In John 10:17, He said, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–only to take it up again.”

See it? He GAVE his life.

Webster’s third definition of passion in 1828? “Suffering; emphatically, the last suffering of the Savior.”


That definition is listed as “archaic” in the 2006 Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition.

I have no words to say how passionate I feel about that fact.



WORD NERD CHALLENGE OF THE WEEK: Take a trip over to the Online Etymology Dictionary and discover the Greek root for suffering and think of three words that use that Greek root. (NOT the Latin passio/pati where we get passion, but the Greek root.) Hint: It is not the word path, as in a bike path. But it’s nearby in the dictionary. Very near. Very, very near.

I can also recommend (for adults and older children only) a viewing of Mel Gibson’s movie Passion of the Christ.

Word Nerd: Kindle and Kinder

English: Children dancing, International Peace...

Setting fire to children?

Not what I expected when I began word-nerding today.

Just kidding! I came upon the word kindle, “to light a fire,” in the dictionary and noticed that it had a second definition: “To give birth to young.”

Hey, yeah, Kindergarten: “A child’s garden.” Makes sense! Giving birth and Children are definitely connected.

The adjective kind itself comes to us–through Middle and Old English–from the similar German word kind, “child,” and the Old Norwegian kundr, “son.” Of course, being kind to children is kind of the thing to do, yes? Easy to see the connection there.

If kind is taken to mean as a noun meaning “sort, variety, or class,” it’s easy to a connection to the words kind and kundr as denoting a family relationship or resemblance.

But what about kindle, as in “to light a fire, to ignite, to arouse feelings?” Yep. Both definitions of the word come from the Middle English kindlen, “to light a fire,” which comes from the Old Norwegian kynda, which is kinda like kind and kundr.

Burn, Baby Burn; the mountain's on fire

It seems to all be a knot of similarities and different languages. But the upshot is that Europe is a place of frequent emigration and immigration, wars, famines, plagues, intermarriage, kings and queens. It’s easy to envision different people groups taking on words from one another’s languages as they travel around, looking for places to settle their families or for adventures to share.

So, I’ll just put it together this way: when you have a child, a kind, you are starting a family line, just like the lighting of a fire from torch to torch, generation to generation. The ancients, perhaps during the Old English times, apparently saw it the same way, and connected the two words in their minds. (See the Online Etymology Dictionary link below.)

And, if you think of the concept of paying it forward, then kindness is also like lighting a fire.

Thanks go my trusty Webster’s New World College Dictionary and to the Online Etymology Dictionary. Good old Webster, 1828? Not so much help today. Noah Webster was plain old wrong about the etymology of the word. Guess he was human! Speaking of which:


Discover what Mr. Webster had wrong back in 1828 for yourself by finding the derivation of the word candle. Share your discovery! Was it an understandable mistake, or do we just know more about languages and derivations these days? What’s your take?

BY THE WAY: child has quite a different etymology. Just ‘cuz language is not a straight line activity.



Sons [and daughters] are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons [children] born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate. Psalm 127: 3-5

Word Nerd Wednesday: Epiphany

Pietro Perugino - The Adoration of the Magi (E...

Pietro Perugino – The Adoration of the Magi (Epiphany) – WGA17259 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not January 6, but last week’s Word Nerd discussion about capturing moments with our loved ones made me think of the word Epiphany, since an epiphany is, in itself, a moment.

Epiphany comes from the Ecclesiastical Greek. I’m not sure why church Greek gets a different etymological designation than plain old Greek, but epi- means “upon” and phanein means “to show.” I love the very churchiness of this word, since Jesus was God showing himself upon the earth.  

Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary says Epiphany is “A Christian festival celebrated on the sixth day of January, the twelfth day after Christmas, in commemoration of the appearance of our Savior to the magians [Magi] or philosophers of the East, who came to adore him with presents; or as others maintain, to commemorate the appearance of the star to the magians, or the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. Jerome and Chrysostom take the epiphany to be the day of our Savior’s baptism, when a voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Greek fathers use the word for the appearance of christ in the world, the sense in which Paul used the word. 2 Tim. 1.10.”

What a moment for those magi it must have been to look down into the face of little Jesus and know in a sudden rush: This is God. Epiphany, indeed.

 With a lower-case e at the beginning, epiphany is “a moment of sudden intuitive understanding; flash of insight.” An aha moment!

This was from Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, 2006. How very interesting that somewhere between 1828 and 2006, epiphany leaked out of church language and into common English. But then, aren’t most epiphanies a spiritual experience? An epiphany is just different than simply realizing or coming to understand something, yes?

In the etymology of epiphany, Webster’s New World sent me to fantasy, so of course, I did as I was bid. I discovered  that the Greek phanein came from the Latin phantasia, which means “idea or notion.”

Epiphanic, even!

WORD NERD CHALLENGE OF THE WEEK: Find some words–other than fantastic or epiphanic–that come from the roots phanein and phantasia. Remember, Greek doesn’t have a  letter f, rather the letter phi, so think about ph. (This is also a spelling tip. If you know the word in question derives from the Greek…you’re probably going to have a ph, not an f. Then there are words like fantasy that kinda derives from both, since Greeks and Latins shared words back and forth. But that’s life in the English language.)

AND A QUESTION: What is your epiphany about who Jesus of Nazareth is? I urge you to seek that epiphany if you’ve not yet decided who Jesus is. John 14:6 is a great place to start. Look it up on the BlueLetterBible website.

My own epiphany about Jesus came when I was sitting alone in my college room, desperately not wanting to be a goodie-two-shoes Bible-thumper. But I knew I couldn’t take the part where the Bible says He came to die for my sins—MY sins—and leave the part where He is the only way to heaven. Or the parts where He claimed to be God. I suddenly realized I had to believe it all, or none of it. To do any less is to take things out of context, and to a Word Nerd, context is everything. I walked out of that dorm room a different person.


(Thanks once again to my trusty Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition.)

Word Nerd Thursday: Stuck in the Q’s

Latin Class

Latin Class (Photo credit: Worcester Academy)

I got stuck in the Letter Q.

You see, I found a new word…quotidian. I looked it up and got stuck in the pages of the letter Q in my trusty Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Only a Word Nerd can get “stuck” in a dictionary, but there it is!

Quotidian  means “daily” or “everyday, ordinary.” It comes from the Middle English cotidian, which got it from Old French, which got it from Latin Quotidianus/quotidie. The Latins put together the words quot “how many” and dies, “day” to form it.

From there, I looked up to the word quote, as directed, to find the Indo-European root. The Latin quotus also comes from the Indo-European interrogatives kwoti, “how many,” and kwo, “who.” Two different question words. This is why we ask for a quote when hiring a workman. And if we quote someone, we must be hearkening back to the kwo form of the word…who said that?

Then, I looked down and saw the word query. It comes from the Latin quaerere, “to ask, inquire,” as does the word question.

The word quiz was also on the page, and it is “probably an arbitrary use” of Latin’s quis, meaning “what.” Now, I’d like to ask the first person to arbitrarily use quis this way, why they did so, wouldn’t you? Maybe it was some teacher trying to sound cool to the teenagers?

I also found my new favorite word: quodlibet, meaning “an academic debate or exercise in argument” or a “humorously incongruous musical parody.” Two such different definitions! My inner Word Nerd is doing a happy dance. The Latin quod, means “who,” and libet means “as you will” (from libere, “to please”). Kind of a “who’s gonna take me on?” kind of challenge.

See? I’m stuck in the q’s.

I wonder why we turned all these q’s into w’s?

And why did poor how get left out of the w craze the question words all went through?

And where did the question mark come from, anyway?


I’m going to list the Latin question words, and you see what words you can come up with from English. Here goes:




Where located…ubi

From where…unde

To where…quo



How great (how many)…quantus

Of what kind…qualis


Nota Bene: I’m not sure, exactly, why my Latin dictionary AND two different internet Latin sites have different words for the Latin question words than the derivation portion of the English dictionary has.

In fact, the entry for the word quip says it comes from Latin quid, meaning “what,” whereas it said quis means “what” in the derivation of the word quiz. In the same Webster’s New World College Dictionary. (Though they do qualify it to mean “what sort of person or thing” in the derivation of quiz.)

This is an original work, based on internation...

Image via Wikipedia

I do know that Latins did as we English speakers do; they created different words or word forms from other words.

It is probably time to remind everyone that I’m not a linguist, just a word-origin junkie who likes thinking out loud about how word origins affect our current understanding of words.

Enjoy the question word challenge! Just to get you started, try the word quantity.

As for me, it’s time for my quotidian walk with the dog.