Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 3, 2016 is:
callow \KAL-oh\ adjective
: lacking adult sophistication : immature
"So callow was Williams that there was a clause in his first contract, which he signed at the age of 18, that stipulated the team would pay for his mother to be with him at least one week of every month." — Steve Hummer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9 Dec. 2012
"At 5-10, 145 pounds, Justin Thomas, 22, seems too slight and callow to be a good example … of the foundational act on which modern professional golf is built. At least until he springs into his downswing with a driver." — Golf Digest, February 2016
Did you know?
You might not expect a relationship between the word callow and baldness, but that connection does in fact exist. Callow comes from calu, a word that meant "bald" in Middle English and Old English. By the 17th century, callow had come to mean "without feathers" and was applied to young birds not yet ready for flight. The term was also used for those who hadn't yet spread their wings in a figurative sense. Callow continues to mean "inexperienced" or "unsophisticated" today.
On this day in 1469, the Italian philosopher and writer Niccolo Machiavelli is born. A lifelong patriot and diehard proponent of a unified Italy, Machiavelli became one of the fathers of modern political theory.
Machiavelli entered the political service of his native Florence by the time he was 29. As defense secretary, he distinguished himself by executing policies that strengthened Florence politically. He soon found himself assigned diplomatic missions for his principality, through which he met such luminaries as Louis XII of France, Pope Julius II, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and perhaps most importantly for Machiavelli, a prince of the Papal States named Cesare Borgia. The shrewd and cunning Borgia later inspired the title character in Machiavelli’s famous and influential political treatise The Prince (1532).
Machiavelli’s political life took a downward turn after 1512, when he fell out of favor with the powerful Medici family. He was accused of conspiracy, imprisoned, tortured and temporarily exiled. It was an attempt to regain a political post and the Medici family’s good favor that Machiavelli penned The Prince, which was to become his most well-known work.
Though released in book form posthumously in 1532, The Prince was first published as a pamphlet in 1513. In it, Machiavelli outlined his vision of an ideal leader: an amoral, calculating tyrant for whom the end justifies the means. The Prince not only failed to win the Medici family’s favor, it also alienated him from the Florentine people. Machiavelli was never truly welcomed back into politics, and when the Florentine Republic was reestablished in 1527, Machiavelli was an object of great suspicion. He died later that year, embittered and shut out from the Florentine society to which he had devoted his life.
Though Machiavelli has long been associated with the practice of diabolical expediency in the realm of politics that was made famous in The Prince, his actual views were not so extreme. In fact, in such longer and more detailed writings as Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy (1517) and History of Florence (1525), he shows himself to be a more principled political moralist. Still, even today, the term “Machiavellian” is used to describe an action undertaken for gain without regard for right or wrong.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 2, 2016 is:
moil \MOYL\ verb
1 : to work hard : drudge
Revelations that the popular motivational speaker was born into a wealthy family cast further doubts on his claims that he holds the secret to finding wealth without the need to toil and moil.
"Playwright Eugene O'Neill moiled over several works, including 'Strange Interlude,' in a summer rental cottage you'll pass if you're on the historical walking tour." — Susan Bayer Ward, The Chicago Daily Herald, 15 May 2005
Did you know?
Moil may mean "to work hard" but its origins are the opposite of hard; it ultimately derives from Latin mollis, meaning "soft." (Other English derivatives of mollis are emollient, mollify, and mollusk.) A more immediate ancestor of moil is the Anglo-French verb moiller, meaning "to make wet, dampen," and one of the early meanings of moil in English was "to become wet and muddy." The "work hard" sense of moil appears most frequently in the pairing "toil and moil." Both moil and toil can also be nouns meaning "work." Moil implies work that is drudgery and toil suggests prolonged and fatiguing labor.
Although accounts of an aquatic beast living in Scotland’s Loch Ness date back 1,500 years, the modern legend of the Loch Ness Monster is born when a sighting makes local news on May 2, 1933. The newspaper Inverness Courier related an account of a local couple who claimed to have seen “an enormous animal rolling and plunging on the surface.” The story of the “monster” (a moniker chosen by the Courier editor) became a media phenomenon, with London newspapers sending correspondents to Scotland and a circus offering a 20,000 pound sterling reward for capture of the beast.
Loch Ness, located in the Scottish Highlands, has the largest volume of fresh water in Great Britain; the body of water reaches a depth of nearly 800 feet and a length of about 23 miles. Scholars of the Loch Ness Monster find a dozen references to “Nessie” in Scottish history, dating back to around A.D. 500, when local Picts carved a strange aquatic creature into standing stones near Loch Ness. The earliest written reference to a monster in Loch Ness is a 7th-century biography of Saint Columba, the Irish missionary who introduced Christianity to Scotland. In 565, according to the biographer, Columba was on his way to visit the king of the northern Picts near Inverness when he stopped at Loch Ness to confront a beast that had been killing people in the lake. Seeing a large beast about to attack another man, Columba intervened, invoking the name of God and commanding the creature to “go back with all speed.” The monster retreated and never killed another man.
In 1933, a new road was completed along Loch Ness’ shore, affording drivers a clear view of the loch. After an April 1933 sighting was reported in the local paper on May 2, interest steadily grew, especially after another couple claimed to have seen the beast on land, crossing the shore road. Several British newspapers sent reporters to Scotland, including London’s Daily Mail, which hired big-game hunter Marmaduke Wetherell to capture the beast. After a few days searching the loch, Wetherell reported finding footprints of a large four-legged animal. In response, the Daily Mail carried the dramatic headline: “MONSTER OF LOCH NESS IS NOT LEGEND BUT A FACT.” Scores of tourists descended on Loch Ness and sat in boats or decks chairs waiting for an appearance by the beast. Plaster casts of the footprints were sent to the British Natural History Museum, which reported that the tracks were that of a hippopotamus, specifically one hippopotamus foot, probably stuffed. The hoax temporarily deflated Loch Ness Monster mania, but stories of sightings continued.
A famous 1934 photograph seemed to show a dinosaur-like creature with a long neck emerging out of the murky waters, leading some to speculate that “Nessie” was a solitary survivor of the long-extinct plesiosaurs. The aquatic plesiosaurs were thought to have died off with the rest of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Loch Ness was frozen solid during the recent ice ages, however, so this creature would have had to have made its way up the River Ness from the sea in the past 10,000 years. And the plesiosaurs, believed to be cold-blooded, would not long survive in the frigid waters of Loch Ness. More likely, others suggested, it was an archeocyte, a primitive whale with a serpentine neck that is thought to have been extinct for 18 million years. Skeptics argued that what people were seeing in Loch Ness were “seiches”–oscillations in the water surface caused by the inflow of cold river water into the slightly warmer loch.
Amateur investigators kept an almost constant vigil, and in the 1960s several British universities launched expeditions to Loch Ness, using sonar to search the deep. Nothing conclusive was found, but in each expedition the sonar operators detected large, moving underwater objects they could not explain. In 1975, Boston’s Academy of Applied Science combined sonar and underwater photography in an expedition to Loch Ness. A photo resulted that, after enhancement, appeared to show the giant flipper of a plesiosaur-like creature. Further sonar expeditions in the 1980s and 1990s resulted in more tantalizing, if inconclusive, readings. Revelations in 1994 that the famous 1934 photo was a hoax hardly dampened the enthusiasm of tourists and professional and amateur investigators to the legend of the Loch Ness Monster.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 1, 2016 is:
Beltane \BEL-tayn\ noun
: the Celtic May Day festival
Although Beltane celebrates the approach of summer, those attending the Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, are warned to dress for the cool weather that is typical of early spring there.
"It's believed that when the goddess wakes from a long winter's sleep in March, she thaws the Earth and starts its life cycle anew. This rebirth, so to speak, is what sets the stage for the Pagan holiday Beltane, a fertility festival that occurs one month later." — Sara Coughlin, Refinery29 (refinery29.com), 18 Mar. 2016
Did you know?
To the ancient Celts, May Day was a critical time when the boundaries between the human and supernatural worlds were removed and people needed to take special measures to protect themselves against enchantments. The Beltane fire festival originated in a spring ritual in which cattle were herded between two huge bonfires to protect them from evil and disease. The earliest known mention of Beltane (formerly spelled beltene, belltaine, and beltine) is in an Old Irish dictionary commonly attributed to Cormac, a king and bishop who lived in Cashel, Ireland, toward the end of the first millennium. The Beltane spelling entered English in the 15th century by way of Scottish Gaelic.
On this day in 1931, President Herbert Hoover officially dedicates New York City’s Empire State Building, pressing a button from the White House that turns on the building’s lights. Hoover’s gesture, of course, was symbolic; while the president remained in Washington, D.C., someone else flicked the switches in New York.
The idea for the Empire State Building is said to have been born of a competition between Walter Chrysler of the Chrysler Corporation and John Jakob Raskob of General Motors, to see who could erect the taller building. Chrysler had already begun work on the famous Chrysler Building, the gleaming 1,046-foot skyscraper in midtown Manhattan. Not to be bested, Raskob assembled a group of well-known investors, including former New York Governor Alfred E. Smith. The group chose the architecture firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon Associates to design the building. The Art-Deco plans, said to have been based in large part on the look of a pencil, were also builder-friendly: The entire building went up in just over a year, under budget (at $40 million) and well ahead of schedule. During certain periods of building, the frame grew an astonishing four-and-a-half stories a week.
At the time of its completion, the Empire State Building, at 102 stories and 1,250 feet high (1,454 feet to the top of the lightning rod), was the world’s tallest skyscraper. The Depression-era construction employed as many as 3,400 workers on any single day, most of whom received an excellent pay rate, especially given the economic conditions of the time. The new building imbued New York City with a deep sense of pride, desperately needed in the depths of the Great Depression, when many city residents were unemployed and prospects looked bleak. The grip of the Depression on New York’s economy was still evident a year later, however, when only 25 percent of the Empire State’s offices had been rented.
In 1972, the Empire State Building lost its title as world’s tallest building to New York’s World Trade Center, which itself was the tallest skyscraper for but a year. Today the honor belongs to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower, which soars 2,717 feet into the sky.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 30, 2016 is:
decorous \DECK-er-us\ adjective
: marked by propriety and good taste : correct
Before making her daily announcements, the principal mentioned how proud she was of the students' decorous conduct at their prom.
"When, during the constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1787, the discussion, polite and decorous till then, grew rather heated, Benjamin Franklin implored the delegates as follows: 'It has given me a great pleasure to observe that till this point … our debates were carried on with great coolness and temper. If anything of a contrary kind has on this occasion appeared I hope it will not be repeated….'" — Emanuel Epstein, The Davis (California) Enterprise, 5 Feb. 2016
Did you know?
The current meaning of decorous dates from the mid-17th century. One of the word's earliest recorded uses appears in a book titled The Rules of Civility (1673): "It is not decorous to look in the Glass, to comb, brush, or do any thing of that nature to ourselves, whilst the said person be in the Room." Decorous for a time had another meaning as well—"fitting or appropriate"—but that now-obsolete sense seems to have existed for only a few decades in the 17th century. Decorous derives from the Latin word decorus, an adjective created from the noun decor, meaning "beauty" or "grace." Decor is akin to the Latin verb decēre ("to be fitting"), which is the source of our adjective decent. It is only fitting, then, that decent can be a synonym of decorous.
On this day in 1945, holed up in a bunker under his headquarters in Berlin, Adolf Hitler commits suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule and shooting himself in the head. Soon after, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allied forces, ending Hitler’s dreams of a “1,000-year” Reich.
Since at least 1943, it was becoming increasingly clear that Germany would fold under the pressure of the Allied forces. In February of that year, the German 6th Army, lured deep into the Soviet Union, was annihilated at the Battle of Stalingrad, and German hopes for a sustained offensive on both fronts evaporated. Then, in June 1944, the Western Allied armies landed at Normandy, France, and began systematically to push the Germans back toward Berlin. By July 1944, several German military commanders acknowledged their imminent defeat and plotted to remove Hitler from power so as to negotiate a more favorable peace. Their attempts to assassinate Hitler failed, however, and in his reprisals, Hitler executed over 4,000 fellow countrymen.
In January 1945, facing a siege of Berlin by the Soviets, Hitler withdrew to his bunker to live out his final days. Located 55 feet under the chancellery, the shelter contained 18 rooms and was fully self-sufficient, with its own water and electrical supply. Though he was growing increasingly mad, Hitler continued to give orders and meet with such close subordinates as Hermann Goering, Heinrich Himmler and Josef Goebbels. He also married his long-time mistress Eva Braun just two days before his suicide.
In his last will and testament, Hitler appointed Admiral Karl Donitz as head of state and Goebbels as chancellor. He then retired to his private quarters with Braun, where he and Braun poisoned themselves and their dogs, before Hitler then also shot himself with his service pistol.
Hitler and Braun’s bodies were hastily cremated in the chancellery garden, as Soviet forces closed in on the building. When the Soviets reached the chancellery, they removed Hitler’s ashes, continually changing their location so as to prevent Hitler devotees from creating a memorial at his final resting place. Only eight days later, on May 8, 1945, the German forces issued an unconditional surrender, leaving Germany to be carved up by the four Allied powers.