Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 23, 2017 is:
watershed \WAW-ter-shed\ noun
1 a : a dividing ridge between drainage areas
b : a region or area bounded peripherally by a divide and draining ultimately to a particular watercourse or body of water
2 : a crucial dividing point, line, or factor : turning point
"This year marked a watershed for contemporary classical music in the city. No greater proof was the Ear Taxi Festival, a Chicago-centric marathon of new music performance that, for six heady days in October, brought together some 500 local musicians to present roughly 100 recent classical works...." — John von Rhein, The Chicago Tribune, 22 Dec. 2016
Did you know?
Opinion on the literal geographic meaning of watershed is divided. On one side of the debate are those who think the word can only refer to a ridge of land separating rivers and streams flowing in one direction from those flowing in the opposite direction. That's the term's original meaning, one probably borrowed in the translation of the German Wasserscheide. On the other side of the argument are those who think watershed can also apply to the area through which such divided water flows. The latter sense is now far more common in America, but most Americans have apparently decided to leave the quarrel to geologists and geographers while they use the term in its figurative sense, "turning point."
On this day in 1839, the initials âO.K.â are first published in The Boston Morning Post. Meant as an abbreviation for âoll korrect,â a popular slang misspelling of âall correctâ at the time, OK steadily made its way into the everyday speech of Americans.
During the late 1830s, it was a favorite practice among younger, educated circles to misspell words intentionally, then abbreviate them and use them as slang when talking to one another. Just as teenagers today have their own slang based on distortions of common words, such as âkewlâ for âcoolâ or âDZâ for âthese,â the âin crowdâ of the 1830s had a whole host of slang terms they abbreviated. Popular abbreviations included âKYâ for âNo useâ (âknow yuseâ), âKGâ for âNo goâ (âKnow goâ), and âOWâ for all right (âoll wrightâ).
Of all the abbreviations used during that time, OK was propelled into the limelight when it was printed in the Boston Morning Post as part of a joke. Its popularity exploded when it was picked up by contemporary politicians. When the incumbent president Martin Van Buren was up for reelection, his Democratic supporters organized a band of thugs to influence voters. This group was formally called the âO.K. Club,â which referred both to Van Burenâs nickname âOld Kinderhookâ (based on his hometown of Kinderhook, New York), and to the term recently made popular in the papers. At the same time, the opposing Whig Party made use of âOKâ to denigrate Van Burenâs political mentor Andrew Jackson. According to the Whigs, Jackson invented the abbreviation âOKâ to cover up his own misspelling of âall correct.â
The man responsible for unraveling the mystery behind âOKâ was an American linguist named Allen Walker Read. An English professor at Columbia University, Read dispelled a host of erroneous theories on the origins of âOK,â ranging from the name of a popular Army biscuit (Orrin Kendall) to the name of a Haitian port famed for its rum (Aux Cayes) to the signature of a Choctaw chief named Old Keokuk. Whatever its origins, âOKâ has become one of the most ubiquitous terms in the world, and certainly one of Americaâs greatest lingual exports.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 22, 2017 is:
lief \LEEF\ adverb
"I'd as lief be in the tightening coils of a boa constrictor as be held by that man," declared Miss Jezebel.
"I thank you for your company; but, good faith, I had as / lief have been myself alone." — William Shakespeare, As You Like It, 1599
Did you know?
Lief began as lēof in Old English and has since appeared in many literary classics, first as an adjective and then as an adverb. It got its big break in the epic poem Beowulf as an adjective meaning "dear" or "beloved." The adverb first appeared in the 13th century, and in 1390, it was used in John Gower's collection of love stories, Confessio Amantis. Since that time, it has graced the pages of works by William Makepeace Thackeray, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and D. H. Lawrence, among others. Today, the adjective is considered to be archaic and the adverb is used much less frequently than in days of yore. It still pops up now and then, however, in the phrases "had as lief," "would as lief," "had liefer," and "would liefer."
In an effort to raise funds to pay off debts and defend the vast new American territories won from the French in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), the British government passes the Stamp Act on this day in 1765. The legislation levied a direct tax on all materials printed for commercial and legal use in the colonies, from newspapers and pamphlets to playing cards and dice.
Though the Stamp Act employed a strategy that was a common fundraising vehicle in England, it stirred a storm of protest in the colonies. The colonists had recently been hit with three major taxes: the Sugar Act (1764), which levied new duties on imports of textiles, wines, coffee and sugar; the Currency Act (1764), which caused a major decline in the value of the paper money used by colonists; and the Quartering Act (1765), which required colonists to provide food and lodging to British troops.
With the passing of the Stamp Act, the colonists’ grumbling finally became an articulated response to what they saw as the mother country’s attempt to undermine their economic strength and independence. They raised the issue of taxation without representation, and formed societies throughout the colonies to rally against the British government and nobles who sought to exploit the colonies as a source of revenue and raw materials. By October of that year, nine of the 13 colonies sent representatives to the Stamp Act Congress, at which the colonists drafted the “Declaration of Rights and Grievances,” a document that railed against the autocratic policies of the mercantilist British empire.
Realizing that it actually cost more to enforce the Stamp Act in the protesting colonies than it did to abolish it, the British government repealed the tax the following year. The fracas over the Stamp Act, though, helped plant seeds for a far larger movement against the British government and the eventual battle for independence. Most important of these was the formation of the Sons of Liberty–a group of tradesmen who led anti-British protests in Boston and other seaboard cities–and other groups of wealthy landowners who came together from the across the colonies. Well after the Stamp Act was repealed, these societies continued to meet in opposition to what they saw as the abusive policies of the British empire. Out of their meetings, a growing nationalism emerged that would culminate in the fighting of the American Revolution only a decade later.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 21, 2017 is:
ameliorate \uh-MEE-lee-uh-rayt\ verb
1 : to make better or more tolerable
2 : to grow better : improve
Access to clean water would ameliorate living conditions within the village.
"There is one variable that many childhood experts agree can ameliorate the uncertainty in the lives of 'at risk' youths. A caring adult willing to take a few hours a week for a one-on-one relationship with a child or young adult can have an enormous impact on that child's life and future success." — Alice Dubenetsky, The Vermont Eagle, 18 Jan. 2017
Did you know?
Ameliorate traces back to melior, the Latin adjective meaning "better," and is a synonym of the verbs better and improve. When is it better to use ameliorate? If a situation is bad, ameliorate indicates that the conditions have been made more tolerable. Thus, one might refer to drugs that ameliorate the side effects of chemotherapy, a loss of wages ameliorated by unemployment benefits, or a harsh law ameliorated by special exceptions. Improve and better apply when something bad is being made better (as in "the weather improved" or "she bettered her lot in life"), and they should certainly be chosen over ameliorate when something good is getting better still ("he improved his successful program," "she bettered her impressive scores").
On this day in 1871, journalist Henry Morton Stanley begins his famous search through Africa for the missing British explorer Dr. David Livingstone.
In the late 19th century, Europeans and Americans were deeply fascinated by the “Dark Continent” of Africa and its many mysteries. Few did more to increase Africa’s fame than Livingstone, one of England’s most intrepid explorers. In August 1865, he set out on a planned two-year expedition to find the source of the Nile River. Livingstone also wanted to help bring about the abolition of the slave trade, which was devastating Africa’s population.
Almost six years after his expedition began, little had been heard from Livingstone. James Gordon Bennett, Jr., editor of the New York Herald, decided to capitalize on the public’s craze for news of their hero. He sent Stanley to lead an expedition into the African wilderness to find Livingstone or bring back proof of his death. At age 28, Stanley had his own fascinating past. As a young orphan in Wales, he crossed the Atlantic on the crew of a merchant ship. He jumped ship in New Orleans and later served in the Civil War as both a Confederate and a Union soldier before beginning a career in journalism.
After setting out from Zanzibar in March 1871, Stanley led his caravan of nearly 2,000 men into the interior of Africa. Nearly eight months passed–during which Stanley contracted dysentery, cerebral malaria and smallpox–before the expedition approached the village of Ujiji, on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. Sick and poverty-stricken, Livingstone had come to Ujiji that July after living for some time at the mercy of Arab slave traders. When Stanley’s caravan entered the village on October 27, flying the American flag, villagers crowded toward the new arrivals. Spotting a white man with a gray beard in the crowd, Stanley stepped toward him and stretched out his hand: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”
These words–and Livingstone’s grateful response–soon became famous across Europe and the United States. Though Stanley urged Livingstone to return with him to London, the explorer vowed to continue his original mission. Livingstone died 18 months later in today’s Zambia; his body was embalmed and returned to Britain, where he was buried in Westminster Abbey. As for Stanley, he returned to Africa to fulfill a promise he had made to Livingstone to find the source of the Nile. He later damaged his reputation by accepting money from King Leopold II of Belgium to help create the Belgian-ruled Congo Free State and promote the slave trade. When he left Africa, Stanley resumed his British citizenship and even served in Parliament, but when he died he was refused burial in Westminster Abbey because of his actions in the Congo Free State.