Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 9, 2017 is:
immutable \ih-MYOO-tuh-bul\ adjective
: not capable of or susceptible to change
"There's an immutable attraction between fingers and potato chips, making resistance, as the saying goes, futile." — Michele Henry, The Toronto Star, 30 Nov. 2016
"Like much of the American heartland, the summertime landscape in Iowa's Webster County is dominated by several immutable features: hot sun and lots of it; a ruler-straight grid of byways …; shining grain silos towering above the plains; and farmhouses…." — Michelle Donahue, PCMag.com, 8 Nov. 2016
Did you know?
Immutable comes to us through Middle English from Latin immutabilis, meaning "unable to change." Immutabilis was formed by combining the negative prefix in- with mutabilis, which comes from the Latin verb mutare and means "to change." Some other English words that can be traced back to mutare are commute (the earliest sense of which is simply "to change or alter"), mutate ("to undergo significant and basic alteration"), permute ("to change the order or arrangement of"), and transmute ("to change or alter in form, appearance, or nature"). There's also the antonym of immutable—mutable—which of course can mean "prone to change" and "capable of change or of being changed."
On this day in 1493, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, sailing near the Dominican Republic, sees three “mermaids”–in reality manatees–and describes them as “not half as beautiful as they are painted.” Six months earlier, Columbus (1451-1506) set off from Spain across the Atlantic Ocean with the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, hoping to find a western trade route to Asia. Instead, his voyage, the first of four he would make, led him to the Americas, or “New World.”
Mermaids, mythical half-female, half-fish creatures, have existed in seafaring cultures at least since the time of the ancient Greeks. Typically depicted as having a woman’s head and torso, a fishtail instead of legs and holding a mirror and comb, mermaids live in the ocean and, according to some legends, can take on a human shape and marry mortal men. Mermaids are closely linked to sirens, another folkloric figure, part-woman, part-bird, who live on islands and sing seductive songs to lure sailors to their deaths.
Mermaid sightings by sailors, when they weren’t made up, were most likely manatees, dugongs or Steller’s sea cows (which became extinct by the 1760s due to over-hunting). Manatees are slow-moving aquatic mammals with human-like eyes, bulbous faces and paddle-like tails. It is likely that manatees evolved from an ancestor they share with the elephant. The three species of manatee (West Indian, West African and Amazonian) and one species of dugong belong to the Sirenia order. As adults, they’re typically 10 to 12 feet long and weigh 800 to 1,200 pounds. They’re plant-eaters, have a slow metabolism and can only survive in warm water.
Manatees live an average of 50 to 60 years in the wild and have no natural predators. However, they are an endangered species. In the U.S., the majority of manatees are found in Florida, where scores of them die or are injured each year due to collisions with boats.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 8, 2017 is:
haberdasher \HAB-er-dash-er\ noun
1 : (British) a dealer in notions (such as needles, thread, buttons, etc.)
2 : a dealer in men's clothing and accessories
Mr. Watson planned to visit the haberdasher during the week to buy some new shirts for his wardrobe.
"There was a time when downtown St. Louis was known for its clothing and shoe companies, haberdashers and other apparel businesses." — Julia M. Johnson, St. Louis Business Journal, 27 Oct. 2016
Did you know?
At various times throughout its history, the term haberdasher has referred to a dealer of hats or caps, a seller of notions (sewing supplies, such as needles and thimbles), and apparently (perhaps somewhat coyly) to a person who sells liquor. Nowadays, with hats not being as fashionable as they once were, the word mostly is applied generally as a clothing outfitter for men, with haberdashery referring to the establishment or the goods sold there. Haberdasher derives via Middle English from hapertas, an Anglo-French word for a kind of cloth, as does the obsolete noun haberdash, which once meant petty merchandise or small wares.
On this day in 1877, Crazy Horse and his warriors–outnumbered, low on ammunition and forced to use outdated weapons to defend themselves–fight their final losing battle against the U.S. Cavalry in Montana.
Six months earlier, in the Battle of Little Bighorn, Crazy Horse and his ally, Chief Sitting Bull, led their combined forces of Sioux and Cheyenne to a stunning victory over Lieutenant Colonel George Custer (1839-76) and his men. The Indians were resisting the U.S. government’s efforts to force them back to their reservations. After Custer and over 200 of his soldiers were killed in the conflict, later dubbed “Custer’s Last Stand,” the American public wanted revenge. As a result, the U.S. Army launched a winter campaign in 1876-77, led by General Nelson Miles (1839-1925), against the remaining hostile Indians on the Northern Plains.
Combining military force with diplomatic overtures, Nelson convinced many Indians to surrender and return to their reservations. Much to Nelson’s frustration, though, Sitting Bull refused to give in and fled across the border to Canada, where he and his people remained for four years before finally returning to the U.S. to surrender in 1881. Sitting Bull died in 1890. Meanwhile, Crazy Horse and his band also refused to surrender, even though they were suffering from illness and starvation.
On January 8, 1877, General Miles found Crazy Horse’s camp along Montana’s Tongue River. U.S. soldiers opened fire with their big wagon-mounted guns, driving the Indians from their warm tents out into a raging blizzard. Crazy Horse and his warriors managed to regroup on a ridge and return fire, but most of their ammunition was gone, and they were reduced to fighting with bows and arrows. They managed to hold off the soldiers long enough for the women and children to escape under cover of the blinding blizzard before they turned to follow them.
Though he had escaped decisive defeat, Crazy Horse realized that Miles and his well-equipped cavalry troops would eventually hunt down and destroy his cold, hungry followers. On May 6, 1877, Crazy Horse led approximately 1,100 Indians to the Red Cloud reservation near Nebraska’s Fort Robinson and surrendered. Five months later, a guard fatally stabbed him after he allegedly resisted imprisonment by Indian policemen.
In 1948, American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski began work on the Crazy Horse Memorial, a massive monument carved into a mountain in South Dakota. Still a work in progress, the monument will stand 641 feet high and 563 feet long when completed.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 7, 2017 is:
beguile \bih-GHYLE\ verb
1 : to lead by deception
2 : to deceive by cunning means
3 : to draw notice or interest by wiles or charm
4 : to cause (as time) to pass in a pleasant manner
The carnival barker beguiled Ricky into buying a chance at the target-shooting game, even though it was all but impossible to win.
"The elusive and suddenly quite prolific Terrence Malick is fascinated, and beguiled, by nothing less than the legacy of all existence in his long-gestating, avant-nature doc Voyage of Time…." — Sam C. Mac, Slant Magazine, 21 Nov. 2016
Did you know?
Deceive, mislead, delude, and beguile all mean "to lead astray" or "to frustrate," usually by underhandedness. Deceive implies imposing a false idea or belief that causes ignorance, bewilderment, or helplessness (as in "they tried to deceive me about the cost"). Mislead implies a leading astray that may or may not be intentional (as in "I was misled by the confusing sign"). Delude implies deceiving so thoroughly as to obscure the truth (as in "we were deluded into thinking we were safe"). Beguile stresses the use of charm and persuasion in deceiving (as in "they were beguiled by false promises"), and more generally describes the use of that charm to capture another's attention.
On this day in 1789, America’s first presidential election is held. Voters cast ballots to choose state electors; only white men who owned property were allowed to vote. As expected, George Washington won the election and was sworn into office on April 30, 1789.
As it did in 1789, the United States still uses the Electoral College system, established by the U.S. Constitution, which today gives all American citizens over the age of 18 the right to vote for electors, who in turn vote for the president. The president and vice president are the only elected federal officials chosen by the Electoral College instead of by direct popular vote.
Today political parties usually nominate their slate of electors at their state conventions or by a vote of the party’s central state committee, with party loyalists often being picked for the job. Members of the U.S. Congress, though, can’t be electors. Each state is allowed to choose as many electors as it has senators and representatives in Congress. The District of Columbia has 3 electors. During a presidential election year, on Election Day (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November), the electors from the party that gets the most popular votes are elected in a winner-take-all-system, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, which allocate electors proportionally. In order to win the presidency, a candidate needs a majority of 270 electoral votes out of a possible 538.
On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December of a presidential election year, each state’s electors meet, usually in their state capitol, and simultaneously cast their ballots nationwide. This is largely ceremonial: Because electors nearly always vote with their party, presidential elections are essentially decided on Election Day. Although electors aren’t constitutionally mandated to vote for the winner of the popular vote in their state, it is demanded by tradition and required by law in 26 states and the District of Columbia (in some states, violating this rule is punishable by $1,000 fine). Historically, over 99 percent of all electors have cast their ballots in line with the voters. On January 6, as a formality, the electoral votes are counted before Congress and on January 20, the commander in chief is sworn into office.
Critics of the Electoral College argue that the winner-take-all system makes it possible for a candidate to be elected president even if he gets fewer popular votes than his opponent. This happened in the elections of 1876, 1888 and 2000. However, supporters contend that if the Electoral College were done away with, heavily populated states such as California and Texas might decide every election and issues important to voters in smaller states would be ignored.