Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 20, 2016 is:
hoick \HOIK\ verb
: to move or pull abruptly : yank
"Occasionally he hoicks up the waistband of his trousers when he thinks no one is looking." — Elizabeth Day, The Observer, 24 Feb. 2015
"The flutist … looks forward, unfolding a retinue of futuristic techniques—sounds that purr like a cat, pop like a cork or hoick like a spitball—on the way to a final improvisation…." — David Allen, The New York Times, 29 Mar. 2016
Did you know?
Etymologists suspect that hoick is an alteration of the verb hike, which is itself akin to hitch. According to the evidence, hike entered the language during the first decade of the 19th century, whereas hoick appeared near that century's close. The word hoick can be used for any type of abrupt pulling movement but is commonly used for the sudden pulling back on the joystick of an airplane; a rough, jerky movement when rowing; and a jerky, elevated shot in cricket. In fox hunting, the word hoicks is used to call attention to a hound that has picked up the scent and to bring the pack together.
On October 20, 1947, the notorious Red Scare kicks into high gear in Washington, as a Congressional committee begins investigating Communist influence in one of the world’s richest and most glamorous communities: Hollywood.
After World War II, the Cold War began to heat up between the world’s two superpowers—the United States and the communist-controlled Soviet Union. In Washington, conservative watchdogs worked to out communists in government before setting their sights on alleged “Reds” in the famously liberal movie industry. In an investigation that began in October 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) grilled a number of prominent witnesses, asking bluntly “Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” Whether out of patriotism or fear, some witnesses—including director Elia Kazan, actors Gary Cooper and Robert Taylor and studio honchos Walt Disney and Jack Warner—gave the committee names of colleagues they suspected of being communists.
A small group known as the “Hollywood Ten” resisted, complaining that the hearings were illegal and violated their First Amendment rights. They were all convicted of obstructing the investigation and served jail terms. Pressured by Congress, the Hollywood establishment started a blacklist policy, banning the work of about 325 screenwriters, actors and directors who had not been cleared by the committee. Those blacklisted included composer Aaron Copland, writers Dashiell Hammett, Lillian Hellman and Dorothy Parker, playwright Arthur Miller and actor and filmmaker Orson Welles.
Some of the blacklisted writers used pseudonyms to continue working, while others wrote scripts that were credited to other writer friends. Starting in the early 1960s, after the downfall of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the most public face of anti-communism, the ban began to lift slowly. In 1997, the Writers’ Guild of America unanimously voted to change the writing credits of 23 films made during the blacklist period, reversing—but not erasing—some of the damage done during the Red Scare.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 19, 2016 is:
colubrine \KAHL-yuh-bryne\ adjective
1 : of, relating to, or resembling a snake
2 : of or relating to a large cosmopolitan family (Colubridae) of chiefly nonvenomous snakes
The trellis's latticework was covered with colubrine ivy.
"Most of the colubrine snakes are entirely harmless, and are the common snakes that we meet everywhere." — Theodore Roosevelt, Through the Brazilian Wilderness, 1914
Did you know?
Colubrine may be less common than other animal words—such as canine, feline, and bovine—but it has been around for a good long while. Ultimately derived from the Latin colubra ("snake"), it slithered into the English language in the 16th century. (Cobra, by the way, comes from the same Latin word, but it entered English through Portuguese.) Some other words for "snakelike" are serpentine (a more common alternative) and ophidian (from the Greek word for snake: ophis).
Hopelessly trapped at Yorktown, Virginia, British General Lord Cornwallis surrenders 8,000 British soldiers and seamen to a larger Franco-American force, effectively bringing an end to the American Revolution.
Lord Cornwallis was one of the most capable British generals of the American Revolution. In 1776, he drove General George Washington’s Patriots forces out of New Jersey, and in 1780 he won a stunning victory over General Horatio Gates’ Patriot army at Camden, South Carolina. Cornwallis’ subsequent invasion of North Carolina was less successful, however, and in April 1781 he led his weary and battered troops toward the Virginia coast, where he could maintain seaborne lines of communication with the large British army of General Henry Clinton in New York City. After conducting a series of raids against towns and plantations in Virginia, Cornwallis settled in the tidewater town of Yorktown in August. The British immediately began fortifying the town and the adjacent promontory of Gloucester Point across the York River.
General George Washington instructed the Marquis de Lafayette, who was in Virginia with an American army of around 5,000 men, to block Cornwallis’ escape from Yorktown by land. In the meantime, Washington’s 2,500 troops in New York were joined by a French army of 4,000 men under the Count de Rochambeau. Washington and Rochambeau made plans to attack Cornwallis with the assistance of a large French fleet under the Count de Grasse, and on August 21 they crossed the Hudson River to march south to Yorktown. Covering 200 miles in 15 days, the allied force reached the head of Chesapeake Bay in early September.
Meanwhile, a British fleet under Admiral Thomas Graves failed to break French naval superiority at the Battle of Virginia Capes on September 5, denying Cornwallis his expected reinforcements. Beginning September 14, de Grasse transported Washington and Rochambeau’s men down the Chesapeake to Virginia, where they joined Lafayette and completed the encirclement of Yorktown on September 28. De Grasse landed another 3,000 French troops carried by his fleet. During the first two weeks of October, the 14,000 Franco-American troops gradually overcame the fortified British positions with the aid of de Grasse’s warships. A large British fleet carrying 7,000 men set out to rescue Cornwallis, but it was too late.
On October 19, General Cornwallis surrendered 7,087 officers and men, 900 seamen, 144 cannons, 15 galleys, a frigate, and 30 transport ships. Pleading illness, he did not attend the surrender ceremony, but his second-in-command, General Charles O’Hara, carried Cornwallis’ sword to the American and French commanders. As the British and Hessian troops marched out to surrender, the British bands played the song “The World Turned Upside Down.”
Although the war persisted on the high seas and in other theaters, the Patriot victory at Yorktown effectively ended fighting in the American colonies. Peace negotiations began in 1782, and on September 3, 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, formally recognizing the United States as a free and independent nation after eight years of war.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 18, 2016 is:
jacquerie \zhah-kuh-REE\ noun
: (often capitalized Jacquerie) a peasants' revolt
"There were no bloodthirsty sansculottes preparing to erect guillotines; nor were farmers, however angry about government excise taxes and other matters—as Shays's Rebellion suggested—ready to burn down the manorial estates of their feudal overlords in some version of an American jacquerie." — Steve Fraser, Wall Street: America's Dream Palace, 2008
"The thicker the masonry, the more likely the fortress would withstand the anticipated Jacquerie." — Michael Knox Beran, National Review, 7 Sept. 2009
Did you know?
The first jacquerie was an insurrection of peasants against the nobility in northeastern France in 1358, so-named from the nobles' habit of referring contemptuously to any peasant as "Jacques," or "Jacques Bonhomme" (in French bonhomme means "fellow"). It took some time—150 years—for the name of the first jacquerie to become a generalized term for other revolts. The term is also occasionally used to refer to the peasant class, as when Madame Defarge in Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities tells her husband to "consider the faces of all the world that we know, consider the rage and discontent to which the Jacquerie addresses itself with more and more of certainty every hour."
On this day in 1867, the U.S. formally takes possession of Alaska after purchasing the territory from Russia for $7.2 million, or less than two cents an acre. The Alaska purchase comprised 586,412 square miles, about twice the size of Texas, and was championed by William Henry Seward, the enthusiasticly expansionist secretary of state under President Andrew Johnson.
Russia wanted to sell its Alaska territory, which was remote, sparsely populated and difficult to defend, to the U.S. rather than risk losing it in battle with a rival such as Great Britain. Negotiations between Seward (1801-1872) and the Russian minister to the U.S., Eduard de Stoeckl, began in March 1867. However, the American public believed the land to be barren and worthless and dubbed the purchase “Seward’s Folly” and “Andrew Johnson’s Polar Bear Garden,” among other derogatory names. Some animosity toward the project may have been a byproduct of President Johnson’s own unpopularity. As the 17th U.S. president, Johnson battled with Radical Republicans in Congress over Reconstruction policies following the Civil War. He was impeached in 1868 and later acquitted by a single vote. Nevertheless, Congress eventually ratified the Alaska deal. Public opinion of the purchase turned more favorable when gold was discovered in a tributary of Alaska’s Klondike River in 1896, sparking a gold rush. Alaska became the 49th state on January 3, 1959, and is now recognized for its vast natural resources. Today, 25 percent of America’s oil and over 50 percent of its seafood come from Alaska. It is also the largest state in area, about one-fifth the size of the lower 48 states combined, though it remains sparsely populated. The name Alaska is derived from the Aleut word alyeska, which means “great land.” Alaska has two official state holidays to commemorate its origins: Seward’s Day, observed the last Monday in March, celebrates the March 30, 1867, signing of the land treaty between the U.S. and Russia, and Alaska Day, observed every October 18, marks the anniversary of the formal land transfer.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 17, 2016 is:
ab initio \ab-ih-NISH-ee-oh\ adverb
: from the beginning
"Like many of contemporary architecture's most celebrated figures, [Zaha] Hadid is often presented as an artist who conceives her buildings entirely ab initio." — Ellis Woodman, The Daily Telegraph (London), 3 Sept. 2012
"Two months ago, the Supreme Court ruled that Federal Court judges are not eligible to represent Quebec on its bench. Justice Nadon's nomination was therefore void ab initio." — André Pratte, The Globe and Mail (Canada), 29 May 2014
Did you know?
We'll tell you right from the beginning where ab initio comes from. This adverb was adopted at the beginning of the 17th century directly from Latin, where it translates as "from the beginning." (Initio is a form of the noun initium, meaning "beginning," which gave rise to such English words as initial, initiate, and initiative.) Ab initio most frequently appears in legal contexts, but it is not surprising to find it used outside of the courtroom. The phrase is also used as an adjective meaning "starting from or based on first principles" (as in "predicted from ab initio calculations").
On this day in 1931, gangster Al Capone is sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax evasion and fined $80,000, signaling the downfall of one of the most notorious criminals of the 1920s and 1930s.
Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1899 to Italian immigrants. He was expelled from school at 14, joined a gang and earned his nickname “Scarface” after being sliced across the cheek during a fight. By 1920, Capone had moved to Chicago, where he was soon helping to run crime boss Johnny Torrio’s illegal enterprises, which included alcohol-smuggling, gambling and prostitution. Torrio retired in 1925 after an attempt on his life and Capone, known for his cunning and brutality, was put in charge of the organization.
Prohibition, which outlawed the brewing and distribution of alcohol and lasted from 1920 to 1933, proved extremely lucrative for bootleggers and gangsters like Capone, who raked in millions from his underworld activities. Capone was at the top of the F.B.I.’s “Most Wanted” list by 1930, but he avoided long stints in jail until 1931 by bribing city officials, intimidating witnesses and maintaining various hideouts. He became Chicago’s crime kingpin by wiping out his competitors through a series of gangland battles and slayings, including the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929, when Capone’s men gunned down seven rivals. This event helped raise Capone’s notoriety to a national level.
Among Capone’s enemies was federal agent Elliot Ness, who led a team of officers known as “The Untouchables” because they couldn’t be corrupted. Ness and his men routinely broke up Capone’s bootlegging businesses, but it was tax-evasion charges that finally stuck and landed Capone in prison in 1931. Capone began serving his time at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, but amid accusations that he was manipulating the system and receiving cushy treatment, he was transferred to the maximum-security lockup at Alcatraz Island, in California’s San Francisco Bay. He got out early in 1939 for good behavior, after spending his final year in prison in a hospital, suffering from syphilis.
Plagued by health problems for the rest of his life, Capone died in 1947 at age 48 at his home in Palm Island, Florida.