Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 17, 2017 is:
cachet \ka-SHAY\ noun
1 : a seal used especially as a mark of official approval
2 : a characteristic feature or quality conferring prestige; also : standing or estimation in the eyes of people : prestige
3 : a design, inscription, or advertisement printed or stamped on mail
"It's been 70 years and the Sweetheart City is still going strong with its official valentine card and cachet. The Loveland Chamber of Commerce unveiled the 2016 artwork Tuesday…." — Erin Udell, The Fort Collins Coloradoan, 6 Jan. 2016
"TV is enjoying a surge in critical prestige and has taken over some of the cultural cachet that used to be reserved for the movies." — Ryan Faughnder, The Los Angeles Times, 2 Jan. 2017
Did you know?
In the years before the French Revolution, a lettre de cachet was a letter, signed by both the French king and another officer, that was used to authorize a person's imprisonment. Documents such as these were usually made official by being marked with a seal pressed into soft wax. This seal was known in French as a cachet. The word was derived from the Middle French verb cacher, meaning "to press" or "to hide." The "seal" sense of cachet has been used in English since the mid-17th century, and in the 19th century the word started acquiring its extended senses, first referring to a feature or quality conferring prestige, and by century's end to prestige itself.
On this day in 1904, Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly premieres at the La Scala theatre in Milan, Italy.
The young Puccini decided to dedicate his life to opera after seeing a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida in 1876. In his later life, he would write some of the best-loved operas of all time: La Boheme (1896), Tosca (1900), Madame Butterfly (1904) and Turandot (left unfinished when he died in 1906). Not one of these, however, was an immediate success when it opened. La Boheme, the now-classic story of a group of poor artists living in a Paris garret, earned mixed reviews, while Tosca was downright panned by critics.
While supervising a production of Tosca in London, Puccini saw the play Madame Butterfly, written by David Belasco and based on a story by John Luther Long. Taken with the strong female character at its center, he began working on an operatic version of the play, with an Italian libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. Written over the course of two years–including an eight-month break when Puccini was badly injured in a car accident–the opera made its debut in Milan in February 1904.
Set in Nagasaki, Japan, Madame Butterfly told the story of an American sailor, B.F. Pinkerton, who marries and abandons a young Japanese geisha, Cio-Cio-San, or Madame Butterfly. In addition to the rich, colorful orchestration and powerful arias that Puccini was known for, the opera reflected his common theme of living and dying for love. This theme often played out in the lives of his heroines–women like Cio-Cio-San, who live for the sake of their lovers and are eventually destroyed by the pain inflicted by that love. Perhaps because of the opera’s foreign setting or perhaps because it was too similar to Puccini’s earlier works, the audience at the premiere reacted badly to Madame Butterfly, hissing and yelling at the stage. Puccini withdrew it after one performance. He worked quickly to revise the work, splitting the 90-minute-long second act into two parts and changing other minor aspects. Four months later, the revamped Madame Butterfly went onstage at the Teatro Grande in Brescia. This time, the public greeted the opera with tumultuous applause and repeated encores, and Puccini was called before the curtain 10 times. Madame Butterfly went on to huge international success, moving to New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1907.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 16, 2017 is:
sward \SWORD\ noun
1 : a portion of ground covered with grass
2 : the grassy surface of land
"It was a blind and despairing rush by the collection of men in dusty and tattered blue, over a green sward and under a sapphire sky, toward a fence, dimly outlined in smoke, from behind which spluttered the fierce rifles of enemies." — Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage, 1895
"A few hundred yards upstream of the mill was a dam and a small lake. Along its east shore was Riverside Park with its gazebos and grassy swards and, come summer, flocks of picnickers." — Marc Hudson, The Journal Review (Crawfordsville, Indiana), 28 May 2016
Did you know?
Sward sprouted from the Old English sweard or swearth, meaning "skin" or "rind." It was originally used as a term for the skin of the body before being extended to another surface—that of the earth's. The word's specific grassy sense dates back more than 500 years, but it rarely crops up in contemporary writing. The term, however, has been planted in a number of old novels, such as in this quote from Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles: "The sun was so near the ground, and the sward so flat, that the shadows of Clare and Tess would stretch a quarter of a mile ahead of them...."
On this day in 1923, in Thebes, Egypt, English archaeologist Howard Carter enters the sealed burial chamber of the ancient Egyptian ruler King Tutankhamen.
Because the ancient Egyptians saw their pharaohs as gods, they carefully preserved their bodies after death, burying them in elaborate tombs containing rich treasures to accompany the rulers into the afterlife. In the 19th century, archeologists from all over the world flocked to Egypt, where they uncovered a number of these tombs. Many had long ago been broken into by robbers and stripped of their riches.
When Carter arrived in Egypt in 1891, he became convinced there was at least one undiscovered tomb–that of the little known Tutankhamen, or King Tut, who lived around 1400 B.C. and died when he was still a teenager. Backed by a rich Brit, Lord Carnarvon, Carter searched for five years without success. In early 1922, Lord Carnarvon wanted to call off the search, but Carter convinced him to hold on one more year.
In November 1922, the wait paid off, when Carter’s team found steps hidden in the debris near the entrance of another tomb. The steps led to an ancient sealed doorway bearing the name Tutankhamen. When Carter and Lord Carnarvon entered the tomb’s interior chambers on November 26, they were thrilled to find it virtually intact, with its treasures untouched after more than 3,000 years. The men began exploring the four rooms of the tomb, and on February 16, 1923, under the watchful eyes of a number of important officials, Carter opened the door to the last chamber.
Inside lay a sarcophagus with three coffins nested inside one another. The last coffin, made of solid gold, contained the mummified body of King Tut. Among the riches found in the tomb–golden shrines, jewelry, statues, a chariot, weapons, clothing–the perfectly preserved mummy was the most valuable, as it was the first one ever to be discovered. Despite rumors that a curse would befall anyone who disturbed the tomb, its treasures were carefully catalogued, removed and included in a famous traveling exhibition called the “Treasures of Tutankhamen.” The exhibition’s permanent home is the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 15, 2017 is:
voluble \VAHL-yuh-bul\ adjective
1 : easily rolling or turning : rotating
Having worked as a teacher for almost twenty years, Pamela was voluble on the subject of education.
"At 78, the Dutch-born director is generous and voluble, feeling his way through conversation as if he, too, is curious about what he will say next. ('That's it, I'm cutting you off,' a hardened publicist told him, well after our interview was supposed to end.)" — Jeffrey Bloomer, Slate Magazine, 23 Nov. 2016
Did you know?
English has many terms for gabby types, but it's important to choose the right word to get across what kind of chatterbox you mean. Talkative usually implies a readiness to engage in talk or a disposition to enjoy conversation. Loquacious generally suggests the power to express oneself fluently, articulately, or glibly, but it can also mean "talking excessively." Garrulous is even stronger in its suggestion of excessive talkativeness; it is most often used for tedious, rambling talkers. Voluble is a word ultimately derived from the Latin verb volvere, meaning "to roll," that describes an individual who speaks easily and often—someone whose words smoothly roll off their tongue, so to speak.
A massive explosion of unknown origin sinks the battleship USS Maine in Cuba’s Havana harbor, killing 260 of the fewer than 400 American crew members aboard.
One of the first American battleships, the Maine weighed more than 6,000 tons and was built at a cost of more than $2 million. Ostensibly on a friendly visit, the Maine had been sent to Cuba to protect the interests of Americans there after a rebellion against Spanish rule broke out in Havana in January.
An official U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry ruled in March that the ship was blown up by a mine, without directly placing the blame on Spain. Much of Congress and a majority of the American public expressed little doubt that Spain was responsible and called for a declaration of war.
Subsequent diplomatic failures to resolve the Maine matter, coupled with United States indignation over Spain’s brutal suppression of the Cuban rebellion and continued losses to American investment, led to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in April 1898.
Within three months, the United States had decisively defeated Spanish forces on land and sea, and in August an armistice halted the fighting. On December 12, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed between the United States and Spain, officially ending the Spanish-American War and granting the United States its first overseas empire with the ceding of such former Spanish possessions as Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.
In 1976, a team of American naval investigators concluded that the Maine explosion was likely caused by a fire that ignited its ammunition stocks, not by a Spanish mine or act of sabotage.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 14, 2017 is:
billet-doux \bill-ee-DOO\ noun
: a love letter
While cleaning out her parents' basement, Amy stumbled upon a box containing billets-doux written by her dad to his high-school sweetheart—her mom.
"… when you stop to think about it the entire panoply of behaviours we consider as romantic, from sending little billets-doux, to developing a shared vocabulary of pet names, are … infantile. What's romance, then, but a kind of childish make-believe?" — Will Self, Prospect, 13 Oct. 2016
Did you know?
The first recorded use of the French word billet doux (literally, "sweet letter") in an English context occurs in John Dryden's 1673 play Marriage a-la-Mode. In the play, Dryden pokes fun at linguistic Francophiles in English society through the comic character Melanthe, who is described by her prospective lover Rodophil as follows: "No lady can be so curious of a new fashion as she is of a new French word; she's the very mint of the nation, and as fast as any bullion comes out of France, coins it immediately into our language." True to form, Melanthe describes Rodophil with the following words: "Let me die, but he's a fine man; he sings and dances en Français, and writes the billets doux to a miracle."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 13, 2017 is:
transpontine \trans-PAHN-tyne\ adjective
1 : situated on the farther side of a bridge
2 : (British) situated on the south side of the Thames
Traffic on the Tobin Bridge was at a near standstill, and it took us twenty minutes to reach our transpontine destination in Charlestown.
"The moment Waterloo Bridge was planned across the Thames, a new theatre to serve the transpontine coach trade was inevitable." — Robert Gore-Langton, The Spectator (UK), 15 Nov. 2014
Did you know?
Usually the prefix trans-, meaning "across," allows for a reciprocal perspective. Whether you're in Europe or America, for example, transoceanic countries are countries across the ocean from where you are. But that's not the way it originally worked with transpontine. The pont- in transpontine is from the Latin pons, meaning "bridge," and the bridge in this case was, at first, any bridge that crossed the River Thames in the city of London. "Across the bridge" meant on one side of the river only—the south side. That's where the theaters that featured popular melodramas were located, and Victorian Londoners used transpontine to distinguish them from their more respectable cispontine ("situated on the nearer side of a bridge") counterparts north of the Thames.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 12, 2017 is:
weltanschauung \VELT-ahn-show-ung ("ow" as in "cow")\ noun
: (often capitalized Weltanschauung) a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint
"In my personal Weltanschauung, there is nothing wrong with arm hair, giant headphones are silly and skin-lightening products are creepy and grim. Others may grade them differently, but that's all part of the same thing too. As soon as you opt in to a belief system where any type of hair, skin or style is 'right' or 'wrong' … you are in the jaws." — Victoria Coren Mitchell, The Observer, 3 Apr. 2016
"Back in the 1960s, behavioral theorists wrote about a culture of poverty. Life below the poverty line has specific characteristics that produce a fairly consistent weltanschauung among the people who share it. That means that they have much in common that shapes their communities." — Hubert Kauffman, The Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine), 4 Dec. 2016
Did you know?
The German word Weltanschauung literally means "world view"; it combines Welt ("world") with Anschauung ("view"), which ultimately derives from the Middle High German verb schouwen ("to look at" or "to see"). When we first adopted it from German in the mid-19th century, weltanschauung referred to a philosophical view or apprehension of the universe, and this sense is still the most widely used. It can also describe a more general ideology or philosophy of life.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 11, 2017 is:
ragtag \RAG-tag\ adjective
2 : composed of diverse often incongruous elements : motley
"Cyndi Lauper was one of the biggest stars of the '80's MTV era…. Her girlish voice and gleefully ragtag appearance became one of the most distinctive images of the time, which helped catapult her to stardom." — The Arizona Republic, 28 Sept. 2016
"[Howard] Shore was a core member of the show's small, ragtag team and not only composed the free-form jazz pieces that opened and closed the show … but also wrote songs and dramatic underscores, appeared in sketches and was in charge of booking musical guests." — Tim Greiving, The Washington Post, 1 Jan. 2017
Did you know?
Tag and rag was a relatively common expression in the 16th and 17th centuries, and it was often used pejoratively to refer to members of the lower classes of society. By the 18th century, the phrase had been expanded to ragtag and bobtail. That expression could mean either "the lower classes" or "the entire lot of something" (as opposed to just the more desirable parts—the entire unit of an army, for example, not just its more capable soldiers). Something described as ragtag and bobtail, then, was usually common and unspectacular. Ragtag and bobtail was eventually shortened to ragtag, the adjective we know today, which can describe an odd mixture that is often hastily assembled or second-rate.