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Inevitable, inescapable.

The Latin word luctari literally means "to wrestle." The Romans added the prefix ex- to form eluctari -- literally, "to wrestle or struggle out of." Latin eluctari is trapped inside this English word describing something that's impossible to escape.

(Ineluctable is a cousin, by the way, of reluctant, which, when it first appeared in English literally meant "struggling," or "writhing.")

"One more gaffe like that, and we're headed for the ineluctable conclusion that he's unelectable."






A know-nothing.

If you've ever studied Latin, you might recognize ignoramus as a first-person plural
verb, meaning "we don't know."

In fact, that's about all it meant until the 16th century, when grand juries in England
began writing ignoramus across the backs of indictments whenever they decided there
was insufficient evidence to warrant prosecution.

Ignoramus might have remained strictly a legal term if playwright George Ruggle
hadn't come along. In 1615, he wrote a satire called Ignoramus, jokingly named after
the play's main character, a lawyer who actually knew nothing about law. Ruggle wrote
his play, the Oxford English Dictionary says, "to expose the ignorance and arrogance of
the common lawyers." Soon the name of Ignoramus the lawyer was commonly applied
to anyone ignorant.

"Who in the world do you suppose was the ignoramus in charge of casting for the
'Big Brother' TV show?"



in a nutshell

In few words; briefly.

This phrase -- or its Latin equivalent, at least -- appears all the way back in antiquity. The famous Roman orator Cicero is said to have mentioned a parchment copy of The Iliad so tiny that it could literally fit right into a nutshell.

Now, this would have to be very fine print indeed, considering that this ancient epic of love, war, valor and severed body parts flying everywhere contains a grand total of 501,930 letters. Anyway, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, speakers of English showed off their erudition by describing anything similarly condensed as an Iliad in a nutshell -- a phrase that was likewise condensed into the one we use today.

"'Work, eat, sleep, pay bills, empty the litter boxes -- that's my life in a nutshell,' sighed Chloe."




infra dig

(IN-fruh DIG)

Beneath one's dignity.

This phrase has been adapted into English from Latin infra dignitatem, which literally means "below dignity."

"Marvin had always assumed that answering a personals ad was infra dig, but the more he read about this Vanessa person (whose ads had been running for weeks now), the more he began to think that just this once, he should make an exception."







To apply cosmetics; paint the face.

Pronounce this one correctly, now. It's from Latin fucus, which originally denoted "a kind of red dye obtained from lichens." Later this name was applied to "rouge" or "face paint" made from such a source.

English speakers borrowed fucus (rhymes with "mucus"), and actually used it quite often in the 17th century. ("Heere is an excellent Fucus to weede out Freckles," declared a writer in 1607.) Its linguistic offspring, infucate, isn't used all that often today, of course--but then again, perhaps it's just as well.

"Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to trot off to the biffy to infucate."






A secluded spot beside a fireplace.

You already know that a nook is a small corner of a room or a hidden or secluded spot. An ingle is either a “fire in a fireplace”, or the fireplace itself. Inglenook refers either to a nook next to a fireplace, or to a cozy bench next to one.

"A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou beside me in the inglenook sounds to me like a pretty darn good way to start the evening."







Nonchalance, indifference, lack of concern.

This word and its adjectival form insouciant, comes from French words that literally mean "not caring."

"With regal insouciance, Queen Elizabeth II rode this week's roller coaster, held on to her stake and emerged today as one of her nation's newest Interent millionaires when an Internet company she backed went public."--Alan Cowell, writing in The New York Times about Her Majesty's windfall from, which will produce the first full aerial map of her realm. (The queen's profits, he noted, amount to "little more than a on the landscape of her personal fortune," estimated at more than $440 million.)






1. To blow on, or breathe into.

2. As a medical term, to treat by blowing gas, vapor, or powder into a body cavity.

This word comes from Latin insufflare, which means to inflate. (It's a linguistic relative of the name of that type of food that puffs up: a souffle.)

"Insufflate my ear and I'll follow you anywhere."







Of long standing; firmly established, deep-rooted.

Inveterate arose from a form of Latin inveterari, which means "to grow old" or "to endure." Inveterate and inveterari are linguistic cousins of "veteran."

"When Darwin's friend and inveterate champion Thomas Henry Huxley first encountered it, his reaction was, 'How extremely stupid of me not to have thought of that.'"--John Durant, writing in the New York Times Book Review about early reaction to Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species.







Grayish-yellow; light buff in color.

It was 1601, and the Austrian Archduke Albert was determined to capture Ostend, a coastal city in northern Belgium.

The story goes that the archduke's wife, Isabella, came up with a most unusual motivational technique to assist her husband's military efforts: She declared that she wouldn't remove her underwear -- even on laundry day -- until he took the city. Unfortunately for the couple, Ostend's defenders held out for three long years before falling to invaders.

Thus the color name isabella and its offspring, isabelline, came to describe anything having, well, the color of underwear subjected to over-wear. That's the story, anyway.

Alas, however, this proposed etymology doesn't quite wash with the Oxford English Dictionary, which points out that the first recorded use of isabella to describe such a color occurred in 1600, referring to "one rounde gowne of Isabella-colour satten . . . set with silver spangles." That's fully one year before the siege of Ostend began, which sort of shoots holes in the underwear theory.

It may be that the real story behind this word will remain lost forever in the mists of history. But at any rate, isabella and isabelline often describe the color of various animals (such as the bird called an isabelline shrike, and the isabelline bear, a yellowish-brown bear of the Himalayas, and the isabella moth), as well as fruits, such as the Isabella peach.

"Really, Marvin, we must do something about this depressing apartment of yours, and we should start by getting rid of this dreadful isabella wallpaper."






Honor, reputation, prestige.

This word was adopted into English from the Urdu language. It's ultimately from Arabic 'izzah, meaning "glory."

"Regninald seems to drop names of the rich and famous at every opportunity, which makes me wonder: It's not that he's obsessed with izzat, is it?"


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