echt

(EKHT)

Real, authentic, genuine, or typical.

English speakers adopted echt directly from German, where it means the same thing. (Ideally, it's pronounced with a bit of a guttural sound, like the "ch" in Scottish "loch.")

"In Boston, Hale & Dorr, the echt-Yankee law firm, officially ended its jacket-and-tie dress code last month, lest its techie clientele in T-shirts feel out of place. (How much longer will TV news shows, already abandoned by the digital generations, be anchored by guys dressed like 80's investment bankers?)" -- The New York Times' Frank Rich writing about Net culture

 

effulgent

(ih-FULL-junt)

Shining brilliantly, resplendent.

It's from the Latin effulgere, literally to "shine out."

"Look, dear! Who'd have thought the Eiffel Tower could ever look so effulgent?"

 

eldritch

(ELL-drich)

Strange, unearthly, weird, eerie, ghostly, frightful, or hideous.

This useful word's origin isn't entirely clear, although it may be related to the Old English root el- meaning "foreign or strange" and the Old English word rice, which means "kingdom." In other words, something that's eldritch may be something that's from "a strange or otherworldly place."

"At that instant, we all froze at the sound of eldritch laughter wafting down the rickety staircase."


embonpoint

(ahn-bohn-PWAHN)

Plumpness; stoutness.

This word comes from the French phrase en bon point, which literally means "in good condition."

"It was a girl called Tinker Bell exquisitely gowned in a skeleton leaf, cut low and square, through which her figure could be seen to the best advantage. She was slightly inclined to embonpoint." -- J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan

 

entomophagous

(en-tuh-MOFF-uh-guss)

Feeding on insects.

Entomophagous is from Greek entomon meaning "insect" and phagein, meaning "to eat."

(Actually, the Greek word entomon literally means "cut in two," a reference to an insect's segmented body. In fact, the word insect itself, is from Latin insectum, which also means "cut up.")

"The only people who are not at least partially bug-eating, or 'entomophagous,' are Westerners. The other 80 percent of the world's human population grazes within the insect class deliberately and, in some cases, daily." -- from an old article on Britannica.com. (Among other things, the item helpfully noted that fire-roasted witchetty grubs from the Australian Outback taste like "nut-flavored scrambled eggs and mild mozzarella, wrapped in a smoky phyllo dough.")

 

ephemeral

(ih-FEM-err-ull)

Lasting for a conspicuously short period of time.

At the heart of ephemeral is the ancient Greek word hemera, meaning "day." (It's the same word inside the common greeting heard throughout Greece today: Kalemera! or literally, "good day.")

Add to hemera the Greek preposition epi, meaning "upon" or "around," and you get the source of our own word meaning "transient" or "fleeting," or in its most literal sense, "lasting but a day."

Casually twirling her cappellini on her fork, Vanessa tried to appear as if she hadn't been rehearsing this line for hours: 'Then again, maestro, wouldn't you agree that the ephemeral nature of music is in fact one of its many charms?'"

 

esprit d'escalier

(ess-SPREE dess-kahl-YAY)

A remark that occurs to someone only later, after the fact; the thing you should have said, but didn't think of.

This wonderful French expression literally translates as "wit of the staircase." The English quickly recognized its usefulness, and had adopted it by the early 1900s. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations defines esprit d'escalier as: "An untranslatable phrase, the meaning of which is that one only thinks on one's way downstairs of the smart retort one might have made in the drawing room."

"As someone once observed, esprit d'escalier afflicts everybody -- with the possible exception of William F. Buckley."

 

estivate

(ES-tuh-vayt)

To spend the summer.

Also spelled aestivate, this word comes from Latin aestivare, meaning "to reside during the summer." It's also a zoological term used in connection with certain animals that spend the summer in a dormant state.

"No, no, no, darling, I said I'm willing to estivate anywhere with you -- just as long as it has internet access."

 

evanesce

(ev-uh-NESS)

To vanish or dissipate like vapor.

Both evanesce and the evocative adjective evanescent derive from Latin "evanescere" meaning to "vanish." (All these words are etymological relatives of such words as vain and vanity, which derive from Latin vanus, meaning "empty.")

"On their first and last date, Vanessa watched her hopes for a romantic evening evanesce the moment that Marvin insisted on dinner at Chuck E. Cheese's because, as he put it, 'After all, I have coupons!'"

 

execrable

(EK-sih-kruh-bull)

Wretched, bad, disgusting, hateful, very inferior.

Execrable describes something worthy of being execrated, the latter coming from ultimately from Latin execrari -- literally, "to put under a curse."

"As always, our travels were marred by execrable airline food."

 

exiguous

(ig-ZIG-yoo-uss)

Extremely scanty, inadequate, small, or meager.

Exiguous comes from Latin exigere, which means to "measure out." It's a linguistic cousin of exact.

Handing the resume back to the boss's nephew, she began carefully, "Well, your professional accomplishments certainly are exiguous ."

(c) 2002 Martha Barnette

<Return to Archive