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Adynaton Origin and Meaning

The word adynaton, which refers to a jocular phrase that emphasizes the idea of impossibility, was adopted into English from Greek, where adynaton means “impossible,” a combination of a- meaning “not” and dynatos, which means...

Nicket, the Back of the Knee

Emily in San Diego, California, reports her father’s side of the family has a word for the back of the knee: nicket. German speakers refer to that part of the body as the Kniekehle, from German words meaning “knee” and...

Symmachy

Symmachy is a rare word that means “an alliance to fight together against something,” the sym- coming from a Greek word that means “together” and the -machy from a Greek word that means “fight.” Similarly, a...

The Asthenosphere

The asthenosphere, as described in Brian Kevin’s Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks guide (Bookshop|Amazon) is a gurgling sea of plasticized rock beneath the earth’s rocky crust. Asthenosphere derives from Greek asthenes...

Episode 1549

Navel-Gazing

In 1971, when a new public library opened in Troy, Michigan, famous authors and artists were invited to write letters to the city’s youngest readers, extolling the many benefits of libraries. One of the loveliest was from E.B. White, author of...

Staring at One’s Own Navel

Eleanor from Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, is pondering navel-gazing after being surprised to learn that her adult son was unfamiliar with the term. Staring downward at one’s belly to induce a mystical trance has a long history: The...