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Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



Nov 13, 2006
This week's theme
Words with a built-in definite article

This week's words
hoi polloi

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Pronunciation Sound Clip RealAudio

"Battery not included." Buy a $150 gadget and chances are it doesn't come with batteries that cost, maybe, $2. I'm sure manufacturers have their reasons, perhaps something to do with the shelf life of the batteries.

If this week's words came packaged, their box would say "Definite articles included." No need to shop around for a definite article in the right size and sex.

When English borrows a word from another language, it sometimes takes its definite article too. We imported the word alligator from the Spanish el lagarto (the lizard). Alcohol came from the Arabic al-kul (the powdered antimony, and by association, substances obtained by sublimation or distillation). Many, such as alkali, algebra, lacrosse (from French: the crook: the staff carried by an abbot or bishop), and others, are among the words bringing their own definite article, but it's not always so obvious, as we'll see later this week.

An extreme example of this inadvertent duplication of definite articles is in the name of the Los Angeles site of prehistoric fossils of animals that had been stuck in tar pits. It's called The La Brea Tar Pits which would literally translate as The The Tar Tar Pits.

alchemy (AL-kuh-mee) noun

1. A medieval predecessor of chemistry devoted to things such as converting common metals into precious metals, finding a universal solvent (alkahest), and finding a universal remedy for diseases.

2. A mysterious or magical process of transformation.

[Via Old French and Medieval Latin from Arabic al-kimiya (the chemistry), from Greek khemeia (transmutation).]

See more usage examples of alchemy in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

"An obscure mix of alchemy and chemistry yielded a waxy, glowing goo that spontaneously burst into flame -- the element now known as phosphorus."
Sean Markey; 20 Things You Didn't Know About; Discover (New York); Nov 2006.


My two favorite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything. The perfect day: riding a bike to the library. -Peter Golkin, museum spokesman (b. 1966)

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