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Oct 5, 2020
This week’s theme
Words coined after mythical creatures

This week’s words
unicorn
bunyip
gremlin
snark
Bigfoot

unicorn
A Virgin with a Unicorn (detail)
Art: Domenichino, 1604-1605

Previous week’s theme
Rivers
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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

Our planet, this blue planet, is filled with the wonders of nature.

If you haven’t realized it already, you’re supposed to read this in the voice of David Attenborough.

From jellyfish to giraffe to platypus, diversity of animal life on Earth is extraordinary. But sometimes real life is not amazing enough and we have to use our imagination. That’s where legendary creatures come in.

Once you’re creating fiction, you don’t have to be constrained by the laws of nature. That’s how we get mythological creatures like phoenix, the born-again (and again) bird, and Cerberus, the three-headed dog.

Like Phoenix and Cerberus, there are numerous mythical creatures that are now invoked metaphorically in the English language.

Join me as I take you on an extraordinary journey through language. In this intrepid quest, this week we’ll meet five spectacular creatures that have found a place in the dictionary. Creatures as distinctive and unique as, well, languages and words.

unicorn

PRONUNCIATION:
(YOO-nih-korn)

MEANING:
noun:
1. A mythical horse-like creature with a horn on the forehead.
2. Something or someone rare or unusual: highly desirable but hard or impossible to find.
3. A startup valued at one billion dollars or more.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin unicornis, from uni- (single) + cornu (horn), ultimately from the Indo-European root ker- (horn, head), which also gave us cornucopia, carrot, cranium, cornea, cervix, and cancer. Earliest documented use: 1225.

USAGE:
“The network president, Tina Perry, called the show ‘a unicorn in the TV universe’.”
Leigh-Ann Jackson; ‘Black Love’ Keeps It Simple: Honesty, not Antics; The New York Times; Sep 3, 2020.

“‘Yes, we are looking for companies that could be unicorns but we’re not focused on that as the sole outcome,’ says Casey.”
Marie Boran; Is Ireland too Risk Averse to Produce Its Own Unicorns?; Irish Times (Dublin); Aug 30, 2018.

See more usage examples of unicorn in Vocabulary.com’s dictionary.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance. -Vaclav Havel, writer, Czech Republic president (5 Oct 1936-2011)

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