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October 31, 2011

Word of the Day

  • virga
  • audio pronunciation
  • \VER-guh\
  • DEFINITION

noun

: wisps of precipitation evaporating before reaching the ground
  • EXAMPLES

The virga trailing the evening clouds created an eerie backdrop for our Halloween expedition.

"High temperatures and updrafts assure that the rainfall on Venus becomes virga…. Any inhabitants on the surface would be grateful that the Venusian super-acid rain doesn’t make it all the way down." -- From Michael Carroll's 2011 book Drifting on Alien Winds

  • DID YOU KNOW?

"Virga" is from the Latin word "virga," which means primarily "branch" or "rod," but can also refer to a streak in the sky suggesting rain. Our featured word, which dates to the mid-20th century, is only the latest in a series of words from this root. "Verge" (which originally referred to a rod or staff carried as an emblem of authority or a symbol of office) dates to the 15th century. The rare noun "virgate," which refers to an old English unit of land area, came from "virga" by way of the Medieval Latin "virgata" (also a unit of land area) in the late 17th century. The more common adjective "virgate," meaning "shaped like a rod or wand" arrived in the early 19th by way of Latin "virgatus," meaning "made of twigs."

Word Family Quiz: What relative of "virga" is the formal name of the / (slash) symbol? The answer is ...

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