Word of the Day : October 15, 2015

miasma

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noun mye-AZ-muh

Definition

1 : a vaporous exhalation formerly believed to cause disease; also : a heavy vaporous emanation or atmosphere

2 : an influence or atmosphere that tends to deplete or corrupt; also : an atmosphere that obscures : fog

Did You Know?

Miasma entered English from New Latin in the mid-1600s and comes ultimately from the Greek miainein, meaning "to pollute." In notes taken during a voyage to South America on the HMS Beagle in the 1830s, Charles Darwin described an illness that he believed was caused by "miasma" emanating from stagnant pools of water. For him, miasma meant an invisible emanation of "infecting substances floating in the air … considered to be noxious to health," as defined in Noah Webster's 1828 An American Dictionary of the English Language. Nowadays, we know germs are the source of infection, so we aren't likely to use the unscientific miasma this way. But while Darwin was out to sea, broader applications of miasma were just starting to spread. Now the term is used for something destructive or demoralizing that surrounds or permeates.


Examples

"A local photographer graciously let me borrow a good lens-cleaning cloth, which I used repeatedly in the swirling miasma of mist and rain." — Clark Fair, The Alaska Dispatch News, 13 Sept. 2015

"Economists say Greece, which had only started to recover from a grinding five-year recession, risks a relapse because of the miasma of financial uncertainty." — Jack Ewing and Liz Alderman, The New York Times, 7 May 2015



Test Your Memory

Fill in the blank in this sentence from our September 30th Word of the Day: "Though he seldom loses his temper, his occasional and unpredictable _________ of anger are legendary among his colleagues."

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