not interesting or exciting, dull or boring 'Our films and literature are awash with _____ female characters, but The Hunger Games's Katniss Everdeen can truly be defined as ass-kicking.' Leah Hyslop, telegraph.co.uk, October 30, 2013
Its Latin ancestor translates loosely as 'without wisdom, good taste, or good sense.' That ancestor comes from sapere, which means 'to have good taste,' or 'to be wise.'
pretending to be morally better than other people 'If you grumble about [Gwyneth] Paltrow's _____ eating habits, take a closer look at your own health.' – Kat Ascharya, mobiledia.com, September 9, 2013
It once meant 'possessing sanctity; holy, sacred.' William Shakespeare is credited with first using this word to mean 'hypocritically pious or devout.'
having or showing an ability to understand difficult ideas and situations and to make good decisions '[New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh] McDaniels, a native of Ohio, is praised as a ____ play-caller and offensive mind and warrants a second turn as a head coach at 37.' — The Sports XChange, Hartford Courant, December 31, 2013
The earliest, 17th century sense of the word was applied to people (or animals): 'quick or keen in sense perceptions.' Over time, the meaning of the word shifted and became high praise for the human intellect.
feeling no fear; very bold or brave 'Before the Plunge, the Caroga Lake Volunteer Fire Department won the tug-of-war. The ____ firefighters then donned cold-water rescue gear to clear off the ice and stand by in the freezing water while the bathers did their thing.' Kathryn Spira, The Leader-Herald (Gloversville, NY), January 12, 2014
This word's ancestor is related to the Latin 'to tremble' – but the in- prefix negates the trembling and fear.
sweet or cute in a way that is silly or sentimental 'Etsy, a community-driven marketplace, for instance, is popular among makers of _____ knick-knacks such as crocheted tea cosies.' C. S.-W., Economist.com, April 10, 2013
Just as buddy is believed to be a baby talk alteration of brother, this word is a baby talk alteration of sweet. Although it is still considered a chiefly British term, it's increasingly popular in American English.
feeling or showing concern for someone who is sick, hurt, poor, etc. 'New research out of the Wharton School and George Mason University shows that workplaces with '_____ love' lead to less absenteeism and higher job satisfaction among employees.' — Adam Vaccaro, Inc.com, January 9, 2014
Originally referred to the sufferings of Jesus, and it once meant 'calling forth pity.' Now it implies tenderness, understanding, and a desire to aid and spare another.
having or showing perception, comprehension, or shrewdness especially in practical matters 'Advocates have waged ____ campaigns, gaining footholds by legalising marijuana for medical purposes (so far in 20 states and Washington, DC) and presenting a clean-cut, besuited image worlds away from the tie-dyed stereotypes.' The Economist, January 11, 2014
Used in the late 1700s as a verb, 'Do you understand?' and a noun, 'know-how'. It took more than a century to develop into an adjective describing people. Comes from the Latin sapere, 'to be wise.'
silly or stupid, complacently or inanely foolish 'Assuming that everyone has parents who could or would bankroll a life in NYC or SF is ______.' – Kelly Williams Brown, Jezebel.com, July 13, 2013
Long ago, it meant 'illusory,' after ignis fatuus, the strange light (literally 'foolish fire') that sometimes appears at night over marshy ground. The word's Latin root, fatuus is seen in ingis fatuus – which once meant 'to make foolish,' but which usually means 'to inspire with foolish love or admiration.'
notably polite or polished in manner 'Inside the narrow dining room is a mix of rustic and ____, with dish towels for napkins, brick walls hung with abstract paintings and light bulbs hooded by vaguely laboratorial shades.' — Ligaya Mishan, New York Times, October 31, 2013
Suggests composed cultivation and wide social experience. Comes from the Latin meaning 'of the city; refined.'
having or showing a generous and kind nature 'John F. Kennedy was also famously ____ to his political opponents, slow to anger and unfailingly easy going.' — Roger Stone, HuffingtonPost.com, January 10, 2014
Showing great spirit; comes from the Latin for 'great' + 'spirit.'
able to work or continue for a very long time without becoming tired 'Yet through ____ large-heartedness and real talk with students, young teacher eventually makes astonishing progress with these overlooked kids in the face of an unsupportive bureaucracy.' — Joshua J. Mackin, TheAtlantic.com, January 1, 2014
The grandeur of this word has long been recognized (and enhanced) by the British Royal Navy, which used the word to name a class of battle cruisers in World War I.
having or showing a lack of intelligence or serious thought, lacking meaning, importance, or substance 'Through booms and busts, profits and losses, the _____ jargon and happy euphemisms of the business world endure.' David Gillen and Will Storey, New York Times, October 24, 2013
Although the word's Latin ancestor means 'empty,' it has enriched our language: it gave us not only this word but also vacuum and evacuate.
having great charm or appeal 'Peter O'Toole, the _____, devil-may-care film actor who brought charm, wit and intelligence to the roles he played on the screen, as well as to his daily persona and often dissolute public life...' — Robert Simonson, Playbill.com, December 15, 2013
Has a religious meaning as well. As a noun, it refers to a member of a group or movement that stresses the seeking of direct divine inspiration. It is an extraordinary power (e.g. healing) given to a Christian by the Holy Spirit for the good of the church. The secular and religious senses both come from the Greek, meaning 'grace.'
revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, and false earnestness or spirituality 'On his way to the batting cage Friday afternoon, [Alex] Rodriguez reverentially tapped the Joe DiMaggio sign – 'I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee' – with his hand. He looked carefree, but who knows what such an _____ person really feels?' – Tyler Kepner, New York Times, August 9, 2013
The noun form of this word can mean 'anointment' or it can name something used to anoint, such as a soothing or lubricating oil. That idea of oiliness led to this word, which can describe the slickness of false sincerity
having or showing a complete lack of courage; very cowardly 'Interesting word, 'political': when used to describe what a politician does, it smacks of _____ expedience, but apply it to a pop song and it sounds hip and forceful.' Rollo Romig, The New Yorker, July 22, 2013
One of the earliest appearances of the word is in the phrase to cry _____, used to acknowledge defeat. The word probably comes from the Latin crepare, meaning 'crack, creak, break,' a root it shares with crevice.
having or showing courage; very brave or courageous 'The ____ Nelson Mandela.' — a tweet by Ian McKellen, December 5, 2013
Hal Foster's classic comic strip Prince _____ rightly suggests that this is an old word, dating to the days of Middle English and has its origins in a Latin word meaning 'to be strong.'
weak and afraid of danger 'Iran hawks should not view sanctions as a _____ cop-out.' Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz, New York Times, November 19, 2011
This odd-looking word has ancestry in the Latin for 'very small' and 'soul, mind, spirit'. It's been used by such notables as Ralph Waldo Emerson ('It is a _____ desertion of our work to gaze after our neighbours'), and the disgraced Vice-President Spiro Agnew, who called journalists '_____ pussyfooters.'
clear & direct; able to explain difficult ideas clearly and confidently 'This is beginning to resemble Jorge Luis Borges' ____ line about the 1982 [Falklands] war – two bald men fighting over a comb.' Ben Winkley, Wall Street Journal, November 29, 2013.
One who cuts through things and gets to the point. Original meaning, from around 1600, was 'having a cutting edge or piercing point.' Related to incisor teeth.
difficult to control and often noisy 'All this _____ behavior on the part of Senator Cruz and his allies is upsetting to the Washington establishment on both sides of the aisle.' Don Todd, Forbes.com, October 13, 2013
the word has an ancestor in the Latin strepere, meaning 'to make noise.' Strepere also turns up in the etymologies of the unusual terms strepitant and strepitous, both meaning 'clamorous; noisy; boisterous.'
stupid or unintelligent; not able to think clearly or to understand what is obvious or simple 'We are – or so we like to tell ourselves – a nation of animal lovers. And like most lovers, it turns out that we are perennially _____ and perpetually baffled by what the objects of our affection are trying to tell us.' Lucy Mangan, TheGuardian.com, November 3, 2013
An ancestor in the Latin word meaning 'blunt; dull.' In addition to the 'lacking sharpness' sense, there is the mathematical meaning, e.g. an angle measuring between 90 and 180 degrees and the medical meaning, 'not sharp or acute.'.