Today's phrase, "terra firma," meaning "firm land," is straight from Latin.
Could you recall another Latin phrase, one meaning "not more beyond," used to describe something that's the best it can possibly be?
make your point with...
Latin for "firm land," terra firma is solid ground.
Literally, terra firma is the surface of the earth that you can stand on.
Figuratively, terra firma is anything solid and substantial which you can use as a basis for something else.
TAIR uh FER muh
Part of speech:
(Like "milk," "rice," and "education," uncountable nouns are words for stuff that can’t be broken into exact units. You talk about "some milk," "the rice," and "a lot of education," but you don’t say "a milk," "three rices," or "many educations."
Likewise, talk about "terra firma," "such terra firma," "no terra firma," and so on, but don’t say "terra firmas.")
How to use it:
We'll focus on figurative usage here. "Terra firma" is useful when you're talking about creating a strong argument, developing a strong understanding of something, building a case with strong evidence, making a logical leap to reasonable conclusion, and so on. Say that you're on terra firma (or upon terra firma) or that you're trying to reach terra firma, or that you're slipping off terra firma, and so on.
Even after studying my lecture notes for the third time, I was still lost in the swamp of cell replication but more determined than ever to set foot on terra firma.
She honestly believes that she and her argument stand on terra firma. But her argument's only basis is one extremely outdated book.
study it now:
Look away from the screen to explain the definition in your own words. You’ll know you understand what "terra firma" means when you can explain it without saying "solid ground" or "tenable basis."
try it out:
Think of a time you got confused about something you'd previously understood, and fill in the blanks: "My understanding of (a certain topic or idea) slipped off terra firma when _____."
Example: "My understanding of how kids these days use social media slipped off terra firma when I was informed about the ephemeral nature of Snapchat content."
before you review:
Spend at least 20 seconds occupying your mind with the game and quote below. Then try the review questions. Don’t go straight to the review now—let your working memory empty out first.
Playing With Words:
We're playing with clichés this month, examining the origins of some colorful ones. I’ll give you a cliché (some of which you might also call a proverb and/or an idiom) and pose a multiple-choice question about its origin. (I used this nifty book as a reference!)
Yesterday's question: “Boys will be boys.” Have we been saying this to excuse the messiness and rowdiness of boys since 1589, 1789, or 1989?
Answer: 1589. Apparently boys have pretty much always been boys.
Try this one today: Hopefully this cliché is self-explanatory to even our youngest readers: “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned.” Did we get this one from a 1697 play, a 1758 dating advice pamphlet, or an 1892 letter from one politician to another?
A Point Well Made:
Richard Dawkins: “I experienced … swelling of the chest when I visited CERN and the Large Hadron Collider: again, the near-lachrymose pride in what humans can do when they cooperate, across nations and across language barriers.”
review today's word:
1. The opposite of TERRA FIRMA is
A. HALLOWED HALLS
B. SHAKY GROUND
C. FAMILIAR TERRITORY
2. Viewed from the terra firma of _____, the ridiculous plan now seems even more _____.
A. retrospect .. outlandish B. high stakes .. subjective
C. maturity .. reasonable
Answers are below.
a final word:
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Disclaimer: Word meanings presented here are expressed in plain language and are limited to common, useful applications only. Readers interested in authoritative and multiple definitions of words are encouraged to check a dictionary. Likewise, word meanings, usage, and pronunciations are limited to American English; these elements may vary across world Englishes.
Answers to review questions:
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