Ephemera - ephemeral

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The pronunciation of the noun ephemera, and its related adjective ephemeral, varies. In RP, both LPD and OED record the vowels as

  • In the first syllable, like that of 'it' and 'is' although unstressed.
  • In the second syllable, which is stressed, like that in 'get' and 'dress'.
  • The third and fourth syllables have the indeterminate English vowel, the schwa.

This results in 'if-EM-er-e(l)', IPA: /ɪ'fɛmərə(l)/. LPD also records a variant with '-ee-' in the second syllable: 'if-EEM-er-e(l)', IPA: /ɪ'fiːmərə(l)/. Some who know the Greek etymology (from ἐφ'ἡμέραν 'for a day') sometimes try to show this by making the second vowel more like that in 'say' and 'day': 'if-AIM-er-a(l)', IPA: /ɪ'feɪmərə(l)/.

Ephemera are in general short-lived, or transitory, things, not necessarily as short as a single day of 24 hours. In origin, the Greek was a neuter plural form (singular ephemeron), but it is sometimes treated as a singular with a plural, in English, ephemeras, or for those who saw it as a Latin feminine, ephemerae. Some particular uses may be of use to users of AWE:

In libraries, bibliophily, and other forms of collecting, ephemera refers to printed matter that is not expected to endure: advertisement posters, theatre programmes, tickets, paper bags etc.
In biology, the ephemera form a genus of insects including Mayflies: these spend most of their lives as the immature larvae and, when hatched, mate, lay eggs and die within usually a single day. These belong to the Ephemeridae family in the order Ephemeroptera, which take their names from them.
In historical medicine, an ephemeral or ephemera was used for short-lived forms of fever. "The fever doth dye that daye in the which he doth infest any man" (Boorde, Andrew The breviary of healthe (1547), cited in OED s.v. ephemera, a. and n.1)

The adjective ephemeral means 'short-lived, or transitory', literally 'for a single day of 24 hours'. It is not necessarily as short as that: Figuratively, and somewhat hyperbolically, it can even be applied to periods of history, where it is applied, amongst other things, to the empire established by Alexander the Great, which grew over a period of a dozen years - but disintegrated on his death in 323 BCE.

A rarer word, ephemerid, pronounced in the same way, has been used for flies of the genus ephemera..