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Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day Profile

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

English, Education, 1 season, 399 episodes, 14 hours, 19 minutes
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Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
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purloin

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 15, 2024 is: purloin • \per-LOYN\  • verb To purloin is to take something that belongs to someone else—that is, to steal it. Purloin is much more formal-sounding than steal, but is often—though not always—encountered in humorous contexts, suggesting that the theft is not serious. // The puppy managed to purloin a few cookies from the plate when no one was looking. // The studio stepped up security, fearing that someone might attempt to purloin a copy of the script for the show’s season finale. See the entry > Examples: “The pitch for every tax scam is the same: ‘We will help you avoid paying the IRS.’ While there are hundreds of legitimate ways to reduce your federal income tax bill, fraud merchants purloin millions through what the IRS calls its ‘Dirty Dozen.’ Most of the swindles involve bogus tax breaks.” — John F. Wasik, Forbes, 5 May 2023 Did you know? Picture a pie cooling on a windowsill. Peach, possibly, or perhaps plum—with perfect perfumed plumes puffing out from the holes poked in its crust. And then, suddenly, the pie is gone (as is our alliteration, at least for now). Those familiar with the classic pie-windowsill thievery of cartoons and comics know that the dessert has not been merely stolen, or even swiped, but purloined! Purloin comes from the Anglo-French verb purluigner, meaning “to prolong, postpone, or set aside.” English speakers of the 15th century borrowed purloin to use it in much the same way, applying it when someone sets something aside, concealing it so that it cannot be used by someone else. The sense meaning “to steal” developed not long after in the same century. The whiff of unseriousness often carried by purloin is not a constant; even today, it is common to read reports of people purloining large sums of money, not just delicious plum pies. But purloin does tend to carry the same particular piquancy as pinch and pilfer.
4/15/20242 minutes, 27 seconds
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furlong

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 14, 2024 is: furlong • \FER-lawng\  • noun A furlong is a unit of distance equal to 220 yards (about 201 meters), and is used chiefly in horse racing. // To win the Kentucky Derby, a Thoroughbred must run 10 furlongs, or one and 1/4 miles. See the entry > Examples: “My battle with this monster began a decade ago when a wayward seedling popped up in my perennial bed. It subsequently flowered so gloriously that, like a common dolt, I left it there. What I didn’t realize is that every bloom drops lots of seeds. Even worse, after the plant’s foliage withers in summer, spreading roots grow by the furlong in every direction. A pink primrose tsunami swept over my garden the following spring, choking the phlox and drowning the daylilies.” — Steve Bender, Southern Living, 26 Sept. 2023 Did you know? Furlong is an English original that can be traced back to Old English furlang, a combination of the noun furh (“furrow”) and the adjective lang (“long”). Though now standardized as a length of 220 yards (or 1/8th of a mile), the furlong was originally defined less precisely as the length of a furrow—a trench in the earth made by a plow—in a cultivated field. This length was equal to the long side of an acre—an area originally defined as the amount of arable land that could be plowed by a yoke of oxen in a day, but later standardized as an area measuring 220 yards (one furlong) by 22 yards, and now defined as any area measuring 4,840 square yards. In contemporary usage, furlong is often encountered in references to horse racing.
4/14/20242 minutes, 13 seconds
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brusque

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 13, 2024 is: brusque • \BRUSK\  • adjective A person may be described as brusque when they are talking or behaving in a very direct, brief, and unfriendly way. Brusque can also describe speech that is noticeably short and abrupt. // We knew something was wrong when our normally easygoing professor was brusque and impatient with our class. // She asked for a cup of coffee and received a brusque reply: “We don't have any.” See the entry > Examples: “Archaeologists look down on him because of his working-class background, and his brusque manner hasn't won him many friends. He doesn't argue with those he disagrees with; he just walks away.” — Dan Lybarger, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 19 Feb. 2021 Did you know? If you’ve ever felt swept aside by someone with a brusque manner, that makes a certain amount of etymological sense. Brusque, you see, comes ultimately from bruscus, the Medieval Latin name for butcher’s broom, a shrub whose bristly, leaf-like twigs have long been used for making brooms. Bruscus was modified to the adjective brusco in Italian, where it meant “sour” or “tart.” French, in turn, changed brusco to brusque, and the word in that form entered English in the 1600s. English speakers initially applied brusque to tartness in wine, but the word soon came to describe a harsh and stiff manner, which is just what you might expect of a word bristling with associations to stiff, scratchy brooms.
4/13/20241 minute, 52 seconds
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surfeit

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 12, 2024 is: surfeit • \SER-fut\  • noun Surfeit is a formal word that refers to an amount or supply that is too much or more than you need. It is synonymous with the word excess. // The organization ended up with a surfeit of volunteers who simply got in each other's way. See the entry > Examples: "Pet owners can have a tougher time finding apartments because of the surfeit of landlords who don't allow dogs, cats or other animals in their buildings." — Andrew J. Campa, The Los Angeles Times, 22 Feb. 2024 Did you know? There is an abundance—you could almost say a surfeit—of English words that come from the Latin verb facere, meaning "to do." The connection to facere is fairly obvious for words spelled with "fic," "fac," or "fec," such as sacrifice, fact, and infect. For words like stupefy (a modification of the Latin word stupefacere) and hacienda (originally, in Old Spanish and Latin, facienda) the facere relation is not so apparent. As for surfeit, a "c" was dropped along the path that led from Latin through Anglo-French, where facere became faire ("to do") and sur- was added to make the verb surfaire, meaning "to overdo." It is the Anglo-French noun surfet ("excess"), however, that Middle English borrowed, eventually settling on the spelling surfeit.
4/12/20242 minutes
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discomfit

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 11, 2024 is: discomfit • \diss-KUM-fit\  • verb To discomfit someone is to make them confused or upset. Discomfit is a formal synonym of the also formal (but slightly less so) disconcert. // Jacob was discomfited by the new employee’s forward, probing questions. See the entry > Examples: “Bosley Crowther, chief film critic for The New York Times, didn’t quite know what to make of Dr. Strangelove at the time of its release in January 1964. … What exactly was Kubrick’s point? ‘…I want to know what this picture proves.’ We may find it odd for an influential critic to expect a movie to ‘prove’ anything. Kubrick’s aim was manifestly not to prove, but to subvert and discomfit.” — Andrew J. Bacevich, The Nation, 23 Mar. 2023 Did you know? Disconcerted by discomfit and discomfort? While the two look similar and share some semantic territory, they’re etymologically unrelated. Unlike discomfort, discomfit has no connection to comfort, which comes ultimately from the Latin adjective fortis, meaning “strong.” Instead, discomfit was borrowed from Anglo-French in the 13th century with the meaning “to defeat in battle.” Within a couple centuries, discomfit had expanded beyond the battlefield to mean “to thwart,” a meaning that eventually softened into the now-common “to disconcert or confuse” use—one quite close to the uneasiness and annoyance communicated by discomfort. For a time, usage commentators were keen to keep a greater distance between discomfit and discomfort; they recommended that discomfit be limited to its original “to defeat” meaning, but they’ve largely given up now, and the “disconcert or confuse” meaning is fully established. There is one major difference between discomfit and discomfort, though: discomfit is used almost exclusively as a verb, while discomfort is much more commonly used as a noun than a verb.
4/11/20242 minutes, 34 seconds
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vicarious

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 10, 2024 is: vicarious • \vye-KAIR-ee-us\  • adjective A vicarious emotion or experience is one felt by watching, hearing about, or reading about someone else rather than by doing something yourself. // He felt a vicarious thrill as his daughter crossed the stage to accept her diploma. See the entry > Examples: “That Jagger can still sing and dance up a storm, at 80, is a triumph for him and should provide a vicarious thrill for anyone who attends a concert by the Rolling Stones next year.” — George Varga, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 10 Dec. 2023 Did you know? If you love to read adventure tales from the comfort of home, you’re already a pro at living vicariously, so throw on those readers and let us paint a picture. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to study language and share what you’ve learned with the world. You wake up and pour yourself a strong cup of coffee, and then the work begins. Today, you are tasked with understanding the history of vicarious. Your research confirms that this word originally described something having the function of a substitute—that is, something that serves instead of another thing—and that it comes from the Latin noun vicis, which means “change” or “stead.” What’s more, you learn that vicis is also the source of the English prefix vice- (as in “vice president”), meaning “one that takes the place of.” Keeping in mind the most common meaning of vicarious (“experienced through imaginative or sympathetic participation”), you write it all down so others can share in your experience. Mission accomplished!
4/10/20242 minutes, 7 seconds
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aegis

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 9, 2024 is: aegis • \EE-jus\  • noun Aegis is a formal word that refers to the power to protect, control, or support something or someone. It is often used in the phrase under the aegis of. // The issue will be decided under the aegis of an international organization. See the entry > Examples: “French President Emmanuel Macron visited Notre Dame Cathedral on Friday, one year before its scheduled reopening in 2024. … During his visit, Macron paid homage to Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin, who oversaw the reconstruction and died in August. Wearing a hardhat, Macron was given a tool to assist as Georgelin’s name was inscribed in the wood of the spire under the aegis of an artisan, memorializing the general’s contribution to the cathedral.” — Thomas Adamson and Sylvie Corbet, The Associated Press, 8 Dec. 2023 Did you know? English borrowed aegis from Latin, but the word ultimately comes from the Greek noun aigís, meaning “goatskin.” In ancient Greek mythology, an aegis was something that offered physical protection. It has been depicted in various ways, including as a magical protective cloak made from the skin of the goat that suckled Zeus as an infant, and as a shield fashioned by Hephaestus that bore the severed head of the Gorgon Medusa. The word first entered English in the 15th century as a noun referring to the shield or breastplate associated with Zeus or Athena. It later took on a more general sense of “protection” and, by the late-19th century, it had acquired the extended senses of “auspices” and “sponsorship.”
4/9/20242 minutes, 6 seconds
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fatuous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 8, 2024 is: fatuous • \FATCH-oo-us\  • adjective To describe something, such as an idea or remark, as fatuous is to say that it is foolish or silly rather than sensible or logical. // Our hopes for an apology and a reasonable explanation for the error were met with fatuous platitudes. See the entry > Examples: "... when I was first admitted to the emergency room at Swedish's hospital in Edmonds, a doctor asked me whether I was right- or left-handed, and when I said left, he said, 'That's lucky'—a remark I took to be verging on the fatuous. But since then I've read that a considerable portion of left-handed people ... have their verbal and cognitive facilities located in the right hemisphere of the brain, which would explain my relative ease in talking, thinking, and remembering, despite my hemiplegia ..." — Jonathan Raban, Father and Son: A Memoir, 2023 Did you know? "I am two fools, I know, / For loving, and for saying so / In whining Poetry," wrote John Donne, simultaneously confessing to both infatuation and fatuousness. As any love-struck fool can attest, infatuation can make buffoons of the best of us, and so it is reasonable that the words fatuous and infatuation share the same Latin root, fatuus, meaning "foolish." Both terms have been part of English since the 17th century, though infatuation followed the earlier verb infatuate, a fatuus descendant that once meant "to make foolish" but that now usually means "to inspire with a foolish love or admiration."
4/8/20242 minutes, 5 seconds
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conjecture

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 7, 2024 is: conjecture • \kun-JEK-cher\  • verb Conjecture is a formal synonym of the verb guess that means “to form an opinion or idea without proof or sufficient evidence.” // Some scientists have conjectured that Jupiter’s moon Europa could sustain life. See the entry > Examples: “In the week since the news of the thefts broke, the case has been the subject of heated speculation in the British news media, with daily articles conjecturing over how many artifacts had been lost, and who was responsible.” — Alex Marshall, The New York Times, 22 Aug. 2023 Did you know? Conjecturing—forming an idea or opinion with some amount of guesswork—usually involves more than simply throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks, but that’s the gist, and with good etymological reason: conjecture comes ultimately from the Latin verb conicere, which means, literally, “to throw together.” To conjecture is to make an educated guess rather than a stab in the dark; it involves piecing together bits of information to come to a plausible conclusion, as in “scientists conjecturing about the cause of the disease.” As such, conjecture tends to show up in formal contexts rather than informal ones, though we reckon one could conjecture if their spaghetti is perfectly cooked based on the amount of time it has been boiling, and on what has worked in the past. (Nota bene: throwing it at the wall doesn’t work!)
4/7/20241 minute, 57 seconds
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redoubt

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 6, 2024 is: redoubt • \rih-DOUT\  • noun Redoubt can refer specifically to a small building or area that provides soldiers with protection from attack, or more broadly to any safe or protected place, whether literal or figurative. // A massive stone redoubt at the entrance of the bay guarded the city. // The refugees gathered in a hilly redoubt several miles from the outskirts of town. See the entry > Examples: "Pittsburgh has spent decades building itself as a world mecca for robotics technology and applications. The key to Pittsburgh's development into a robotics center has been the presence of Carnegie-Mellon University, a historic redoubt of technology that continues to evolve successfully; among its current distinctives is that it offers the nation's No. 1 graduate-degree program in artificial intelligence, according to [Joel] Reed [president of the Pittsburgh Robotics Network]." — Dale Buss, Forbes 28 Apr. 2023 Did you know? Based on its spelling, you might think that redoubt shares its origin with words such as doubt and redoubtable, both of which come from the Latin verb dubitare, meaning "to be in doubt." But that's not the case. Redoubt actually comes to us (via the French word redoute and the Italian word ridotto) from a different Latin verb—reducere, meaning "to lead back," the same root that gives us reduce. How that b ended up in redoubt is a lingering question, but some etymologists have posited that the word might have been conflated with another redoubt—a now-archaic verb meaning "to regard with awe, dismay, or dread" which, unlike its twin, does indubitably come from dubitare.
4/6/20242 minutes, 5 seconds
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meticulous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 5, 2024 is: meticulous • \muh-TIK-yuh-lus\  • adjective Something or someone described as meticulous shows extreme or excessive care in the consideration or treatment of details. // He is meticulous about keeping accurate records. See the entry > Examples: "In a press release, the company touts its meticulous approach to the sandwich's creation—testing pickles with eight variations of thickness and more than 10 bun recipes with six different bakeries." — Alicia Kelso, Forbes, 7 Jan. 2021 Did you know? We're afraid we have some strange etymological news: meticulous comes from the Latin word for "fearful"—metīculōsus—and ultimately from the Latin noun metus, meaning "fear." Although meticulous currently has no "fearful" meanings, it was originally used as a synonym of "frightened" and "timid." This sense had fallen into disuse by 1700, and in the 1800s meticulous acquired a new meaning of "overly and timidly careful" (possibly due to the influence of the French word méticuleux). This meaning in turn led to the current one of "painstakingly careful," with no connotations of fear at all. The newest use was controversial for a time, but it is now by far the most common meaning; even the most meticulous (or persnickety, depending on your view) among us consider it perfectly acceptable.
4/5/20241 minute, 57 seconds
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praxis

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 4, 2024 is: praxis • \PRAK-sis\  • noun Praxis is a formal word referring to the practical application of a theory—in other words, what one does to act on a theory (such as feminist theory) to which one is committed. Praxis is also used synonymously with action or practice to refer to the exercise of an art, science, or skill, or to customary conduct within a given sphere. // Many gardeners promote composting as being good environmental praxis. See the entry > Examples: “A disturbing trend that does not get enough attention is the continued practice of taking work, ideas, and creative genius from Black women without properly crediting or citing them as the source. … In 2017, Dr. Christen A. Smith created the Cite Black Women campaign as a way to highlight this issue and ‘push people to engage in a radical praxis of citation that acknowledges and honors Black women’s transnational intellectual production.’” — Janice Gassam Asare, Forbes, 8 Oct. 2021 Did you know? We all know that praxis makes perfect, right? Oh wait, it’s practice, not praxis, that makes perfect! Worry not about confusing the two: as part of our educational praxis (how we act on our belief in the importance of providing information about language), we’ll sort them out here. Both praxis and practice come ultimately from the Greek verb prassein (“to do” or “to practice”), and both can refer to a habit or custom—that is, a usual way of doing something or of conducting oneself. Praxis, however, is more at home in formal, and often academic, writing; a sentence like “it is my praxis to eat breakfast cereal every morning” might make sense, but it’s not idiomatic. Praxis also has two meanings that are more specific; it can refer to the practice of an art, science, or skill, and it can also refer to the practical application of a theory, as in “democratic praxis” or “revolutionary praxis.”
4/4/20242 minutes, 30 seconds
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lambaste

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 3, 2024 is: lambaste • \lam-BAYST\  • verb To lambaste something or someone is to criticize them very harshly. Lambaste is also sometimes used as a synonym of beat meaning “to assault.” // The coach lambasted the team for its poor play. See the entry > Examples: “They come and go like pop songs and can make your head spin. Boiled down, though, most diet longevity studies lambaste the ‘Standard American Diet’ (SAD), which contributes to inflammation that may trigger diabetes, heart disease, strokes and possibly Alzheimer’s disease.” — John F. Wasik, Market Watch, 5 Dec. 2023 Did you know? The origins of lambaste (which can also be spelled lambast) are somewhat uncertain, but the word was most likely formed by combining the verbs lam and baste, both of which mean “to beat severely.” (This baste is unrelated to either the sewing or cooking one.) Although lambaste started out in the 1600s meaning “to assault violently,” English speakers were by the 1800s applying it in cases involving harsh attacks made with words rather than fists. This new sense clearly struck a chord; after fighting its way into the lexicon, lambaste has held fast ever since.
4/3/20241 minute, 52 seconds
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ethereal

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 2, 2024 is: ethereal • \ih-THEER-ee-ul\  • adjective Ethereal means "of or relating to the regions beyond the earth" or "of or resembling heaven." It can also mean "lacking material substance" and "relating to, containing, or resembling a chemical ether." // The windows give the church an ethereal glow. // The images of the underwater cave show a strange world of ethereal beauty. See the entry > Examples: "R'lyeh laughs to see that Manny has brought his battle persona of King Kong to the fore again, this time directing the strategy of all the others. The beast's lower half is elsewhere, ethereal, transcending the realms again so as to minimize damage and loss of life. The upper half, however, has formed very real fists of tough, ancient Manhattan schist." — N. K. Jemisin, The World We Make: A Novel, 2022 Did you know? If you're burning to know the history of ethereal, you're in the right spirit to fully understand the word's etymology. The ancient Greeks believed that the Earth was composed of earth, air, fire, and water, but that the heavens and its denizens were made of a purer, less tangible substance known (in English transliteration) as either quintessence or ether. Ether was often described as an invisible light or fire; its name comes from the Greek verb aithein, meaning "to ignite" or "to blaze." When ethereal, the adjectival kin of ether, debuted in English in the 1500s, it described regions beyond the Earth or anything that seemed to originate from them.
4/2/20242 minutes, 1 second
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shambles

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 1, 2024 is: shambles • \SHAM-bulz\  • noun Shambles refers to a place or state in which there is great confusion, disorder, or destruction. // The house party they had over the weekend left the entire living room in shambles. See the entry > Examples: "In this film, three friends … reconnect and find themselves attempting to relive the glory days after suffering several defeats that life has thrown their way. After heading to a once-beloved ski resort, they find it in shambles." — Christopher Hinton, Digital Trends, 24 Feb. 2024 Did you know? The story of shambles appears to be a bit of a shambles: somehow, a word meaning "footstool" gave us a word meaning "mess." It all starts with the Latin word scamillum, the diminutive of scamnum, meaning "stool, bench." Modify the spelling and you get the Old English word sceamol, meaning "stool." Alter again to the Middle English word shameles (the plural of schamel), and give it a more specific meaning: "a vendor’s table." Tweak that a little and you arrive at the 15th-century term shambles, meaning "meat market." A century or so takes shambles from "meat market" to "slaughterhouse," then to figurative application as a term referring to a place of terrible slaughter or bloodshed (say, a battlefield). The grim connotations fade over time, but the messiness remains, and voilà: the modern sense of shambles meaning "mess" or "state of great confusion." Transition accomplished!
4/1/20241 minute, 58 seconds
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expiate

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 31, 2024 is: expiate • \EK-spee-ayt\  • verb Expiate is a formal word that typically means “to atone or make amends for something, such as a sin or offense.” // Although the editorial had characterized the mayor's failure to disclose the details of the meeting as a lapse that could not be expiated, many of the city's citizens seemed ready to forgive all. See the entry > Examples: “Godzilla has long been seen as a symbolic representation of the nuclear devastation that Japan suffered, and that theme is evident here as well. But Godzilla Minus One adds a more personal dimension in the form of Koichi’s lingering trauma; the only way he thinks he’ll be able to expiate his guilt is by destroying the monster.” — Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter, 1 Dec. 2023 Did you know? If you need to expiate something—that is, to atone for it—it’s sure to be something you recognize you shouldn’t have done. People expiate crimes, sins, transgressions, and the like in various ways, such as by apologizing or trying to undo damage they’ve caused. The word comes from the Latin verb expiare (“to atone for”), a combination of ex- and piare, which itself means “to atone for” as well as “to appease.” (Piare comes from pius, meaning “faithful, pious.”) The current use of expiate dates to the early 1600s, and in the early 1500s expiate could mean something else entirely: “to put an end to.” Shakespeare used it this way in Sonnet 22: “But when in thee time’s furrows I behold, / Then look I death my days should expiate.” Later, expiate was a synonym of avert, as in this biblical prophecy: “Disaster shall fall upon you, which you will not be able to expiate” (Isaiah 47:11, RSV). Vestiges of these literary uses still cling to the word, which is most often found in formal, quasi-literary contexts.
3/31/20242 minutes, 17 seconds
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haphazard

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 30, 2024 is: haphazard • \hap-HAZZ-erd\  • adjective Something haphazard has no apparent plan, order, or direction. // Considering the haphazard way you measured the ingredients, it's a wonder the cookies came out this good. See the entry > Examples: "It felt like winter for the first time that year, and Theo remembered how much she preferred the dark, the secrecy, of the season. They walked single-file up against the haphazard stone wall, wary of cars that sped up the country lane. … An owl hooted somewhere close by and they stopped to listen, sitting on a section of broken wall." — Juno Dawson, The Shadow Cabinet, 2023 Did you know? The hap in haphazard comes from an English word that means "happening," as well as "chance or fortune." Hap, in turn, comes from the Old Norse word happ, meaning "good luck." Perhaps it's no accident that hazard also has its own connotations of chance and luck: while it now refers commonly to something that presents danger, at one time it referred to a dice game similar to craps. (The name ultimately comes from the Arabic word al-zahr, meaning "the die.") Haphazard first entered English as a noun meaning "chance" in the 16th century, and soon afterward was being used as an adjective to describe things with no apparent logic or order.
3/30/20241 minute, 51 seconds
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braggadocio

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 29, 2024 is: braggadocio • \brag-uh-DOH-see-oh\  • noun Braggadocio refers to brash and self-confident boasting—that is, the annoying or exaggerated talk of someone who is trying to sound very proud or brave. // His braggadocio hid the fact that he felt personally inadequate. See the entry > Examples: “In total, Lil Wayne has sold more than 120 million albums, making him one of the world's top-selling artists, and, his braggadocio aside, he's widely considered one of most influential hip-hop artists of his generation and one of the greatest rappers of all time.” — L. Kent Wolgamott, The Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star, 1 Feb. 2024 Did you know? Though Braggadocio is not as well-known as other fictional characters like Pollyanna, the Grinch, or Scrooge, in lexicography he holds a special place next to them as one of the many characters whose name has become an established word in English. The English poet Edmund Spenser originally created Braggadocio as a personification of boasting in his epic poem The Faerie Queene. As early as 1594, about four years after the poem was published, English speakers began using the name as a general term for any blustering blowhard. The now more common use of braggadocio, referring to the talk or behavior of such windy cockalorums, developed in the early 18th century.
3/29/20241 minute, 57 seconds
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flout

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 28, 2024 is: flout • \FLOUT\  • verb To flout something, such as a law or rule, is to treat it with contemptuous disregard. A teenager flouting a curfew, for example, will not hide the fact that they are out past the time they are required to be home. // The court found that the company had continued to flout the law despite multiple warnings. See the entry > Examples: "Bringing a queer sensibility and a deep understanding of Modern Orthodox Jewish tradition to novel writing, [Temim] Fruchter asks whether finding comfort in mystery is a viable alternative to standard happy endings or bleak fates. 'City of Laughter' argues that flouting convention makes space for more authentic, expansive stories and more authentic, expansive lives." — Lauren LeBlanc, The New York Times, 13 Jan. 2024 Did you know? If you flout a rule or societal norm, you ignore it without hiding what you're doing, or showing fear or shame; you flout it "out" in the open. The similar-sounding word flaunt is sometimes used in the same way, though that word's older and more common meaning is "to display ostentatiously," as in "people who flaunt their wealth." Critics have been objecting to the confusion of these two words since the early 1900s, but use of flaunt with the meaning "to treat with contemptuous disregard" is found in even polished, edited writing, and so that meaning is included in dictionaries as an established use of the word. Nonetheless, you may want to avoid it: there are still many who judge harshly those who (they feel) are flouting proper English usage.
3/28/20242 minutes, 7 seconds
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auxiliary

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 27, 2024 is: auxiliary • \awg-ZILL-yuh-ree\  • adjective In general use, auxiliary describes someone or something available to provide extra help, power, etc., when it is needed. In linguistics, an auxiliary verb (also called a “helping verb”) is used with another verb to do things like show a verb’s tense or form a question. In nautical contexts, auxiliary can describe a sailboat equipped with a supplementary inboard engine, or a vessel that provides supplementary assistance to other ships. // The auditorium has an auxiliary cooling system used only on particularly sweltering days. // “Are” in “They are arriving soon” is an auxiliary verb. See the entry > Examples: “The popular museum on the National Mall—and its auxiliary Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia—have hundreds of objects on display having to do with flight on Earth, but this will be the first having to do with autonomous flight on another planet.” — Roger Catlin, Smithsonian Magazine, 2 Feb. 2024 Did you know? What would we do if you sang out of tune—would we stand up and walk out on you? Not likely! Instead, we would provide auxiliary harmonies, joining our voices with yours in support. And if you need a little help from your friends in understanding the meaning of auxiliary, we’re here for that, too—just lend us your ears. Auxiliary, which comes from the Latin noun auxilium, meaning “aid,” “assistance,” or “reinforcement,” is used in a wide range of capacities in English to describe a person or thing that assists another. A fire department may bring in auxiliary units, for example, to battle a tough blaze, or a sailboat may be equipped with an auxiliary engine to supply propulsion when the wind disappears. In grammar, an auxiliary verb assists another (main) verb to express person, number, mood, or tense, such as have in “They have now been informed about the meaning of auxiliary.” Isn’t auxiliary fab?
3/27/20242 minutes, 17 seconds
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kismet

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 26, 2024 is: kismet • \KIZZ-met\  • noun Kismet refers to a power that is believed to control what happens in the future. It is synonymous with both fate and destiny. // From the moment we met, we felt connected; we knew it was kismet. See the entry > Examples: "I'd been a fan of Fantasia since she laid on that floor [on 'American Idol'] and sang 'Summertime,' because, I swear, she was singing to me. I voted for her until my finger was numb. I've always been a fan of hers—and she says the same thing about me. We always wanted to meet each other. It was kismet. So it was easy. The chemistry was natural." — Taraji P. Henson, quoted in The Los Angeles Times, 1 Jan. 2024 Did you know? Is it your fate to tie macramé while drinking coffee and eating sherbet in a minaret? That would be an unusual destiny, but if it turns out to be your kismet, you will owe much to Turkish and Arabic. We borrowed kismet from Turkish in the 1800s, but it ultimately comes from the Arabic word qisma, meaning "portion" or "lot." Several other terms in our bizarre opening question (namely, macramé, coffee, sherbet, and minaret) have roots in those languages too. In the case of macramé and minaret, there is a little French influence as well. Coffee and macramé also have Italian relations, and sherbet has an ancestor in a Persian name for a type of cold drink.
3/26/20241 minute, 54 seconds
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genuflect

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 25, 2024 is: genuflect • \JEN-yuh-flekt\  • verb To genuflect is to kneel, or nearly kneel, on one knee and then rise again in worship or as an act of respect. In figurative use, genuflect means "to be humbly obedient or respectful." // Churchgoers genuflected before the altar. // The politician was criticized for genuflecting to corporate interests. See the entry > Examples: "Many of the people whom director Rob Reiner has throwing bouquets during this documentary—Steven Spielberg, Larry David, Jon Stewart, Conan O’Brien and Sharon Stone among them—are all more famous than Mr. [Albert] Brooks, but genuflect before his comedic genius." — John Anderson, The Wall Street Journal, 9 Nov. 2023 Did you know? Today we give reverence to genuflect, which comes from the Late Latin word genuflectere, formed from the noun genu ("knee") and the verb flectere ("to bend"). Flectere appears in the etymologies of a number of more common verbs, such as reflect ("to bend or throw back light") and deflect ("to turn aside"). By comparison genu has seen little use in English, but it did give us geniculate, a word used in scientific contexts to mean "bent abruptly at an angle like a bent knee." Despite the resemblance, words such as genius and genuine are not related to genuflect; instead, they are related (genius directly, and genuine indirectly) to the Latin verb gignere, meaning "to beget."
3/25/20242 minutes
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megillah

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 24, 2024 is: megillah • \muh-GHIL-uh\  • noun Megillah is slang for a long, involved story or account. Megillah can also refer to a complicated sequence of events, or it can be used as a synonym of ball of wax meaning “everything involved in what is under consideration.” All three senses of megillah are often preceded by the adjective whole. // Don’t worry about reciting the whole megillah from last night’s game; just give me the highlights. // Our grandfather always made a whole megillah out of Sundays, waking up before dawn to visit yard sales, then cooking a big meal in the afternoons for our extended family. See the entry > Examples: “What’s in a middle name? Pretty much the whole megillah, for the media scion known as Kendall Logan Roy. That middle name is more than just his father’s branding—it’s the gravitational core around which Kendall’s selfhood swings. For four seasons of ‘Succession,’ we’ve watched the mercurial magnate’s second son and occasional heir apparent strain against his birthright, sometimes plotting to overthrow his father, other times weeping submissively into his chest.” — Michael Schulman, The New Yorker, 25 May 2023 Did you know? Megillah comes from the Yiddish word megile, which itself comes from the Hebrew noun mĕgillāh, meaning “scroll” or “volume.” (Mĕgillāh is especially likely to be used in reference to the Book of Esther, which is read aloud at Purim celebrations.) It makes sense, then, that when megillah first appeared in English in the early 20th century, it referred to a story that was so long (and often tedious or complicated) that it was reminiscent of the length of the mĕgillāh scrolls. The Hebrew word is serious, but the Yiddish megile can be somewhat playful, and English’s megillah has also inherited that lightheartedness.
3/24/20242 minutes, 9 seconds
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pedantic

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 23, 2024 is: pedantic • \pih-DAN-tik\  • adjective Pedantic describes someone or something that exhibits the characteristics of a pedant—that is, a person who often annoys other people by correcting small errors and giving too much attention to minor details. Pedantic also means “narrowly, stodgily, and often ostentatiously learned.” // Their habit of reminding fellow birders that the bird is called a “Canada goose” and not a “Canadian goose” came across as pedantic rather than helpful. // Several attendees walked out of the lecture due to the pedantic nature of the presentation. See the entry > Examples: “Published ... in 1818, ‘Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus’ is a terrifying, thought-provoking novel about the nature of humanity and the consequences of bringing life into the world. The titular character, as many a pedantic fan will have you know, isn’t the monster but his creator Victor Frankenstein.” — Wilson Chapman, Indie Wire, 12 Feb. 2024 Did you know? In Shakespeare’s day, a pedant was a male schoolteacher. The word’s meaning was close to that of the Italian pedante, from which the English word was adapted. Someone who was pedantic was simply a tutor or teacher. But some instructional pedants of the day must have been pompous and dull because by the early 1600s both pedant and pedantic had gained extended senses applying to anyone who was obnoxiously and tediously devoted to their own academic acumen. When describing arguments, pedantic can be used for instances where one relies too heavily on minor details as a way to show off one’s intelligence.
3/23/20241 minute, 59 seconds
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dragoon

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 22, 2024 is: dragoon • \druh-GOON\  • verb When used with into, dragoon means "to force or convince someone to do something." Without into, dragoon means "to subjugate or persecute by harsh use of troops." // Employees complained that they had been dragooned into working overtime without adequate compensation. See the entry > Examples: "Half of the workforce was laid off, but those whose roles turned out to be somewhat critical were then begged to return. Some unlucky engineers were dragooned into launching the new Twitter Blue feature, which would charge users $7.99 per month for a 'verified' check mark; the rollout was catastrophic." — Sheon Han, The New Yorker, 5 Jan. 2024 Did you know? A dragoon was a mounted European infantryman of the 17th and 18th centuries armed with a firearm called by the same name. We suspect no arm-twisting is necessary to convince you that the firearm's name, which came to English from French, comes from the fired weapon's resemblance to a fire-breathing dragon. History has recorded the dragonish nature of the dragoons who persecuted the French Protestants in the 17th century during the reign of Louis XIV. The persecution by means of dragoons eventually led to the use of the word dragoon as a verb.
3/22/20241 minute, 51 seconds
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scurrilous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 21, 2024 is: scurrilous • \SKUR-uh-lus\  • adjective Scurrilous is a formal adjective that most often describes language that contains obscenities, abuse, or, especially, slander—that is, a false statement that damages a person’s reputation. Scurrilous can also describe someone who uses or tends to use scurrilous language, or it can describe a person or thing as evil or vulgar. // The press secretary made a point at the briefing not to address the scurrilous rumors surrounding the senator. See the entry > Examples: “There are many interesting and surprising details about ‘Jingle Bells’ known to few of the millions of people who happily sing the beloved song every December. For one, its author—a somewhat scurrilous fellow named James Lord Pierpont—was the uncle of the legendary Gilded Age banker J.P. Morgan (the P. is for Pierpont), who reportedly thought little of his songwriting relative, once calling him ‘Good for nothing.’” — David Templeton, The Argus-Courier (Petaluma, California), 18 Dec. 2023 Did you know? Scurrilous (and its much rarer relation scurrile, which has the same meaning) comes from the Middle French word scurrile, which comes ultimately from the Latin noun scurra, meaning “buffoon” or “jester.” Fittingly, 18th-century lexicographer Samuel Johnson defined scurrilous as “using such language as only the licence of a buffoon could warrant.” Qualities traditionally associated with buffoonery—vulgarity, irreverence, and indecorousness—are qualities often invoked by the word scurrilous. Unlike the words of a jester, however, “scurrilous” language of the present day more often intends to seriously harm or slander someone than to produce a few laughs.
3/21/20242 minutes, 14 seconds
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flora

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 20, 2024 is: flora • \FLOR-uh\  • noun Flora refers to all the plants that live in a particular area, time, period, or environment. It can also be used broadly to refer to plant, bacterial, or fungal life. // Lisa admired the aquatic flora in the pond as she gazed out at the horizon. See the entry > Examples: “South Africa is endowed with a rich wealth of flora and is often acclaimed as a biodiversity hotspot. Thousands of plants are used for traditional medicine for the management of diverse health conditions.” — Tshepiso Ndhlovu et al., The Conversation, 11 Feb. 2024 Did you know? You may be familiar with the common phrase “flora and fauna,” which broadly refers to just about every visible living thing. While fauna specifically refers to the animals of a region, flora represents the plants. Flora made its way into English from New Latin via the Latin word flōra, which comes from the name of the Roman goddess of flowers and the flowering season (the time of the year when flowers bloom). Flora, who was depicted as a beautiful young woman in a long, flowing dress with flowers in her hair, strewing flowers over the earth, was especially known for wildflowers and plants not raised for food. Her name also lives on and continues to thrive through the related words floral, floret, and flourish.
3/20/20241 minute, 51 seconds
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allege

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 19, 2024 is: allege • \uh-LEJ\  • verb To allege something is to assert it without proof or before proving it. // Consumer advocates allege that the company knew about the faulty switches but sold the product anyway. See the entry > Examples: "The lawsuit alleges violation of her 4th Amendment rights, false imprisonment, negligent hiring, assault and battery, among other charges." — Erin B. Logan, The Los Angeles Times, 2 Feb. 2024 Did you know? These days, someone alleges something before presenting evidence to prove it (or perhaps without evidence at all). But the word allege comes directly from the Middle English verb alleggen, meaning "to submit (something) in evidence or as justification." (Alleggen traces back to the Anglo-French word aleger, meaning "to lighten, free, or exculpate.") Our word has at times in the past carried a meaning closer to that of its ancestor's: it was once applied when bringing someone or something forward as a source or authority in court, as in "a text alleged in support of the argument." The word has also been used to mean "to bring forward as a reason or excuse," as in these lines from Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel Jane Eyre: "I did not like to walk at this hour alone with Mr. Rochester in the shadowy orchard; but I could not find a reason to allege for leaving him."
3/19/20241 minute, 52 seconds
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tawdry

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 18, 2024 is: tawdry • \TAW-dree\  • adjective Something described as tawdry is cheap and gaudy in appearance or quality. Tawdry is also often used to describe something considered morally bad or distasteful, as in "a tawdry tale of political skulduggery." // Tawdry decorations cluttered the tiny house. See the entry > Examples: "Chicago boasts a deep bench of architectural talent to make a pedestrianized State Street a success, whether with a modernist, traditional or some new-fangled flavor. In contrast, the old pedestrian mall was tacky, aping a tawdry suburban mall." — Craig Barner, The Chicago Sun-Times, 21 Aug. 2023 Did you know? In the 7th century, Etheldreda, the queen of Northumbria, renounced her husband and her royal position in order to become a nun. She was renowned for her saintliness and is said to have died of a swelling in her throat, which she took as a judgment upon her fondness for wearing necklaces in her youth. Her shrine became a principal site of pilgrimage in England. An annual fair was held in her honor on October 17th, and her name became simplified to St. Audrey. At these fairs various kinds of cheap knickknacks were sold, along with a type of necklace called St. Audrey's lace, which by the 16th century had become altered to tawdry lace. Eventually, tawdry came to be used to describe anything cheap and gaudy that might be found at these fairs or anywhere else.
3/18/20242 minutes, 1 second
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blarney

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 17, 2024 is: blarney • \BLAR-nee\  • noun Blarney refers to false but charming talk that often flatters the listener. // The bartender laughingly asked her gregarious patron if anyone ever believed his blarney. See the entry > Examples: “Some tales are mundane, like the song about Molly Malone: ‘In Dublin fair city, the girls are so pretty …’ Did such a woman ever exist? There’s a record of a Mary Malone who lived (and died) in the 17th century. She was likely both a fishmonger and a lady of the night. … Some tales are blarney. Blarney Castle dates to 1446, and there’s a slab of carboniferous limestone near the top. It’s said to be the stone used by Jacob as a pillow when he dreamt of a ladder to heaven. Others say Clíodhna, Queen of the Banshees, told Cormac Laidir MacCarthy to kiss the stone so he would be eloquent when defending his home in the court of Queen Elizabeth.” — Kevin Fisher-Paulson, The San Francisco Chronicle, 28 Mar. 2023 Did you know? The village of Blarney in County Cork, Ireland, is home to Blarney Castle, and in the southern wall of that edifice lies the famous Blarney Stone. Legend has it that anyone who kisses the Blarney Stone will gain the gift of skillful flattery, but that gift must be attained at the price of some limber maneuvering—you have to lie down and hang your head over a precipice to reach and kiss the stone. One story claims the word blarney gained popularity as a word for “flattery” after Queen Elizabeth I of England used it to describe the flowery (but apparently less than honest) cajolery of McCarthy Mor, who was then the lord of Blarney Castle.
3/17/20242 minutes, 8 seconds
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querulous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 16, 2024 is: querulous • \KWAIR-yuh-lus\  • adjective Someone described as querulous is constantly or habitually complaining. Querulous can also be used synonymously with fretful or whining when describing something, such as a person's tone of voice. // She shows an impressive amount of patience when dealing with querulous customers. See the entry > Examples: "Everyone has a theory about the decline of the Academy Awards, the sinking ratings that have led to endless Oscar reinventions. The show is too long; no, the show is too desperate to pander to short attention spans. … Hollywood makes too many superhero movies; no, the academy doesn’t nominate enough superhero movies. (A querulous voice from the back row: Why can’t they just bring back Billy Crystal?)" — Ross Douthat, The New York Times, 25 Mar. 2022 Did you know? English speakers have called fretful whiners querulous since late medieval times. The Middle English form of the word, querelose, was an adaptation of the Latin adjective, querulus, which in turn evolved from the Latin verb queri, meaning "to complain." Queri is also an ancestor of the English words quarrel and quarrelsome, but it isn't an ancestor of the noun query, meaning "question." No need to complain that we're being coy; we're happy to let you know that query descends from the Latin verb quaerere, meaning "to ask."
3/16/20242 minutes
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hegemony

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 15, 2024 is: hegemony • \hih-JEM-uh-nee\  • noun Hegemony refers to influence or control over another country, group of people, etc. // The two nations have for centuries struggled for regional hegemony. See the entry > Examples: “Beyond Hollywood’s scrambled economics, one of the biggest threats to its hegemony is social media—TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and X-formerly-known-as-Twitter—with which it has always had an uncomfortable relationship, alternately its victim or master.” — Peter Biskind, The Hollywood Reporter, 26 Jan. 2024 Did you know? Hegemony refers to a kind of domination. It was borrowed in the mid-16th century from the Greek word hēgemonia, a noun formed from the verb hēgeisthai, “to lead.” At first hegemony was used specifically to refer to the control once wielded by ancient Greek states; later it was applied to domination by other political actors. By the 19th century, the word had acquired a second sense referring to the social or cultural influence wielded by a dominant entity over others of its kind, a sense employed by design scholar Joshua Langman when describing the use of found objects by French artist Marcel Duchamp (he of notorious readymade Fountain fame) as a means “to question and criticize the values of the artistic hegemony by eschewing craft entirely.”
3/15/20241 minute, 54 seconds
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emulate

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 14, 2024 is: emulate • \EM-yuh-layt\  • verb If you emulate someone or something, you try to be like that person or thing. The word is used especially when one is trying to equal or surpass someone in accomplishment or achievement. // She grew up emulating her sports heroes. // Younger children will often try to emulate the behavior of their older siblings. See the entry > Examples: “In the present era, stanning has become a regular part of pop and online culture. Online communities celebrate, praise, and emulate music stars such as Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Cardi B, and Megan Thee Stallion.” — Daric L. Cottingham, Essence, 15 Feb. 2023 Did you know? They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but we’ll posit that emulation is even more so. What’s the difference between imitating and emulating? Sometimes not a thing: emulate can be used as a synonym of imitate, as in “a painter who emulates her teacher’s style.” But more often, emulate is about trying to equal or surpass someone you admire by striving to master what they’ve accomplished. The word was adopted in the late 16th century from a form of the Latin word aemulārī, meaning “to vie with; to rival; to imitate.” Imitate was adopted about fifty years earlier from a form of the Latin word imitārī, meaning “to follow as a pattern; to copy.” Emulate emulated its success.
3/14/20241 minute, 54 seconds
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cacophony

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 13, 2024 is: cacophony • \ka-KAH-fuh-nee\  • noun A cacophony is a mixture of loud and usually harsh unpleasant sounds. Cacophony can also refer to an incongruous or chaotic mixture. // The sounds of shouting added to the cacophony on the streets. // A cacophony of aromas wafted through the air. See the entry > Examples: "In recent years, an array of findings have also revealed an expansive nonhuman soundscape, including: turtles that produce and respond to sounds to coordinate the timing of their birth from inside their eggs; coral larvae that can hear the sounds of healthy reefs; and plants that can detect the sound of running water and the munching of insect predators. Researchers have found intention and meaning in this cacophony, such as the purposeful use of different sounds to convey information." — Sonia Shah, The New York Times, 20 Sept. 2023 Did you know? If you’re hooked on phonetics, you may know that the Greek word phōnḗ has made a great deal of noise in English. Cacophony comes from a joining of phōnḗ ("sound" or "voice") with the Greek prefix kak- (from kakos, meaning "bad"), so it essentially means "bad sound." Other phat phōnḗ descendants include symphony, a word that indicates harmony or agreement in sound; polyphony, referring to a style of musical composition in which two or more independent melodies are juxtaposed in harmony; and euphony, a word for a pleasing or sweet sound. Kakos is responsible for far fewer English words, but one notable descendent is kakistocracy, meaning "government by the worst people," which, we'll be honest, doesn't sound great.
3/13/20242 minutes, 14 seconds
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ulterior

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 12, 2024 is: ulterior • \ul-TEER-ee-er\  • adjective Ulterior describes things (usually motives, objectives, reasons, agendas, etc.) that are kept hidden in order to achieve a particular result. // Rory found it hard to not be suspicious of the accountant for offering these services for free; her eagerness to help suggested she has an ulterior motive. See the entry > Examples: "Disney's most recent incarnation of depravity is also one of their more sinister: the smiling nice guy who turns out to be anything but that. Frozen, in fact, received a little flack from mommy bloggers in 2013 due to this choice, with some expressing apprehension about showing children that kindly adults could be hiding ulterior motives. Yet we’d argue that is what makes Hans such an effective villain and early demonstration to children of the fact that folks may not be what they appear." — David Crow, Den of Geek, 4 Nov. 2023 Did you know? Although now usually hitched to the front of the noun motive to refer to a hidden need or desire that inspires action, ulterior began its career as an adjective in the 17th century describing something occurring at a subsequent time, such as "ulterior measures" taken after a lawful request. It then started to be used to mean both "more distant" (literally and figuratively) and "situated on the farther side." The "hidden" sense, which is most familiar today, followed after those, with the word modifying nouns like purpose, design, and consequence. Ulterior comes directly from the Latin word for "farther" or "further," itself assumed to be from ulter, meaning "situated beyond."
3/12/20242 minutes, 14 seconds
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refurbish

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 11, 2024 is: refurbish • \rih-FER-bish\  • verb To refurbish something is to brighten or freshen it up, or to repair and make improvements to it. // They are refurbishing the old house with the hopes of selling it for a profit. // The store refurbishes and sells computers that can often meet the needs of those who don't need the latest technology. See the entry > Examples: "The city of San Diego is tasked with completing the building and replanting the interior plants, which are currently in storage. Meanwhile, the city’s not-for-profit partner Forever Balboa Park is responsible for financing and completing phase-two improvements. Those include remaking the exterior gardens, improving walkways, reconstructing the pergola that was on the west lawn and refurbishing the fountains." — Jennifer Van Grove, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 17 Jan. 2024 Did you know? As seems proper given how English prefixes work, before you could refurbish something you could furbish it. That shorter word was borrowed into Middle English in the 14th century from Anglo-French as furbisshen; it shares a distant relative with the Old High German verb furben, meaning "to polish." In its earliest uses furbish also meant "to polish," but it developed an extended sense of "to renovate" shortly before English speakers created refurbish with the same meaning in the 17th century. These days refurbish is the more common of the two words, although furbish does continue to be used.
3/11/20241 minute, 52 seconds
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obeisance

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 10, 2024 is: obeisance • \oh-BEE-sunss\  • noun Obeisance is a synonym of homage that refers to an acknowledgement of another’s importance or superiority. Obeisance can also mean “a movement of the body (such as a bow) showing respect for someone or something.” // The young singer paid obeisance to Otis Redding while on tour in Memphis by singing “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.” See the entry > Examples: “Supreme Court rules establish specific guidelines by which these conferences must be conducted. But compliance is rare, and they are usually held in secret and undocumented. The clandestine nature of 402 proceedings conflicts with the judiciary’s general obeisance to concepts of transparency and public accountability in criminal cases.” — Jim Dey, The News-Gazette (Champaign-Urbana, Illinois), 3 Oct. 2023 Did you know? When it first appeared in English in the 14th century, obeisance shared the same meaning as obedience. This makes sense given that obeisance can be traced back to the Anglo-French word obeir, a verb meaning “to obey” that is also an ancestor of English’s obey. The other senses of obeisance also date from the 14th century, but they have stood the test of time whereas the “obedience” sense is now obsolete... or is it? Recent evidence suggests that obeisance is starting to be used again as an (often disparaging) synonym of obedience; for example, a politician deemed too easily swayed by others may be said to have pledged obeisance to party leaders or malign influences.
3/10/20242 minutes, 5 seconds
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germane

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 9, 2024 is: germane • \jer-MAYN\  • adjective Germane is a formal synonym of relevant that describes something related to a subject in an appropriate way. // Her comments were not germane to the discussion. // While these facts about the witness may interest the jury, they are not in fact germane. See the entry > Examples: “Corporate retreats aren’t just for fun and games; they are for tackling germane issues that are critical to the success of any such organization.” — Abiola Salami, Forbes, 11 Dec. 2023 Did you know? “Wert thou a Leopard, thou wert Germane to the Lion.” So wrote William Shakespeare in his five-act tragedy Timon of Athens, using an old (and now-obsolete) sense of germane meaning “closely akin.” Germane comes to us from the Middle English word germain, meaning “having the same parents.” (An early noun sense of germane also referred specifically to children of the same parents.) Today, something said to be germane is figuratively “related” in that it is relevant or fitting to something else, as when music critic Amanda Petrusich wrote of an album by the Chicks: “‘Gaslighter’ is brasher and more pop-oriented than anything the band has done before. Part of this shift feels germane to our era—the idea of genre, as it applies to contemporary music, is growing less and less relevant—but it also feels like a final repudiation of country music, and of a community that mostly failed to support or to understand one of its biggest acts.”
3/9/20241 minute, 59 seconds
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Weltanschauung

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 8, 2024 is: Weltanschauung • \VELT-ahn-show-ung ("ow" as in "cow")\  • noun A Weltanschauung is a worldview; in other words, a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint. The word is typically capitalized. // Many people disagree with the writer's personal Weltanschauung, but most can appreciate the quality and thoughtfulness of her work. See the entry > Examples: "[Writer Martin] Amis' subject matter was unforgiving: the degradation of individual values and the incorporation of greed, indifference and cruelty into public morality. But so intense was his focus, and so forensic the methodology he brought to his task, that each novel revealed some new facet of his ever-darkening Weltanschauung." — The Southland Times (New Zealand), 24 May 2023 Did you know? The German word Weltanschauung literally means "world view"; it combines Welt, meaning "world," with Anschauung, meaning "view." (You might have noticed this word’s resemblance to another German borrowing, weltschmerz, meaning “world-weariness” or “world-pain”). When English speakers first adopted Weltanschauung in the mid-19th century, it referred to a philosophical view or apprehension of the universe, and this sense is still the most widely used. It can also describe a more general ideology or philosophy of life. Note that the word is typically capitalized in English, as all nouns are in German.
3/8/20242 minutes, 2 seconds
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descry

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 7, 2024 is: descry • \dih-SKRYE\  • verb Descry is a literary word that, like discover or find out, means “to come to realize or understand something.” Descry can also mean “to catch sight of.” // In their research, the bryologists descried an association between a moss and the iron content of the rock it typically grows on. // From the tops of the high dunes, we could just descry the ship coming over the horizon. See the entry > Examples: “Where does one begin to learn about Dundee’s history and heart? Luckily, for a tourist, there is a place. It’s called Verdant Works, a former jute mill in a part of the city known as Blackness. (Dickens couldn’t have come up with a better name.) Once the employer of 500 people, the mill is a keyhole through which most of Dundee’s history can be descried. Unlike many factory museums, its story is made vivid by docents only one or two generations removed from its inescapable clutches.” — David Brown, The Washington Post, 30 Sept. 2022 Did you know? If you’ve ever mixed up the words descry and decry, you’re not alone; even carefully edited publications occasionally mistake the former (“to catch sight of” or “to discover”) for the latter (“to express strong disapproval of”), as in “the watchdog group’s report descried (oops: decried) environmental pollution by manufacturers in the harshest terms.” As always, we’re here to help you descry handy ways to tell confusing words apart. In the case of descry and decry, pronunciation is key—the s in descry is not silent. Descry sounds just like the English verb describe without its closing b, and the two share a Latin root as well, the verb dēscrībere, meaning “to represent by drawing or speech.” When you descry something, it becomes known to you either by discovery or understanding, as though it were well-described. Decry, on the other hand, emphasizes cry when spoken, and shares roots with cry as well: when you decry something, you might be said to cry loudly your complaint.
3/7/20242 minutes, 37 seconds
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ad hominem

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 6, 2024 is: ad hominem • \ad-HAH-muh-num\  • adjective Something described as ad hominem involves an attack on an opponent’s character rather than an answer to assertions or points that the opponent has made. // The debate between the mayoral candidates was going smoothly until the ad hominem attacks began. See the entry > Examples: “Ad hominem arguments are viewed, almost universally, as bad, bad, bad.... Students are taught to differentiate between their opponent and their opponent’s argument. The rationale for doing so makes perfect sense. In theory, a person’s merits are irrelevant to whether their argument makes logical sense. An argument depends on nothing more than whether its conclusion follows its premises; the speaker, you might say, is just the messenger.” — Mehdi Hasan, Win Every Argument: The Art of Debating, Persuading, and Public Speaking, 2023 Did you know? Ad hominem literally means “to the person” in New Latin (Latin as used since the end of the medieval period). In centuries past, the term was used in the phrase “argument ad hominem” (or argumentum ad hominem, to use the full New Latin phrase) to refer to a valid method of persuasion by which one takes advantage of an opponent’s interests or feelings in a debate, instead of just sticking to general principles. What exactly came into play in such persuasions eventually expanded, and ad hominem came to describe an attack aimed at an opponent’s character rather than their ideas. It’s in this decidedly less civil application that ad hominem appears today. The hostile nature of such attacks has led to an understanding of the term as meaning “against the person,” rather than its original Latin meaning of “to the person.”
3/6/20242 minutes, 21 seconds
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ad hominem

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 6, 2024 is: ad hominem • \ad-HAH-muh-num\  • adjective Something described as ad hominem involves an attack on an opponent’s character rather than an answer to assertions or points that the opponent has made. // The debate between the mayoral candidates was going smoothly until the ad hominem attacks began. See the entry > Examples: “Ad hominem arguments are viewed, almost universally, as bad, bad, bad.... Students are taught to differentiate between their opponent and their opponent’s argument. The rationale for doing so makes perfect sense. In theory, a person’s merits are irrelevant to whether their argument makes logical sense. An argument depends on nothing more than whether its conclusion follows its premises; the speaker, you might say, is just the messenger.” — Mehdi Hasan, Win Every Argument: The Art of Debating, Persuading, and Public Speaking, 2023 Did you know? Ad hominem literally means “to the person” in New Latin (Latin as used since the end of the medieval period). In centuries past, the term was used in the phrase “argument ad hominem” (or argumentum ad hominem, to use the full New Latin phrase) to refer to a method of persuasion in which one introduces issues that relate personally to one’s opponent, such as the opponent’s habits, practices, or circumstances, instead of just sticking to principles or facts. What exactly came into play in such persuasions eventually expanded, and ad hominem came to describe an attack aimed at an opponent’s character rather than their ideas. The hostile nature of such attacks has led to an understanding of the term as meaning “against the person,” rather than its original Latin meaning of “to the person.”
3/6/20242 minutes, 21 seconds
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luminary

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 5, 2024 is: luminary • \LOO-muh-nair-ee\  • noun A luminary is a person of prominence or brilliant achievement. The word luminary may also refer to a celestial body, such as the sun or moon. // Luminaries of the art world congregated at the international convention. See the entry > Examples: "The upcoming documentary will dive deep into the lives of the next generation of basketball luminaries, Jonquel Jones, Nneka Ogwumike, and Breanna Stewart, as well as WNBA legend, Sheryl Swoopes." — Okla Jones, Essence, 18 Dec. 2023 Did you know? As, dare we say, leading lights of the dictionary game, we're here to brighten your day with the 411 on luminary. This word has been casting its glow in English since the 15th century, and it traces back to the Latin word lumen, meaning "light." Other lumen descendants in English include illuminate ("to light up"), luminous ("emitting light"), phillumenist ("one who collects matchbooks or matchbox labels"), and bioluminescence ("the emission of light from living organisms").
3/5/20241 minute, 26 seconds
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salubrious

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 4, 2024 is: salubrious • \suh-LOO-bree-us\  • adjective Salubrious is a formal word that means “favorable to or promoting health or well-being.” // They picked up several salubrious habits on their wellness retreat in Bali. See the entry > Examples: “Despite their salubrious sounding name, fruit flies ... eat food that is decaying. They inhabit rubbish bins, compost heaps or any place where food is present, including drains.” — Primrose Freestone, The Conversation, 31 Aug. 2023 Did you know? Salubrious, like healthful and wholesome, describes things that are favorable to the health of the mind or body. (A rather formal and somewhat rare word, it is related by its Latin ancestor salubris to the very common English word safe.) Unlike healthful and wholesome, salubrious tends to apply chiefly to the helpful effects of climate or air, as in “the salubrious climate of the tropical island.” Salubrious seems to be expanding semantically; we occasionally see evidence of it being used as a descriptor of prosperous people or locales. This is the sense used by British author Zadie Smith in her 2023 historical novel The Fraud when she writes: “Following the more salubrious element of the crowd, they found themselves on the second floor of Lady Blessington’s Old Gore House, recently converted into a restaurant by Alexis Soyer.”
3/4/20241 minute, 50 seconds
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connive

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 3, 2024 is: connive • \kuh-NYVE\  • verb To connive is to secretly help someone do something dishonest or illegal. // Roger suspected that his coworkers were conniving to get him fired when in reality they were planning his surprise birthday party. See the entry > Examples: "The truth is that conflict on the river will never be stilled because there will always be more demand for the water than there is water. As I reported in 'Colossus,' my 2010 book about the building of Hoover Dam, [Herbert] Hoover and his deputy, Arthur Powell Davis, connived in 1922 to exaggerate the Colorado River's flow in order to persuade all seven states that it carried enough water to serve their interests, then and into the future." — Michael Hiltzik, The Los Angeles Times, 8 Feb. 2023 Did you know? Connive may not seem like a term that would raise many hackles, but it certainly raised those of Wilson Follett, a usage critic who lamented that the word "was undone during the Second World War, when restless spirits felt the need of a new synonym for plotting, bribing, spying, conspiring, engineering a coup, preparing a secret attack." Follett thought connive should only mean "to wink at" or "to pretend ignorance." Those senses are closer to the Latin ancestor of the word: connive comes from the Latin verb connivēre, which means "to close the eyes" and which is descended from -nivēre, a form akin to the Latin verb nictare, meaning "to wink." But many English speakers disagreed, and the "conspire" sense is now the word's most widely used meaning.
3/3/20242 minutes, 3 seconds
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proximity

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 2, 2024 is: proximity • \prahk-SIM-uh-tee\  • noun Proximity is the quality or state of being near or proximate. The word proximity is synonymous with closeness. // The apartment's proximity to hiking trails is a definite plus. See the entry > Examples: "... research on employee proximity conducted at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that sitting near senior colleagues led junior engineers to learn more and to be less likely to leave their jobs, an effect that was particularly pronounced for women and younger employees." — Amy Edmondson, WIRED, 8 Jan. 2024 Did you know? The fact that the star closest in proximity to our sun (approximately 4.2 light-years distant) is named Proxima Centauri is no coincidence. The history of proximity hinges on the idea of closeness, both physical and metaphorical. English speakers borrowed the word from Middle French, which in turn acquired it from forms of the Latin adjective proximus, meaning "nearest" or "next." Close relatives of proximity in English include proximal, proximate, and the somewhat more rare approximal (meaning "contiguous"). A number of other languages, including Catalan, Portuguese, and Italian, have similar words that come from the Latin proximus.
3/2/20241 minute, 46 seconds
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inveterate

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 1, 2024 is: inveterate • \in-VET-uh-rut\  • adjective Inveterate is a formal word used to describe someone who is always or often doing something specified. For instance, a person could be an inveterate liar, or inveterate prankster. Inveterate can also mean "firmly established by long persistence," as in "an inveterate tendency to overlook the obvious." // She's an inveterate traveler who constantly searches for flight deals to her next destination. // Carla’s inveterate optimism keeps her going during challenging times. See the entry > Examples: "I am an inveterate name dropper as you have just very politely pointed out. I left it to the editor to decide whether something was too much ... and she just said, 'That is a reflection of how your brain works.'" — Richard E. Grant, quoted in The Los Angeles Times, 6 Aug. 2023 Did you know? Despite how it may seem at first glance, inveterate has nothing to do with lacking a spine. That’s invertebrate, which came into English in the early 19th century from New Latin, the Latin vocabulary used in scientific description and classification. Inveterate, on the other hand, is a true veteran of the English language, with a membership card dating to the 15th century. Like veteran, inveterate ultimately comes from the Latin adjective vetus, which means "old." (In times past, inveterate had among its meanings "old.") The more direct source of inveterate, however, is the Latin adjective inveteratus, with which it shares the meaning "firmly established by long persistence." Today inveterate most often describes someone who so frequently or invariably engages in a particular habit or attitude as to be regularly identified with that habit or attitude, as when political columnist Jamelle Bouie observed "The truth is that our best presidents—or at least our most successful ones—have been inveterate flip-floppers, willing to break from unpopular positions, move with political winds, and adjust to new complications."
3/1/20242 minutes, 29 seconds
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demean

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 29, 2024 is: demean • \dih-MEEN\  • verb To demean someone or something is to cause that person or thing to seem less important or worthy of respect. // By refusing to condemn the unlawful actions of her supporters, the governor demeaned the office she was elected to hold. See the entry > Examples: “Balding, bespectacled [Hubert] Eaton didn’t lack self-esteem. He went by the godlike nickname ‘the Builder,’ and in the early days of his cemetery, he crafted a mission statement that sounded more like a set of holy commandments than a business plan. He had the Builder’s Creed etched onto a giant stone tablet that still stands in front of the Great Mausoleum. The creed demeans traditional cemeteries as ‘unsightly stone-yards full of inartistic symbols and depressing customs’ and promises all who read it that the Builder will offer a better place for people to go after their deaths.” — Greg Melville, Smithsonian Magazine, 29 Sept. 2022 Did you know? There are two words spelled demean in English. One has a construction similar to its synonym, debase: where debase combines the prefix de- with an adjective base, meaning “low” or “vile,” demean applies de- to the adjective mean, meaning “inferior or contemptible.” The basic meaning the pair shares, “to lower in character or esteem,” is quite at odds with that of the other demean: “to conduct or behave oneself.” This demean comes from the Anglo-French verb demener (“to conduct”), and is generally used in formal contexts to specify a type of behavior, as in “he demeaned himself in a most unfriendly manner”; “she demeaned herself as befitting her station in life”; and “they knew not how to demean themselves in the king’s presence.” As such, it may be possible to demean someone for the way they demean themselves, though we assert that would be doubly mean.
2/29/20242 minutes, 26 seconds
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jeopardy

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 28, 2024 is: jeopardy • \JEP-er-dee\  • noun Jeopardy is defined as "exposure to or imminence of death, loss, or injury"; it is synonymous with danger. In legal contexts, jeopardy refers specifically to the danger that an accused person is subjected to when on trial for a criminal offense. // Rather than risk placing passengers in jeopardy, the pilot waited for the storm to pass before taking off. See the entry > Examples: "As Dior rises to prominence with his groundbreaking, iconic imprint of beauty and influence, Chanel’s reign as the world’s most famous fashion designer is put into jeopardy." — Gil Kaufman, Billboard, 16 Nov. 2023 Did you know? We'll start with the answer and you provide the question: A word meaning "danger" that inspired the title of a popular game show. Got it? If you buzzed in "what is jeopardy?" you are correct! Today’s word dates back to at least the 1300s, but its Middle English form can make it hard to spot: it appears in the phrase "in jupartie" with a meaning very much akin to the word's meaning in the modern phrase "in jeopardy"—that is, "in danger." The spellings of what we now render only as jeopardy were formerly myriad. The Oxford English Dictionary reports that between the late 14th and mid-17th centuries the word was spelled in a great variety of ways, among them ieupardyes (the spelling Chaucer used in The Canterbury Tales), iupertie, iupartye, ieoperdis, and juperti. Indeed, like the eponymous quiz show Jeopardy!, today’s word has a long history; we’d wager it has a long future, too.
2/28/20242 minutes, 2 seconds
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translucent

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 27, 2024 is: translucent • \trans-LOO-sunt\  • adjective Translucent describes something that is not completely clear or transparent but is clear enough to allow light to pass through. // They admired the translucent gemstones on the display at the museum. See the entry > Examples: "What you want to buy are dry scallops, which have never been soaked or treated. Dry scallops are visually distinguishable from their wet counterparts: Their cylindrical edges are more clearly defined, while the firm meat has a moist sheen and looks almost translucent." — Tim Cebula, The Portland (Maine) Press Herald, 14 Jan. 2024 Did you know? Let’s shine a light on translucent and a couple of its relatives. Look closely and you will see the same group of three letters in translucent, elucidate, and lucid, illuminating the family relationship between the three words. All descend from the Latin word lucēre, meaning "to shine." Translucent is from lucēre plus trans-, which means "through"—hence, something translucent allows light to pass through. To elucidate something is to metaphorically shine a light on it by explaining it clearly; a lucid person is able to think clearly, and lucid writing is easy to understand. We hope this light explainer helps clarify things.
2/27/20241 minute, 48 seconds
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retinue

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 26, 2024 is: retinue • \RET-uh-noo\  • noun A retinue is a group of helpers, supporters, or followers. // The venue relies on a retinue of workers to carry out large events. See the entry > Examples: "Royal Island, a swanky Caribbean oasis in The Bahamas, awaits its next king or queen and their lucky retinue of family and friends." — Abby Montanez, Robb Report, 11 Jan. 2024 Did you know? Retinue comes via Middle English from the Anglo-French verb retenir, meaning "to retain or keep in one's pay or service." Another retenir descendant is retainer, which has among its meanings "one who serves a person of high position or rank." In the 14th century, such retainers typically served a noble or royal of some kind, and retinue referred to a collection of retainers—that is, the noble's servants and companions. Nowadays, the word retinue is often used with a bit of exaggeration to refer to the assistants, guards, publicists, and other people who accompany a high-profile individual in public. You might also hear such a collection of folks called a suite or entourage, two other words that come from French.
2/26/20241 minute, 41 seconds
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caterwaul

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 25, 2024 is: caterwaul • \KAT-er-wawl\  • verb To caterwaul is to make a very loud and unpleasant sound. Caterwaul can also mean “to protest or complain noisily.” // The woods were quiet until the sound of a chainsaw caterwauling in the distance broke the calm. // They continue to caterwaul about having to take the blame. See the entry > Examples: “The young woman in her 20s seated next to me laughed and caterwauled as other audience members participated in the traditional ‘Rocky Horror’ routine, shouting catchphrases and sarcastic commentary back at the actors.” — Peter Marks, The Washington Post, 5 Oct. 2023 Did you know? Though the most familiar sense of caterwaul, “to protest or complain loudly,” is not specific to our feline friends, we still think it’s the cat’s meow, and not without good reason. Caterwaul first appeared in English in the 1300s as a verb applied to the wailing sounds made by cats when on the prowl for a mate. The word comes from the Middle English word caterwawen (also caterwrawen), but its origins beyond that are obscure. The cater part is thought to be connected to the cat, but scholars disagree about whether it traces to the Middle Dutch word cāter, meaning “tomcat,” or if it is merely cat with an “-er” added. Wawen is probably imitative in origin, approximating one of the domestic kitty’s many vocalizations. By the 1600s caterwaul was also being used for similar non-cat noises and later as a noun referring to noisy people or things.
2/25/20241 minute, 59 seconds
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voracious

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 24, 2024 is: voracious • \vaw-RAY-shus\  • adjective Voracious describes someone who has a huge appetite. It can also be used figuratively to mean "excessively eager," as in "a voracious reader." // It seemed like the voracious kitten was eating her weight in food every day. // She has her voracious appetite for knowledge to thank for graduating at the top of her class. See the entry > Examples: "Cane toads are unwelcome in Australia because the bulbous amphibian is a voracious eater that when stressed releases a toxin strong enough to kill lizards, snakes, crocodiles—almost anything that dares to attack it. In a suburban setting, that includes dogs and cats." — Hilary Whiteman, CNN, 19 Jan. 2024 Did you know? Voracious is one of several English words that come from the Latin verb vorare, which means "to eat greedily" or "to devour." Vorare is also an ancestor of devour and of the -ivorous words that describe the diets of various creatures. These include carnivorous ("meat-eating"), herbivorous ("plant-eating"), omnivorous ("feeding on both animals and plants"), frugivorous ("fruit-eating"), graminivorous ("feeding on grass"), and piscivorous ("fish-eating").
2/24/20241 minute, 43 seconds
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voracious

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 24, 2024 is: voracious • \vuh-RAY-shus\  • adjective Voracious describes someone who has a huge appetite. It can also be used figuratively to mean "excessively eager," as in "a voracious reader." // It seemed like the voracious kitten was eating her weight in food every day. // She has her voracious appetite for knowledge to thank for graduating at the top of her class. See the entry > Examples: "Cane toads are unwelcome in Australia because the bulbous amphibian is a voracious eater that when stressed releases a toxin strong enough to kill lizards, snakes, crocodiles—almost anything that dares to attack it. In a suburban setting, that includes dogs and cats." — Hilary Whiteman, CNN, 19 Jan. 2024 Did you know? Voracious is one of several English words that come from the Latin verb vorare, which means "to eat greedily" or "to devour." Vorare is also an ancestor of devour and of the -ivorous words that describe the diets of various creatures. These include carnivorous ("meat-eating"), herbivorous ("plant-eating"), omnivorous ("feeding on both animals and plants"), frugivorous ("fruit-eating"), graminivorous ("feeding on grass"), and piscivorous ("fish-eating").
2/24/20241 minute, 43 seconds
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opprobrium

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 23, 2024 is: opprobrium • \uh-PROH-bree-um\  • noun Opprobrium refers to very strong disapproval or criticism of a person or thing especially by a large number of people. // They're going ahead with the plan despite public opprobrium. See the entry > Examples: "Caught up in a whirlwind of public opprobrium, ... the brand's executives seemed unsure how to react, before finally offering up statements of public apologies and self-recrimination." — Vanessa Friedman, The New York Times, 1 June 2023 Did you know? Unfamiliar with opprobrium? Tsk, tsk, tsk. Just kidding—unfamiliarity with a word is hardly grounds for, well, opprobrium. We're here to learn! Besides, opprobrium is quite formal and has few close relations in English. It comes from the Latin verb opprobrāre, which means "to reproach." That verb, in turn, comes from the noun probrum, meaning "a disgraceful act" or "reproach." The adjective form of opprobrium is opprobrious, which in English means "deserving of scorn" or "expressing contempt." One might commit an "opprobrious crime" or be berated with "opprobrious language," for example.
2/23/20241 minute, 38 seconds
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haggard

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 22, 2024 is: haggard • \HAG-urd\  • adjective Someone described as haggard appears tired or thin especially as if because of hunger, worry, or pain. Haggard can also describe someone who looks wild or otherwise disheveled. // After a disastrous rafting trip, Robin emerged from the woods looking haggard but otherwise unscathed. See the entry > Examples: “All three leads are excellent, but it’s especially worth noting the complexity of what DiCaprio pulls off. Initially, Ernest seems a fairly standard character type, the cocky, dim-bulb guy of disposable moral fiber, easily influenced by someone much smarter. But he becomes more interesting as the anguish caused by his love for Mollie eats away at him, with the actor looking discernibly more haggard as Hale’s plot advances and he's unable to extricate himself from it.” — David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, 20 May 2023 Did you know? Haggard has its origins in falconry, the ancient sport of hunting with a trained bird of prey. The birds used in falconry were not bred in captivity until very recently; traditionally, falconers trained wild birds that were either taken from the nest when quite young or trapped as adults. A bird trapped as an adult is termed a haggard, from the synonymous Middle French word hagard. Such a bird being notoriously wild and difficult to train, haggard was easily extended to apply to a “wild” and intractable person. Eventually, the word came to express the way the human face looks when a person is exhausted, anxious, or terrified. Today, the most common meaning of haggard is “gaunt” or “worn.”
2/22/20242 minutes, 9 seconds
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lampoon

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 21, 2024 is: lampoon • \lam-POON\  • verb To lampoon someone or something is to ridicule that person or thing, especially through the use of harsh satire. // The exhibit chronicles the long history of lampooning public figures in cartoons. See the entry > Examples: "'An exciting element of this to me was the opportunity to completely lampoon entitled Hollywood celebrities. Those celebrities out there who think that acting is the most important vocation in the world and that there's not an interesting conversation unless it’s about one of their future projects,' [Jury Duty actor, James] Marsden said with a laugh and without naming names." — Rosy Cordero, Deadline, 20 Apr. 2023 Did you know? Lampoon can be a noun or a verb. The noun lampoon (meaning "satire" or, specifically, "a harsh satire usually directed against an individual") was first used in English in the 17th century and may be familiar from the names of humor publications such as The Harvard Lampoon and its now-defunct spinoff National Lampoon. Both the noun and the verb come from the French word lampon, which likely originated from lampons, a form of the verb lamper, meaning "to drink to the bottom." So what is the connection? Lampons! (meaning "Let us guzzle!"—that is, drink greedily) was a frequent refrain in 17th-century French satirical poems.
2/21/20241 minute, 54 seconds
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buttress

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 20, 2024 is: buttress • \BUTT-russ\  • noun A buttress is a structure built against a wall in order to support or strengthen it. More broadly, buttress may refer to anything that supports or strengthens. Buttress may also refer to something that resembles a buttress, such as a projecting part of a mountain or hill, a horny protuberance on a horse's hoof at the heel, or the broadened base of a tree trunk or a thickened vertical part of it. // After the wall collapsed, the construction company agreed to rebuild it with a buttress. See the entry > Examples: "Between November 2018 and May 2021, the glacier retreated eight kilometres as the ice shelf at the end of the glacier ... disappeared. The ice shelf would have acted as a buttress, slowing the movement of the glacier towards the sea." — The University of Leeds (environment.leeds.ac.uk), 29 Nov. 2023 Did you know? The word buttress first budded in the world of architecture during the 14th century, when it was used to describe an exterior support that projects from a wall to resist the sideways force, called thrust, created by the load on an arch or roof. The word ultimately comes from the Anglo-French verb buter, meaning "to thrust." Buter is also the source of our verb butt, meaning "to thrust, push, or strike with the head or horns." Buttress developed figurative use relatively soon after its adoption, being applied to anything that supports or strengthens something else. No buts about it: the world would not be the same without buttresses.
2/20/20242 minutes, 6 seconds
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prestigious

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 19, 2024 is: prestigious • \preh-STIH-juss\  • adjective Something described as prestigious has the respect and admiration that someone or something gets for being successful or important. // Chelsea’s mom often bragged about her daughter’s job at the prestigious company. See the entry > Examples: “Emma Stone has amassed a trove of prestigious Hollywood awards—an Oscar, two Golden Globes and three SAG Awards among them—but the accolade that eludes her is the one she covets most: ‘Jeopardy!’ contestant.” — Malia Mendez, The Los Angeles Times, 12 Jan. 2024 Did you know? You might expect, based on how adjectives are often formed in English, that today’s word is an extension of the noun prestige. However, although both words share the same Latin root, they entered English by different routes and at different times. Moreover, both adjective and noun once had more to do with trickery than respect when they were first used. Prestigious came directly from the Latin adjective praestigiosis, meaning “full of tricks” or “deceitful,” and had a similar meaning upon entering English in the mid-16th century. Praestigiosis in turn came from the plural noun praestigiae, meaning “conjurer’s tricks.” This noun also gave English the word prestige, though it first passed through French and arrived a century after prestigious. Though it wasn’t first on the block, prestige influenced prestigious in a different way, by eventually developing an extended sense of “standing or esteem.” That change spurred a similar development in prestigious, which now means simply “illustrious or esteemed.”
2/19/20242 minutes, 11 seconds
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fathom

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 18, 2024 is: fathom • \FA-thum\  • verb To fathom something is to understand the reason for its existence or occurrence. // Even those close to him can't always fathom why he repeatedly risks his life to climb the world’s tallest mountains. See the entry > Examples: "Oppenheimer provides an opportunity to revisit this charismatic, contradictory man and reconsider how previous attempts to tell his story have succeeded—and failed—at fathoming one of the 20th century’s most fascinating public figures." — Andy Kifer, Smithsonian Magazine, 18 July 2023 Did you know? Fathom comes from the Old English word fæthm, meaning "outstretched arms." The noun fathom, which now commonly refers to a measure (especially of depth) of six feet, was originally used for the distance, fingertip to fingertip, created by stretching one's arms straight out from the sides of the body. In one of its earliest uses, the verb fathom was a synonym of our modern embrace: to fathom someone was to encircle the person with your arms. By the 1600s fathom had taken to the seas, with the verb being used to mean "to measure by a sounding line." At the same time, the verb also developed senses synonymous with probe and investigate, and it is now frequently used to refer to the act of getting to the bottom of something, figuratively speaking.
2/18/20241 minute, 53 seconds
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rapport

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 17, 2024 is: rapport • \ra-POR\  • noun When you have a rapport with someone, your relationship is characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communication possible or easy. // Once our daughter had developed a rapport with her piano teacher, she began to show some real enthusiasm for learning and practicing the piano. See the entry > Examples: "No one ever equaled the [Smothers] brothers' unique rapport, blending folk music and natural conversations with sibling rivalry and comical bickering." — Marc Freeman, The Hollywood Reporter, 29 Dec. 2023 Did you know? The word rapport bears a resemblance to a more common English word, report, which is no coincidence: both words come ultimately from the Latin verb portare, meaning "to carry," and both traveled through French words meaning "to bring back" on their way to English. Report has been in use since the 14th century, when it entered Middle English by way of Anglo-French. Rapport was first used in the mid-15th century as a synonym of report in its "account or statement" meaning, but that meaning had become obsolete by the mid-19th century. It wasn't until the early 20th century that English speakers borrowed rapport back from French in the meaning of "a friendly, harmonious relationship." We're happy to report that rapport has since flourished, and we trust this friendly word will stick around a while.
2/17/20241 minute, 53 seconds
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turbid

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 16, 2024 is: turbid • \TER-bid\  • adjective Turbid is a formal word that has several meanings having to do with literal or figurative muddiness or cloudiness. It's most often used literally to describe water that is thick or opaque with stirred-up sediment, as in "the river's turbid waters"; similarly, turbid air is smoky or misty. In figurative use, turbid describes things that lack clarity, as in "efforts to clear my turbid mind." // The group decided to forgo stopping at the swimming hole on their hike because of its turbid waters. See the entry > Examples: "Forty million people rely on the Colorado River’s largesse, from Wyoming ranchers to the residents of sprawling Arizona subdivisions to the lettuce farmers in California’s Imperial Valley. Less visibly, the river is also a lifeline for 14 native species of fish. They are rarely seen by humans—the river they inhabit is as turbid as coffee, and they’re seldom fished for sport—yet they require a healthy Colorado as much as any Angeleno or Tucsonan." — Ben Goldfarb, The Atlantic, 8 Oct. 2023 Did you know? Turbid and turgid (which means "swollen or distended" or "overblown, pompous, or bombastic") are frequently mistaken for one another, and it's no wonder. Not only do the two words differ by only a letter, they are often used in contexts where either word could fit. For example, a flooded stream can be simultaneously cloudy and swollen, and badly written prose might be both unclear (another sense of turbid) and grandiloquent. Nevertheless, the distinction between these two words, however fine, is an important one for conveying exact shades of meaning, so it's a good idea to keep them straight. Turbid, like its relative turbulent, comes ultimately from the Latin noun turba, meaning "confusion" or "crowd," while turgid comes from the Latin verb turgēre, "to be swollen."
2/16/20242 minutes, 28 seconds
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enervate

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 15, 2024 is: enervate • \EN-er-vayt\  • verb Enervate is a formal word used for situations in which someone or something is being sapped of physical or mental vigor, vitality, or strength. The verb is most common in the participial forms enervated and enervating, as in "children enervated by the summer afternoon heat" and "a tedious discussion we found completely enervating." // The person giving the lengthy toast seemed to be completely unaware of the degree to which he was enervating his audience. See the entry > Examples: "Toward the end of Paved Paradise … [author, Henry] Grabar follows housing activists' efforts to legalize in-law apartments carved from single-family houses, in many cases from the garage. The mere fact of this movement epitomizes the underlying problem: Local regulations have blocked apartments while allowing parking structures because, for most of seven or eight decades, city planners got hung up on the wrong issue. The visionaries of Victor Gruen's day simply failed to foresee how the relentless promotion of parking spaces might enervate cities and crowd out other needs." — Dante Ramos, The Atlantic, 4 June 2023 Did you know? Do not let any haziness in your understanding of enervate cause you to be enervated. Confusion about this somewhat rare word is reasonable, and aided greatly by the fact that although enervate looks like a plausible product of the joining of energize and invigorate, it is actually an antonym of both. Enervate comes from a form of the Latin verb enervare, which literally means "to remove the sinews of," and figuratively means simply "to weaken." Enervare was formed from the prefix e-, meaning "out of," and nervus, meaning "sinew, nerve." So etymologically, at least, someone who is enervated is "out of nerve." Knowing this, you no longer need be unnerved by it.
2/15/20242 minutes, 26 seconds
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Cupid

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 14, 2024 is: Cupid • \KYOO-pid\  • noun Cupid is the Roman god of erotic love. The word cupid in lowercase refers to a figure that represents Cupid as a naked usually winged boy often holding a bow and arrow. // She purchased a large Valentine's Day card decorated with hearts and cupids. See the entry > Examples: "Michelangelo's talent as a sculptor first drew attention after a failed attempt at art fraud. The cardinal who purchased his fake antique cupid statue was so impressed with Michelangelo's work that he invited the artist to Rome for a meeting." — The Williston (North Dakota) Daily Herald, 4 Mar. 2022 Did you know? According to Roman mythology, Cupid was the son of Mercury, the messenger god, and Venus, the goddess of love. In Roman times, the winged "messenger of love" was sometimes depicted in armor, but no one is sure if that was intended as a sarcastic comment on the similarities between warfare and romance, or a reminder that love conquers all. Cupid was generally seen as a good spirit who brought happiness to all, but his matchmaking could cause mischief. Venus wasn't above using her son's power to get revenge on her rivals, and she once plotted to have the beautiful mortal Psyche fall in love with a despicable man. But the plan backfired: Cupid fell in love with Psyche, and she eventually became his immortal wife.
2/14/20241 minute, 52 seconds
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maladroit

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 13, 2024 is: maladroit • \mal-uh-DROYT\  • adjective Maladroit is an adjective that means "incompetent" or "very awkward." It is usually used in formal speech and writing, and often describes people who lack skill in handling situations. // The governor has been criticized for his maladroit handling of the budget crisis. See the entry > Examples: "Barry Allen, a.k.a. the Flash, is the dweebiest Justice League superhero. He's also the most endearing. Barry's got a bit of Peter Parker's boyishness. He's maladroit in a way that's equally maddening and winning." — Mark Feeney, The Boston Globe, 16 June 2023 Did you know? Maladroit is perhaps an awkward fit for casual speech—outside of the occasional Weezer album title, one most often encounters it in formal writing—but you can remember its meaning by breaking it down into its French building blocks. The first is the word mal, meaning "badly," which may be familiar from English words including malaise ("a vague sense of mental or moral ill-being") and malodorous ("having a bad odor"). The second is adroit, meaning "having or showing skill, cleverness, or resourcefulness in handling situations." Middle French speakers put those pieces together as maladroit to describe the clumsy and incompetent among them, and English speakers borrowed the word intact. We'd adopted adroit from them a short time before.
2/13/20242 minutes
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inveigh

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 12, 2024 is: inveigh • \in-VAY\  • verb Inveigh is a formal word that means "to protest or complain bitterly or vehemently." Like its synonym rail, it's typically used with against. // Students inveighed against the new dress code policy. See the entry > Examples: "While I've inveighed here about categorical statements against chocolate and wine, I will repeat my favorite maxim that 'bubbles go with everything.' Champagne … is fantastic with chocolate-covered strawberries (in which the berries are the star)." — Dave McIntyre, The Washington Post, 9 Feb. 2023 Did you know? It's all well and good to complain, kvetch, gripe, or grumble about whatever happens to be vexing you, but for a stronger effect, we suggest inveighing against it. (You'll almost always want to include the against, by the way.) Inveigh was borrowed with its meaning from the Latin verb invehi (invehi can also mean "to attack"), which is also a form of invehere, meaning "to carry in." Another invehere descendant is the closely-related noun invective, which refers to insulting or abusive language. Nota bene: it's not necessary to hurl invective when inveighing against what irks you.
2/12/20241 minute, 45 seconds
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quirk

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 11, 2024 is: quirk • \KWERK\  • noun Quirk refers to an unusual habit or way of behaving. It can also refer to something strange that happens by chance, as in “a quirk of fate.” // For an icebreaker, we were each asked to share a noteworthy quirk about ourselves. Mine was that I have to make sure every square of my waffles is buttered evenly before I eat them. See the entry > Examples: “The hip-hop legend [E-40] has been rapping for more than 30 years, carving his own corner of the rap world with his inimitable vocal quirks and a freewheeling cadence that made songs like ‘Sprinkle Me,’ ‘Tell Me When to Go,’ and ‘U and Dat’ transcendental hits.” — Andre Gee, Rolling Stone, 28 Nov. 2023 Did you know? Those whose quirk is to zig while others zag (and conversely those who zag while others zig) will appreciate the origins of today’s word. Not its etymological origins, mind you—no one knows whence quirk came—but the twists and turns of its meanings across the centuries. The oldest known use of quirk dates to the mid-1500s, and referred to a clever verbal dodge of the kind one might use to turn the tables on someone in an argument or debate. It didn’t take long for quirk’s meaning to expand to cover all kinds of twisty, turn-y things, from witty retorts and curlicue flourishes made with ink on paper to the vagaries or twists of fate. The sense of quirk meaning “a peculiarity of action or behavior” refers to a twist of sorts as well, insofar as our quirks often flip others’ expectations of us, perhaps even causing them to quirk their eyebrows now and again. In a surprising twist, quirk began to be used as a verb meaning “to curve or twist” in the late 1800s.
2/11/20242 minutes, 10 seconds
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callous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 10, 2024 is: callous • \KAL-us\  • adjective Someone or something described as callous does not feel or show any concern about the problems or suffering of other people. // Several employees cringed at the callous remark their supervisor made about the team's performance. See the entry > Examples: "The tragedy of AI is not that it stands to replace good journalists but that it takes every gross, callous move made by management to degrade the production of content—and promises to accelerate it." — Brian Merchant, The Los Angeles Times, 1 Dec. 2023 Did you know? A callus is a hard, thickened area of skin that develops usually from friction or irritation over time. Such a hardened area often leaves one less sensitive to the touch, so it's no surprise that the adjective callous, in addition to describing skin that is hard and thick, can also be used as a synonym for harsh or insensitive. Both callus and callous come via Middle English from Latin. The figurative sense of callous entered English almost 300 years after the literal sense, and Robert Louis Stevenson used it aptly when he wrote in Treasure Island "But, indeed, from what I saw, all these buccaneers were as callous as the sea they sailed on."
2/10/20241 minute, 49 seconds
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MacGuffin

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 9, 2024 is: MacGuffin • \muh-GUFF-in\  • noun A MacGuffin is an object, event, or character in a film or story that serves to set and keep the plot in motion despite usually lacking intrinsic importance. // The missing document is the MacGuffin that brings the two main characters together, but the real story centers on their tumultuous relationship. See the entry > Examples: "... like every Mission: Impossible before it, Dead Reckoning sticks to a tried-and-true formula that essentially acts as a string to connect one action-sequence bead to the next. The set-up: A stealth Russian sub gets attacked by its own torpedoes. The MacGuffin: One cruciform key that the sub’s chief officer has in his possession, and which goes missing; once this item is slotted into an identical counterpart, the composite key will unlock… something." — David Fear, Rolling Stone, 5 July 2023 Did you know? The first person to use MacGuffin as a word for a plot device was Alfred Hitchcock. He borrowed it from an old shaggy-dog story in which some passengers on a train interrogate a fellow passenger carrying a large, strange-looking package. The fellow says the package contains a "MacGuffin," which, he explains, is used to catch tigers in the Scottish Highlands. When the group protests that there are no tigers in the Highlands, the passenger replies, "Well, then, this must not be a MacGuffin." Hitchcock apparently appreciated the way the mysterious package holds the audience's attention and builds suspense. He recognized that an audience anticipating a solution to a mystery will continue to follow the story even if the initial interest-grabber turns out to be irrelevant.
2/9/20242 minutes, 8 seconds
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fissile

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 8, 2024 is: fissile • \FISS-ul\  • adjective Fissile describes materials that are capable of undergoing fission—that is, the process in which the nucleus of a heavy atom is split apart, releasing a large amount of energy. Fissile can also be used to describe something, such as wood or crystals, capable of or prone to being split or divided in the direction of the grain along natural planes. // The wood of most conifer species is fissile, making it much easier to cut than that of sycamore and hornbeam. See the entry > Examples: "In Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a whopping 50,000 people worked to create the material, enriched uranium, needed for Los Alamos' bomb, while thousands more created another fissile material, plutonium, in Hanford, Washington. Including the hundreds of thousands of construction workers who built these labs and boomtowns, 'the Oak Ridge and Hanford sites alone hired more than a half-million employees,' the U.S. Department of Energy said." — Mark Kaufman, Mashable.com, 2 Sept. 2023 Did you know? When scientists first used fissile back in the 1600s, the notion of splitting an atom would have seemed far-fetched indeed. At that time, people thought that atoms were the smallest particles of matter that existed and therefore could not be split. Fissile (which can be traced back to the Latin verb findere, meaning "to split") was used in reference to things like rocks. When we hear about fissile materials today, the reference is usually to nuclear fission: the splitting of an atomic nucleus that releases a huge amount of energy. But there is still a place in our language for the original sense of fissile (and for the noun fissility, meaning "the quality of being fissile"). A geologist or builder, for example, might describe slate as being fissile, as it splits readily into thin slabs.
2/8/20242 minutes, 23 seconds
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absolve

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 7, 2024 is: absolve • \ub-ZAHLV\  • verb To absolve someone is to free them from a responsibility or commitment, or from the consequences of guilt. // The plaintiff asserts that the company is not absolved of responsibility for the false claims simply because its ownership has changed. See the entry > Examples: "'We chose these Five Common Reactions to Change because they're very prevalent and they help illustrate a spectrum of change reactions from individuals,' Curtis [Bateman, author] says. 'It's important to highlight that no reaction is right or wrong at the start of the change. We're all human. But that doesn't absolve us of responsibility regarding the choices we make from that point forward.'" — Rodger Dean Duncan, Forbes, 5 Dec. 2023 Did you know? The act of absolving can be seen as releasing someone from blame or sin, or "loosening" the hold that responsibility or guilt has on a person, which provides a hint about the word's origins. Absolve was adopted into Middle English in the 15th century from the Latin verb absolvere ("to release, acquit, finish, complete"), formed by combining the prefix ab- ("from, away, off") with solvere, meaning "to loosen." Absolve also once had additional senses of "to finish or accomplish" and "to resolve or explain," but these are now obsolete. Solvere is also the ancestor of the English words solve, dissolve, resolve, solvent, and solution.
2/7/20241 minute, 55 seconds
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signet

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 6, 2024 is: signet • \SIG-nut\  • noun Signet refers to a seal used officially to give personal authority to a document in lieu of a signature, or to the impression made by or as if by such a seal. // The ring had been passed down for generations, and bore an intricate intaglio signet. See the entry > Examples: "The bottle is crowned with the letter K like a signet representing the majesty of the wearer." — MuseArabia.net, 20 Aug. 2023 Did you know? Signets have been used for thousands of years. The design of a signet is personalized for its owner, and no two are alike. The ancients used signets to mark their possessions and to sign contracts. In later years signets were used to stamp a blob of hot wax sealing a folded secret document so that it couldn't be opened and read without the design being broken. Nowadays you’re likely to hear of signets in reference to jewelry, especially rings. The reigning pope wears one, called the Fisherman's Ring, which is carved with a figure of St. Peter encircled with the pope's name; after a pope's death, the ring is destroyed and a new one is made. If you guessed that signet and sign share an etymological relation, you’re entirely right: both can be traced to the Latin noun signum, meaning "a mark, token, image, sign, or seal."
2/6/20241 minute, 53 seconds
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gratuitous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 5, 2024 is: gratuitous • \gruh-TOO-uh-tuss\  • adjective Gratuitous describes things that are not necessary, appropriate, or justified, as in "a gratuitous insult" or "a gratuitous assumption." Gratuitous can also mean "free." // The film was criticized for its gratuitous violence. // A local veterinary technician provides gratuitous services to the animal shelter twice a month. See the entry > Examples: "The Hunger Games trilogy followed Katniss Everdeen as she won a fight to the death and eventually sparked a nationwide rebellion, a dystopian treatment that explores how gratuitous violence can lead to generational trauma. While the book's topics are serious, Levithan tells Rolling Stone that much of The Hunger Games' success came from Collins' ability to respect her younger readers' ability to handle deep material, making the books reach an audience of all ages." — CT Jones, Rolling Stone, 25 Nov. 2023 Did you know? Like gratitude, grace, and congratulate, gratuitous is a descendant of the Latin word gratus, which means "pleasing" or "grateful." When gratuitous was first used in the 17th century, it meant "free" or "given without return benefit or compensation." The extended meaning "done without good reason" or "unwarranted" came about just a few decades later, perhaps from the belief held by some people that one should not give something without getting something in return. Today, that extended meaning is the more common sense, employed, for example, when graphic cruelty depicted in a work of fiction is described as "gratuitous violence," or when unkind words better left unsaid are described as "a gratuitous insult."
2/5/20242 minutes, 9 seconds
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zeitgeber

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 4, 2024 is: zeitgeber • \TSYTE-gay-ber\  • noun Zeitgeber refers to an environmental agent or event (such as the occurrence of light or dark) that provides the stimulus which sets or resets an organism’s biological clock. // The ratio of daylight to darkness in the spring is an important zeitgeber that affects the activity of some migrating birds. See the entry > Examples: “Which digital rhythms are we actively following because they make us feel good, and which are we entrained to? Entrainment, a term that originated in biology and then spread to the social sciences, refers to the alignment of an organism’s physiology or behavior with a cycle; the most familiar example would be our circadian rhythm. The signal driving entrainment, in this case light and dark, is called a ‘zeitgeber’ ...” — Jenny Odell, The New York Times, 8 Dec. 2022 Did you know? Zeitgebers are alarm clocks—both biologically and etymologically. The word zeitgeber comes from a combination of two German terms: Zeit, meaning “time,” and Geber, which means “giver.” In nature, zeitgebers tend to be cyclic or recurring patterns that help keep the body’s circadian rhythms operating in an orderly way. For earthlings of all kinds, the daily pattern of light and darkness and the warmer and colder temperatures between day and night serve as zeitgebers, cues that keep organisms functioning on a regular schedule—consider how the changing ratio of day to night in spring serves as a trigger for critters such as birds and spring peepers to sing their mating songs. For humans, societally imposed cycles, such as the schedule of the work or school day and regular mealtimes, can become zeitgebers as well. What you sing is up to you, however.
2/4/20242 minutes, 21 seconds
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acquisitive

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 3, 2024 is: acquisitive • \uh-KWIZ-uh-tiv\  • adjective Someone or something described as acquisitive is characterized by a strong desire to own or acquire more things. // The game aims to teach middle schoolers to balance their acquisitive instincts with a consideration of what will benefit society as a whole. See the entry > Examples: "The film casts a cynical side-eye at the acquisitive ethos of the Reagan '80s, told with a hypnotic sense of style." — Mark Olsen, The Los Angeles Times, 7 July 2023 Did you know? While acquisitive is a useful synonym of the likes of greedy and avaricious, it's relatively unknown compared to its more popular lexical relations, acquire and acquisition. The former of that pair is most often used to mean "to get as one's own," as in "skills acquired through practice"; the latter refers either to the act of acquiring something, as in "the acquisition of skills," or to something or someone acquired or gained, as in "the museum's recent acquisitions." All three have as their ultimate source the Latin word acquīrere, meaning "to acquire." While acquire and acquisition have both been in use since the 15th century, acquisitive is a bit younger. The word has a somewhat rare use meaning "capable of acquiring" that dates to the late 16th century, but its "greedy" meaning dates only to the early 19th century.
2/3/20241 minute, 58 seconds
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prognosticate

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 2, 2024 is: prognosticate • \prahg-NAHSS-tuh-kayt\  • verb To prognosticate is to predict or foreshadow something. // Our company uses current trends to prognosticate what the workplace of the future will be like. See the entry > Examples: “What-ifs are almost always registered as negative. We prognosticate the worst-case scenarios probably as a means to be prepared for the worst. ‘Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst’ is a well-known adage that programs negative thinking.” — Bruce Wilson, Psychology Today, 7 May 2023 Did you know? Prognosticate, which ultimately traces back to the Greek word prognōstikos (“knowing beforehand, prescient”), first appears in English during the 15th century. Since that time, prognosticate has been connected with things that foreshadow events to come and with people who can prophesy or predict the future by such signs. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley used the “prophesy” sense of prognosticate in her Gothic horror novel Frankenstein as Victor Frankenstein writes of his feelings upon approaching Geneva: “I wept like a child. ‘Dear mountains! my own beautiful lake! how do you welcome your wanderer? Your summits are clear; the sky and lake are blue and placid. Is this to prognosticate peace, or to mock at my unhappiness?’” Other English words stitched together from prognōstikos that you may be familiar with include the nouns prognostic and prognosis, which also have senses related to foretelling. Prognostic can mean “prophecy,” while prognosis—used often in medical contexts to refer to the prospect of a patient’s recovery—can also mean “forecast.”
2/2/20242 minutes, 19 seconds
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damask

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 1, 2024 is: damask • \DAM-usk\  • noun Damask refers to a usually shiny, thick fabric (as of linen, cotton, silk, or rayon) made with patterns. The word can also be used as a synonym of Damascus steel, or for a grayish red color. // The old chair was upholstered in a blue silk damask which was now faded and threadbare. See the entry > Examples: “Though damask first emerged in the third century BCE, when Chinese weavers used one warp and one weft thread to create opulent, reversible topographies of silk that draped the shoulders of emperors, it gained its moniker when Syrian merchants introduced the fabric to European weavers.” — Mary Alice Russell and Tracey Minkin, Veranda.com, 19 Oct. 2023 Did you know? Upon visiting the city of Damascus in 1867, Mark Twain wrote that “To Damascus, years are only moments, decades are only flitting trifles of time. She measures time not by days and months and years, but by the empires she has seen rise and prosper and crumble to ruin. She is a type of immortality.” Indeed, the city’s Arabic name comes from Dimašqa, a word so ancient that it suggests the origins of the city predate recorded history. The Medieval Latin name for the fabric famously associated with the “pearl of the East,” damascus, first entered Middle English as damaske in the 1300s and was later shortened to damask. That term has also been used in the intervening centuries for a type of steel, though neither the fabric nor the steel likely originated there.
2/1/20242 minutes, 10 seconds
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quotidian

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 31, 2024 is: quotidian • \kwoh-TID-ee-un\  • adjective Something described as quotidian occurs every day or occurs routinely or typically. More broadly, quotidian is used as a synonym of commonplace and ordinary. // The article offers suggestions on how to gamify quotidian tasks. See the entry > Examples: "Ultimately, the beauty creators offered a behind-the-scenes look at how these top glam squads find quotidian ways to keep their creativity thriving." — Eda Yu, The Hollywood Reporter, 3 Nov. 2023 Did you know? In William Shakespeare's play As You Like It, the character Rosalind observes that Orlando, who has been running about in the woods carving her name on trees and hanging love poems on branches, "seems to have the quotidian of love upon him." The Bard's use doesn't make it clear that quotidian comes from a Latin word, quotidie, which means "every day." But as odd as it may seem, his use of quotidian is just a short semantic step away from the "daily" adjective sense. Some fevers come and go but occur daily; in medical use, these are called "quotidian fevers" or simply "quotidians." Poor Orlando is afflicted with such a "fever" of love.
1/31/20241 minute, 45 seconds
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bailiwick

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 30, 2024 is: bailiwick • \BAY-lih-wik\  • noun Bailiwick refers to the domain or sphere in which someone has superior knowledge or authority. // Fundraising events are his bailiwick. See the entry > Examples: "Originally directed at lower-paid independents such as Uber drivers and delivery people, first the State of California and then the U.S. Department of Labor proposed legislation aimed to give these workers protection from the companies that were underpaying or otherwise mistreating them. Recently New York State followed suit, proposing a bill classifying workers as employees unless 'the worker is free from the control of the hiring entity, the work performed is outside the hiring entity's bailiwick, and the worker is 'customarily engaged' in the type of work he is hired to do.'" — Nigel Wilson, Forbes, 3 Mar. 2023 Did you know? The first half of the word bailiwick comes from the Middle English word for "bailiff"—in this case, a term referring to a sheriff or chief officer of a town in medieval England, not the officer who assists today in U.S. courtrooms. Bailiff comes, via Anglo-French, from the Medieval Latin verb bajulare, meaning "to care for" or "to support." The second half of bailiwick comes from wik, a Middle English word for "dwelling place" or "village," which ultimately hails from the Latin word vicus, meaning "village." (This root is also thought to have given English -wich and -wick, suffixes used in place names like Norwich and Warwick.) Although bailiwick dates from the 15th century, the "special domain of knowledge" sense we use most often today did not appear in English until the middle of the 19th century.
1/30/20242 minutes, 22 seconds
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emote

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 29, 2024 is: emote • \ih-MOHT\  • verb To emote is to express emotion in a very dramatic or obvious way. // He stood on the stage, emoting and gesturing wildly. See the entry > Examples: "An entity that feigns human emotions is arguably a worse object of affection than a cold, computational device that doesn't emote at all." — Virginia Heffernan, WIRED, 26 Sept. 2023 Did you know? Emote is an example of what linguists call a back-formation—that is, a word formed by trimming down an existing word. In this case, the parent word is emotion, which came to English by way of Middle French from the Latin verb emovēre, meaning "to remove or displace" (making the "removal" of the suffix -ion to form emote quite fitting). As is sometimes the case with back-formations, emote has since its coinage in the early 20th century tended toward use that is less than entirely serious. It frequently appears in humorous or deprecating descriptions of the work of actors, and is similarly used to describe theatrical behavior by nonactors.
1/29/20241 minute, 35 seconds
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ne plus ultra

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 28, 2024 is: ne plus ultra • \nay-plus-UL-truh\  • noun Ne plus ultra refers to the highest point of development or success that something may achieve; it is a synonym of acme. // The company’s latest electric car is being hailed as the ne plus ultra of automotive achievement. See the entry > Examples: "Vanilla is earthy. It’s ethereal. It’s exotic. It’s indispensable in some recipes and, when added to others on a whim, seems essential. … The ne plus ultra of flavoring." — Dorie Greenspan, Food52.com, 25 Feb. 2022 Did you know? It is the height, the zenith, the ultimate, the crown, the pinnacle. It is the peak, the summit, the crest, the high-water mark. All these expressions, of course, mean "the highest point attainable." But ne plus ultra may top them all when it comes to expressing in a sophisticated way that something is the pink of perfection. It is said that the term's predecessor, non plus ultra, was inscribed on the Pillars of Heracles at the Strait of Gibraltar, which marked the western end of the classical world. The phrase served as a warning: "(Let there) not (be) more (sailing) beyond." The New Latin version ne plus ultra, meaning "(go) no more beyond," found its way into English in the early 1600s.
1/28/20241 minute, 47 seconds
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docile

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 27, 2024 is: docile • \DAH-sul\  • adjective Docile is used to describe those who are easily taught, led, or managed. // Though the professor feared a rowdy incoming class, he found that his new students were docile and eager to learn. See the entry > Examples: "An homage to David Cronenberg's 2005 film 'A History of Violence,' 'Leo' released on Oct. 19. The action-thriller follows a docile cafe owner (Vijay) who is incited to return to his violent past." — Naman Ramachandran, Variety, 23 Oct. 2023 Did you know? Docile students have always made teaching easier than it otherwise would be. Today calling students "docile" indicates that they aren't trouble-makers, but there's more than just good behavior connecting docility to teachability. The original meaning of docile is more to the point: "readily absorbing something taught." "The docile mind may soon thy precepts know," rendered Ben Jonson, for example, in a 17th-century translation of the Roman poet Horace. Docile comes from the Latin verb docēre, which means "to teach." Other descendants of docēre include doctrine (which can mean "something that is taught"), document (an early meaning of which was "instruction"), and doctor and docent (both of which can refer to teachers).
1/27/20241 minute, 49 seconds
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lexicographer

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 26, 2024 is: lexicographer • \lek-suh-KAH-gruh-fer\  • noun A lexicographer is an author or editor of a dictionary. // Noah Webster believed that a lexicographer's work was to document a language as it is used, without any judgment or subjective influence. See the entry > Examples: "'Ma'am' ... comes from the French word for 'my lady' (ma dame), which in English turned into 'madam' and then 'ma'am' by the 1600s, according to Merriam-Webster. This pronunciation change happened at a time when American English was trying to differentiate itself from British English, explained Kelly Elizabeth Wright, experimental sociolinguist and lexicographer at Virginia Tech." — Janelle Davis, CNN, 12 Mar. 2023 Did you know? Today, we're looking at a word that is dear to our hearts: lexicographer. The ancient Greeks were some of the earliest makers of dictionaries; they used them mainly to catalog obsolete terms from their rich literary past. To create a word for writers of dictionaries, the Greeks sensibly attached the suffix -graphos, meaning "writer," to lexikon, meaning "dictionary," to form lexikographos, the direct ancestor of the English word lexicographer. Lexikon, which itself descends from Greek lexis (meaning "word" or "speech"), also gave us lexicon, which can mean either "dictionary" or "the vocabulary of a language, speaker, or subject."
1/26/20241 minute, 55 seconds
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vivacious

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 25, 2024 is: vivacious • \vuh-VAY-shus\  • adjective Someone or something described as vivacious is happy and lively in an appealing way. // Our vivacious host’s bubbly humor and welcoming spirit quickly set everyone at ease. See the entry > Examples: “Mikayla Nogueira staked her claim in the beauty space on TikTok by grabbing the attention of viewers through her incredible makeup skills, her vivacious energy and, of course, her Boston accent.” — Kerry Justich, Yahoo! Life, 2 Nov. 2023 Did you know? Vivacious may not be onomatopoeic in a strict sense, but there’s definitely something lively—maybe even a bit va-va-voom—in the way its three syllables trip off the tongue. Perhaps this is why it has appealed to English speakers since the mid-1600s, when it was formed from the Latin adjective vivax meaning “long-lived, vigorous, or high-spirited.” Vivax comes from the verb vivere, meaning “to live.” Other English descendants of vivere include survive, revive, and victual—all of which came to life during the 15th century—and vivid and convivial, both of which surfaced around the same time as vivacious. Somewhat surprisingly, the word live is unrelated; it comes to us from the Old English word libban.
1/25/20241 minute, 52 seconds
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capitulate

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 24, 2024 is: capitulate • \kuh-PIH-chuh-layt\  • verb To capitulate is to surrender to an enemy, often after negotiating terms, or to stop trying to fight or resist something. // After months of organized boycotts, company officials finally capitulated to the protesters’ demands and announced significant changes to their practices. // The teacher refused to capitulate: no calculators were to be used during the exam. See the entry > Examples: “With [Horst] Hrubesch reluctant to add more attacking thrust to the team until it was too late, it was an odd game to end an odd year for Germany. But you have to give credit to Wales. It would have been easy to capitulate in the final game, given their results, but they continued to show some fighting spirit and finally got a reward for their determined play, pressing the visiting defence and working as a group to claim their first point of the campaign.” — Sophie Lawson, ESPN United Kingdom, 6 Dec. 2023 Did you know? We hope you’ll acquiesce to some history about capitulate because we can’t resist. When it first entered English in the 16th century, capitulate meant “to discuss terms with an enemy; to negotiate.” Its Latin source is more bookshelf than battlefield: the Medieval Latin word capitulare means “to distinguish [text] by chapters or headings,” as well as “to stipulate in an agreement.” The original “negotiate” sense of capitulate is now rarely heard, and today capitulate typically stresses surrender, whether to agreed-upon terms or in hopelessness before an irresistible opposing force (as in “team owners capitulated to the demands of the players’ union”).
1/24/20242 minutes, 4 seconds
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unfettered

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 23, 2024 is: unfettered • \un-FET-erd\  • adjective Unfettered describes what is not controlled or restricted. It is a synonym of both free and unrestrained. // The biographer has been given unfettered access to the family's collection of personal correspondence. See the entry > Examples: "Kevin Desjardins, president of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, said that, before the CRTC, foreign streamers for a decade were allowed unfettered access to the Canadian market, which increasingly put local TV networks at a disadvantage." — Etan Vlessing, The Hollywood Reporter, 13 Dec. 2023 Did you know? A fetter is a chain or shackle for the feet (such as the kind sometimes used on a prisoner), or, more broadly, anything that confines or restrains. Fetter and unfetter both function as verbs in English with contrasting literal meanings having to do with the putting on of and freeing from fetters; they likewise have contrasting figurative extensions having to do with the depriving and granting of freedom. The adjective unfettered resides mostly in the figurative, with the word typically describing someone or something unrestrained in progress or spirit. This is how Irish author James Joyce used the word in his 1916 autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man when the character of Cranly recalls to his best friend Stephen what he (Stephen) said he wishes to do in life: "To discover the mode of life or of art whereby your spirit could express itself in unfettered freedom."
1/23/20242 minutes, 4 seconds
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sarcasm

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 22, 2024 is: sarcasm • \SAHR-kaz-um\  • noun Sarcasm refers to the use of words that mean one thing to communicate the exact opposite of that thing, especially to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny. // Her monotone voice often made it difficult to tell whether or not she was using sarcasm. See the entry > Examples: “Without a doubt, the Beatles’ longevity is connected to their collective sense of humor, as well as other comic, comedic, and playful elements present in their musical, cinematic, and other visual texts. Four parts made a whole, with each member of the band versed in the comedic tools of irony, sarcasm, wordplay, and even nonsense.” — Katie Kapurch, et al., The Beatles and Humour, 2023 Did you know? Painful as it can be, a remark full of cutting sarcasm offers insight into the origins of the word. Sarcasm traces back to the Greek verb sarkázein, meaning “to jeer at while biting the lips.” Evidence is scant, but there is some suggestion that sarkázein may have had a fiercer original meaning: “to bite or strip off flesh.” Between sarkázein and the word we know today came the Greek noun sarkasmos, (“a sneering or hurtful remark”), iterations of which passed through French and Late Latin before arriving in English as sarcasm in the early 17th century. The adjective form sarcastic arrived a few decades later.
1/22/20241 minute, 54 seconds
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conflate

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 21, 2024 is: conflate • \kun-FLAYT\  • verb Two closely related meanings of the verb conflate are “to confuse,” i.e. “to fail to differentiate,” and “to blend or bring together.” // Be careful not to conflate gossip with real news. // The movie conflates documentary footage and dramatized reenactments so seamlessly and ingeniously that viewers may not know what is real and what is not. See the original > Examples: “It’s long been a misnomer when independents are conflated with swing voters. In reality most so-called ‘independents’ say they vote mainly for one party, even though they call themselves independent. Only a relative handful of them—just a third—are truly independent and vote equally for either party over time.” — Anthony Salvanto et al., CBS News, 19 Sept. 2023 Did you know? We’re not just blowing hot air when we tell you that conflate can actually be traced back to the same roots as the English verb blow. Conflate comes from conflatus, a form of the Latin verb conflare (“to blow together, to fuse”), which was formed by combining the prefix com-, meaning “with” or “together,” with the Latin verb flare, meaning “to blow.” Blow’s ancestor, the Old English word blāwan, shares an ancestor with flare. When two or more things are conflated, they are figuratively “blown together” either by someone’s confusion or ingenuity. Other descendants of flare in English include flavor, inflate, and, well, flatulent.
1/21/20241 minute, 56 seconds
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kindred

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 20, 2024 is: kindred • \KIN-drud\  • adjective To say that two people or things are kindred is to say that they are of a similar nature or character, or that they have the same ancestry. // I believe she and I are kindred spirits. // German and English are kindred languages. See the entry > Examples: “I’ve always loved to read, long before I began to write. Prolific writer Stephen King explains, ‘If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.’ Another kindred soul, Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘I kept always two books in my pocket: one to read, one to write in.’ The two passions are so connected in my being.” — Kerri Thoreson, The Coeur d’Alene (Idaho)/Post Falls Press, 30 Mar. 2022 Did you know? Family—both ancestral and in spirit—is what puts the “kin” in kindred. This word comes from the Old English noun for “kinship,” cynrǣden, which combines cynn (meaning “kin”) and ræden, meaning “condition.” Kindred first entered English as a noun during the Middle Ages. That noun, which can refer to a group of related individuals or to one's own relatives, gave rise to the adjective kindred in the 14th century. Other words akin to kin include kinfolk (and kinsfolk), kinship, kinsman, and kinswoman.
1/20/20241 minute, 48 seconds
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harangue

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 19, 2024 is: harangue • \huh-RANG\  • noun A harangue is a forceful or angry speech or piece of writing. // After watching the popular documentary, he delivered a long harangue about the dangers of social media. See the entry > Examples: '"HBO’s 'The Young Pope” … is a visually sublime but textually ridiculous horror tale in which the monster is the pontiff himself. …[H]is first public address is not the warm greeting the crowd in St. Peter’s Square hopes for, but a terrifying harangue. 'You have forgotten God!' he raves, declaring that his papacy will abandon the feel-good rhetoric of reaching out to one’s fellow man." — James Poniewozik, The New York Times, 12 Jan. 2017 Did you know? In Old Italian, the verb aringare meant "to speak in public," the noun aringo referred to a public assembly, and the noun aringa referred to a public speech. Aringa was borrowed into Middle French as arenge, and it is from this form that we get our noun harangue, which made its first appearance in English in the 16th century with that same "public speech" meaning. Perhaps due to the bombastic or exasperated nature of some public speeches, the term quickly developed an added sense referring to a forceful or angry speech or piece of writing, making it a synonym of rant. By the mid-17th century, the verb harangue made it possible to harangue others with such speech or writing.
1/19/20241 minute, 56 seconds
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axiomatic

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 18, 2024 is: axiomatic • \ak-see-uh-MAT-ik\  • adjective Axiomatic is a formal adjective that describes something—usually a statement—that is understood as obviously true, such that it is or should be taken for granted. // It is axiomatic that successful athletes are not just talented, but have put in years of dedicated training. See the entry > Examples: “‘You’re better off’ is a hard pill when you’re grieving a breakup. But it’s axiomatic: Someone who doesn’t want you as-is isn’t the person you want.” — Carolyn Hax, The Washington Post, 24 Feb. 2023 Did you know? An axiom is a principle widely accepted for its intrinsic merit, or one regarded as self-evidently true. A statement that is axiomatic, therefore, is one against which few people would argue. Axiomatic entered English from the New Latin word axiōmaticus, and like axiom, it comes ultimately from the Greek word axíōma, meaning (among other things) “that which is reasonable (though not demonstrated to be true).” The word axiom can also refer to a statement accepted as true specifically as the basis for an argument or inference. An example would be: “Nothing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect.” Such axioms are often employed in philosophy, as well as in mathematics and geometry, where they are sometimes called postulates.
1/18/20241 minute, 49 seconds
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whinge

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 17, 2024 is: whinge • \WINJ\  • verb Whinge is a verb used especially in British English to mean "to complain fretfully." // Everyone at the pub was whinging about the television not working. See the entry > Examples: "In his customary forthright manner, [Prince] Philip wanted to do much more than whinge about the environment. In 1970, he told the Conference on World Pollution: 'It's totally useless for a lot of well-meaning people to wring their hands in conference and to point out the dangers of pollution, or the destruction of the countryside, if no one is willing or capable of taking any action.'" — Harry Mount, The Independent (United Kingdom), 9 Nov. 2023 Did you know? One of the strengths of the English language is the nuance it exhibits when called upon to supply words for every possible kind of whining and complaining. We English users vent, we lament, we fuss and grouse and kvetch. We also—especially those of us across the pond—have a tendency to whinge. Contrary to appearances, whinge is etymologically distinct from whine. The latter traces to an Old English verb, hwīnan, meaning "to hum or whir like a speeding object (such as an arrow) through the air." When hwīnan became whine in Middle English, it meant "to wail distressfully"; whine didn't acquire its "complain" sense until the 16th century. Whinge, on the other hand, comes from a different Old English verb, hwinsian, meaning "to wail or moan discontentedly." Whinge retains that original sense today, though nowadays it puts less emphasis on the sound of the complaining and more on the discontentment behind all the whinging and moaning.
1/17/20242 minutes, 16 seconds
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bunkum

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 16, 2024 is: bunkum • \BUNG-kum\  • noun Bunkum is an old-fashioned and informal word that refers to foolish or insincere talk or ideas. // As usual, the politician let out a load of bunkum during his speech. See the entry > Examples: "The German chemist’s interests also stretched to human nutrition. He became convinced the juices that flowed out of cooked meat contained valuable nutritional compounds and encouraged cooks to sear the meat to seal in the juices. This turned out to be complete bunkum, but 150 years later his advice is still followed by Christmas dinner chefs across the land." — Mark Lorch, The Conversation, 20 Dec. 2021 Did you know? Some words in the English language have more colorful histories than others. In the case of bunkum, you could almost say it was an act of Congress that brought the word into being. Back in 1820, Felix Walker, who represented North Carolina's Buncombe County in the U.S. House of Representatives, was determined that his voice be heard on his constituents' behalf, even though the matter up for debate was irrelevant to Walker's district and he had little of substance to contribute. To the exasperation of his colleagues, Walker insisted on delivering a long and wearisome "speech for Buncombe." His persistent—if insignificant—harangue made buncombe (later respelled bunkum) a synonym for meaningless political claptrap and came later to refer to any kind of nonsense.
1/16/20241 minute, 54 seconds
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oneiric

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 15, 2024 is: oneiric • \oh-NYE-rik\  • adjective Oneiric is an adjective meaning "of or relating to dreams." // The paintings, filled with fantastical imagery conjured by the artist's imagination, have a compellingly oneiric quality. See the entry > Examples: "The poem operates by a kind of fairy logic: mesmerizing, oneiric, enchanted, with language that surprises and clauses that seem to magnetically adhere." — Verity Spott, The New York Times, 13 Apr. 2023 Did you know? The notion of using the Greek noun oneiros (meaning "dream") to form the English adjective oneiric wasn't dreamed up until the mid-19th century. But back in the late 1500s and early 1600s, linguistic dreamers came up with a few oneiros spin-offs, giving English oneirocriticism, oneirocritical, and oneirocritic (each having to do with dream interpreters or dream interpretation). The surge in oneiros derivatives at that time may have been fueled by the interest then among English-speaking scholars in Oneirocritica, a book about dream interpretation by 2nd-century Greek soothsayer Artemidorus Daldianus. In the 17th century, English speakers also melded Greek oneiros with the combining form ­-mancy ("divination") to create oneiromancy, meaning "divination by means of dreams."
1/15/20241 minute, 49 seconds
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cosplay

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 14, 2024 is: cosplay • \KAHZ-play\  • verb To cosplay is to engage in the activity or practice of dressing up as a character from a work of fiction (such as a comic book, video game, or television show). // Liz’s favorite part of attending Comic-Con is choosing a character to cosplay that few others will think of, then recreating their look as accurately as possible. See the entry > Examples: “An educator for more than 20 years, [Heather] Trupia brought her love for the Star Wars franchise to the Hays CISD school in Niederwald, Texas, about 25 miles south of Austin. She wanted to excite kids about taking the state’s standardized STAAR test. This included cosplaying as Star Wars characters and performing shows for students.” — Kiko Martinez, MySanAntonio.com, 9 Nov. 2023 Did you know? If you enjoy cosplaying as your favorite anime character (say, Nezuko Kamada from Demon Slayer or Luffy from One Piece), you’ve got yourself a special, lexicographical twofer of words that were borrowed from English into Japanese and then back into English. In Japanese, anime is short for animēshiyon, which comes from the English word animation, referring to an animated cartoon. Japanese users similarly took the English words costume and play (as in role-play) and combined them into the word kosuchūmupurē, or kosupure for short, which was reborrowed into English as cosplay, first as a noun, and later as a verb. It's not required that one choose an anime character to cosplay, however—any fictional character will do, and probably has done! People are even starting to use cosplay figuratively to mean “to pretend to be,” as in “her chiweenie likes to cosplay as a much bigger dog whenever they visit the dog park.”
1/14/20242 minutes, 15 seconds
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gargoyle

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 13, 2024 is: gargoyle • \GAR-goy-ul\  • noun A gargoyle is a strange or grotesque human or animal figure that sticks out from the roof of a building (such as a church) and is used to cause rainwater to flow away from the building's sides. // Some of the exchange students were creeped out by all the gargoyles they passed during their walking tour of the old European town. See the entry > Examples: "Disney simply did not need to go this hard, and yet here we are. A clan of gargoyle protectors from medieval times are cursed to become statues until a scheming billionaire genius frees them in the present. From there, the clan spends their nights fighting their many enemies while protecting the humans that fear them." — Gavin Jasper, Den of Geek, 19 Aug. 2023 Did you know? In the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux reportedly complained about the new sculptures in the cloisters where he lived. "Surely," he is quoted as saying, "if we do not blush for such absurdities we should at least regret what we have spent on them." St. Bernard was apparently provoked by the grotesque figures designed to drain rainwater from buildings. By the 13th century, those figures were being called gargoyles, a name that came to Middle English from the Old French word gargoule. The stone beasts likely earned that name because of the water that gargled out of their throats and mouths; the word gargoule is imitative in origin.
1/13/20241 minute, 53 seconds
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Elysian

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 12, 2024 is: Elysian • \ih-LIZH-un\  • adjective Something described as elysian is blissful or delightful in a way that evokes something otherworldly. Elysian is also used to mean "of or relating to Elysium"—that is, an eternal paradise for the souls of the heroic and pure in classical mythology. // They were motivated by the dream of retiring to a tropical isle and enjoying a life of elysian ease. See the entry > Examples: "The secret to its longevity, then and now, is a steadfast commitment to the idea of dolce far niente, the elysian pleasantness of doing absolutely nothing except enjoying yourself." — Spencer Bailey, Town & Country, 28 Mar. 2021 Did you know? In classical mythology, Elysium, also known as the Elysian Fields, was the paradise reserved for the heroes immortalized by the gods. Ancient Greek poets imagined it as the abode of the blessed after death, but in English the concept has more often been applied figuratively. In his history play Henry V, William Shakespeare used the place-name as a word for a peaceful state of sleep enjoyed by a mere mortal, and 18th-century English lexicographer and author Samuel Johnson wrote in The Rambler that in reading pastoral poetry we allow ourselves "to be transported to elysian regions, where we are met with nothing but joy, and plenty, and contentment..." In Walden a century later Henry David Thoreau wrote that "The summer, in some climates, makes possible to man a sort of Elysian life."
1/12/20242 minutes, 4 seconds
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mangle

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 11, 2024 is: mangle • \MANG-gul\  • verb To mangle something is to ruin it due to carelessness or a lack of skill. Mangle can also mean “to injure or damage something or someone severely by cutting, tearing, or crushing.” // Half-remembering a joke from her favorite sitcom, Ally mangled the punch line, but honestly this made it even funnier. See the entry > Examples: “A small tornado with 90 mph winds ripped through Calaveras County early Tuesday morning, uprooting and mangling trees in its wake, the National Weather Service Sacramento office said.” — Ariana Bindman, SFGate.com, 11 Jan. 2023 Did you know? If you’re an aficionado of ironing appliances, you may be steamed that we did not highlight the noun mangle (“a machine for ironing laundry by passing it between heated rollers”) or its related verb (“to press or smooth with a mangle”) for today’s Word of the Day. You may even believe we mangled it! We concede, even if we fail to entirely smooth things over, that mangle is a perfectly fine word, coming as it does from the Dutch word mangel (not to be confused with the beet), but it is less commonly encountered than the mangle that means “to ruin or injure”; that mangle is unrelated, coming instead from Anglo-French. Its path in English has followed a trajectory similar to that of butcher, moving swiftly from applying to a violent action to a figurative use meaning “to bungle.”
1/11/20241 minute, 59 seconds
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tenet

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 10, 2024 is: tenet • \TEN-ut\  • noun A tenet is a principle, belief, or doctrine that is held to be true by members of an organization, movement, or profession. // On her first day at the fashion institute, Marta learned the basic tenets of the fashion industry. See the entry > Examples: "Other tenets of sound communication hold: for example, the use of active listening skills to identify the person's underlying needs and drivers of their behavior; and responding respectfully, to demonstrate understanding and acknowledge the impact of what happened and their feelings about it." — Steven P. Dinkin, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 3 Dec. 2023 Did you know? Tenet holds a centuries-long tenure in the English language, but its hometown is Latin. In that language, tenet is a form of the verb tenēre ("to hold") and means "s/he holds." Tenet was borrowed into English around 1600, probably because of use of the word in Latin writings to introduce text giving a principle or doctrine held by a person or group, such as a particular church or sect. The word’s English use today seems clearly linked: "a principle, belief, or doctrine generally held to be true, and especially one held in common by members of an organization, movement, or profession." Note that the similar-sounding word tenant is also from tenēre; it arrived in the 1300s and typically refers today to someone who rents or leases a house, apartment, etc., from a landlord. (Be careful not to use tenant where you want tenet.) Tenure is a tenēre descendant too.
1/10/20242 minutes, 4 seconds
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ominous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 9, 2024 is: ominous • \AH-muh-nus\  • adjective Something described as ominous hints or suggests that something bad is coming or is going to happen. // Our fears about the picnic being cancelled were heightened by the sight of dark, ominous clouds appearing over the horizon. See the entry > Examples: "The trailer opens with ominous signs of seismograph activity picking up as desert sands start to shift and a giant ape hand bursts out from below. 'For most of human civilization, we believed that life could only exist on the surface of our planet,' Andrews says in a voiceover. 'What else were we wrong about?'" — Jennifer Ouellette, ArsTechnica.com, 4 Dec. 2023 Did you know? Ominous didn't always mean that something bad was about to happen. If you look closely, you can see the omen in ominous, which gave it the original meaning of "being a sign of events to come"—whether good or bad. It ultimately comes from the Latin word omen, which is both an ancestor and a synonym of our omen. Today, however, ominous suggests a menacing or threatening aspect. Its synonyms portentous and fateful are used similarly, but ominous is the most menacing of the three. It implies an alarming quality that foreshadows evil or disaster. So when something wicked this way comes, count on ominous to deliver the news aforehand.
1/9/20241 minute, 51 seconds
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ferret

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 8, 2024 is: ferret • \FAIR-ut\  • verb To ferret means to find something, such as information, by careful searching. It is usually followed by the word out. // We love having her in our study group because she's good at ferreting out the answers to the study guide. See the entry > Examples: "The St. John's coach was captured on ABC cameras at the Garden for Game 4 between the Knicks and Cavaliers on Sunday, allowing some enterprising lip readers to ferret out the digits he was giving to someone." — Michael Blinn, The New York Post, 25 Apr. 2023 Did you know? Since the 14th century, English speakers have used ferret as the name of a small, slinky, domesticated mammal of the weasel family. The word came to us by way of Anglo-French and can be traced back to the Latin word fur, meaning "thief." These days ferrets are often kept as pets, but previously they were used to hunt rabbits, rats, and other vermin, and to drive them from their underground burrows. By the 15th century, the verb ferret was being used for the action of hunting with ferrets. By the late 16th century, the verb had taken on figurative uses as well. Today, we most frequently encounter the verb ferret in the sense of "to find and bring to light by searching."
1/8/20241 minute, 43 seconds
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retronym

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 7, 2024 is: retronym • \RET-roh-nim\  • noun Retronym refers to a term (such as analog watch, film camera, or acoustic guitar) that is created and adopted to distinguish the original or older version, form, or example of something from others that are more recent. // While ordering a regular coffee Sam started to tell the barista about how “regular coffee” is a retronym until the next person in line sighed with impatience. See the entry > Examples: “Framework has also formally renamed its first laptop design; the 13-inch model picks up the ‘Framework Laptop 13’ retronym to distinguish it from the new Framework 16 gaming laptop.” — Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica, 23 Mar. 2023 Did you know? Remember way back when cameras used film? Back then, such devices were simply called cameras; they weren't specifically called film cameras until they needed to be distinguished from the digital cameras that came later. Similarly, the term desktop computer wasn't often used until laptops became prevalent. A lot of our common retronyms have come about due to technological advances: acoustic guitar emerged to contrast with electric guitar, and brick-and-mortar store came into use to distinguish traditional stores from online retailers. Retronym was coined by Frank Mankiewicz, an American journalist and former president of National Public Radio, and was first seen in print in 1980. Retronyms themselves are of course much older; British English, for example, is a retronym called into service when American English developed.
1/7/20242 minutes, 6 seconds
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circumspect

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 6, 2024 is: circumspect • \SER-kum-spekt\  • adjective Someone described as circumspect is careful to consider all circumstances and risks before doing or saying something. // They are circumspect in all their business dealings. See the entry > Examples: "As a narrator, [Martin] Baron is at once circumspect—his memoir reveals nearly nothing of his life outside the newsroom—and brimming with astringent disclosure." — Nathan Heller, The New Yorker, 21 Nov. 2023 Did you know? Circumspect may not be the most common of words, but its Latin forebears have made quite a mark on our language. That's because circumspect combines two major players in the Latin branch of the English language's pedigree: circum-, meaning "around," and specere, meaning "to look." Just look around, and you'll find that English is brimming with descendants of these Latin gems. Open your paper dictionary to circumspect and behold with your own eyes the thirty circum- entries that surround it, such as circumference, circumscribe, and circumnavigate. Then flip on over to spectacular for a little peek at the many words for which English has specere to thank, including spectacle, spectrum, and spectator. Latin lovers: we see you!
1/6/20241 minute, 51 seconds
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circumspect

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 6, 2024 is: circumspect • \SER-kum-spekt\  • adjective Someone described as circumspect is careful to consider all circumstances and risks before doing or saying something. // They are circumspect in all their business dealings. See the entry > Examples: "As a narrator, [Martin] Baron is at once circumspect—his memoir reveals nearly nothing of his life outside the newsroom—and brimming with astringent disclosure." — Nathan Heller, The New Yorker, 21 Nov. 2023 Did you know? Circumspect may not be the most common of words, but its Latin forebears have made quite a mark on our language. That's because circumspect combines two major players in the Latin branch of the English language's pedigree: circum-, meaning "around," and specere, meaning "to look." Just look around, and you'll find that English is brimming with descendants of these Latin gems. Open your paper dictionary to circumspect and behold with your own eyes the thirty circum- entries that surround it, such as circumference, circumscribe, and circumnavigate. Then flip on over to spectacular for a little peek at the many words for which English has specere to thank, including spectacle, spectrum, and spectator. Latin lovers: we see you!
1/6/20241 minute, 51 seconds
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accolade

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 5, 2024 is: accolade • \AK-uh-layd\  • noun Accolade refers to an award or expression of praise. It is often used in the plural form. // The movie's special effects have drawn accolades from both fans and critics. See the entry > Examples: "'It is a tremendous honor to be mentioned on the extended World's 50 Best List,' says Executive Chef Lee, who later tells us that it wasn't necessarily one of their immediate goals, making the tremendous accolade quite the surprise. 'I am extremely grateful that we are getting attention on the world stage and I am so happy that the team here at Saison gets the recognition for their hard work.'" — Chelsea Davis, Forbes, 29 Nov. 2023 Did you know? Give credit where credit is due: it's time to celebrate accolade for its centuries of laudatory service. Accolade joined English in the 16th century from the Middle French noun acolade, which in turn comes from the verb accoler, meaning "to embrace." When it was first borrowed from French, accolade referred to a ceremonial embrace that formally conferred knighthood. The term was later extended to other ceremonial acts conferring knighthood (such as the familiar touching of the shoulders with the flat part of a sword's blade), and then to other ceremonies marking the recognition of a special merit, distinction, or achievement. Today it refers more broadly to an award or expression of praise.
1/5/20241 minute, 54 seconds
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skulk

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 4, 2024 is: skulk • \SKULK\  • verb To skulk is to move around or hide in a stealthy or secretive way. A person or animal that is said to be skulking is often assumed or considered to be up to some form of wrongdoing or mischief. // The cat often skulks around the entryway, waiting for someone to open the front door so it can sneak out. See the entry > Examples: “To the general public, vultures may seem vaguely repulsive, Edward Gorey-type characters that skulk in bare trees waiting for something to die. But to researchers who study any of the 23 species in today’s vulture consortium, the birds brim with intelligence born of their exceptional vocation.” — Natalie Angier, The New York Times, 12 Nov. 2023 Did you know? Here's one for the word-puzzle lovers. Name three qualities that the word skulk shares with each of the following words: booth, brink, cog, flit, kid, meek, scab, seem, and skull. If you noticed that all of the terms on that list have just one syllable, then you've got the first, and easiest, similarity. The next two require some special knowledge: all of the words are of Scandinavian origin and all were first recorded in English in the 13th century. As for skulk specifically, its closest known Scandinavian relative is the Norwegian dialect word skulka, which means “to lie in wait” or “to lurk.” Skulk is also used—though less often—as a noun, referring either to “one that skulks” or to a group of foxes, animals often held to be furtively lurking around.
1/4/20242 minutes, 3 seconds
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diligent

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 3, 2024 is: diligent • \DIL-uh-junt\  • adjective Someone or something described as diligent is characterized by steady, earnest, and energetic effort. // After many hours of diligent research, the students were ready to compile their results. See the entry > Examples: “Scott had a reputation for being diligent and hardworking, maybe a tad arrogant, but not the type to make rousing speeches in the locker room at halftime.” — Robert Samuels, The New Yorker, 1 Nov. 2023 Did you know? You’re more likely to be diligent about something if you love doing it. The etymology of diligent reflects the fact that devotion can lead to energetic effort. The word, which entered English in the 14th century by way of Anglo-French, comes from the Latin verb diligere, meaning “to value or esteem highly” or “to love.” Diligere was formed by combining the di- prefix (from dis-, meaning “apart”) with the verb legere, meaning “to gather, select” or “to read.” Legere has itself proved to be a diligent contributor to English; its offspring include collect, lecture, legend, intelligent, and legume.
1/3/20241 minute, 38 seconds
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posse

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 2, 2024 is: posse • \PAH-see\  • noun A posse is a group of friends, or a group of people who are gathered together for a particular purpose. Posse also refers to a group of people who were gathered together by a sheriff in the past to help search for a criminal. // He and his posse met after school to catch the newly released sequel to their favorite movie. // A posse of photographers waited outside the restaurant when they heard that the actress was spotted inside. See the entry > Examples: “‘Kill Bill’ meets James Bond in the video, in which Swift fights against and with a posse of stars such as Selena Gomez, Cindy Crawford and Zendaya. Don’t expect them to pop up in the movie but, on tour, Swift performed the No. 1 hit with a posse of fierce, hip-swiveling dancers who stepped into the stars’ kicks.” — Chris Hewitt, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 10 Oct. 2023 Did you know? Posse started out in English as part of a term from common law, posse comitatus, which in Medieval Latin translates as “power or authority of the county.” Posse comitatus referred to a group of citizens summoned by a reeve (a medieval official) or sheriff to preserve the public peace as allowed for by law. “Preserving the public peace” so often meant hunting down a supposed criminal that posse eventually came to refer to any group organized to make a search or embark on a mission, and today one may read about posses organized for search and rescue efforts. In even broader use it can refer to any group, period. Sometimes nowadays that group is a gang or a rock band but it can as easily be any group—of politicians, models, architects, tourists, children, or what have you—acting together for some shared purpose.
1/2/20242 minutes, 8 seconds
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incipient

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 1, 2024 is: incipient • \in-SIP-ee-unt\  • adjective Incipient is used to describe things which are beginning to come into being or which are to become apparent. // The study clearly needs to be extended because the most recent data suggest incipient changes in the trends identified. See the entry > Examples: “While still in its incipient stages, working with AI will also become more important over the years. Automated systems are at the core of many things, from streaming apps and video games to online shopping platforms and navigation tools.” — Jon Stojan, USA TODAY, 4 Aug. 2023 Did you know? Incipient... incipient... where to begin? Well, there’s its meaning for one: incipient describes something that is beginning to come into being or to become apparent, as in “the incipient stages of the process.” And of course a good starting point for any investigation of incipient is also the Latin verb incipere, which means “to begin.” Incipient emerged in English in the 17th century, appearing in both religious and scientific contexts, as in “incipient grace” and “incipient putrefaction.” Later came the genesis of two related nouns, incipiency and incipience, both of which are synonymous with beginning. Incipere’s influence is also visible at the beginning of the words inception (“an act, process, or instance of beginning”) and incipit, a term that in Latin literally means “it begins” and which refers in English to the opening words of a medieval manuscript or early printed book.
1/1/20242 minutes, 2 seconds
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futurity

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 31, 2023 is: futurity • \fyoo-TOOR-uh-tee\  • noun Futurity is a formal, literary synonym of future meaning “time to come.” The plural form, futurities, can also refer to future events or prospects. // The motivational speaker exhorted us to change the way we live today, rather than looking always toward some vague distant futurity. See the entry > Examples: “The 18th floor, two-room suite with a spacious balcony overlooking 27th Street has been transformed by the recent Yale grad, in a project aiming to broadly represent the values of the queer and creative community. ... Standard hotel whites are swapped for neon, patterned towels and bathrobes, with nods to science fiction and a theme of queer futurity continuous throughout the space.” — Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner, Forbes, 31 July 2023 Did you know? For a forward-looking word, futurity has quite the literate past. Its first known use comes from Act III of Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello, when the downtrodden Cassio, mystified about why Othello has turned against him, beseeches Desdemona to tell him whether his “offense be of such mortal kind / That nor my service past, nor present sorrows, / Nor purpos’d merit in futurity / Can ransom me into his love again.” Centuries later the Scottish writer Walter Scott wrote of events still in “the womb of futurity,” employing a phrase also used by James Fenimore Cooper, among others. Though still in use and very much useful, futurity tends to lend one’s speech or writing a lofty tone, so if the situation calls for something more down-to-earth, you may want to go back to [the] future.
12/31/20232 minutes, 10 seconds
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arduous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 30, 2023 is: arduous • \AHR-juh-wus\  • adjective Arduous is an adjective used to describe something that is very difficult or strenuous. // The gorgeous waterfall at the top of the mountain was worth the arduous hike. See the entry > Examples: “And with [hockey player, Patrice] Bergeron now enjoying the retired life after 19 seasons spent with the Bruins, the six-time Selke Trophy winner acknowledged that [Zdeno] Chara has already tried to recruit him for some arduous training.” — Conor Ryan, Boston.com, 21 Nov. 2023 Did you know? Arduous isn’t the type of word one expects to hear in a folk song—it’s a bit too formal—but strenuous work and difficult journeys are the stuff of many a classic tune. Take “The Wayfaring Stranger,” for an example, a somber song about life’s travails performed by everyone from singer and activist Paul Robeson to country star Emmylou Harris: “I know dark clouds will gather o’er me / I know my pathway’s rough and steep.” Such a lyric gets at the dual literal/figurative nature of arduous, which comes from the Latin adjective arduus, meaning “high,” “steep,” or “difficult.” For quite a while after appearing in English in the mid-1500s, arduous hewed closely to the figurative “strenuous” or “difficult” sense until poet Alexander Pope invoked steepness when he wrote of “those arduous paths they trod” in his 1711 work “An Essay on Criticism.” To pen such a work at the age of 23, and in heroic couplets no less, must have been an arduous challenge indeed, but like the wayfaring stranger seeking a brighter land, Pope had his eyes on the prize.
12/30/20232 minutes, 13 seconds
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glower

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 29, 2023 is: glower • \GLOUR\  • verb To glower is to look or stare with sullen annoyance or anger. // Kelly glowered at me after I sided with Brenda in their dispute about the chores. See the entry > Examples: "As their laughter echoed down the hallway, stern faces glowered from old black-and-white portraits in gilded frames." — Hailey Branson-Potts, The Los Angeles Times, 26 May 2023 Did you know? We send this word, glower, out to the glaring grumps, the scowling scoundrels, and the pouting pessimists of the world. Its gloomy roots grow in Scotland, where glower (or glowren, to use the older Scottish form of the word) has been used since the late Middle Ages. Originally, the word meant simply "to look intently" or "to stare in amazement," but by the late 1700s, glowering stares were being associated with anger instead of astonishment. We can offer no explanation for this semantic development, but we will submit that in its evolved form it reminds us of an older and unrelated English word: lower (it rhymes with flower) means "to frown or look sullen."
12/29/20231 minute, 30 seconds
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ubiquitous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 28, 2023 is: ubiquitous • \yoo-BIK-wuh-tuss\  • adjective Ubiquitous is a synonym of widespread and describes things that are actually, or seemingly, seen or encountered everywhere. // Though they were once a status symbol reserved only for those with considerable means, smartphones are now a ubiquitous technology. See the entry > Examples: “Though she’s been a singer and performer for six decades, Cher had never made one of pop’s most ubiquitous (and commercially viable) releases: a Christmas album.” — Melena Ryzik, The New York Times, 17 Oct. 2023 Did you know? To be sure, the title of the Academy Award-winning 2022 film Everything Everywhere All at Once (starring Academy Award-winning actress Michelle Yeoh as the reluctant hero traversing the multiverse) is the better choice, but may we just say that Ubiquitous would have also made sense as a title? After all, ubiquitous describes the idea of the everything everywhere all at once in the blockbuster movie’s name and does it in one handy four-syllable word. Ubiquitous comes from the noun ubiquity, meaning “presence everywhere or in many places simultaneously,” and both words come ultimately from the Latin word ubique, meaning “everywhere.” Ubiquitous, which has often been used with a touch of exaggeration to describe those things that it seems like you can’t go a day without encountering, is the more popular of the two by a parsec. It may not quite be ubiquitous, but if you keep your eyes and ears open, you’re apt to encounter it quite a bit.
12/28/20232 minutes, 4 seconds
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sangfroid

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 27, 2023 is: sangfroid • \SAHNG-FRWAH\  • noun Sangfroid refers to the ability to stay calm in difficult or dangerous situations. // He displayed remarkable sangfroid when everyone else was panicking during the crisis. See the entry > Examples: “[Tennis star, Novak] Djokovic’s wins are not always electric or explosive, but his patience is unparalleled. His ability to wait, to self-discipline and withhold the urge to strike until sensing human weakness, is its own kind of generative art. And he excels most at moments that require a machinelike sangfroid.” — Caira Conner, Intelligencer, 23 Aug. 2023 Did you know? Sangfroid comes from the French term sang-froid, which literally translates as “cold blood.” When describing amphibians and reptiles, cold-blooded means “having a body temperature that is similar to the temperature of the environment,” but to dub a person cold-blooded is to say that the person shows no sympathy or mercy to others. By the mid-1700s, English speakers had been using cold-blooded to describe the ruthless among them for more than a century, but in sangfroid they found a way to put a positive spin on the idea of ice in the veins: they borrowed the French term to describe the quality of someone who keeps their composure under strain—that is, not a “cold fish” or “icicle” but someone who is cool as a cucumber.
12/27/20231 minute, 54 seconds
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chapfallen

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 26, 2023 is: chapfallen • \CHAP-faw-lun\  • adjective Chapfallen (less commonly spelled chopfallen) is a synonym of depressed that means "cast down in spirit." It can also mean "having the lower jaw hanging loosely." // Gina was chapfallen when she learned that her best friend's visit would have to be postponed. See the entry > Examples: "The disappointment and grief of the party's base transformed quickly—from chapfallen into broad smiles." — Jonathan Jobson, The Sunday Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), 19 Feb. 2023 Did you know? Finally: an answer to the age-old question "why the long face?" To be chapfallen is, literally, to have one’s jaw in a fallen or lower position, a physical sign of dejection. The chap in chapfallen is a word that dates back to at least the 16th century. It refers to the fleshy covering of the jaw or to the jaw itself and is often used in the plural, as in "the wolf licked its chaps." If that phrase doesn’t seem quite right to you, it’s likely because you are more familiar with chops, an alteration of chaps that is also used to refer to the jaw or the mouth. Accordingly, a variant spelling of chapfallen is chopfallen, which may help us to better understand this somewhat unusual word.
12/26/20231 minute, 46 seconds
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envisage

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 25, 2023 is: envisage • \in-VIZ-ij\  • verb To envisage something is to picture it in your mind, or to view or regard something in a particular way. // She envisages many positive changes and opportunities in the New Year. See the entry > Examples: “Amid all his onscreen work, [Sheb] Wooley never stopped writing songs. And the one that took off … was ‘The Purple People Eater,’ which skewered the musical crazes of the time by envisaging a grotesque space invader taking the bait.” — Morgan Enos, UDiscoverMusic.com, 31 Oct. 2023 Did you know? Envisage this: a word is borrowed from French in the mid-17th century and sticks around to be used in the 21st. It’s not hard to picture; envisage is not alone in this accomplishment. Used today to mean “to have a mental picture of something, especially in advance of realization” and “to view or regard something in a certain way,” envisage for a time could also mean “to confront or face someone.” That use, which is now archaic, nods to the word’s origin: we borrowed envisage from French, but the visage part is from Anglo-French vis, meaning “face.” (It reaches back ultimately to Greek idein, “to see.”) Visage is of course also an English word. It entered English much earlier, in the 14th century, and is typically used today in literary contexts to refer to a person’s face. Envisage isn’t necessarily restricted to literary contexts, but it does have a formal tone. Its near twin envision (“to picture to oneself”), which has been with us since the 19th century, is interchangeable with envisage in many contexts and is somewhat less formal.
12/25/20232 minutes, 15 seconds
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luminaria

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 24, 2023 is: luminaria • \loo-muh-NAIR-ee-uh\  • noun A luminaria is a lantern—traditionally used in Christmas celebrations in the southwestern U.S.—that typically consists of a candle (or its electric analogue) set in sand inside a paper bag. Luminaria is also broadly used to refer to a similar lantern lit for other occasions, such as memorials or weddings. Both luminarias and luminaria are acceptable plural forms of luminaria. // One of Anna’s favorite Christmas Eve traditions is lighting luminaria with her family to line their driveway in a festive display. See the entry > Examples: “A cherished tradition, Las Noches de las Luminarias at the Desert Botanical Garden is a great spectacle. As one of the garden’s longest-running events, it invites visitors to wander along trails decorated with thousands of twinkling, hand-lit luminarias.” — Karee Blunt, The Courier-Times (Roxboro, North Carolina), 17 Oct. 2023 Did you know? The tradition of lighting small lanterns on the night (or nights) before Christmas is an old one in what is now New Mexico, dating back to when the region belonged to colonial Spain and later to independent Mexico. Where one lives in New Mexico today, however, often determines what these paper lanterns are called. New Mexicans in the northern part of the state, around Santa Fe, call them farolitos, Spanish for “little lanterns.” Those further south, around Albuquerque, are more likely to call them luminaria (or luminarias), a word that began appearing in English publications around the 1930s, and that is today used more broadly to refer to such lanterns lit for other occasions, such as memorials, weddings, etc. Luminaria comes to English from Spanish, but the word has been around with exactly the same spelling since the days of Late Latin. It ultimately traces to the classical Latin word luminare, meaning “window,” and to lumen, meaning “light.” It is related to other light-bearing words such as luminary and illuminate.
12/24/20232 minutes, 30 seconds
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nobby

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 23, 2023 is: nobby • \NAH-bee\  • adjective Nobby is a synonym of chic and typically describes people and things that are cleverly stylish. The word is sometimes disapproving in modern use. // The restaurant was a bit too nobby for my tastes, but I did enjoy the food. See the entry > Examples: “If documentaries about famously nobby creatives are your schtick, you should also bookmark Todd Haynes’s much-lauded The Velvet Underground, which reconsiders the figure of Lou Reed and premiered in the Grand Théâtre Lumière to rapturous applause.” — Hayley Maitland, British Vogue, 16 July 2021 Did you know? Nobby comes from the noun nob, which is used in British English to mean “one in a superior position in life.” (This nob may have begun as a slang word for “head,” but a possible connection to noble has been suggested as well.) Appearing in English in the 18th century, nobby was first used to describe people in society’s upper echelons. In a way similar to that of a more recent coinage, posh, it has extended in usage to describe the places frequented by such people, as well as their genteel customs. Charles Dickens, for example, wrote in his 1853 novel Bleak House of “[r]especting this unfortunate family matter, and the nobbiest way of keeping it quiet.”
12/23/20231 minute, 50 seconds
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purview

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 22, 2023 is: purview • \PER-vyoo\  • noun Purview refers to an area within which someone or something has authority, influence, or knowledge. It can also refer to a range of vision, understanding, or awareness. // I’ll do my best to answer your questions, but please note that my field is linguistics, and topics relating to economics are beyond my purview. See the entry > Examples: "The Springdale Public Library comes under the purview of the Washington County Library System." — Laurinda Joenks, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 18 July 2023 Did you know? It may not be illogical to assume a connection between purview and view, but is there one? Not exactly. Although the two words share a syllable, you’ll find that they have very different histories as viewed in the etymological rearview mirror. Purview comes from purveu, a word often found in the legal statutes of 13th- and 14th-century England. These statutes, written in Anglo-French, regularly open with the phrase purveu est, which translates literally to "it is provided." Purveu in turn comes from porveu, the past participle of the Old French verb porveeir, meaning "to provide." View, on the other hand, comes (via Middle English) from the past participle of another Anglo-French word, veer, meaning "to see," and ultimately from the Latin word vidēre, of the same meaning.
12/22/20231 minute, 51 seconds
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Kafkaesque

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 21, 2023 is: Kafkaesque • \kahf-kuh-ESK\  • adjective Something described as Kafkaesque has an often nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality to it. More broadly, anything relating to or suggestive of the writing of Franz Kafka may be said to be Kafkaesque. // The airline is notorious for its Kafkaesque procedures for changing flights, even in situations where a flight is cancelled due to bad weather. See the entry > Examples: “Two people who had recently navigated the state’s maze of housing programs also spoke to lawmakers on Thursday. ... Those living in poverty are expected to complete mountains of complicated paperwork to access aid and can be harshly penalized for any errors. For help, they must rely on overtaxed social workers, who are themselves often stumped by the Kafkaesque bureaucracy their clients face.” — Lola Duffort, VTDigger.org (Montpelier, Vermont), 6 Oct. 2023 Did you know? Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was a Czech-born German-language writer whose surreal fiction vividly expressed the anxiety, alienation, and powerlessness of the individual in the 20th century. The opening sentence of his 1915 story The Metamorphosis has become one of the most famous in Western literature (“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect”), while in his novel The Trial, published a year after his death, a young man finds himself caught up in the mindless bureaucracy of the law after being charged with a crime that is never named. So deft was Kafka’s prose at detailing nightmarish settings in which characters are crushed by nonsensical, blind authority, that writers began using his name as an adjective a mere 16 years after his death. Although many other literary eponyms, from Austenian to Homeric, exist and are common enough, Kafkaesque gets employed more than most and in a wide variety of contexts, leading to occasional charges that the word has been watered down and given a lack of specificity due to overuse.
12/21/20232 minutes, 40 seconds
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bowdlerize

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 20, 2023 is: bowdlerize • \BOHD-ler-ize\  • verb In its strictest sense, to bowdlerize a book, manuscript, etc. is to modify it by editing so that nothing judged to be morally harmful or offensive remains. More broadly, bowdlerize means "to modify by abridging, simplifying, or distorting in style or content." // The publisher's decision to bowdlerize the classic novel was met with mixed reactions. See the entry > Examples: "Right from the beginning, Walt Disney Animation Studios leaned heavily on existing books and stories for inspiration, starting with its first feature, 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. While this has resulted in some truly wonderful movies, the studio's tendency to make major changes to its source material—toning down the original stories' dark or violent content, and generally softening the edges—has also been apparent from the start. It's such a predictable part of the Disney process that the neologism 'Disneyfication' has become a generic term for bowdlerizing a story into a tame kid-friendly version." — Chris Wheatley, Polygon.com, 20 June 2023 Did you know? In 1807, a new edition of the works of William Shakespeare hit the scene in England. Titled The Family Shakespeare, the collection of 20 of the Bard's plays in four volumes was at first anonymously edited, and promised in its preface to "remove every thing that could give just offence to the religious or virtuous mind." Though the sanitized project later became a public sensation (and a source of literary derision) after its expanded, ten-volume second edition was published in 1818 and credited solely to physician Thomas Bowdler, the original expurgation was in fact the work of his older sister Henrietta Maria "Harriet" Bowdler, an accomplished editor and author. Within a year of the younger Bowdler’s death in 1825, bowdlerize had come to refer to cutting out the dirty bits of other books and texts—testimony not only to the impact of his eye for impropriety, but to those of his sister Harriet as well, though her efforts were obscured by history, if not technically bowdlerized.
12/20/20232 minutes, 50 seconds
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overweening

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 19, 2023 is: overweening • \oh-ver-WEE-ning\  • adjective To describe someone as overweening is to say that they are arrogant and unduly proud. Overweening also disapprovingly describes qualities or desires, such as greed or ambition, that are seen as excessive. // It’s hard for people to believe every word in speeches by overweening politicians. See the entry > Examples: “Most people in recovery take extensive inventories without professional help, though a skilled professional can often help scrape away remnants of denial and search more deeply for underlying features of many defects, such as hidden insecurities powering a person’s overweening pride.” — Timmen L. Cermak, Psychology Today, 6 Sept. 2023 Did you know? “The overweening conceit which the greater part of men have of their own abilities is an ancient evil remarked by the philosophers and moralists of all ages.” So wrote the Scottish philosopher Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations. But while overweening conceit might be an age-old evil, the word overweening is of 14th century vintage. It developed from a form of the Middle English verb overwenen, meaning “to be arrogant.” That term built on wenen, meaning “to think” or “to suppose.” Today, the adjective overweening is the most widely used of the wenen descendants, but historical texts also occasionally include the verb overween, meaning “to think too highly of one’s own opinion.” It was also possible at one time to ween just enough, without overdoing it. All things in moderation—even self-esteem—after all.
12/19/20232 minutes, 10 seconds
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raconteur

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 18, 2023 is: raconteur • \ra-kahn-TER\  • noun A raconteur is someone who excels in telling anecdotes. // A bona fide raconteur, Paola can turn even mundane experiences into hilariously entertaining stories. See the entry > Examples: “He [filmmaker and author Kenneth Anger] lit and shot and cut images so that no matter how beautiful each was on its own, you had to ingest the totality like a potion and let it do its work if you wanted to get anything out of it. Most viewers weren’t interested in his kind of visual poetry, recognizing him mainly as a raconteur.” — Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture, 27 May 2023 Did you know? If you’re a sage of sagas, a bard of ballads, or a pro in prose, you may have lost count of the accounts you’ve recounted. Some might call you a recounter, but as a master of narrative form you may find that recounter lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. Sure, it has a cool story—it traces back to the Latin verb computere, meaning “to count”—but so do many words: compute and computer, count and account, and neither last nor least, raconteur, a singsong title better fit for a whimsical storyteller. English speakers borrowed raconteur from French in the early 19th century.
12/18/20231 minute, 48 seconds
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visceral

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 17, 2023 is: visceral • \VISS-uh-rul\  • adjective Visceral is an adjective that describes something as coming from or triggering an instinctive emotional (as opposed to intellectual) response. In medical contexts it means “of or related to internal organs of the body.” // Although she is best known for her film and television roles, Sabrina much prefers the visceral excitement of acting on stage in front of an audience. See the entry > Examples: “The truest, most visceral comedy to me is always going to be Warner Bros. cartoons that were made in the 1940s and ’50s. That’s the stuff I grew up on that was shown in reruns. So I liked that kind of comedy. I was never as comfortable with comedy where I needed to make a point about something…” — Conan O’Brien, quoted in New York Magazine, 11 Sept. 2023 Did you know? Apologies in advance for the offal puns, but we have a gut feeling it’s going to be hard to resist serving them up for this particular word. After all, the English language is home to a bellyful of words that refer literally to body parts and figuratively to emotions associated with them. If something has ever tickled your funny bone or touched your heart, we trust you’ve got our back on this. The adjective visceral is another prime example. Something described as visceral has to do with the viscera—that is, the internal organs of the body (especially the heart, liver, or intestines). Yet even in the early years of its use, visceral often described emotional feeling, as the physical viscera were considered the seats of human passion, sentiment, et al. Though we no longer ascribe anger to, say, the spleen, we still use visceral to describe things that are felt deeply, as if in our physical bodies. In medical contexts the word still describes things related to our actual viscera.
12/17/20232 minutes, 20 seconds
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delve

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 16, 2023 is: delve • \DELV\  • verb To delve is to carefully search for information about something, or to examine a subject in detail, as in “The class eagerly delved into the writings of Zora Neale Hurston.” Delve can also mean “to dig or labor with or as if with a spade,” as in “delving into their pockets for loose change.” As the examples show, delve is typically followed by into. // Before my trip to Venice, I delved into the history of the city. See the entry > Examples: “According to [Dr. Elena] Davidiak, this is not your typical language course. Students will delve into the disciplines of linguistics and fictional languages while analyzing and interpreting sentences from conlangs, artificially constructed languages, during class.” — Clare Gehlich, The Statesman (Stony Brook University), 27 Oct. 2023 Did you know? We must dig deep into the English language’s past to find the origins of delve. The verb traces to the early Old English word delfan meaning “to dig.” For centuries, there was only delving—no digging—because dig didn’t exist until much later; it appears in early Middle English. Given dig and delve’s overlapping meanings today, is the phrase “dig and delve” (as in the line “eleven, twelve, dig and delve,” from the nursery rhyme that begins “one, two, buckle my shoe”) redundant? Not necessarily. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, in some local uses, dig was the term for working with a mattock (a tool similar to an adze or a pick), while delve was reserved for work done using a spade. Although delve has a history of use for literal digging, nowadays the term is often applied to carefully researching or examining something, as in “delving into the past.”
12/16/20232 minutes, 20 seconds
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aplomb

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 15, 2023 is: aplomb • \uh-PLAHM\  • noun Aplomb means “complete and confident composure or self-assurance” and is a synonym of poise. // On her first day as a teacher, June handled herself with aplomb, keeping the class engaged and focused. See the entry > Examples: “Themselves a band that likes to push the edge of the technology envelope, and who made video a major part of their performances 30 years ago, U2 opened Sphere with aplomb, but not necessarily full-bore success.” — Brad Auerbach, Spin, 6 Oct. 2023 Did you know? If you do something with aplomb, you do it with composure and self-assurance—you do it with poise. This English noun aplomb was borrowed directly from French, where it carries the meanings of both “composure” and “perpendicularity.” The French word aplomb comes from the phrase “a plomb,” meaning “perpendicularly,” or literally “according to the plummet” (a plummet being a lead weight that is attached to a line and used to determine vertical alignment). Plomb has its roots in the Latin word plumbum, meaning “lead,” source too of such varied English words as plummet, plumb, plumber (which originally referred to someone who deals with or works in lead), and the symbol Pb, which designates the element lead on the periodic table. Plumbum is also the source of the word plunge, and therefore plunger. The fact that a plumber is able to use a plunger with more aplomb than most of us is, however, merely coincidence.
12/15/20232 minutes, 1 second
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genial

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 14, 2023 is: genial • \JEEN-yul\  • adjective Someone described as genial is cheerful and pleasant; a thing described as genial suggests or expresses friendliness and cheer. // Omar was a most genial host, making sure to spend time with each and every one of the guests at the reception. // Though I knew no one at the conference, the genial atmosphere immediately put me at ease. See the entry > Examples: “There’s a fresh way to revisit [John] Prine apart from the catalog of records he left behind. Five decades’ worth of stories about and conversations with the artist have been collected by Holly Gleason in ‘Prine on Prine: Interviews and Encounters With John Prine’.... To know him is to love him, and to love and know Prine is to spend a lot of hours in his presence via Gleason’s essential compendium, which finds his observational candor, fierce intelligence and genial warmth to be unwavering over a half-century of meeting the press.” — Chris Willman, Variety, 10 Oct. 2023 Did you know? Warm, cheerful, and pleasant? That’s genial in a bottle, baby. Or at least (if such a declaration rubs you the wrong way) that’s the most common sense of genial. You may also be familiar with its closely related meaning of “favorable to growth or comfort” as in “what a girl wants most on vacation is to recline in the genial sunshine.” Or perhaps you’ve heard genial used to describe someone or something displaying or marked by genius, as in “who among us doesn’t appreciate genial insights embedded in a beautiful pop song”? After all, both genial and genius share an ancestor in the Latin word genius, meaning “a person’s disposition or inclination.” There are also older, now-obsolete senses of genial. When it first entered English from the Latin adjective genialis (“connected with marriage”) it shared that word’s matrimonial meaning. And at one time genial was also a synonym of native or inborn, describing things (such as musical talent) present or seemingly present in someone from birth.
12/14/20232 minutes, 30 seconds
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exhort

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 13, 2023 is: exhort • \ig-ZORT\  • verb To exhort someone is to try to strongly urge them to do something. // The volunteers exhorted the young adults to register to vote before the upcoming election. See the entry > Examples: “Now and again, the band pauses as the musicians praise and exhort each other. ‘More cowbell.’ ‘Let’s do it for timing, and then we’ll break it down.’ ‘I would love a violin solo right there.’ ‘It’s G minor, not B-flat?’” — Reed Johnson, The Los Angeles Times, 18 Aug. 2023 Did you know? If you want to add a little oomph to your urge in speech or writing—and formal oomph at that—we exhort you to try using exhort as a synonym instead. Arriving in the 15th century from the Anglo-French word exorter, exhort traces back further to the Latin verb hortari, meaning “to incite to action, urge on, or encourage.” Latin users added the prefix ex- to hortari to intensify it; in essence, exhortari is a succinct way of saying “to really, really urge.” The Latin words adhortari (its meaning similar to that of exhortari) and dehortari (“to dissuade”) also found their way into English as adhort and dehort, respectively, but neither of these remains in current use.
12/13/20231 minute, 52 seconds
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mentor

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 12, 2023 is: mentor • \MEN-tor\  • noun A mentor is someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person. // They regarded the professor not only as a mentor, but as a good friend as well. See the entry > Examples: “The grant supports individuals who are pushing boundaries as founders, educators, and artists. Awardees are matched with creative industry mentors, who include the likes of stylist Zerina Akers, and Hanifa’s Anifa Mvuemba.” — Skylar Mitchell, Essence, 30 Oct. 2023 Did you know? Mentor is pretty ubiquitous in today’s world as a word for anyone who is a positive, guiding influence in another (usually younger) person's life, but no matter your age we’re here to guide you through the word's history. Mentor comes originally from ancient Greek literature: in Homer's epic The Odyssey, Odysseus is away from home fighting and journeying for 20 years. During that time, Telemachus, the son he left as a babe in arms, grows up under the supervision of Méntōr, an old and trusted friend. When the goddess Athena decides it is time to complete the education of young Telemachus, she visits him disguised as Méntōr and they set out together to learn about his father. A version of Méntōr (written as Mentor) later appeared as a major character in the Odyssey-inspired French novel Les aventures de Télémaque (1699) by François Fénelon, after which it became a generic noun for “trusted guide” in that language before being borrowed into English with the same meaning.
12/12/20232 minutes
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quixotic

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 11, 2023 is: quixotic • \kwik-SAH-tik\  • adjective Quixotic describes people and ideas that are foolishly impractical, especially as they pursue or relate to the pursuit of ideals. A quixotic person is often known for lofty romantic ideas or extravagantly chivalrous action. Quixotic can also describe things that are unpredictable. // Although they lived on opposite ends of the world, they shared quixotic dreams about the future. See the entry > Examples: "Lena Dunham doesn’t care if you love her or hate her; she only cares that she tells a story honestly. When it debuted on HBO in 2012, her stunningly authentic semi-autobiographical show rocked a TV ecosystem that primed audiences to expect a dark comedy about four, white female friends in NYC to deliver a quixotic ... fantasy. Instead, the only fantasies it peddled were the ones that depicted a fresh-out-of-college confessional writer finding literati success despite a dearth of detectable talent." — Daniel Fienberg, Angie Han, and Robyn Bahr, The Hollywood Reporter, 4 Oct. 2023 Did you know? If you guessed that quixotic has something to do with Don Quixote, you're absolutely right. The hero of Miguel de Cervantes' 17th-century Spanish novel El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha (in English "The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha") didn't change the world by tilting at windmills, but he did leave a linguistic legacy in English. The adjective quixotic is based on his name and has been used to describe unrealistic idealists since at least the early 18th century. The novel has given English other words as well. Dulcinea, the name of Quixote's beloved, has come to mean "mistress" or "sweetheart," and rosinante, which is sometimes used to refer to an old horse, comes from the name of the hero's less-than-gallant steed, Rocinante.
12/11/20232 minutes, 16 seconds
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foolscap

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 10, 2023 is: foolscap • \FOOLZ-kap\  • noun Foolscap refers broadly to a piece of writing paper, and in the US specifically to a usually 8” x 13” size of paper. // The exhibit includes a number of early legal documents written on foolscap with quill and ink. See the entry > Examples: “Thwarted megamergers and private-equity acquisitions, buyouts and layoffs, self-publishing and artificial intelligence: It’s hard to find a glimmer of glamour in the book business right now. … Against this tech-inflected landscape, Thomas Harding’s more than serviceable new biography of George Weidenfeld, long a force of letters in England and briefly in the United States, floats as if on stained foolscap.” — Alexandra Jacobs, The New York Times, 27 Aug. 2023 Did you know? You’d be well within your rights to respond “Surely, you jest!” to the notion that foolscap refers to a sheet of writing paper, and also specifically to a paper size of approximately 8" x 13", similar to that of a legal pad. After all, when foolscap was first used in the 1500s, it referred to an actual fool’s cap—the oft jingling headwear worn as part of a jester’s motley (a sense still used today). But we promise we do not jest. The connection between the whimsical chapeau and the paper is attributable to the former use of a watermark depicting a fool’s cap that was used on long sheets of writing or printing paper. There are various explanations for the introduction of this watermark—including the claim that a 1648 British parliamentary group substituted it for the royal arms during exceptionally turbulent times—but such explanations remain unsupported by historical evidence.
12/10/20232 minutes, 16 seconds
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convalesce

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 9, 2023 is: convalesce • \kahn-vuh-LESS\  • verb To convalesce is to recover health and strength gradually after sickness, injury, or weakness. // According to the article, the athlete is still convalescing from her recent injury but expects to resume her training schedule by the end of the month. See the entry > Examples: "No complications occurred during the surgery or while the pope was convalescing in Gemelli's 10th-floor apartment reserved exclusively for hospitalization of pontiffs, according to the pope's medical staff." — Frances D'Emilio, The Los Angeles Times, 16 June 2023 Did you know? When you convalesce, you heal or grow strong after illness or injury, often by staying off your feet. The related adjective convalescent means "recovering from sickness or debility," and a convalescent home is a hospital for long-term recuperation and rehabilitation. Convalesce comes from the Latin verb convalescere, which combines the prefix com-/con-, meaning "with, together, jointly," with the verb valescere, meaning "to grow strong." Valescere, in turn, is related to the verb valēre, meaning "to be strong or be well," which is also an ancestor of prevail, valor, value, and valid.
12/9/20231 minute, 41 seconds
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intrepid

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 8, 2023 is: intrepid • \in-TREP-id\  • adjective Intrepid means “fearless, bold, and brave.” // Her college semester abroad sparked a series of intrepid travels around the world. See the entry > Examples: “After a trio of tech billionaires are forewarned of an apocalyptic superbug and flee to a secret doomsday bunker to save only themselves, an unlikely group of friends embark on an intrepid mission to take down the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world. Beginning with the end of civilization and jumping back and forth through time, Naomi Alderman, the award-winning author of 2016's The Power, weaves a cautionary tale of what society stands to lose in a near-future where AI has transformed all walks of life.” — Megan McCluskey, Time, 31 Oct. 2023 Did you know? If you’re going to name a ship, whether an aircraft carrier or an interstellar starship, you could do worse than to name it the Intrepid, as both the United States military and Star Trek writers have done, respectively. (Technically “Intrepid” is a class of Trek ships that includes the Voyager, etc., but you get the drift.) Intrepid, after all, comes from the Latin word intrepidus, itself formed by the combination of the prefix in-, meaning “not,” and the adjective trepidus, meaning “alarmed.” When not designating sea or space vessels, intrepid aptly describes anyone—from explorers to reporters—who ventures bravely into unknown territory, though often you’ll see the word loaded with irony, as in “an intrepid couch surfer endeavored to watch every installment of the beloved sci-fi series in chronological order.” Intrepid word lovers may be interested to know of the existence of trepid, meaning “fearful”; it predates intrepid but most are too trepid (or simply unaware of its existence) to use it.
12/8/20232 minutes, 26 seconds
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tincture

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 7, 2023 is: tincture • \TINK-cher\  • noun Tincture refers to a solution made by mixing a medicinal substance in an alcoholic solvent. It can also refer to a slight trace of something, as in “a tincture of doubt.” // The shelves behind the apothecary counter were lined with dozens of jars and vials containing tinctures of every color of the rainbow. See the entry > Examples: “Lemon balm can be consumed in several ways. People often drink it as a tea or as an ingredient in a tea blend. You can eat the herb fresh—chopped up into a salad, added to a cold beverage, or even as an ingredient in baked goods. You can find it as a supplement in capsule or tablet form or as an herbal tincture.” — Wendy Wisner, Health.com, 4 June 2023 Did you know? A droplet of this, a skosh of that. Now you take that home, throw it in a beaker, and add a touch of ethyl alcohol to hold it all together—baby, you’ve got a tincture going. Tincture is a word with a colorful past most often encountered today in reference to a solution consisting of a medicinal substance mixed with alcohol, as in “Carl weathers his cold with a tincture of echinacea.” When the word first appeared in English in the 14th century, tincture referred to a substance used to color, dye, or stain, but by the 17th century the word had acquired several additional meanings, including “a slight infusion or trace of something.” This sense is still in use today, especially figuratively, as when an aspiring actor is said to feel a “tincture of doubt that the acting lessons are worth what he paid.”
12/7/20232 minutes, 6 seconds
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permeable

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 6, 2023 is: permeable • \PER-mee-uh-bul\  • adjective Permeable is a synonym of penetrable that is used especially to describe things that have pores or openings that permit liquids or gases to pass through. // The new housing project will include a permeable parking lot to help mitigate stormwater runoff. See the entry > Examples: “The idea is to enable cities to soak up and retain excess water with designs focused on nature, including gardens, green roofs, wetlands and permeable sidewalks—allowing water to both sink into the ground and flow outwards.” — Laura Paddison, CNN, 26 Mar. 2023 Did you know? “Our landscapes are changing … they’re becoming less permeable to wildlife at the precise moment animals need to move most,” writes Ben Goldfarb in his book Crossings: How Road Ecology is Shaping the Future of Our Planet. He’s describing the effects of highway infrastructure and at the same time clearly demonstrating the meaning of permeable, a word that traces back to a combination of the prefix per-, meaning “through,” and the Latin verb meare, meaning “to go” or “to pass.” Accordingly, a permeable landscape—such as one where humans have constructed wildlife overpasses—is one that allows animals to pass and spread through unimpeded. Permeable’s relative, the verb permeate (“to spread or diffuse through”) is another commonly used meare descendent, but other relations haven’t managed to permeate the language quite so widely, such as meatus (“a natural body passage”), congé (“a formal permission to depart”), and irremeable (“offering no possibility of return”).
12/6/20232 minutes, 17 seconds
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smite

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 5, 2023 is: smite • \SMYTE\  • verb Smite means “to hit someone or something very hard.” Other uses of the word include “to severely injure, kill, or attack someone” (as in “smitten by disease”) and “to captivate or take” (as in “smitten by her beauty”). // He smote the ball mightily, which helped us win the game. See the entry > Examples: “Somehow, Kyle Shanahan keeps meeting his accursed fortune with a spirit of inquiry. His record is arguably the most perplexing in the NFL: He is one of its most playful minds and most pained losers. He seems at once young and old, with his boyishly thin neck and easy laugh yet gray bristle and a somewhat scarred look around his eyes, as if he’s waiting for the next hex or treacherous blow of fate to smite him in the face.” — Sally Jenkins, The Washington Post, 10 Dec. 2022 Did you know? Today’s word has been part of the English language for a very long time; its earliest uses date to before the 12th century. Smite can be traced back to the Old English smītan, meaning “to smear (a substance) on something” or “to stain or defile.” Smite kept these meanings for a few centuries before they became obsolete and others arose or became more prominent, among them the modern “to strike or attack.” But smite also has a softer side. As of the mid-17th century, it can mean “to captivate or take”—a sense that is frequently used in the past participle in such contexts as “smitten by their beauty” or “smitten with them” (meaning “in love with them”). If such a shift seems surprising, just remember what they say about the moon hitting your eye like a big pizza pie (that’s a smiting).
12/5/20232 minutes, 17 seconds
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avoirdupois

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 4, 2023 is: avoirdupois • \av-er-duh-POYZ\  • noun Avoirdupois is synonymous with weight and heaviness, especially as related to the body. It also refers to the series of units of weight based on the pound of 16 ounces and the ounce of 16 drams. // The coach limited his recruiting to linebackers of a certain avoirdupois. See the entry > Examples: “... I find it hopeful that we’ve at least begun to dispense with the notion that only thin bodies are healthy and good. And to replace fantastical diet prescriptions with the common sense that healthy bodies eat all kinds of foods, depending on circumstance.... I will say Vogue’s diets have been right at least twice. A little Champagne at lunch is a sound choice, regardless of the rest of the meal, and, as an anonymous writer put it in these pages in 1906, ‘There is healthy fat as there is unhealthy fat, and unless your avoirdupois becomes such as to make you uncomfortable ... you should leave it alone.’” — Tamar Adler, Vogue, 24 Feb. 2022 Did you know? When avoirdupois first appeared in English in the 15th century, it referred to “goods sold by weight,” which is also the meaning of its Middle English predecessor, avoir de pois. That term comes from an Anglo-French phrase meaning “goods of weight” or “property.” Today, avoirdupois most commonly refers to the system of weight measurement used for general merchandise, in which the pound is equal to 16 ounces, the ounce 16 drams, and the dram an ultra-specific 27.344 grains. (Some other weight systems are apothecaries’ weight, used to measure pharmaceutical items, and troy weight, used for precious metals.) It was William Shakespeare, in his play Henry IV, Part 2, who first used avoirdupois to mean “heaviness”: “the weight of a hair will turn the scales between their avoirdupois.”
12/4/20232 minutes, 31 seconds
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dexterous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 3, 2023 is: dexterous • \DEK-strus\  • adjective Dexterous is a formal adjective used to describe someone or something that has or shows great skill or cleverness. // She was praised for her dexterous handling of the crisis. // The movie is a dexterous retelling of a classic love story. // As a shortstop, Alex is a dexterous fielder who is adept at catching any ground ball or line drive hit at him. See the entry > Examples: "There can now be no doubt of Phillis Wheatley’s importance not only to African America but also to the country and culture as a whole. She was a learned, dexterous wielder of the written word in a taut political and racial moment." — Tiya Miles, The Atlantic, 22 Apr. 2023 Did you know? If you believe dexterous to be on the right side of etymological history, well, right on. Dexterous comes from the Latin word dexter, meaning "on the right side." Since most people are right-handed, and therefore do things more easily with their right hand, dexter developed the additional sense of "skillful." English speakers crafted dexterous from dexter and have been using the resulting adjective for anyone who is skillful—in either a physical or mental capacity—since at least the early 1600s. (The noun dexterity arrived a bit earlier, influenced both by Latin and the Middle French word dexterité). The adjective ambidextrous, which combines dexter with the Latin prefix ambi-, meaning "both," describes one who is able to use both hands in an equally skillful way. With so many handy words at its disposal, the English language itself is pretty dexterous, amirite?
12/3/20232 minutes, 1 second
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hive mind

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 2, 2023 is: hive mind • \HYVE-mynde\  • noun Hive mind refers to the collective thoughts, ideas, and opinions of a group of people (such as Internet users) regarded as functioning together as a single mind. In biology, hive mind refers to the collective mental activity expressed in the complex, coordinated behavior of a colony of social insects (such as bees or ants) regarded as comparable to a single mind controlling the behavior of an individual organism. // She doesn't need to advertise or publicize—her fans’ hive mind is always ready to promote her work. See the entry > Examples: “It was like coming into this big, welcoming family. The cast were so beautiful and generous. The three directors of this season, we were all new and hadn’t done past seasons. They were wonderful. It was wonderful, too, to be able to tap into the crew. They have this hive mind that they’ve all developed after three seasons together.” — Alyssa McClelland, quoted in The Hollywood Reporter, 27 Sept. 2023 Did you know? Sometimes a biological term crosses over into everyday language with a similar, but less specific meaning. Take drone, a word for a stingless male bee: it dates back all the way to Old English and is also used today for (among other things) someone tasked with boring, repetitive work. More recently, hive mind has similarly flown beyond the apiary; what was first used to talk about the ways that colonies of social insects, like bees and ants, behave as a coordinated unit has come to be applied also to the collective thoughts, ideas, and opinions of a group of people seeming to function as a single entity. It’s not uncommon nowadays to see someone appeal to the hive mind of a social media website for relationship advice or dining recommendations, for example, or refer to a celebrity’s fanbase (like Queen Bey’s “Beyhive”) acting together to share the latest buzz about their favorite star.
12/2/20232 minutes, 27 seconds
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bifurcate

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 1, 2023 is: bifurcate • \BYE-fer-kayt\  • verb When something bifurcates, it divides into two branches or parts; to bifurcate something is to divide it into two branches or parts. // The stream bifurcated into two narrow winding channels. // When a highway bifurcates a forest, it also splits the habitats of animal populations that may have a difficult time making it across safely to the other side. See the entry > Examples: "Over time, the English ... became more powerful, spreading from Virginia to Maryland to Carolina (not yet bifurcated) ..." — Scott W. Stern, The New Republic, 26 June 2023 Did you know? Yogi Berra, the baseball great who was noted for his head-scratching quotes, is purported to have said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." Berra's advice might not offer much help when you're making tough decisions in life, but perhaps it will help you remember bifurcate. A road that bifurcates splits in two, like the one in Berra's adage. Other things can bifurcate (or be bifurcated) as well, such as an organization that splits, or is split, into two factions. Bifurcate comes from the Latin adjective bifurcus, meaning "two-pronged," a combination of the prefix bi- ("two") and the noun furca ("fork"). Furca, as you may have guessed, is also an ancestor of fork, which refers to the handy utensil that can (in a pinch) help us—as Berra might say—to cut our pizza in four pieces when we're not hungry enough to eat six.
12/1/20231 minute, 56 seconds
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felicitous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 30, 2023 is: felicitous • \fih-LISS-uh-tus\  • adjective Felicitous is an adjective most often used in formal speech and writing to describe something that is very well expressed or suited for some purpose or situation. It can also be used as a synonym for pleasant or delightful. // She had not been asked ahead of time to speak at the event, but she managed some felicitous remarks nonetheless. // That the cousins happened to be on the same flight was a felicitous coincidence—they had no idea the other would even be traveling at that time. See the entry > Examples: “The secret to Finnish contentment has long been debated. But Finns credit their happiness to five essential factors: wellness, a seasonal diet, strong connections to nature, an appreciation for the arts, and the friendly local atmosphere. Travelers on the hunt for happiness can get a glimpse of these felicitous lifestyle features on a visit to Finland.” — Rebecca Ann Hughes, Forbes, 27 Apr. 2023 Did you know? Before a mouse named Mickey ruled the animation scene, there was Felix—a wily black cat who is often regarded as the first cartoon star, and who became an international sensation in the early 20th century for films such as Felix in Hollywood (1923) and Comicalamities (1928). “Felix,” you might say, was a felicitous—that is, apt—name for the happy, Chaplinesque feline. Felix, after all, is a Latin word meaning “happy” or “fruitful,” and the ancestor of the English adjective felicitous, which can mean both “pleasant and delightful,” and “very well suited or expressed.” With regard to the “apt” sense of felicitous, it’s important to note that it is most often applied to someone’s actions or expressions (as in “a felicitous phrase”). In other words, no matter how fitting someone’s choice of pants may be for, say, the world premiere of a new animated movie, it would not be fitting to say “they arrived at the theater wearing felicitous pants.”
11/30/20232 minutes, 23 seconds
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detritus

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 29, 2023 is: detritus • \dih-TRYE-tus\  • noun Detritus refers to debris—that is, the pieces that remain when something breaks, falls apart, or is destroyed. // On her trip to Central America, she was fascinated by how much people have learned from the detritus of ancient civilizations. See the entry > Examples: “[Artist, Fiona] Connor’s one-to-one scale version of the sidewalk squares required a single concrete pour in her studio before she got to work painstakingly recreating the cracks, fissures, graffiti, blackened chewing gum debris, stamps and metal plates common to L.A. sidewalks. She is chronicling the detritus of urban life, the echoes of the city’s past evident in the patches, and nature’s attempt at reclamation all visible in the humble squares of concrete and asphalt.” — Marissa Gluck, The Los Angeles Times, 19 Aug. 2023 Did you know? If you use detritus in speech, remember to stress the second syllable, as you do in the words arthritis and bronchitis. Once you've mastered its meaning and pronunciation, you’ll find that detritus is a term—originally a geology term referring to loose material, such as broken rock fragments, resulting from disintegration—that can be applied in many situations. After the first hard freeze of fall, gardens are littered with the detritus of summer’s plants and produce: stalks, leaves, vines, and maybe even an abandoned hand trowel. As a flood-swollen river retreats to its banks, it leaves detritus—debris gathered by the raging waters—in its wake. The detritus of civilization may include junkyards and abandoned buildings, while mental detritus may include all kinds of useless trivia. (We’re not saying it qualifies as such, but detritus comes from the Latin root deterere, meaning “to wear away, impair.”)
11/29/20232 minutes, 24 seconds
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kinetic

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 28, 2023 is: kinetic • \kuh-NET-ik\  • adjective Kinetic has several meanings that all have to do with movement. In physics, kinetic means "of or relating to the motion of material bodies and the forces associated with them"; kinetic energy, for example, is energy associated with motion. More generally, kinetic can be used synonymously with active and lively as well as dynamic and energizing. And kinetic art is art (such as sculpture or assemblage) that has mechanical parts which can be set in motion. // The novel's plot is kinetic and fast-paced, and its effect on the reader is much like that of caffeine. // The loft district is the locus of the city's kinetic arts scene. See the entry > Examples: "To study the behavior of elusive animals, scientists routinely tag them with GPS location trackers. But such devices' battery capacity limits how long they operate. ... So biologist Rasmus Worsøe Havmøller of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues turned to another abundant power source: kinetic energy generated by an animal's movements. Their kinetic tracker, which Havmøller's team recently tested on domestic dogs, a wild pony and a European bison, could theoretically survive for the entire life span of an active animal." — Rachel Crowell, Scientific American, 9 Sept. 2023 Did you know? Ever watch a top spin? Or see one pool ball collide with another and send it across the felt? When you do, you’re witnessing kinetic energy—the energy of something in motion. Kinetics is a branch of science that deals with the effects of forces upon the motions of material bodies, and something described as kinetic has to do with the motion of material bodies and the forces associated with them. Both words were adopted in the 19th century from the Greek word kinētikos (meaning "of motion") for use in the field of physics, but the adjective kinetic proved too apt for broader application, and by the 1930s it was being used to describe people and things full of literal and figurative energy as well.
11/28/20232 minutes, 37 seconds
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culprit

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 27, 2023 is: culprit • \KUL-prit\  • noun Culprit refers to a person who has committed a crime or done something wrong. Culprit can also refer to the source or cause of a problem. // The break-in was witnessed by several neighbors, and the culprit was quickly apprehended. // Our bread-baking effort was disappointing; the bread failed to rise, and apparently old yeast was the culprit. See the entry > Examples: “A severe housing shortage is the main culprit for steep housing costs. The US is short of anywhere between an estimated 1.5 million and 5.5 million homes. High interest rates are scaring off both would-be buyers and sellers and slowing rates of homebuilding.” — Eliza Relman, Business Insider, 1 Oct. 2023 Did you know? We would be culpable—that is, deserving of blame—if we didn’t clearly explain the origin of culprit. Yes, it is related to culpable, which itself comes (via Middle English and Anglo-French) from the Latin verb culpare, meaning “to blame.” But the etymology of culprit is not so straightforward. In Anglo-French, culpable meant “guilty,” and this was abbreviated “cul.” in legal briefs and texts. Culprit was formed by combining this abbreviation with the Anglo-French word prest or prit, meaning “ready”; literally, a culprit was one who was ready to be proven guilty. The word was eventually adopted into English and used to refer to someone who is accused of a wrongdoing. The word has since taken on an additional meaning: “the source or cause of a problem.”
11/27/20232 minutes, 2 seconds
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olfactory

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 26, 2023 is: olfactory • \ahl-FAK-tuh-ree\  • adjective Olfactory describes things that have to do with the sense of smell. // Few can deny the olfactory pleasures of fresh-baked bread, sea breezes, and apple blossoms—all scents with the power to trigger intense nostalgia. See the entry > Examples: “Dogs are uniquely positioned to collect data that helps humans track and preserve endangered species—and find invasive species—because of their exceptional sense of smell. Dogs have millions more olfactory receptor cells than humans.” — Sydney Page, The Washington Post, 9 Sept. 2023 Did you know? No, olfactory is not a noun meaning “a place that makes scents”; for that, you want perfumery, which makes more sense. Olfactory is instead an adjective used to describe things related to one’s sense of smell, that which lets you detect fruit with your snoot, a leek with your beak, Shiraz with your schnozz. Olfactory comes from the Latin word olfacere (“to smell”), which in turn combines two verbs, olēre (“to give off a smell”) and facere (“to do”). It often appears in scientific contexts (as in “olfactory nerves,” the nerves that pass from the nose to the brain and contain the receptors that make smelling possible), but it is occasionally used in less technical writing and speech. The pleasant smell of hot mulled cider, for example, might be considered an “olfactory delight,” depending on the spices and your own sensibilities, of course. As they say, the nose knows.
11/26/20232 minutes, 8 seconds
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abnegate

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 25, 2023 is: abnegate • \AB-nih-gayt\  • verb Abnegate is a formal word that is most often used to mean "to deny or renounce" in contexts relating to responsibility: if you abnegate your responsibilities, you deny them and refuse to do what those responsibilities require. Abnegate can also mean "to surrender or relinquish," especially in contexts in which someone is abandoning their own desires or interests. // The letter outlined ways in which the mayor had abnegated his responsibilities to the city's employees. // Their spiritual practice teaches that the self must be abnegated in order to achieve deep inner peace. See the entry > Examples: "The Athletics' move to Las Vegas isn't official yet, but MLB ownership is expected to rubber-stamp it. ... The league, enabled by Nevada politicians, has displayed shocking arrogance and abnegated its responsibility to fans—a stark reminder that enriching billionaires ultimately is baseball's top priority." — Mark Hill, The New Republic, 29 June 2023 Did you know? There's no denying that the Latin root negāre, meaning "to deny," has given English some useful words, among them abnegate, which is used in formal settings to mean "to deny or renounce" (with responsibilities typically being the thing denied), and "to surrender or relinquish" (with personal desires or self-interest being the thing surrendered). Abnegate combines negāre with the Latin prefix ab-, meaning "from or away." (The related noun abnegation means "denial" or "self-denial.") Other negāre relations include negative, negate, renegade, and deny.
11/25/20232 minutes, 5 seconds
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nebbish

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 24, 2023 is: nebbish • \NEB-ish\  • noun Nebbish refers to a timid, meek, or ineffectual person. // Considered a bit of a nebbish by her colleagues, she surprised everyone by speaking up boldly against the proposed changes at the meeting. See the entry > Examples: “[Actor, Paul] Rudd is outstanding, as he toys with his own likability in his performance. Initially, he uses his Paul Rudd charm to persuade Marty [Markowitz, character] and us, that ‘Dr. Ike’ is a good man whose goal is to help this poor nebbish. We all get swept up in his promise not to let people use Marty, and he lets his wife and his friends think he’s performing a mitzvah by bringing the introverted Marty out of his shell.” — Matthew Gilbert, The Boston Globe, 17 Jan. 2023 Did you know? “It looks like Pa isn't anything like the nebbish Ma is always making him out to be.” Sounds like poor Pa got a bum rap, at least according to a 1951 book review that appeared in The New York Times. The unfortunate Pa unwittingly demonstrates much about the etymology of nebbish, which comes from the Yiddish word nebekh, meaning “poor” or “unfortunate.” In keeping with the term’s semantic timidity, its journey from Yiddish to English wasn’t accomplished in a single bold leap. In the earliest known English example of the word, it’s an adjective meaning “harmless or ineffectual.” That mid-19th century use was joined in the early 20th century by the noun we’re familiar with today. Along the way, nebbish has also been used in English as an interjection expressing dismay, pity, sympathy, or regret. The English adjective and interjection are too rare to be included in most general-use English dictionaries, but the noun has made a place for itself in the common lexicon, proving that it’s less of a nebbish than the timid and meek types it refers to.
11/24/20232 minutes, 22 seconds
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scrumptious

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 23, 2023 is: scrumptious • \SKRUMP-shus\  • adjective Scrumptious is an informal word that is usually used as a synonym of delicious, but can also mean “delightful” or “excellent.” // Parsnips may be an unconventional vegetable to serve on Turkey Day, but they are scrumptious with a little maple syrup drizzled on top. See the entry > Examples: “Need a scrumptious Thanksgiving side dish that will have your holiday guests scrambling for the biggest helping? … This Thanksgiving casserole is more like a dessert than a side dish. It features a rich, silky smooth sweet potato filling that entices the taste buds with cream, butter, pure vanilla extract, and freshly grated nutmeg.” — USA Today, 18 Nov. 2022 Did you know? First appearing in English in the early 1800s, scrumptious is a mouth-watering word that is used to describe things delightful and delectable. It may have originated as an alteration of sumptuous, carrying the elegant connotations of its parent, though this is not certain. The Oxford English Dictionary cites a dialect form of the word used to mean “cheap, stingy” as its earliest use, and posits that it could instead have been formed by combining the verb scrimp, meaning “to be frugal or stingy,” with the adjective suffix -ious. (Scrimption meaning “a tiny amount or pittance” could be a relation.) How could a word with such a meaning lead to the wholly positive scrumptious? The OED points to a similar path taken by the word nice, which began as a word meaning “wanton or lacking restraint” and is now, well, nice. Regardless, scrumptious today is a fun word to say and play around with, a fact apparent to British author Roald Dahl who used the variation scrumdiddlyumptious in his novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
11/23/20232 minutes, 22 seconds
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boilerplate

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 22, 2023 is: boilerplate • \BOY-ler-playt\  • noun Boilerplate is a noun that refers to standard or formulaic language, a meaning that comes from an earlier meaning still in use: syndicated material supplied to newspapers in matrix or plate form. Boilerplate can also refer to tightly packed snow. // The last paragraph of the contract was legal boilerplate. See the entry > Examples: "For years, the trolley driver has been putting his own spin on the T’s boilerplate announcements, playing with cadence and pitch, recommending his favorite anime, and cheering on Boston sports teams." — Daniel Kool, The Boston Globe, 15 Sept. 2023 Did you know? In the days before computers, small newspapers around the U.S. relied heavily on feature stories, editorials, and other printed material supplied by large publishing syndicates. The syndicates delivered that copy on metal plates with the type already in place so the local papers wouldn't have to set it. Printers apparently dubbed those syndicated plates "boiler plates" because of their resemblance to the plating used in making steam boilers. Soon boilerplate came to refer to the printed material on the plates as well as to the plates themselves. Because boilerplate stories were often more filler—material used to fill extra space in a column or page of a newspaper to increase its size—than important or informative news, the word acquired negative connotations and gained the "standardized or formulaic language" sense widely used today.
11/22/20232 minutes, 7 seconds
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ransack

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 21, 2023 is: ransack • \RAN-sak\  • verb To ransack a place is to search it for something in a way that causes disorder or damage. // My sister ransacked my room looking for the shoes I had borrowed (and returned). See the entry > Examples: “Now, I didn't pick up any Halloween candy on this particular Costco trip for one big reason. If I bring home a giant sack of assorted goodies, my kids will ransack that stash in short order.” — Maurie Backman, The Motley Fool, 12 Sept. 2023 Did you know? Ransack carries the image of a house being roughly disarranged, as might happen when you are frantically searching for something. This is appropriate given the word’s origin. Ransack comes, via Middle English, from the Old Norse word rannsaka: the rann in rannsaka means “house”; the second half of rannsaka is what is known as an “ablaut” variant of sœkja, meaning “to seek, search out.” But our modern use of the word isn’t restricted to houses. You can ransack a drawer, a suitcase, or even (by hurriedly looking through it) the contents of a book. Ransack also inspired another English word related to disorder and unsteadiness. A now-obsolete form of ransack, ransackle, gave us our adjective ramshackle, meaning “rickety” or “carelessly or loosely constructed.”
11/21/20231 minute, 52 seconds
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laissez-faire

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 20, 2023 is: laissez-faire • \less-ay-FAIR\  • noun Laissez-faire refers to an economic policy or doctrine that allows businesses to operate with very little interference from the government. Laissez-faire is also used as an adjective, as in “laissez-faire capitalism,” and often figuratively used to mean “hands-off,” as in “she took a laissez-faire approach to managing her employees.” // The newly-announced candidate is a strong advocate of laissez-faire. See the entry > Examples: “There is no doubt that our collective viewing during the Christmas period has always been enhanced by the various versions of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.... Dickens’s most popular work was penned at a time when the government policy of laissez-faire was common practice and led directly to social, economic and political inequality, widespread poverty and inequity.” — Owen Kelly [letter to the editor], The National (Glasgow, Scotland), 29 Dec. 2021 Did you know? The French phrase laissez faire literally means “allow to do,” with the idea being “let people do as they choose.” The origins of laissez-faire are associated with the Physiocrats, a group of 18th-century French economists who believed that government policy should not interfere with the operation of natural economic laws. (The actual coiner of the phrase may have been French economist Vincent de Gournay, or it may have been François Quesnay, who is considered the group’s founder and leader.) The original phrase was “laissez faire, laissez passer,” with the second part meaning “let (things) pass.” Laissez-faire, which first showed up in an English context in the first half of the 19th century, can still mean “a doctrine opposing governmental interference in economic affairs,” but it is also used in broader contexts in which a “hands-off” or “anything-goes” policy or attitude is adopted. It is frequently used as an adjective meaning “favoring a ‘hands-off’ policy,” as in “laissez-faire economics.”
11/20/20232 minutes, 34 seconds
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inordinate

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 19, 2023 is: inordinate • \in-OR-dun-ut\  • adjective Something described as inordinate exceeds reasonable limits; it goes beyond what is considered usual, normal, or proper. // We waited an inordinate amount of time to get a table at the restaurant, especially given that it was a Tuesday night. See the entry > Examples: “The majority of attractions are in the northern and western parts of Honduras, but it’s worth spending a day in/around Comayagua regardless of your plans. If you do only one thing here, make it a visit to Rancho Sofia. Don’t be fooled by the inordinate amount of cow photos on their social media page, as this is far more than a farm. This farm-turned-tourist attraction opened a small but stunning hotel two years ago with six rooms, multiple pools, plus camping options and a laundry facility.” — Cassandra Brooklyn, TheDailyBeast.com, 18 Apr. 2023 Did you know? Although today it describes something that exceeds reasonable limits, inordinate used to be applied to what does not conform to the expected or desired order of things. That sense, synonymous with disorderly and unregulated, is no longer in use, but it offers a hint as to the origins of inordinate. The word traces back to the Latin verb ordinare, meaning “to arrange,” combined with the negating prefix in-. Ordinare is also the ancestor of such English words as coordination, ordain, ordination, and subordinate. The Latin root comes from the noun ordo, meaning “order” or “arrangement,” from which the English word order and its derivatives originate.
11/19/20232 minutes, 13 seconds
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disabuse

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 18, 2023 is: disabuse • \diss-uh-BYOOZ\  • verb To disabuse someone of something, such as a belief, is to show or convince them that the belief is incorrect. // Anyone expecting a light, romantic story will be quickly disabused of that notion by the opening chapter of the novel. See the entry > Examples: “Wineries that persist in using heavier glass continue to blame us—consumers—for believing a heavy bottle signals a better wine. We should disabuse them of their belief in our gullibility. These peacock bottles, strutting to catch our attention, won't work.” — Dave Mcintyre, The Washington Post, 29 Apr. 2023 Did you know? Taken as a product of its parts, one might assume that disabuse means “to not abuse.” While the usage has changed over the years, that assumption isn’t entirely wrong. We know the verb abuse as a word with various meanings having to do with bad physical or verbal treatment, as well as incorrect or excessive use, but when disabuse first appeared in the 17th century, there was a sense of abuse, now obsolete, that meant “to deceive.” Francis Bacon used that meaning, for example, when he wrote in 1605, “You are much abused if you think your virtue can withstand the King’s power.” The prefix dis- has the sense of undoing the effect of a verb, so it’s logical that disabuse means “to undeceive.” English speakers didn’t come up with the idea of joining dis- to abuse all on their own, however. It was the French who first appended their prefix dés- to their verb abuser; our disabuse is modeled after the French word désabuser.
11/18/20232 minutes, 17 seconds
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hallmark

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 17, 2023 is: hallmark • \HAWL-mahrk\  • noun A hallmark is a distinguishing characteristic, trait, or feature. Hallmark also refers to a mark or design placed or stamped on something to indicate its origin, purity, or genuineness, as in "sterling silver hallmarks." // The entertainer's new book features the same kind of wry humor that is the hallmark of his radio show. See the entry > Examples: "Clever, funny, and genuinely thrilling, the movie Dumb Money has all of the hallmarks of an epic finance film." — Lillian Brown, Vulture, 3 Oct. 2023 Did you know? In the year 1300, King Edward I of England (His Excellency also known most excellently as "Edward Longshanks") established a standard for gold and silver to ensure quality and prevent fraud. Thereafter precious metals had to be tested and approved by master craftsmen (and given the mark of a leopard's head) before being sold. Over the ensuing centuries, many London artisans brought their finished metal goods to Goldsmiths' Hall, where the Goldsmiths' Company had a charter to grant their unique mark of approval to wares that met standards of purity. (The process is much the same today.) At first, people used hallmark to name that mark of excellence from Goldsmiths' Hall, but over the years the word came to refer to any mark guaranteeing purity or genuineness, and eventually to any distinguishing characteristic, trait, or feature.
11/17/20231 minute, 58 seconds
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woebegone

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 16, 2023 is: woebegone • \WOH-bih-gahn\  • adjective Woebegone describes someone or something that feels or shows great woe, sorrow, or misery. // The team never looked more woebegone than it did heading back to the locker room after losing the championship to their rivals by a single run. // Despite its woebegone appearance, the old mill town has a strong community and a vibrant arts scene. See the entry > Examples: “It’s a classic pop formula: wed woebegone lyrics to bright sounds, drawing out all that’s entrancing about sadness. Peach Pit does it as well or better than most of their peers.” — Aarik Danielsen, The Columbia (Missouri) Tribune, 27 July 2023 Did you know? Whoa, whoa, whoa. We know that, at first glance, woebegone looks like a word that has its meaning backwards; after all, if begone means “go away,” shouldn’t woebegone mean “devoid of woe,” or “happy”? Not exactly. The word comes from the Middle English phrase wo begon. The wo in this phrase does indeed mean “woe,” but begon means “beset.” Someone who is woebegone, therefore, is beset with woe. Since the mid-1700s, the word has also been used to describe things that appear to express sadness, as in “the woebegone look on his face when he misplaced his favorite dictionary.”
11/16/20231 minute, 47 seconds
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chimera

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 15, 2023 is: chimera • \kye-MEER-uh\  • noun In Greek mythology, Chimera is a fire-breathing monster that has a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a snake’s tail. In general contexts, chimera can refer to something (such as an aspiration) that exists only in the imagination and is not possible in reality. // The fantasy is a utopian chimera, but there are real improvements for the town that can be made. See the entry > Examples: “For years, consumer advocates maintained that giving subscribers a la carte options from cable menus instead of the one-size-fits-all model would save people money. Alas, this nirvana has proved to be a chimera. Streaming channels have peeled off from cable lineups and established their own individualized subscription services, with the result that what used to be bundled together in premium tiers are now separate charges.” — Michael Hiltzik, The Los Angeles Times, 17 Apr. 2023 Did you know? “In head and shoulders, she was like a lion, / in back and tail, a snake, and in the middle, / a she-goat, and she breathed a dreadful blast / of blazing fire.” So did Homer describe the fearsome Chimera in The Iliad (as translated by scholar Emily Wilson in 2023). The Chimera terrorized the people of Lycia until slain by the hero Bellerophon, but the beast lived on in people’s imaginations, and English speakers adopted her name for any monster similarly composed of the parts of different animals. Later, chimera took on another meaning that is common in today’s lexicon: “an illusion of the mind, especially an unrealized dream.” This sense of chimera is often used to refer to a fantasy or delusion.
11/15/20232 minutes, 21 seconds
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exigent

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 14, 2023 is: exigent • \EK-suh-junt\  • adjective Exigent is a formal word that describes things that need to be dealt with immediately, as well as people who expect significant time, attention, effort, etc. from other people. // The warrantless search of the property was permitted because of exigent circumstances. // He struggled to satisfy the needs of the exigent client. See the entry > Examples: "People don't tend to reveal their true selves while careening across a landscape. Unless, of course, civilization has ended—a cheap setup that, I must begrudgingly admit, motivates character development in an exigent way. The most famous literary and filmic specimen that focuses, as games do, on spatial traversal amid existential threat is Lord of the Rings—which, of course, exerted a strong influence on the development of games in the first place." — Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, 29 Jan. 2023 Did you know? Exigent is a formal word with meanings closely tied to its Latin forbear, exigere, meaning "to demand." Exigent things and people demand attention—for example, an exigent client expects so much that they are hard to satisfy, and exigent circumstances are so significant that they can be used to justify certain police actions without the warrant typically required. Before exigent joined the language in the early 1600s, the noun exigency was being used to refer to something that is necessary in a particular situation—for example, the exigencies of an emergency situation might require that certain usual precautions be ignored. That word dates to the late 1500s, but even earlier, in the mid-1400s, exigence was on the scene doing the same job. All three words—exigent, exigency, and exigence—continue to meet the demands of English users, albeit not frequently in everyday conversation.
11/14/20232 minutes, 27 seconds
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gravitate

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 13, 2023 is: gravitate • \GRAV-uh-tayt\  • verb To gravitate is to move, tend to move, or be attracted to or toward someone or something. // Many young people now gravitate toward careers on social media. See the entry > Examples: “... Olipop has grown into a nationwide brand and favorite among Gen Z and millennial consumers, who gravitate to the brand’s eye-catching packaging and nostalgia-inducing flavors like root beer and vintage cola—many of which [CEO, Ben] Goodwin comes up with in the early hours of the morning.” — Morgan Smith and Lauren Shamo, CNBC, 16 Sept. 2023 Did you know? The force is strong in the family of words descended from the Latin adjective gravis, meaning “heavy”: gravitation has it, graviton has it, and gravitate has it, too. That force is gravity (gravity being another gravis descendent), a fundamental physical force that is responsible for bringing us literally back down to earth (or Tattooine, as it were). But you don’t have to be a full-fledged linguistic Jedi, young padawan, to know that gravity, like its Latin ancestor, also has figurative meanings, as does gravitate. When it first landed in the 17th century, gravitate meant “to apply pressure or weight,” and later it maintained its connection to literal gravity with a sense (still in use today) meaning “to move under the effect of gravitation.” It then, however, acquired a more general sense of “to move toward something” (such as toward a specific location), and finally a metaphorical sense of “to be attracted,” as in, “when choosing movies to watch she often gravitates toward space operas.”
11/13/20232 minutes, 11 seconds
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bugbear

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 12, 2023 is: bugbear • \BUG-bair\  • noun A bugbear is a source of dread or irritation; in other words, something that causes problems or annoys people. // The biggest bugbear of the skiing business is a winter with no snow. See the entry > Examples: “When faced with the prospect of any kind of online regulation, social media companies, old-school internet idealists and free-market zealots ring the same two alarm bells: Regulation will stifle free speech and impede tech innovation. For the past couple of decades or so, these twin bugbears have scared away legislators from imposing regulation with real teeth. But these arguments have multiple flaws. Social media companies are not absolute protectors of free speech and already impose limits on the speech they distribute. Nor are they the only innovative businesses subject to regulation.” — Nancy Kim, The Los Angeles Times, 25 Aug. 2022 Did you know? Just as peanuts are neither peas nor nuts (they are legumes), bugbears are neither bugs nor bears, but a secret, third thing. Not so secret that we won’t share it with you, however. Let’s start with the bug in bugbear, which refers not to an insect, but instead comes from the Middle English word bugge. This bugge was used for all kinds of imaginary spooky creatures—from ghosts and goblins to scarecrows—that cause fright or dread. In the 1500s this bug was combined with bear (as in the animal) to form bugbear, even though there is little evidence that either a bug or bugbear took an ursine form. In fact, based on its earliest known uses, bugbear began as an all-purpose word for things that cause fear or dread, not just supernatural beasties. This sense is still in use today, alongside the closely related sense of “a continuing source of irritation or annoyance.” Use of the “hobgoblin” sense of bugbear appears to have begun slightly later, though it, too, persists to the present day, notably as the name of a hulking creature in the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.
11/12/20232 minutes, 47 seconds
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valorous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 11, 2023 is: valorous • \VAL-uh-russ\  • adjective Someone or something described as valorous is marked by courage or heroism. // For carrying three wounded members of his squadron out of harm's way, the lieutenant was presented with an award that recognized his valorous actions in the heat of battle. See the entry > Examples: "Cryptozoology is not a quest for animals but for monsters. It represents a valorous last stand to preserve awe and mystery in an over-charted, over-exploited world." — Rajat Ghai, Down to Earth (India), 26 Aug. 2023 Did you know? The English language has no shortage of synonyms for brave. In fact, it even has two different such words from the same Latin verb, valēre ("to have strength"): valiant and valorous. Valiant is the older of the pair, borrowed from the Anglo-French adjective vaillant ("worthy, strong courageous") in the 1300s. Valorous followed in the 1400s, a combination of valor ("strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness")—another valēre descendent—and the adjective suffix -ous. (The form was inspired either by the Middle French word valeureux or the Medieval Latin word valōrōsus.) While the words can be used synonymously, valorous sometimes has an archaic or romantic ring, describing stout-hearted warriors of yore, while the more common word valiant describes soldiers as well as general kinds of bravery or effort.
11/11/20232 minutes
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valorous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 11, 2023 is: valorous • \VAL-uh-russ\  • adjective Someone or something described as valorous is marked by courage or heroism. // For carrying three wounded members of his squadron out of harm's way, the lieutenant was presented with an award that recognized his valorous actions in the heat of battle. See the entry > Examples: "Cryptozoology is not a quest for animals but for monsters. It represents a valorous last stand to preserve awe and mystery in an over-charted, over-exploited world." — Rajat Ghai, Down to Earth (India), 26 Aug. 2023 Did you know? The English language has no shortage of synonyms for brave. In fact, it even has two different such words from the same Latin verb, valēre ("to have strength"): valiant and valorous. Valiant is the older of the pair, borrowed from the Anglo-French adjective vaillant ("worthy, strong, courageous") in the 1300s. Valorous followed in the 1400s, a combination of valor ("strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness")—another valēre descendent—and the adjective suffix -ous. (The form was inspired either by the Middle French word valeureux or the Medieval Latin word valōrōsus.) While the words can be used synonymously, valorous sometimes has an archaic or romantic ring, describing stout-hearted warriors of yore, while the more common word valiant describes soldiers as well as general kinds of bravery or effort.
11/11/20232 minutes
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suffuse

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 10, 2023 is: suffuse • \suh-FYOOZ\  • verb To suffuse something is to spread over it or fill it, either literally or figuratively. The word suffuse is usually encountered in literary contexts. // Natural sunlight suffused the room as she opened the blinds. // The novel tells a difficult story, but it is suffused with hope. See the entry > Examples: "How to work, what to work on, assessing what’s been made. These are the questions that suffuse every artist’s career. They start with nothing, mostly without being asked, and sail into the unknown with a passion to make something." — Margaret Heffernan, The Guardian (London), 23 Apr. 2023 Did you know? The Latin word suffendere, ancestor to suffuse by way of Latin suffūsus, has various meanings that shed light on our modern word, among them "to pour on or in (as an addition)" and "to fill with a liquid, color, or light that wells up from below." It’s no surprise, then, that suffuse refers to the action of fluid or light spreading over or through something, as when light fills a dark room when you crack open a door. Suffundere is a blend of the prefix sub- ("under" or "beneath") and the verb fundere ("to pour" or "to send forth"). Other English verbs related to fundere continue the theme of pouring or spreading: diffuse ("to pour out and spread freely"), effuse ("to pour or flow out"), transfuse ("to cause to pass from one to another"), and the verb fuse itself when it's used to mean "to meld or join."
11/10/20232 minutes, 8 seconds
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suffuse

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 10, 2023 is: suffuse • \suh-FYOOZ\  • verb To suffuse something is to spread over it or fill it, either literally or figuratively. The word suffuse is usually encountered in literary contexts. // Natural sunlight suffused the room as she opened the blinds. // The novel tells a difficult story, but it is suffused with hope. See the entry > Examples: "How to work, what to work on, assessing what’s been made. These are the questions that suffuse every artist’s career. They start with nothing, mostly without being asked, and sail into the unknown with a passion to make something." — Margaret Heffernan, The Guardian (London), 23 Apr. 2023 Did you know? The Latin word suffundere, ancestor to suffuse by way of Latin suffūsus, has various meanings that shed light on our modern word, among them "to pour on or in (as an addition)" and "to fill with a liquid, color, or light that wells up from below." It’s no surprise, then, that suffuse refers to the action of fluid or light spreading over or through something, as when light fills a dark room when you crack open a door. Suffundere is a blend of the prefix sub- ("under" or "beneath") and the verb fundere ("to pour" or "to send forth"). Other English verbs related to fundere continue the theme of pouring or spreading: diffuse ("to pour out and spread freely"), effuse ("to pour or flow out"), transfuse ("to cause to pass from one to another"), and the verb fuse itself when it's used to mean "to meld or join."
11/10/20232 minutes, 8 seconds
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audacious

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 9, 2023 is: audacious • \aw-DAY-shus\  • adjective Audacious is an adjective used to describe people, or things that people make or do, that are confident and daring, or bold and surprising. // She made the audacious decision to quit her job. // The band has been making original and creative music for well over ten years, but their latest album is their most audacious to date. See the entry > Examples: “My auntie Carolyn was a teacher at Bunker Hills School in Washington, DC. She was an audacious teacher, and invited the Queen of England to her classroom—and the Queen came, twice. Teachers like that make such a difference.” — Sheryl Lee Ralph, quoted in Ebony, 16 Aug. 2023 Did you know? Fortune favors the bold—or, as ancient Romans are known to have said, “audentes Fortuna iuvat.” Audentes here is the present participle of the Latin verb audēre, meaning “to dare,” a word that also led, via several etymological twists and turns through the centuries, to the English adjective audacious. When it first appeared in English in the mid-1500s, audacious meant “intrepidly daring,” a sense we still use today when we apply the word to various feats of derring-do and those who dare to do them. Since then it has developed several additional meanings, including the closely related “recklessly bold” and “marked by originality and verve,” as in “her audacious new album heralds the future of hip-hop.” Of course, with audacity (another audēre descendent) comes risk that fortune, despite the maxim, doesn’t always favor: as fungi foragers know, there are sagacious mushroomers, and audacious mushroomers, but there are no sagacious audacious mushroomers.
11/9/20232 minutes, 13 seconds
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mien

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 8, 2023 is: mien • \MEEN\  • noun Mien is a literary word that refers to a person's demeanor or appearance, especially as expressive of their attitude or personality. // The minister projected a stern and serious mien from the pulpit, but we found him to be friendly and welcoming when we spoke with him in the social hall after the service. See the entry > Examples: "'Hit Man,' a new movie from Richard Linklater, was co-written by its leading man, Glen Powell, and proved to be the perfect showcase for his charisma. Playing a philosophy professor turned fake assassin, Powell changes his costume, accent, and mien with joyful abandon, pulling the audience along as the stakes and absurdities continue to mount." — Alex Barasch, The New Yorker, 22 Sept. 2023 Did you know? Mien is a somewhat literary term that refers to a person’s appearance and behavior toward others—that is, their outward manner or demeanor. Mien and demeanor are also linked through etymology: mien arose in the early 1500s through the shortening and alteration of the rare verb demean, meaning "to conduct or behave (oneself) usually in a proper manner." The source of demean is a Middle English word meaning (among other things) "to behave in a certain way; to conduct oneself"; that word’s Anglo-French source, demener, could mean (also among other things) "to lead," "to strive," "to guide," and "to behave." Note that the "behave" demean related to demeanor and mien is not related to the more common demean that means "to debase"; that word has its roots in an Old English word meaning "common, shared."
11/8/20232 minutes, 2 seconds
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cockamamie

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 7, 2023 is: cockamamie • \kah-kuh-MAY-mee\  • adjective Cockamamie is an adjective used to describe something ridiculous, silly, or incredible. // Instead of being honest, he came up with a cockamamie excuse about why he didn't turn in his assignment. See the entry > Examples: "... [Andy] Reid will invent strange new football ideas unlike anything that has been seen before—or at least not in the past few decades—and run them in the biggest moments of a season. And while his trick plays may appear like cockamamie inventions of a football mad scientist, they often take advantage of the unique strengths and talents of his superstar players. They are gimmicks and yet functional." — Rodger Sherman, TheRinger.com, 8 Feb. 2023 Did you know? By the look and sound of it, cockamamie (also spelled "cockamamy") could have something to do with a rooster and the outrageous sound it makes. But in fact, cockamamie is believed to be an altered form of the term decalcomania, which refers to the process, invented in the mid-19th century, of transferring pictures and designs from specially prepared paper to surfaces such as glass or porcelain. (The word referring to the picture or design itself, decal, is a shortening of decalcomania.) The word decalcomania comes from French, with décalcomanie combining the verb décalquer, meaning "to trace" or "to transfer by tracing," and -manie, meaning "-mania." Starting in the 1930s, painted strips of paper with images capable of being transferred to the skin were called decals or—in children's slang—cockamamies. Those familiar with today's temporary tattoos will understand quickly that these were regarded by many as silly novelties, lending the word cockamamie the necessary leeway for application to anything ridiculous.
11/7/20232 minutes, 25 seconds
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terraform

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 6, 2023 is: terraform • \TEH-ruh-form\  • verb To terraform something (such as a planet or moon) is to transform it so that it is suitable for supporting human life. // With Earth being the only Goldilocks planet within our reach, some argue that the survival of humanity depends on our ability to eventually terraform Mars. See the entry > Examples: “Simulation games now routinely engage with climate change, but usually from a place of wish fulfillment. Surviving Mars lets players use magical future technology to terraform the Red Planet into a new Eden, creating a backup home in case Earth is ravaged beyond redemption.” — Mark Hill, Wired, 6 Jan. 2022 Did you know? In the world of science fiction, life (uh) finds a way. Such is the goal of terraforming, a concept that has long served as a sci-fi staple. In fact, the word terraform can be traced to the genre’s Golden Age: the first known use of terraform was by the science fiction writer Jack Williamson who, writing under the pseudonym Will Stewart, included the word in his 1942 story “Collision Orbit.” Terraform applies the Latin noun terra (“land, earth”) as a prefix to the English verb form (“to shape or develop”). (Terra is evidenced in many English words, including terrain, terrace, and terra-cotta.) You may ask, “what is the future of terraforming?” Suffice it to say, we have no earthly idea.
11/6/20231 minute, 56 seconds
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requisite

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 5, 2023 is: requisite • \REK-wuh-zut\  • adjective Requisite is a synonym of necessary and essential that describes something needed for a particular purpose. // It's clear from her application materials that Leona has the requisite knowledge and experience for the job. See the entry > Examples: "On the eve of their own wedding, David presented Kavi with three custom fragrances in a series of ornate vintage vessels: one unique scent for each day of their traditional Indian ceremony. Naturally, the couple went on to launch his-and-her scents inspired by these sentimental creations: D.S. for David, with notes like sandalwood, saffron, and rose; Durga for Kavi, the requisite orange blossom mingling with tuberose and orris butter." — Ivana Rihter, Vanity Fair, 18 Aug. 2023 Did you know? Acquiring an understanding of where requisite comes from won't require a formal inquiry. Without question, the quest begins with the Latin verb quaerere, which means "to ask" or "to seek." That word is ancestor to a number of English words, including acquire, require, inquiry, question, quest, and, of course, requisite. From quaerere came requirere, meaning "to ask again." Repeated requests can express a need, and the past participle of the Latin word requirere, which is requisitus, came to mean "needed" or "necessary." English acquired requisite when it was adopted into Middle English back in the 1400s.
11/5/20232 minutes, 5 seconds
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maelstrom

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 4, 2023 is: maelstrom • \MAIL-strum\  • noun A maelstrom is a powerful often violent whirlpool that sucks in objects within a given radius. Maelstrom is also often used figuratively to refer to a situation resembling the turbulence of a maelstrom, as when there are a lot of confused activities, emotions, etc. // He was caught in a maelstrom of emotions after the news he received over the phone. // The ship was drawn into the maelstrom. See the entry > Examples: “Innovation can be a crushing force—a physical and emotional juggernaut that can redefine entire sectors, societies, and civilizations in its inexorable path. As we peer into the maelstrom of technology’s ever-expanding possibilities—clinging to what guardrails we may find—the question that emerges is not just about what awaits us but about when. Timing, as they say, is everything.” — John Nosta, Psychology Today, 22 Sept. 2023 Did you know? The original Maelstrom, also known as the Mostenstraumen or Moskstraumen, is a channel located off the northwest coast of Norway that has dangerous tidal currents. English speakers became familiar with its (often exaggerated) perils through literature—Edgar Allan Poe wrote a story called “A Descent into the Maelstrom,” and Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea has—spoiler alert—a maelstrom at its climax. The English word arrived by way of the Dutch word maelstrom, which today is spelled maalstroom. (The Dutch word combines the verb malen, meaning “to grind,” and the noun strom, “stream.”) English speakers have applied the word to any powerful whirlpool since the 16th century, and by the 19th century they’d begun to apply it figuratively to things or situations resembling such maelstroms in turbulence or confusion.
11/4/20232 minutes, 28 seconds
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parse

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 3, 2023 is: parse • \PARSS\  • verb To parse something is to study it by looking closely at its parts. In grammar and linguistics, parse means "to divide (a sentence) into grammatical parts and identify the parts and their relations to each other." // The lawyer meticulously parsed the wording of the final contract to be sure that her client would get all that he was asking for. See the entry > Examples: "Around the turn of the millennium, the captcha tool arrived to sort humans from bots based on their ability to interpret images of distorted text. Once some bots could handle that, captcha added other detection methods that included parsing images of motorbikes and trains, as well as sensing mouse movement and other user behavior." — Christopher Beam, WIRED, 14 Sept. 2023 Did you know? If parse brings up memories of learning the parts of speech in school, you've done your homework regarding this word. Parsing sentences, after all, is part and parcel of learning to read and write. Parse comes from the first element of the Latin term for "part of speech," pars orationis. It's an old word that has been used since at least the mid 1500s, but it was not until the late 1700s that parse graduated to its extended, non-grammar-related sense of "to examine in a minute way" or "to analyze critically." Remember this extended sense, and you'll really be at the head of the class.
11/3/20231 minute, 58 seconds
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analogue

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 2, 2023 is: analogue • \AN-uh-log\  • noun Analogue refers to something that is similar to something else in design, origin, use, etc. In other words, an analogue is analogous to something else. // There are many historical analogues to our current political situation that we can learn from in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past. See the entry > Examples: “When the 32-year-old artist Gray Wielebinski was growing up in Dallas, he saw 10-gallon hats and boots as the marks of a fantastical machismo that belonged as much to him as to cisgender men. … In his work, the cowboy is a tragic figure professionally endangered by commercial ranching, making him an analogue to the queer establishments that have closed in recent years.” — Evan Moffitt, The New York Times, 6 Sept. 2023 Did you know? Analogue is a handy word for something that is similar to something else in design, origin, use, etc., as in “tofu is a meat analogue.” Like its relations analogy and analogous, it traces back ultimately to the Greek word lógos, meaning “word,” “speech,” “relation,” “correspondence,” and “proportion.” Not to get too meta about analogue, but the nouns analogue and analog are themselves analogues (or, ahem, analogs) of one another: they differ only in spelling, though the analogue spelling is more common except in contexts related to chemistry. The pair also function as adjectives—as in “an analog watch” or “analog recording”—but in that case the shorter form is preferred except by those who use British English.
11/2/20232 minutes, 13 seconds
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fuliginous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 1, 2023 is: fuliginous • \fyoo-LIJ-uh-nus\  • adjective Fuliginous is a formal adjective that is synonymous with sooty; it describes things related to, containing, or producing soot. It can also describe things that are figuratively sooty—that is, dark or murky, as in "fuliginous soul"—as well as things that are dark or sooty in color, from crystals and insects to the plumage of some bird species. // Stringent environmental regulations eventually helped the city rid itself of the fuliginous haze that had plagued its citizens for decades. // The infamous journalist has a fuliginous prose style that’s not exactly ideal for general audiences. See the entry > Examples: "This latter-day Solomon remarked upon the atmospheric conditions he encountered ... a choking smoke that prompted him to cover his mouth and nostrils with a handkerchief. This exercise proved futile as he ventured into the fuliginous town where 'there was literally nothing for it but to breathe chimney smoke, or to turn and flee to purer air before it was too late.'" — Mervyn Edwards, The Stoke Sentinel (Stoke-on-Trent, England), 17 June 2023 Did you know? Fuliginous is a word with a dark and dirty past—it comes from fuligo, the Latin word for "soot," a substance formed by combustion or separated from fuel during combustion, that rises in the air in fine particles, such as what's seen in smoke. An early, now-obsolete sense of fuliginous described noxious bodily vapors once thought to be produced by organic processes. The "sooty" sense, which English speakers have been using since the 16th century, can be used literally to describe everything from overworked chimney sweeps to industrial city skylines, and figuratively for dense fogs, malevolent clouds, and grim senses of humor. Fuliginous can also be used to refer to something dark or dusky in color, as in Henry James' novel The Ambassadors, in which the character Waymarsh is described as having "dark fuliginous eyes."
11/1/20232 minutes, 31 seconds
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eldritch

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 31, 2023 is: eldritch • \EL-dritch\  • adjective Eldritch describes things that are strange or unnatural, especially in a way that inspires fear. The word is often used as a synonym for eerie. // She's afraid to visit haunted houses because the eldritch decor and sound effects are too realistic for her liking. See the entry > Examples: “One of the newer entries on this list is Dredge, which is a cozy game for players who like spooky, eldritch tales of the open sea. It sounds counterintuitive to combine relaxing gameplay with horror, but it works out well here. You’ll catch eerie-looking fish, explore abandoned and sometimes dangerous areas and start dredging treasures from shipwrecks to help a mysterious collector. The joy in Dredge though comes from the casual way it lets you complete your quests and the openness of its world, which is ripe for exploration.” — Carli Velocci, CNN, 2 May 2023 Did you know? Curse, cobweb, witch, ghost, and even Halloween—all of these potentially spooky words have roots in Old English. Eldritch, although less common, is another, hailing from a time when otherworldly beings were commonly thought to inhabit the earth. The word dates back to the 16th century and may have its origin in the Middle English word elfriche, meaning “fairyland.” (The two components of elfriche—“elf” and “riche”—come from the Old English words ælf, “elf,” and rīce, “kingdom.”) Nowadays, eldritch is used to describe things that are eerie, weird, or frightful. You may also recognize the word as the name of the popular video game Eldritch, inspired by the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, who often used the word in his horror fiction. Or perhaps you've encountered it in the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.
10/31/20232 minutes, 31 seconds
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werewolf

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 30, 2023 is: werewolf • \WAIR-woolf\  • noun Werewolf refers to a person transformed into a wolf or capable of assuming a wolf's form, especially during the full moon. // She went to the Halloween party dressed as a werewolf, wearing faux fur from head to toe. See the entry > Examples: "With her brother and sister, Marnie follows her grandma to a city called Halloweentown, where ghosts and goblins and werewolves live side by side." — Claudia Guthrie, ELLE, 28 Aug. 2023 Did you know? Although English sometimes makes use of other words for howling humanoid beasties, werewolf is the leader of the pack. It’s also an ancient word, tracing all the way back to the Old English werwulf, and before that to a prehistoric predecessor that also left its paw prints on German (Werwolf) and Dutch (weerwolf). Synonyms for werewolf in English include the obscure lycanthrope, which has roots in two Greek words (lykos, meaning "wolf," and anthrōpos, meaning "human being"), and loup-garou, which comes from Old French. Whichever you use, the lycanthropic creatures these words refer to most often assume wolf form during a full moon—at least in works of fiction. There are no credible studies to date on the behavior of real-life werewolves, as scientists have yet to find the silver bullet that proves they exist.
10/30/20231 minute, 53 seconds
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pandemonium

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 29, 2023 is: pandemonium • \pan-duh-MOH-nee-um\  • noun Pandemonium refers to a situation in which a crowd or mass of people act in a wild, uncontrolled, or violent way because they are afraid, excited, or confused. // Pandemonium ensued when a power failure knocked out the city’s traffic lights during rush hour. See the entry > Examples: “It was pandemonium when [Taylor] Swift broke out one of her first country singles that became an international hit. The crowd really lost it for the famous tale of a high school love triangle, especially with the signature lyric: ‘She wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts / She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers.’” — Emily Yahr, The Washington Post, 18 Mar. 2023 Did you know? When John Milton needed a name for the gathering place of all demons for Paradise Lost, he turned to the classics as any sensible 17th-century writer would. Pandæmonium, as the capital of Hell is known in the epic poem, combines the Greek prefix pan-, meaning “all,” with the Late Latin daemonium, meaning “evil spirit.” (Daemonium itself traces back to the far more innocuous Greek word daímōn, meaning “spirit” or “divine power.”) Over time, Pandæmonium (or Pandemonium) came to designate all of hell and was used as well for earthbound dens of wickedness and sin. By the late-18th century, the word implied a place or state of confusion or uproar, and from there, it didn’t take long for pandemonium to become associated with states of utter disorder and wildness.
10/29/20232 minutes, 8 seconds
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irascible

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 28, 2023 is: irascible • \ir-RASS-uh-bul\  • adjective Someone who is irascible is easily angered and annoyed. // That tidy little house belongs to an irascible crank who never has a kind word for any of his neighbors. See the entry > Examples: "If anyone earned the right to be an irascible octogenarian—especially when it comes to music—it's probably Bob Dylan. In a new interview with The Wall Street Journal, the singer-songwriter got the chance to do some ... sermonizing—sharing both astute points, and some rather curmudgeonly ones—about the state of contemporary music and the streaming era." — Jon Blistein, Rolling Stone, 19 Dec. 2022 Did you know? If you try to take apart irascible on the model of irrational, irresistible, and irresponsible you might find yourself wondering what ascible means—but that's not how irascible came to be. The key to the meaning of irascible isn't the negating prefix ir- (which is the form of the prefix in- that is used before words beginning with "r"), but rather the Latin noun ira, meaning "anger." From ira, which is also the root of irate and ire, came the Latin verb irasci ("to become angry") and the related adjective irascibilis, the latter of which led to the French word irascible. English speakers borrowed the word from French in the 16th century.
10/28/20232 minutes, 1 second
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shill

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 27, 2023 is: shill • \SHIL\  • verb Shill is an informal word that is used disapprovingly to mean “to talk about or describe someone or something in a favorable way for pay.” It is usually paired with for. // It’s very common to see influencers shilling for different brands on their social media accounts. See the entry > Examples: “The NFT market isn’t so hot these days. In June, Bloomberg reported that the JPG NFT Index was down more than 30 percent since its launch in April. ... Most of the celebs who had shilled for NFTs have gone back to promoting an upcoming project ... or appear to be on vacation.” — Lauren Goode, Wired, 3 Aug. 2022 Did you know? The action at the heart of the verb shill—promoting someone or something for pay—is not, on its face, unseemly. After all, that is what marketers and public relations firms do. But when someone is said to be shilling for something or someone there is a distinct note of disapproval, and often the implication that the act is somehow corrupt or dishonest, or that the product or person being promoted is not to be trusted. This connotation is actually the word’s birthright: in the early 1900s, the noun shill referred to a type of con artist, specifically one who aided others in their efforts to part people from their money. For example, a shill might be paid to fake a big win at a casino to make a game look easily winnable. The first uses of the verb shill, appearing around the same time as the noun, show it applying to the kinds of cons shills did, but the term eventually came to be used in cases when someone was simply promoting someone or something. Perhaps fitting for a word with a criminal past, shill has a mysterious origin: it’s thought to be a shortened form of the older synonymous term shillaber, but the etymological trail goes cold there.
10/27/20232 minutes, 30 seconds
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cadre

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 26, 2023 is: cadre • \KAD-ray\  • noun Broadly, cadre can refer to any group of people with a unifying relationship, as in “a cadre of lawyers,” or “a cadre of sportswriters.” More specifically, cadre can also be used for a group of people who are trained in a role or task, and who in turn can train others. // A small but influential cadre of students ultimately persuaded their peers and then the administration to change the school’s mascot. // The company was able to stay afloat through the downturn thanks largely to a highly-skilled cadre of workers and technicians with deep institutional memory. See the entry > Examples: “Though Sage has recently begun to embrace a more acoustic sound—whether as a member of the Fuubutsushi jazz quartet or collaborating with a cadre of flutists, slide guitarists, and harmonium players on 2021’s The Wind of Things—here he honors the spirit of the outdoors using the most computerized sounds imaginable.” — Sam Goldner, Pitchfork, 31 May 2023 Did you know? A wise man named Huey Lewis once sang that “it’s hip to be square.” As lexicographers—a hip cadre if ever there was one—we heartily agree with this sentiment, not least because the song (as performed by Lewis and his trusted cadre of bandmates dubbed “the News”) prompts us to ponder an etymological descendent (via French and Italian) of the Latin word for square, quadrum: cadre. Squares being a logical and standard shape for frames (as of window and picture varieties), it’s easy to understand why French speakers and later English speakers adopted cadre as a word meaning “frame.” A sense of cadre referring to a metaphorical framework for something (such as a novel or curriculum) soon developed. And if you consider a group of officers in a military regiment as the framework that holds things together for the unit, you’ll understand how yet another sense of cadre, referring to a nucleus of trained personnel, arose. Military leaders and their troops are well-trained and work together as a unified team, which may explain why cadre is now sometimes used more generally to refer to any group of people who have some kind of unifying characteristic—such as a belief in the heart of rock and roll, or perhaps the power of love.
10/26/20232 minutes, 49 seconds
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extraneous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 25, 2023 is: extraneous • \ek-STRAY-nee-us\  • adjective Something described as extraneous does not form a necessary part of something else, and may also therefore be considered irrelevant or unimportant (as in “extraneous details”). // The woman who reported the robbery kept bringing up extraneous facts, such as what she'd had for lunch. See the entry > Examples: “Free of frippery and extraneous decorative details, the roughly 4,500-square-foot loft is a pure expression of the bold geometries, expert craftsmanship, and premium materials for which Gwathmey is renowned.” — Mark David, Robb Report, 22 Aug. 2023 Did you know? We’d hate to be extra, so we won’t weigh you down with a lot of extraneous information about the word extraneous. Instead, we’ll tell you that it has been a part of the English language since at least the mid-1600s, and that it comes from the Latin word extrāneus, which means “not belonging to one’s family or household; external.” Extrāneus—a combination of the Latin adverb/preposition extrā  (“outside” or “beyond”) and adjective suffix -āneus—is also the root of the English words strange and estrange; its influence is even more obvious in the Spanish adjective extraño, meaning “strange.” The “outside/beyond” senses of extrā are also evident in non-extraneous English words like extraterrestrial, which refers to a creature originating from “outside” planet Earth, and extrajudicial, which describes something “beyond” what is allowed by a court.
10/25/20232 minutes, 13 seconds
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regale

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 24, 2023 is: regale • \rih-GAIL\  • verb Regale is a somewhat formal word that means “to entertain or amuse by telling stories, describing experiences, etc.” It is often followed by with. // He regaled his party guests with stories of his adventures abroad. See the entry > Examples: “She'll [Shanti Pierce] bring loads of bamboo pieces and parts for people to create take-home art. Nudge her only slightly and she will regale you with stories of bamboo art contests, the health and medicinal benefits of bamboo and even the documented sensory benefits of youngsters working with bamboo.” — Brian Blair, The Republic (Columbus, Indiana), 17 Aug. 2023 Did you know? Regale has been an English verb since the early half of the 1600s, having been adapted from the French word régaler. That word traces back to the Middle French verb galer, which means “to have a good time.” (Gala, meaning “a festive celebration,” is from the same source.) Today, regale still applies when someone is entertaining or amusing another, especially by sharing stories. Regale also sometimes functions as a noun meaning “a sumptuous feast.” An early use of the noun appears in the preface to a 1732 dramatic poem by George Granville: “An English stomach … will rise hungry from a regale of nothing but sweet-meats.”
10/24/20231 minute, 53 seconds
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threshold

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 23, 2023 is: threshold • \THRESH-hohld\  • noun A threshold is a piece of wood, metal, or stone that lies across the base of a doorway. In figurative use, threshold refers to the point or level at which something begins or changes. // As he stepped across the threshold a chorus of friends yelled "surprise!" // If your income rises above a certain threshold, your tax rate also rises. See the entry > Examples: "First out of the kitchen was a plate of five breaded chicken tenders bathed in Nashville-style hot sauce. ... And these tenders indeed packed a wallop, although the spiciness never quite reached my threshold of pain." — Grub Scout, The Knoxville (Tennessee) News-Sentinel, 30 Mar. 2022 Did you know? Whenever you leave your home, walk from one room to another, or enter a building, you are crossing a threshold—that is, the horizontal floor piece that you cross over whenever you move through a doorway. But the earliest uses of threshold refer to a different type of boundary: an Old English translation of Boethius’s De consolatione philosophiae uses the word in a sentence about how the sea was made so that it didn’t overstep the "threshold," or boundary, of the earth. In this translation, which was written around 888, threshold appears as þeorscwold (that first letter is called thorn and it was used in Old English and Middle English to indicate the sounds produced by th in thin and this). The origins of this Old English word are not known, though it is believed to be related to the Old English word threscan, from which we get the words thresh, meaning "to separate seed from (a harvested plant) using a machine or tool" and thrash, meaning, among other things, "to beat soundly with or as if with a stick or whip." But there's nothing in the historical record that directly ties threshing to the threshold.
10/23/20232 minutes, 5 seconds
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beholden

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 22, 2023 is: beholden • \bih-HOHL-dun\  • adjective Beholden is a formal adjective that describes someone as having obligations to someone or something else, often (but not always) to return a favor or gift. Beholden is usually followed by to. // She works for herself, and so is beholden to no one. // Many believe the government is overfull with politicians who are beholden to special interest groups. See the entry > Examples: “We are living through an information revolution. The traditional gatekeepers of knowledge—librarians, journalists and government officials—have largely been replaced by technological gatekeepers—search engines, artificial intelligence chatbots and social media feeds. Whatever their flaws, the old gatekeepers were, at least on paper, beholden to the public. The new gatekeepers are fundamentally beholden only to profit and to their shareholders. That is about to change, thanks to a bold experiment by the European Union.” — Julia Angwin, The New York Times, 14 July 2023 Did you know? To behold something is to perceive or gaze upon it—therefore, to be beholden is to be seen or observed, right? Not so fast! It’s true that behold and beholden share the same Old English roots, and also that beholden originated as the past participle of behold, whose original meaning was “to hold or retain.” But the two words weaved and wended their way down different paths into present-day English. Behold had settled into its “perceive, see” use by the 12th century. Meanwhile, beholden was called into duty as the “indebted, obligated” adjective we know today by the 14th century, as evidenced by its appearance in the Middle-English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In the ensuing years, beholden has continued to describe people who are obligated to others (often for a favor or gift), as well as people or things that are in figurative debt due to aid or inspiration, as in “many contemporary books and films are beholden to old Arthurian legends.”
10/22/20232 minutes, 41 seconds
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inculcate

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 21, 2023 is: inculcate • \in-KUL-kayt\  • verb Inculcate is a formal word that has to do with teaching and persuading especially by frequent repetition. If you inculcate someone, you gradually cause the person to fully understand something. If you inculcate an ideal, practice, or behavior in someone, you impress it upon them. // The teacher inculcated in her students the importance of good study habits. // The students were inculcated with a sense of responsibility. See the entry > Examples: “For the past 50 years, boosters of the cable industry made the case that the marketplace could deliver for American consumers and citizens. But the pursuit of profits has resulted in cable news networks that overwhelmingly appeal to viewers’ worst impulses, overrunning efforts to inculcate good citizenship.” — Kathryn Cramer Brownell, The Atlantic, 13 Aug. 2023 Did you know? Sometimes before a lesson sinks in, you’ve got to go over it in your mind for a long time. The same is true for when you want to make a path: you have to walk over it again and again. The connection between walking and learning is at the heart of inculcate, which comes from a form of the Latin verb inculcare, meaning “to tread on.” In Latin, inculcare possesses both literal and figurative meanings, referring to either the act of walking over something or to that of impressing something upon the mind, often by way of steady repetition. It is the figurative sense that survives with inculcate, which was first used in English in the 16th century. Since then, the word has kept the meaning of impressing facts, ideas, or ideals on someone through repetition. If you have trouble remembering inculcate’s definition, you may find it helpful to know that it’s a synonym of the word instill (“to impart gradually”), which shares the Latin prefix in-.
10/21/20232 minutes, 23 seconds
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dubious

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 20, 2023 is: dubious • \DOO-bee-us\  • adjective A dubious person lacks a definite opinion or is doubtful about something; this sense of the word is usually used with about. Dubious can also describe something that causes doubt, uncertainty, or suspicion. In phrases like “dubious honor” and “dubious distinction” it functions ironically to describe something bad or undesirable as if it were an honor or achievement. // I was dubious about the chances that our gamble would pay off. // Jesse made the dubious claim that he could eat a whole watermelon in one sitting; then we sat in awe and watched him do it. See the entry > Examples: “A professional thrift shopper claims that a rare assortment of VHS tapes could help people pay off their debt—and now her video is going viral. ... She goes on to cite such tapes as a 1983 VHS of ‘Rocky,’ a 1986 VHS of ‘Back to the Future,’ the first three ‘Chucky’ movies and a first print VHS of ‘Star Wars’—all of which sold, she claims, for thousands of dollars in ‘legitimate’ eBay sales. However, many TikTok commenters were dubious of these listings and their sales.” — Cassie Morris, InTheKnow.com, 8 Sept. 2023 Did you know? Pop music pop quiz—which musical act had a hit with the song “Ooby Dooby”: 1950s rock-and-roll legend Roy Orbison or 1970s soft rock groovers the Doobie Brothers? Perhaps you’re dubious that the Doobies would do “Ooby Dooby.” Too obvious. On the other hand, Orbison may represent the more dubious choice if you’re an “Ooby Dooby” newbie. Regardless of which way you waffle, however, we think you’ll appreciate dubious as a word that does double duty, meaning both “uncertain or doubtful” (as in “dubious that the Doobies would do…”) and “giving rise to uncertainty as to outcome, quality, or nature” (as in “dubious choice”). And we know without a doubt that dubious comes from the Latin verb dubare, meaning “to hesitate in choice of opinions or courses,” which in turn shares roots with the Latin word duo, meaning “two.” Oh, and if you’re still of two minds about our music quiz, the answer is Orbison.
10/20/20232 minutes, 44 seconds
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quintessence

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 19, 2023 is: quintessence • \kwin-TESS-unss\  • noun Quintessence is a formal word that can refer to the most typical or perfect example of something, or the most important part of something. // Roasting marshmallows over an open fire and making s’mores is the quintessence of camping in the great outdoors. // The quintessence of music is the melody. See the entry > Examples: "The stories read like the quintessence of the human imagination in its densest, strangest form, as if his language were a thick, sweet concentrate of the creativity that other writers dilute to a sippable weakness. The comparison with Kafka misses much of [Bruno] Schulz’s surreal humour and vivacity; the writer of whom he reminds me most is Maurice Sendak, with his bewitching childhood worlds filled with galumphing, unpredictable adults." — Joe Moshenska, The Guardian (London), 14 May 2023 Did you know? Long ago, when people believed that everything was made up of four elements—earth, air, fire, and water—they thought the stars and planets were made up of yet another element. In the Middle Ages, people called this element by its Medieval Latin name, quinta essentia, literally, "fifth essence." They believed the quinta essentia was essential to all kinds of matter, and if they could somehow isolate it, it would cure all disease. People have since given up on that idea, but English users have kept quintessence, the offspring of quinta essentia, as a word for the purest essence of a thing. Some modern physicists have given quintessence a new twist—they use it to refer to a form of the dark energy believed to make up almost 70 percent of the energy in the observable universe.
10/19/20232 minutes, 16 seconds
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omnipotent

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 18, 2023 is: omnipotent • \ahm-NIP-uh-tunt\  • adjective Omnipotent is a formal word describing someone or something as having complete or unlimited power. // History is replete with examples that reveal the dangers of having an omnipotent ruler. See the entry > Examples: "AI is not omnipotent (yet). AI-generated products may perpetuate gender, racial and cultural stereotypes or lead to product homogenization. Moreover, the product development cycle could lose the human element that provides diversity, authenticity and emotional connection to consumers. It’s also not yet apparent how copyright issues will be handled." — Pavel Podkorytov, Forbes, 2 Aug. 2023 Did you know? The word omnipotent made its way into English through Anglo-French, but it ultimately comes from a combination of the Latin prefix omni-, meaning "all," and the word potens, meaning "potent." The omni- prefix has also given us similar words such as omniscient (meaning "all-knowing") and omnivorous (describing one that eats both plants and animals). Although omnipotent is most often used in general contexts to mean "having virtually unlimited authority or influence" (as in "an omnipotent ruler"), it was originally applied specifically to the power held by an almighty deity. The word has been used as an English adjective since the 14th century, and since the 16th century it has also been used as a noun referring to one who is omnipotent.
10/18/20232 minutes, 5 seconds
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omnipotent

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 18, 2023 is: omnipotent • \ahm-NIP-uh-tunt\  • adjective Omnipotent is a formal word describing someone or something as having complete or unlimited power. // History is replete with examples that reveal the dangers of having an omnipotent ruler. See the entry > Examples: "AI is not omnipotent (yet). AI-generated products may perpetuate gender, racial and cultural stereotypes or lead to product homogenization. Moreover, the product development cycle could lose the human element that provides diversity, authenticity and emotional connection to consumers. It’s also not yet apparent how copyright issues will be handled." — Pavel Podkorytov, Forbes, 2 Aug. 2023 Did you know? The word omnipotent made its way into English through Anglo-French, but it ultimately comes from a combination of the Latin prefix omni-, meaning "all," and the word potens, meaning "potent." The omni- prefix has also given us similar words such as omniscient (meaning "all-knowing") and omnivorous (describing one that eats both plants and animals). Although omnipotent is most often used in general contexts to mean "having virtually unlimited authority or influence" (as in "an omnipotent ruler"), it was originally applied specifically to the power held by an almighty deity. The word has been used as an English adjective since the 14th century, and since the 16th century it has also been used as a noun referring to one who is omnipotent.
10/18/20232 minutes, 5 seconds
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mollycoddle

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 17, 2023 is: mollycoddle • \MAH-lee-kah-dul\  • verb When you mollycoddle someone, you are treating that person with an excessive or absurd degree of indulgence or attention. // The newborn cub at the wildlife park enjoys being mollycoddled by its mother. See the entry > Examples: “Former Barnsley and Leeds United manager Heckingbottom has never been one to mollycoddle players and he says it is up to the individuals concerned to ensure they are getting the fitness work they need if his attention is dragged elsewhere.” — Stuart Rayner, Yorkshire Post (England), 17 Jan. 2023 Did you know? Coddling eggs is delicate business. You need to cook them slowly and gently, keeping the water just below boiling. Given how carefully you need to treat the eggs, it's not surprising that some believe the cooking sense of coddle led to the sense meaning “to treat with excessive care or kindness.” Another source is possible though: the “pamper” coddle may be linked to caudle, a curative drink of yore made usually of warm ale or wine mixed with bread or gruel, eggs, sugar, and spices. Regardless, mollycoddle was formed by combining the “pamper” sense of coddle with Molly, a nickname for Mary. In its earliest known uses in the mid-1800s, mollycoddle was a noun, a disparaging and now-dated synonym of our modern wimp. But in short time, it was being used as the verb you're likely to encounter today.
10/17/20232 minutes, 4 seconds
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acronym

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 16, 2023 is: acronym • \AK-ruh-nim\  • noun An acronym is a word formed from the first letter or letters of each one of the words in a phrase. // They came up with the perfect acronym, WORDS, as a name for their spelling team by using the first letters of each of their names: William, Owen, Rosie, Diana, and Sam. See the entry > Examples: "Despite the innate human capacity to wander—particularly when bolstered by walking sticks—things will still go wrong. Here are a few of the most common ailments pilgrims will face. Sprained ankles: Follow the RICE acronym to reduce swelling and support healing. Rest: Stop all activity and try not to put any weight on the ankle. Ice: Apply an ice pack—or a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a thin towel—for up to 20 minutes every two to three hours for about two days. Compression: Wrap a bandage around the injury or wear a compression sock to support it. Elevate: Keep it raised as much as possible." — James Jeffrey, CNN, 31 Aug. 2023 Did you know? The word acronym fuses together two combining forms: acr- ("beginning") and -onym ("name" or "word"), both of which trace back to Greek. You may recognize -onym in other familiar (and older) English words, such as pseudonym and synonym. When acronym first entered English in the mid-20th century (likely influenced by or borrowed from the German word Akronym or Akronymon), some usage commentators decreed that it should refer to combinations of initial letters that were pronounced as if they were whole words (such as radar and scuba), and be differentiated from an initialism, which is spoken by pronouncing the component letters (as in FBI and CEO). These days, however, that distinction is largely lost, and acronym is a common label for both types of abbreviation.
10/16/20232 minutes, 24 seconds
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hirsute

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 15, 2023 is: hirsute • \HER-soot\  • adjective Hirsute is a formal word that means “hairy.” It is also often used in humorous contexts to describe someone with a lot of hair on their face or body. Botanists use hirsute to describe plant parts, such as leaves, that are covered in coarse, stiff hairs. // Turner wore a hirsute mask as part of his werewolf costume for the school play. See the entry > Examples: “Outfielder Reggie Jackson, as the story goes, arrived for spring training with a mustache. A few pitchers followed suit, thinking they all would need to shave. Instead, then-A’s owner Charlie Finley offered a $300 bonus to any player who grew a mustache. The result: A World Series between the hirsute A’s and clean-cut Reds was dubbed ‘The Hairs vs. The Squares.’” — Matt Kawahara, SFChronicle.com, 3 June 2022 Did you know? If you’ve seen even one horror movie featuring a werewolf, you likely can recall the classic transformation scene of such films: tufts of hair sprouting from under cuffs and collars, some unfortunate soul’s head suddenly covered by a shaggy, full-face beard. It’s enough to make the hair stand up on the back of your own neck! Werewolves are common hirsute horror antagonists, which is fitting (unlike a werewolf’s clothes) since hirsute and horror share etymological roots. Hirsute entered English in the early 17th century with nearly the same spelling and exactly the same meaning as its Latin parent, hirsutus. Hirsutus, in turn, is a cousin of the Latin verb horrēre, meaning “to bristle.” Horrēre gave rise to the Latin word horrōr-, horror, which has the various meanings of “standing stiffly,” “bristling,” “shivering,” “dread,” and “consternation,” and is the source, via Anglo-French, of our word horror. And if you need a fancy word for the goose bumps you experience watching Lon Chaney in his hirsute suit, may we suggest another hirsute relation, horripilation; its Latin source, the verb horripilāre, means “to shudder,” and was formed from horrēre and pilus (“hair”).
10/15/20232 minutes, 51 seconds
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foliage

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 14, 2023 is: foliage • \FOH-lee-ij\  • noun Foliage refers to the leaves of a plant or of many plants. // The winding river cut its course beneath the thick green foliage of the jungle canopy. See the entry > Examples: "Summer hiking is undeniably breathtaking, but there’s something about the foliage of the fall that secures its spot as the best time of year to get outside and enjoy the beauty of nature." — Merrell Readman, Travel + Leisure, 25 Aug. 2023 Did you know? Whether you’re a casual leaf peeper or a card-carrying botanist, a staunch New Englander or Caribbean beach bum, there’s plenty to love about foliage—though the pronunciation of foliage has long been a point of contention among English speakers. Most commonly accepted is the trisyllabic \FOH-lee-ij\. However, there’s no denying that the pronunciations \FOH-lij\ and even \FOY-lij\ have also staked their claim. The first of these disputed pronunciations is consistent with the pronunciation of the -iage ending in marriage and carriage. The second is often more fiercely denounced, in part because of its association with the nonstandard spelling foilage. But there’s redemption for this estranged pronunciation: foliage traces back to Middle French foille ("leaf"), which is also the source of the English word foil (as in "aluminum foil"). When adopted by Middle English speakers, foil originally meant "leaf." Love it or leaf it, there’s just no taking the "foil" out of foliage.
10/14/20232 minutes, 8 seconds
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circumvent

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 13, 2023 is: circumvent • \ser-kum-VENT\  • verb To circumvent something is to get around it in a clever and sometimes dishonest way, or, if it's a rule or law, to avoid being stopped by it. // We circumvented the technical issues by using a different computer program. See the entry > Examples: “[Adrienne] Finch already had several friends who were making money on YouTube, and following in their footsteps seemed like a way to circumvent several years of early-career dues-paying. So she turned down the Warner Bros. gig and instead took a job with a smaller digital-focused production company, one that would give her the space to build a YouTube following on the side. After a year, she left to focus on YouTube full-time.” — Brian Contreras, The Los Angeles Times, 5 Sept. 2023 Did you know? If you’ve ever felt as if someone was running circles around those trying to get something done, you have an idea of the origins of circumvent—it comes from the Latin word circumventus, a form of the verb circumvenire, meaning “to surround or go around” (circumvenire combines the adverb circum, “in a circle around,” and the verb venire, “to come”). The earliest uses of circumvent referred to a tactic of hunting or warfare in which the quarry or enemy was encircled and captured. This meaning doesn’t exactly square with modern uses of the word. Today, circumvent more often suggests avoidance than entrapment; to come full circle, it typically means to “get around” someone or something, as by evading a problem or avoiding the law.
10/13/20232 minutes, 14 seconds
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gullible

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 12, 2023 is: gullible • \GULL-uh-bul\  • adjective Someone described as gullible is easily fooled or cheated. In other words, they are quick to believe something that is not true. // The store sells overpriced souvenirs to gullible tourists, and no self-respecting local would shop there. See the entry > Examples: “It’s true that reality television has grown to look more and more like The Truman Show in the quarter-century following the film’s release, but even more unnerving, so have we as viewers. In 1998 the movie’s premise provoked dread. Now, though, we find easy humor and comfort in watching shows like it, in seeing a kind but gullible person bumble their way through a fake reality designed to strain credulity.” — Casey Epstein-Gross, Observer.com, 22 June 2023 Did you know? “Let a gull steal my fries once, shame on the gull; let a gull steal my fries twice, shame on me.” So goes the classic, oft-repeated seaside maxim reminding people to guard against being gullible. Okay, that’s not really how the old saw goes, but on the off chance that you believed our little trick, you yourself were, however briefly, gullible—that is, “easily duped.” The adjective gullible grew out of the older verb gull, meaning “to deceive or take advantage of.” (That gull originally meant “to guzzle or gulp greedily,” and comes from an even older gull meaning “throat, gullet.”) Another relative is the noun gull, referring to a person who is easy to cheat. However, no matter how much the seabirds we call gulls love to pilfer our potatoes, that avian gull has no relation, and is instead of Celtic origin—we promise.
10/12/20232 minutes, 15 seconds
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voracity

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 11, 2023 is: voracity • \vuh-RASS-uh-tee\  • noun Voracity refers to an immoderate eagerness or enthusiasm for something, or to an intense desire to eat or consume something. // Elena reads books with a voracity that requires multiple weekly visits to the library. // After ten straight hours of driving, Marv ate his late dinner with a voracity that would impress a wolverine. See the entry > Examples: “Wildfires also emerged at tough-to-control voracity and speed, ravaging hundreds of thousands of acres across southern Europe and the U.S. Pacific Northwest.” — Forbes, 27 Sept. 2021 Did you know? The insatiable word nerds among us will appreciate voracity, a word used to refer to both literal and figurative appetites that simply cannot be quelled. Voracity comes to us (via Middle French) from the Latin word voracitas, which itself comes from the combining of vorax, meaning “voracious,” with -itas, the Latin equivalent of the English noun suffix -ity. Voracity is one of two English words that mean “the quality or state of being voracious.” The other is voraciousness, which was once considered archaic but has made a comeback. Because voracity developed from non-English forerunners, rather than being created in English from voracious (as was voraciousness), the word may strike some English speakers as an unusual formation. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the more familiar-looking voraciousness has reappeared—most likely through a process of reinvention by people unfamiliar with voracity.
10/11/20232 minutes
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berserk

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 10, 2023 is: berserk • \ber-SERK\  • adjective Berserk generally means “markedly out of control due to intense anger or excitement.” It is often used in the phrase go berserk, which can mean either “to become very excited” or “to become very angry and often violent.” // The crowd went wild with berserk fans screaming as the main act finally hit the stage. See the entry > Examples: “The actor made his nightly entrance at the Roxy from the lobby to the stage, belting out the signature tune. … ‘Tim’s entrance was phenomenal,’ recounts David Foster, the Grammy-winning composer and producer, who early in his career was the show’s pianist. ‘The place just went berserk because, of course, he was so much bigger than life.’” — Steve Appleford, The Los Angeles Times, 18 July 2023 Did you know? Combine a bear with a shirt and what do you get? A cuddly, honey-loving, ursine pal, perhaps. Combine the words bear and shirt however, at least in Old Norse, and you get something quite different. Our English word berserk comes from the Old Norse noun berserkr, which is likely a combination of ber- (“bear”) and serkr (“shirt”). According to Norse legend, berserkers were not ones to say “Oh bother” when faced with sticky situations—they were warriors who wore bearskin coverings and worked themselves into such frenzies during combat that they became immune to the effects of steel and fire. Berserk was borrowed into English (first as a noun referring to such a warrior) in the 19th century, when interest in Scandinavian myth and history was high. It was considered a slang term at first, but it has since gained broader use.
10/10/20232 minutes, 15 seconds
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juncture

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 9, 2023 is: juncture • \JUNK-cher\  • noun Juncture refers to an important point in a process or activity, or to a junction, that is, a place where things join. // "At this juncture in the editing process," said Philip, "it is important that all facts have been double-checked and sources verified." // At the juncture of the two rivers sits a large beaver's dam. See the entry > Examples: "At a key juncture in the play, the visual environment is transformed into rippling waves of energy that creates a dreamlike effect." — Don Aucoin, The Boston Globe, 21 July 2023 Did you know? Join us as we journey into the history of juncture, a word that’s neither junky nor janky, but just dandy. Juncture comes from the Latin verb jungere ("to join") and has many English relatives including not only join and junction but also conjugal ("relating to marriage") and junta ("a group of persons controlling a government"). The use of juncture in English dates back to the 14th century, when it meant "a place where two or more things are joined." By the 17th century it could also refer to an important point in a process or activity.
10/9/20231 minute, 33 seconds
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obtain

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 8, 2023 is: obtain • \ub-TAYN\  • verb To obtain something is to gain or get it usually by planned action or effort, as opposed to chance, purchase, or another method. // The experiment was designed to obtain more accurate data about weather patterns. See the entry > Examples: “Declining species, like spotted owls, may be hard to see, but recordings may help document the numbers of the species. ‘There’s an acute need to obtain more sound recordings of many species, of the dawn chorus and sounds at night,’ Benner says. He uses recordings of red crossbills to understand the populations of that species, a type of finch, that occur in Southern California and in the Sierra Nevada.” — Dakota Kim, The Los Angeles Times, 10 Aug. 2023 Did you know? If you have difficulty choosing whether to use obtain or attain in a sentence, don’t worry, we get it. Both can mean “to get” or “to acquire,” and in some situations can be used synonymously, but one or the other might be more appropriate depending on what is being acquired and how. One clue is their respective etymologies: obtain comes to us via Anglo-French from the Latin verb obtinēre, meaning “to hold on to, possess,” while attain’s Anglo-French ancestor is ateindre, meaning “to reach” or “to accomplish.” Accordingly, obtain is usually the word used when you are acquiring, by planned effort, a tangible object—something you can hold. “We are having trouble obtaining the supplies we need” sounds natural, for example, while “Have you attained the sugar and flour I asked for?” does not. Reflecting its roots (and also implying effort), attain is often used in the same way as achieve, as in “After decades of hard work she attained her goal of earning a PhD.” Of course, one can also obtain intangible things, such as power or information, so consider this advice something to hold onto and consider when the moment arises—you needn’t cling to it.
10/8/20232 minutes, 35 seconds
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portentous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 7, 2023 is: portentous • \por-TEN-tuss\  • adjective Portentous is a formal and literary term that describes something that gives a sign or warning that something (and usually something bad or unpleasant) is going to happen. It can also describe the pompous attitude or behavior of someone who is trying to seem important, serious, or impressive. // Edgar Allen Poe’s stories are filled with portentous foreshadowing. // The author's portentous speech was long and tedious and peppered with anecdotes about brushes with fame. See the entry > Examples: “Let me begin with the rainstorm. My Much Better Half and I are having our kitchen and downstairs guest bathroom remodeled. ‘Don’t expect smooth sailing,’ we were forewarned. This proved a portentous metaphor because returning from my daily run I opened the front door and found myself in need of a boat. While I was out, a worker clogged and broke the toilet … and it runneth over continuously for an hour or more.” — Woody Woodburn, Ventura County (California) Star, 11 Aug. 2023 Did you know? “If it wasn’t for bad luck / You know I wouldn’t have no luck at all.” So sang Albert King on the 1967 song “Born Under a Bad Sign,” written by Booker T. Jones (of Booker T. and the MG’s) and soul singer William Bell. He may have been singing about the ominous portent of being born during an unfavorable astrological alignment, but the classic tune became a standard of the blues. Portents are also at the heart of the adjective portentous, which describes things forewarning future events—usually events of the bad luck variety. Both portent and portentous come from the Latin noun portentum, meaning “omen or sign.” Since entering English in the 15th century, portentous has picked up additional senses, including “grave, solemn, significant” (as in “burdened with making portentous decisions”), which was added to our dictionary in 1934. It’s more recently moved into less estimable semantic territory, describing both the pompous and the excessive.
10/7/20232 minutes, 34 seconds
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portentous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 7, 2023 is: portentous • \por-TEN-tuss\  • adjective Portentous is a formal and literary term that describes something that gives a sign or warning that something (and usually something bad or unpleasant) is going to happen. It can also describe the pompous attitude or behavior of someone who is trying to seem important, serious, or impressive. // Edgar Allan Poe’s stories are filled with portentous foreshadowing. // The author's portentous speech was long and tedious and peppered with anecdotes about brushes with fame. See the entry > Examples: “Let me begin with the rainstorm. My Much Better Half and I are having our kitchen and downstairs guest bathroom remodeled. ‘Don’t expect smooth sailing,’ we were forewarned. This proved a portentous metaphor because returning from my daily run I opened the front door and found myself in need of a boat. While I was out, a worker clogged and broke the toilet … and it runneth over continuously for an hour or more.” — Woody Woodburn, Ventura County (California) Star, 11 Aug. 2023 Did you know? “If it wasn’t for bad luck / You know I wouldn’t have no luck at all.” So sang Albert King on the 1967 song “Born Under a Bad Sign,” written by Booker T. Jones (of Booker T. and the MG’s) and soul singer William Bell. He may have been singing about the ominous portent of being born during an unfavorable astrological alignment, but the classic tune became a standard of the blues. Portents are also at the heart of the adjective portentous, which describes things forewarning future events—usually events of the bad luck variety. Both portent and portentous come from the Latin noun portentum, meaning “omen or sign.” Since entering English in the 15th century, portentous has picked up additional senses, including “grave, solemn, significant” (as in “burdened with making portentous decisions”), which was added to our dictionary in 1934. It’s more recently moved into less estimable semantic territory, describing both the pompous and the excessive.
10/7/20232 minutes, 34 seconds
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demarcate

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 6, 2023 is: demarcate • \dih-MAHR-kayt\  • verb To demarcate something is to fix or define its limits or edges. // Treaty negotiations are underway, and both parties have agreed to accept whatever boundaries are demarcated in that document. See the entry > Examples: "In the 15th century, farmers on the North Atlantic isle began to mold the severe ecosystem of its coastal plains, building thousands of small, soil-free vineyards and demarcating their boundaries with the black stones of its fiery past." — Shoshi Parks, Smithsonian Magazine, 9 Aug. 2023 Did you know? It’s reasonable to assume that demarcate inspired the noun demarcation—many a noun has been formed by adding the suffix -ion to an existing verb. But in this case you'd also be wrong; demarcation came first, with the verb demarcate following as a back-formation. We can ultimately thank Spanish for both: the Spanish noun demarcación (from demarcar, "to delimit") was used in 1493 to name a meridian dividing New World territory between Spain and Portugal. (A Spanish-born pope chose a meridian that favored Spain greatly.) Centuries later, English speakers began calling this boundary the "line of demarcation," and eventually applied that phrase to other dividing lines as well. By the early 19th century, demarcation had been verbified to create demarcate.
10/6/20231 minute, 54 seconds
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aficionado

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 5, 2023 is: aficionado • \uh-fish-ee-uh-NAH-doh\  • noun Aficionado is a synonym of devotee and refers to someone who both likes and knows a lot about a given interest or subject. // Mickey’s brother, an aficionado of jazz, was a regular at the downtown clubs and often bought new records on the day they were released. See the entry > Examples: "The love of coffee for Ezra Coffee founder Jessica Taylor blossomed early during a visit with her grandparents. 'I've been loving coffee ever since my sister and I started drinking it with our grandfather. We were seven and five years old,' recalls Taylor about how the sisters’ curiosity for the beverage their grandfather was drinking led to a whole new world of flavor. 'By the time our parents came to pick us up, we had our pinkies up, we had our little mugs, we were coffee aficionados,' laughs the entrepreneur, whose passion for java continued into adulthood." — Jocelyn Amador, CuisineNoirMag.com, 29 Aug. 2023 Did you know? Before there were nerds, geeks, stans, fanboys, or fangirls, there were aficionados. But not long before, relatively speaking. English borrowed aficionado in the early 1800s directly from Spanish, making a noun out of the past participle of the Spanish verb aficionar, which means "to inspire affection." Nerd, geek, and the rest can sometimes imply that the devotee in question is overdoing their ardor, but aficionado (which traces further back to the same Latin ancestor that gave us the English word affection) is a more neutral descriptor for someone with an abiding and thoughtful devotion to an interest or activity.
10/5/20232 minutes, 14 seconds
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splenetic

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 4, 2023 is: splenetic • \splih-NET-ik\  • adjective Splenetic is a formal word that typically describes expressions of sharp annoyance and anger. // The newspaper publisher's splenetic editorials often struck fear into local politicians. See the entry > Examples: "A strange combination of intricate, almost sci-fi-inflected psychological thriller, splenetic social-breakdown broadside and two-hander (torture) chamber drama, it is an exercise in bravura filmmaking applied to a story so relentlessly grim you might wish it were a little less well-made, giving you an excuse to look away." — Jessica Kiang, Variety, 8 Sept. 2022 Did you know? To vent one’s spleen is to express anger. There are healthy ways of doing this, of course, but vent too much of your spleen, or vent it too often, and you may be accused of being splenetic. Both spleen and splenetic trace back to the Latin word splen, which refers to the bodily organ responsible for storing and filtering blood, among other functions. So why the association with anger? In early Western physiology, a person's physical qualities and mental disposition were believed to be determined by the proportion of four bodily humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. The last of these was believed to be secreted by the spleen, and to cause feelings and dispositions ranging from intense sadness (melancholia) to anger and violent temper—hence splenetic. In later years, the "melancholy" sense fell out of use (and the theory of the humors was discredited), but the "angry" sense of splenetic remains with us today.
10/4/20232 minutes, 11 seconds
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faze

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 3, 2023 is: faze • \FAYZ\  • verb To faze someone is to disturb their composure. Faze is a synonym of disconcert and daunt. // My grandfather was a stolid individual who was not easily fazed by life's troubles. See the entry > Examples: "The Patriots apparently weren’t fazed that their 6-2, 185-pound receiver reportedly had the thinnest wrists in the 2022 draft at 6⅛ inches." — Ben Volin, The Boston Globe, 8 Aug. 2023 Did you know? If you're hazy on faze, let us filter out the fuzz. Faze (not to be confused with phase) first appeared in English in the early 1800s with the same meaning we give it today: to disturb the composure of. Its appearance came centuries after the works of Shakespeare and Chaucer were penned, but both of those authors were familiar with the word's ancient parent, the now-rare verb feeze, which has been in use since the days of Old English (in the form fēsian), when it meant "to drive away" or "to put to flight." By the 1400s, it was also being used with the meaning "to frighten or put into a state of alarm," a sense close to that of the modern faze. While it is possible to use faze in constructions like "I felt fazed by the prospect of starting at a new school," it more often appears with negation, as in "it didn’t faze her a bit” or “nothing fazes him."
10/3/20232 minutes
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confection

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 2, 2023 is: confection • \kun-FEK-shun\  • noun Confection usually refers to a sweet prepared food item made to be eaten as a treat, but it can also refer to the act or process of confecting something—in other words, preparing or assembling it. In addition, confection can refer to a medical preparation usually made with sugar, syrup, or honey; a work of fine or elaborate craftmanship; or a light but entertaining theatrical, cinematic, or literary work. // Their mouths watered at the sight of the delicious cakes and other confections. See the entry > Examples: “He’s famous for liking corn, but right now, all Tariq can think about is cotton candy. The spun sugary confection was awaiting him in the kitchen, an award he said was promised to him by his mother Jessica for sitting through an interview with USA TODAY.” — Eric Lagatta, USA Today, 11 June 2023 Did you know? As a wise blue monster with a famous sweet tooth once noted, “c” is for cookie. And sure, that’s good enough for us, but sometimes the moment calls for a wide variety of delectables, not just cookies. In such times, you might remember that “c” is also for confection. Confection is a word that refers to something confected—that is, put together—from several different ingredients or elements. Often confections are sweet and edible, but confection can also be used to refer to a finely worked piece of craftsmanship. In other words, the lacy box containing chocolate confections can be a confection itself. Tracing back to the Latin verb conficere (“to carry out, perform, make, bring about, collect, bring to completion”), confection entered Middle English as the word confeccioun, meaning “preparation by mixing ingredients; something prepared by mixing, such as a medicine or dish of food,” and has since taken on additional, often figurative meanings in English in the ensuing centuries, as in “the beloved musical confection ‘C is for Cookie.’”
10/2/20232 minutes, 37 seconds
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echt

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 1, 2023 is: echt • \EKHT\  • adjective Echt is an adjective used mostly in formal or literary speech and writing as a synonym of authentic, genuine, and true. // An echt New Englander wouldn’t dream of putting tomatoes in their clam chowder. See the entry > Examples: “There is a version of ‘Tao’—call it the best piece of theater we never saw—that would have featured [Philip] Glass playing piano alongside the action onstage. But early in development, the idea was shot down by his manager; Glass just didn’t have the time. But his score is a substantial, crucial contribution. This is late Glass—far from the echt Minimalist sound of ‘Glassworks’…” — Joshua Barone, The New York Times, 31 Mar. 2023 Did you know? When it comes to uncommon-but-nifty words, echt is true-blue, the real deal, the genuine article. (Actually it’s an adjective, not an article, of course—but you get the drift.) The earliest known use of echt—a synonym of true and genuine—in English is credited to playwright George Bernard Shaw, who used the word in a 1916 journal article. Shaw borrowed echt directly from German, but since then others have also adapted the Yiddish word ekht, meaning “true to form.” Both the German echt and Yiddish ekht share the same Middle High German source, both contributed to the English echt, and both, therefore, are the real (etymological) McCoy.
10/1/20232 minutes, 4 seconds
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palmy

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 30, 2023 is: palmy • \PAH-mee\  • adjective Palmy describes something that is flourishing or marked by prosperity, or something that is abounding in or bearing palms. // They knew her in her palmy days when she was living high. // They moved to a palmy suburb with lots of new homes and parks. See the entry > Examples: “The newspaper industry will survive, and golfers are in no danger of becoming an extinct species. Still, in both cases, the palmy days are probably long gone. Advertising revenues that largely sustained the press have been diverted to the upstart media of a digitized world, while the leisurely pace of golf proves increasingly out of step with the modern hurly-burly.” — James Gill, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 6 May 2022 Did you know? Our language became a smidge more prosperous the day palmy first waved “hello.” As the palm branch has traditionally been used as a symbol of victory, so did the word palm come to mean “victory” or “triumph” in the late 14th century, thanks to the likes of Geoffrey Chaucer. Centuries later, William Shakespeare would employ palmy as a synonym for triumphant or flourishing in the tragedy Hamlet when the character Horatio speaks of the “palmy state of Rome / A little ere the mightiest Julius fell.” That use remains somewhat common, and English speakers have since dug back into palmy’s vegetal roots to develop the also familiar sense of “abounding in or bearing palms,” as in “palmy beaches.”
9/30/20232 minutes, 3 seconds
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coax

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 29, 2023 is: coax • \KOHKS\  • verb To coax a person or animal is to influence or persuade them to do something by talking in a gentle and friendly way. Coax can also be used when someone is working to bring about something desired with great perseverance and usually with considerable effort. // It took almost an hour to coax the cat down from the tree. // Our outdoor survival instructor taught us how to coax a fire to burn by blowing on it. See the entry > Examples: “We glimpse their lives through the eyes of Eva (Flomaria Papadaki), a young newcomer who’s joined the dance troupe after fleeing small-town life in Poland. … Eva is more inhibited than the others, and Kalia manages to slowly coax her out of her shell, showing her the ropes of a profession offering escape for both the dancers and their drunken spectators.” — Jordan Mintzer, The Hollywood Reporter, 11 Aug. 2023 Did you know? In days of yore, if you wanted to call someone a sap or a dupe, the word cokes was it, what you wanted, the real thing: to make a cokes of someone was to make a fool of them. This now-obsolete noun is believed to be the source of the verb coax. However, the earliest known sense of the verb, appearing in the late 16th century, was not “to make a fool of” (this meaning came later) but rather something sweeter: “to pet or caress; to treat lovingly.” As such an act of coaxing (or “cokesing”) was sometimes done for personal gain or favor, the word soon came to be used to refer to influencing or persuading people by kind acts or words. By the 19th century, the spelling cokes had fallen out of use, along with the meanings “to make a fool of” and “to treat lovingly.”
9/29/20232 minutes, 10 seconds
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fervid

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 28, 2023 is: fervid • \FER-vid\  • adjective Fervid is a somewhat formal word describing people or things that express, or are expressive of, strong feelings. // Many of the movie franchise’s most fervid fans camped outside of theaters for days leading up to the new installment’s opening night. See the entry > Examples: “Unabashed pop groups with fervid teenage followings tend to get trivialized, at least in the media. They’re dismissed as being slick and calculated and superficial. But there’s a story in ‘Wham!,’ the new Netflix documentary about the quintessential pop duo of the 1980s, that testifies to what a chancy and audacious artist George Michael was even back in his teen-idol days.” — Owen Gleiberman, Variety, 8 July 2023 Did you know? If you’ve ever felt as if your emotions were going to boil over, whether you were overly bubbly or, less happily, you needed to simmer down over something, you should have no trouble understanding the roots of fervid. Fervid comes from the Latin verb fervēre, meaning “to boil” or “to glow,” as well as, by extension, “to seethe” or “to be roused.” In English, this root gave us not only fervid but the similar-sounding and practically synonymous word fervent. But while fervid usually suggests warm emotion that is expressed in a spontaneous or feverish manner (as in “fervid basketball fans”), fervent is reserved for a kind of emotional warmth that is steady and sincere (as in “a fervent belief in human kindness”). Fervid fans of kimchi or sauerkraut (or fervent followers of anything fermented), may appreciate that fervēre is also the root of ferment.
9/28/20232 minutes, 10 seconds
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fervid

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 28, 2023 is: fervid • \FER-vid\  • adjective Fervid is a somewhat formal word describing people or things that express, or are expressive of, strong feelings. // Many of the movie franchise’s most fervid fans camped outside of theaters for days leading up to the new installment’s opening night. See the entry > Examples: “Unabashed pop groups with fervid teenage followings tend to get trivialized, at least in the media. They’re dismissed as being slick and calculated and superficial. But there’s a story in ‘Wham!,’ the new Netflix documentary about the quintessential pop duo of the 1980s, that testifies to what a chancy and audacious artist George Michael was even back in his teen-idol days.” — Owen Gleiberman, Variety, 8 July 2023 Did you know? If you’ve ever felt as if your emotions were going to boil over, whether you were overly bubbly or, less happily, you needed to simmer down over something, you should have no trouble understanding the roots of fervid. Fervid comes from the Latin verb fervēre, meaning “to boil” or “to glow,” as well as, by extension, “to seethe” or “to be roused.” In English, this root gave us not only fervid but the similar-sounding and practically synonymous word fervent. But while fervid usually suggests warm emotion that is expressed in a spontaneous or feverish manner (as in “fervid basketball fans”), fervent is reserved for a kind of emotional warmth that is steady and sincere (as in “a fervent belief in human kindness”). Fervid fans of kimchi or sauerkraut (or fervent followers of anything fermented), may appreciate that fervēre is also the root of ferment.
9/28/20232 minutes, 10 seconds
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nepotism

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 27, 2023 is: nepotism • \NEP-uh-tiz-um\  • noun Nepotism refers to favoritism based on kinship, and especially to the unfair practice of giving jobs and other favors to relatives. // It was strongly believed that nepotism played a role in helping Jessica get the sales manager position at her cousin's store. See the entry > Examples: "Venture to a certain corner of the Internet, and you’ll find an uncanny kind of social satire: that of the wishful work design. There’s the made-up meeting punctuality score, which tells you who among your invitees is most likely to show up to the brainstorm 10 minutes late. Or the fictitious LinkedIn nepotism disclosure, which adds a label to tell you which manager is actually just related to the boss." — Gabriela Riccardi, Quartz, 12 July 2023 Did you know? We happen to have neither Merriams nor Websters on our staff at Merriam-Webster, and familial connections to the company’s founders do not provide an advantage to job applicants. If it were otherwise, we might be accused of nepotism—that is, favoritism based on kinship, especially in professional contexts. English speakers have kept nepotism in the family since the late 1600s, having adopted it from the French, who were inspired by Gregorio Leti's 1667 book Il nipotismo di Roma (English title: The History of the Popes' Nephews). The book explores a practice introduced by Pope Sixtus IV: during his papacy in the late 15th century he granted many special favors to members of his family, in particular to his nephews. This practice of papal favoritism was carried on by his near successors. Today, nepotism is mostly associated with business and politics. In recent informal English use, the shortened form nepo has been hitched to the denigrating term baby to refer especially to celebrities who had a parent (or two) who were also in the entertainment industry.
9/27/20232 minutes, 35 seconds
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grok

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 26, 2023 is: grok • \GRAHK\  • verb To grok something is to understand it both profoundly and intuitively. // She enjoyed the deep discussions in her metaphysics class that helped her grok some of the main themes of Western philosophy. See the entry > Examples: "The thing that marketing teams can’t fully grok is that TikTok interest is organic, growing like a mushroom, sending out spores that germinate and thread through existing cultural ephemera." — Chelsea G. Summers, Vulture, 22 Nov. 2022 Did you know? Grok may be the only English word that derives from Martian. Yes, we do mean the language of the planet Mars. No, we're not getting spacey; we've just ventured into the realm of science fiction. Grok was introduced in Robert A. Heinlein's 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land. The book's main character, Valentine Michael Smith, is a Martian-raised human who comes to Earth as an adult, bringing with him words from his native tongue and a unique perspective on the strange ways of earthlings. Grok was quickly adopted by the youth culture of America and has since peppered the vernacular of those who grok it.
9/26/20231 minute, 38 seconds
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quorum

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 25, 2023 is: quorum • \KWOR-um\  • noun Quorum refers to the smallest number of people who must be present at a meeting in order for official decisions to be made. Broadly speaking, quorum may refer to any select group. // The organization's charter states that a quorum of at least seven board members must be present before any voting can take place. See the entry > Examples: "There has been criticism of several councillors not appearing at committee and council meetings over the last two years forcing some meetings to be cancelled because of a lack of quorum." — Kevin Werner, The Hamilton (Ontario) Mountain News, 14 July 2022 Did you know? It takes two drama queens to tango, three Nervous Nellies to change a lightbulb, and 218 U.S. House Representatives to constitute a formal meeting. Each of these minimums—especially the last one—may be described as a quorum. This word, which can be pluralized as quorums or quora, comes directly from the Latin word quorum, which translates as "of whom." At one time, this Latin quorum was used in the wording of the commissions granting power to justices of the peace in England. Later, when it became an English noun, quorum initially referred to the number of justices of the peace who had to be present to constitute a legally sufficient bench. That sense is now rare, and today quorum is used to refer to the minimum number of people required to be present at a meeting in order for official business to take place. It can also be used more broadly to mean simply "a select group."
9/25/20232 minutes, 5 seconds
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lionize

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 24, 2023 is: lionize • \LYE-uh-nyze\  • verb To lionize someone is to treat them as a person of great interest or importance. // While her name was not attached to her books in her lifetime (she published anonymously), Jane Austen continues two centuries hence to be lionized as one of the English language's greatest novelists. See the entry > Examples: “What I love about this memoir, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2019, is its incredible sense of place. [Sarah M.] Broom’s story is submerged in one of the most lionized—and complex—cities in America: New Orleans. More specifically, she focuses on New Orleans East and the yellow shotgun house that the author’s steadfast mother, Ivory Mae, bought in 1961, and where Broom grew up as the youngest of 12 siblings.” — Isaac Fitzgerald, The Atlantic, 10 Aug. 2022 Did you know? Across time and across cultures—as evidenced from Chauvet-Pont d’Arc’s paintings to The Lion King—lions have captured people’s imaginations. Though the big cats themselves are fascinatingly complex, it’s perhaps no surprise that humans have long projected qualities of bravery and regality upon the proverbial “king of the beasts.” It is precisely those and similar admirable qualities that led, in the 18th century, to lion being used for a person who is similarly well-regarded, especially after a long and distinguished career in a particular field, as in “lion of the Senate,” or “literary lion.” This sense of lion imbues the verb lionize, which first appeared in English in the early 19th century to apply to acts of treating someone as, perhaps, deserving of roaring applause.
9/24/20232 minutes, 9 seconds
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tenebrous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 23, 2023 is: tenebrous • \TEN-uh-brus\  • adjective Tenebrous is a formal word that is often used as a synonym of gloomy. It also can be used to describe dark, unlit places (as in “the tenebrous abyss”) or things that are difficult to understand (as in “a tenebrous tangle of lies”). // The neighborhood children made sure never to approach the abandoned mansion, which sat tenebrous and foreboding at the top of the hill. // A horror film seems incomplete without someone running through a tenebrous forest or alley. See the entry > Examples: “On the heels of Greig Fraser’s spectacular work on Dune, the cinematographer gives the film a moody, tenebrous look to match the tortured pit of Batman’s soul, and production designer James Chinlund’s world-building is first-rate, weaving together elements from real cities and sets to form a Gotham that resembles New York while establishing its own gritty, gothic identity, pulsing with menace and mystery.” — David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, 28 Feb. 2022 Did you know? Tenebrous can mean both “obscure” and “murky,” but its history is crystal clear. Etymologists know that the word comes from the Latin noun tenebrae, meaning “darkness.” Tenebrous has been used in English since the 15th century, and in subsequent centuries has been joined by some interesting and even less common relations. Tenebrionid is the name that may be given to any of at least 20,000 species of mostly nocturnal beetles, also called darkling beetles, many of whom love inhabiting dark places. Tenebrism refers to a style of painting—associated especially with the Italian painter Caravaggio—in which most of the figures are engulfed in shadow while some are dramatically illuminated by concentrated light. And let’s not forget the terrific tenebrific, a tenebrous synonym.
9/23/20232 minutes, 24 seconds
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mesmerize

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 22, 2023 is: mesmerize • \MEZ-muh-ryze\  • verb Mesmerize means "to hold the attention of someone entirely; to interest or amaze someone so much that nothing else is seen or noticed." The word is often used in the phrase "be mesmerized." // The crowd was mesmerized by the flawlessly synchronous movements of the acrobats. See the entry > Examples: "Yep, Ruth [Handler] ended up naming two of her iconic dolls after her kids. The idea for Barbie and Ken stemmed from a family Europe trip in 1956.... Barbara, then still a teenager, saw a doll that looked like an adult woman in a store window in Switzerland and was mesmerized." — Korin Miller, Women's Health, 21 July 2023 Did you know? Experts can’t agree on whether Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) was a quack or a genius, but all concede that the Swabian physician's name is the source of the word mesmerize. In his day, Mesmer was the toast of Paris, where he enjoyed the support of notables including Queen Marie Antoinette. He treated patients with therapeutic procedures (called, appropriately enough, mesmerism) involving what he claimed was a mysterious force termed animal magnetism. (Many believe that mesmerism was what we now call hypnotism). Accordingly, the verb mesmerize was first used to mean "to subject to mesmerism" before broadening to be synonymous with hypnotize, and later to mean "to amaze or captivate."
9/22/20232 minutes, 3 seconds
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regimen

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 21, 2023 is: regimen • \REJ-uh-mun\  • noun Regimen refers to a plan or set of rules about food, exercise, etc., designed to make someone become or stay healthy. // Sherry’s personal trainer at the gym started her on a workout regimen of 30 minutes on the treadmill followed by 30 minutes of weight training. See the entry > Examples: “For those with natural hair, taking on a protective hairstyle is more than an expectation, it’s a symbolic rite of passage. ... That said, tucking your hair into a protective style is not an excuse to completely disregard all hair-care practices. If anything, it's the exact opposite: Establishing an effective hair-care regimen is essential to maximizing and maintaining a protective style, so once it’s removed, both the scalp and hair are healthy and happy.” — Janelle Sessoms, Fashionista.com, 16 June 2023 Did you know? Being but humble lexicographers, we cannot say whether an apple a day truly keeps the doctor away, but as far as regimens go, one could do a lot worse than snackin’ on a McIntosh. Regimen, which usually refers to a system of rules or guidelines—often for living a healthy life or taking a regular dose of exercise—comes ultimately from a Latin verb, regere, meaning “to direct.” Regere led in apple-pie order to the English word regimen, first by way of the Latin noun regimen, meaning “steering” or “control,” and then via the Medieval Latin regimen, referring to a set of rules. Other regere descendants fell further from the tree, including correct, erect, region, rule, and surge. Be sure not to confuse regimen with another of its kin, regiment, which refers to a military unit, as doing so could upset the apple cart.
9/21/20232 minutes, 20 seconds
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churlish

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 20, 2023 is: churlish • \CHUR-lish\  • adjective Churlish is a formal word that means “irritable and rude.” // It would be churlish not to congratulate the winning team because we lost the match. See the entry > Examples: “‘Ted Lasso’ has gradually become more of a light drama than a comedy, but it’s such a pleasant one that it seems churlish to even point this out. In that dramatic vein, the show's depiction of Nate is more compelling than I might have anticipated. The series has never been particularly interested in validating the man-child archetype, but it is interested in how insecurity can manifest itself into toxic behavior and Nate is the epitome of that.” — Nina Metz, The Chicago Tribune, 15 Mar. 2023 Did you know? In Old English, the word ceorl referred to a free peasant—someone who was neither part of the nobility nor enslaved or in debt. In Anglo-Saxon England, which lasted roughly from the 5th to 11th centuries, ceorls had many rights that peasants of lower social status did not, and a few even rose to the rank of thane. However, as most ceorls were driven into the class of unfree villeins over the centuries, especially following the Norman Conquest, the connotation of the word ceorl—spelled cherl in Middle English and then finally churl—diminished as well, eventually coming to mean “a lowly peasant” and later “a rude, ill-bred person.” Similarly, churlish began in the form ceorlisc in Old English as a simple descriptor of someone with the rank of ceorl, but today it describes a boorish person, or their rude and insensitive behavior.
9/20/20232 minutes, 12 seconds
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pontificate

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 19, 2023 is: pontificate • \pahn-TIF-uh-kayt\  • verb To pontificate is to speak or express an opinion about something in a pompous or dogmatic way. // Stan loves to hear himself talk and will often pontificate on even the most trivial issues. See the entry > Examples: "Fact is, you can find good pizza from Memphis to Salt Lake City. But you have to look a lot harder than you do in Orlando. So, stop with this nonsense already. Similarly, let's abandon the absolutes. This place is THE BEST. That place is THE WORST. These things are entirely subjective and ranted about on the internet by a small but exhaustingly vocal contingent of zealots, many of whom I suspect enjoy pontificating far more than they enjoy pizza." — Amy Drew Thompson, The Orlando (Florida) Sentinel, 8 June 2023 Did you know? We hate to drone on, so we’ll give you the TL;DR on pontificate. In ancient Rome, a pontifex (plural pontifices) was a member of an important council of priests. With the rise of Catholicism, the title pontifex was transferred to the Pope and to Catholic bishops. From pontifex, by way of Medieval Latin, comes the English verb pontificate, which in the early 1800s meant “to officiate as a pontiff”—that is, as a bishop or Pope. (Note that the noun pontificate), which refers to the state, office, or term of office of a pontiff had been borrowed directly from Latin in the 15th century.) By the late 1800s, pontificate was also being used derisively for lay individuals who spoke as if they had the authority of a member of the clergy. To this day the word connotes an air of spurious superiority—one might consider this sense of pontificate to be the spiritual forerunner of mansplain.
9/19/20232 minutes, 19 seconds
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zenith

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 18, 2023 is: zenith • \ZEE-nith\  • noun Zenith refers to the strongest or most successful period of time for a person or thing. // At the zenith of her music career in the early 2000s, she released her best-selling album to date. See the entry > Examples: "Once deemed ‘one of the most underrated musicians in rock history’ by David Bowie, John Cale is best known as the viola-scraping Velvet Underground co-founder who grounded the group in the avant-garde. But those years hardly marked a creative zenith for Cale. Since leaving the band in 1968, he has released more than a dozen solo albums, ranging in style from orchestral pop to new wave and punk; collaborated with luminaries like Patti Smith and Brian Eno; and scored numerous films." — Olivia Horn, The New York Times, 18 Aug. 2023 Did you know? When you reach the zenith, you're at the top, the pinnacle, the summit, the peak. Zenith developed from an Arabic phrase meaning "the way over one's head," and then traveled through Old Spanish, Medieval Latin, and Middle French before arriving in English. As long ago as the 1300s, English speakers used zenith to name the highest point in the celestial heavens, directly overhead. By the 1600s, zenith was being used for other high points as well. The celestial term is often contrasted with nadir, which refers to the point that is vertically downward from the observer (imagine a line going through the Earth from the observer's feet and out the other side into the sky). Figuratively, nadir simply means "the lowest point."
9/18/20232 minutes, 11 seconds
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shofar

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 17, 2023 is: shofar • \SHOH-far\  • noun A shofar is the horn of an animal (usually a ram) blown as a trumpet by the ancient Hebrews in battle and during religious observances. It is used in modern Judaism especially during Rosh Hashanah and at the end of Yom Kippur. // As a child, Eli's favorite part of the High Holidays was the sounding of the shofar. See the entry > Examples: "Synagogues will also blow a shofar, a curved ram's horn, during Rosh Hashanah. There are many interpretations of the shofar’s meaning. One is that it represents the biblical story told in Genesis, in which Abraham sacrifices a ram instead of his son, Isaac. Rabbis have also interpreted the loud blast of the shofar as a wake-up call for the new year. [Rabbi Charlie] Schwartz called the sounding of the shofar 'the pinnacle of the Rosh Hashanah service in synagogues.'" — Marina Pitofsky, USA Today, 2 Sept. 2021 Did you know? One of the shofar's original uses was to proclaim the Jubilee year (a year of emancipation of enslaved Jews and restoration of alienated lands to their former owners). Today, it is mainly used in synagogues during the High Holidays. It is blown daily, except on Shabbat, during the month of Elul (the 12th month of the civil year or the 6th month of the ecclesiastical year in the Jewish calendar), and is sounded a number of times during the Rosh Hashanah services, and again at the end of the last service (known as neilah) on Yom Kippur. The custom is to sound the shofar in several series that alternate shorter notes resembling sobbing and wailing with longer unbroken blasts.
9/17/20232 minutes, 11 seconds
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mellifluous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 16, 2023 is: mellifluous • \muh-LIFF-luh-wus\  • adjective Mellifluous is an adjective used in formal speech and writing to describe things with a smooth, flowing sound. It can also be used to mean “filled with something (such as honey) that sweetens,” as in “mellifluous confections.” // Though not so enchanting as the dawn chorus of early spring, Sasha looks forward to the fall, when the woods ring again with mellifluous birdsong. See the entry > Examples: “‘Toni Morrison: Sites of Memory,’ is an homage to the late Pulitzer Prize-winner, but also a walking meditation. The walls act as an altar—the writings, scripts, maps, drafts, letters and photos are thoughtfully placed assemblages that carry Morrison’s spirit. The author’s mellifluous voice, though subtle, echoes throughout the exhibition space, as an edited interview of Morrison at Boston College plays on repeat.” — Felice León, Essence, 2 Mar. 2023 Did you know? Have a bee in your bonnet to learn some mellifluous facts? Sweet—we won’t make you comb for them. Mellifluous comes from two Latin roots: the noun mel, meaning “honey,” and the verb fluere, meaning “to flow.” These linguistic components flowed smoothly together into the Late Latin word mellifluus, then continued on into the Middle English word mellyfluous, before crystallizing into the adjective we employ today. As it has for centuries, mellifluous typically and figuratively describes sound, and is often at the tip of the tongues of writers who proclaim that a voice or melody is smooth like molasses (molasses, like mellifluous, is a descendant of the Latin mel). But mellifluous can also be used to describe edibles and potables, such as wine, with a pronounced note of sweetness.
9/16/20232 minutes, 20 seconds
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demure

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 15, 2023 is: demure • \dih-MYOOR\  • adjective When describing something observed, such as clothing or an attitude, demure means "not attracting or demanding a lot of attention," making it a synonym of reserved and modest. When used to describe a person—it's usually applied to a girl or woman—it typically means "quiet and polite," but it can also describe someone who puts on a show of false modesty, making it a synonym of coy. // It's an elegant gown with a demure neckline. // The girl greeted her parents' dinner party guests with a demure curtsy. See the entry > Examples: "After his wife's near-fall, Harry protectively stopped for a second to make sure she was okay, before they carried on walking to the ceremony. The former Suits actress, who looked elegant and demure in a blue maxi dress, laughed off the near mishap and carried on walking." — Emmy Griffiths, Hello Magazine, 8 June 2023 Did you know? In the nearly seven centuries that demure has been in use, its meaning has only shifted slightly. While it began solely as a descriptive term for people of quiet modesty and sedate reserve—those who don't draw attention to themselves, whether because of a shy nature or determined self-control—it came to be applied also to those whose modesty and reservation is more affectation than sincere expression. While demure sounds French and entered the language at a time when the native tongue of England was borrowing many French words from the Normans, the etymological evidence requires that we exercise restraint: the word's origin remains obscure.
9/15/20232 minutes, 9 seconds
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harbinger

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 14, 2023 is: harbinger • \HAHR-bun-jer\  • noun A harbinger is something that foreshadows, or gives an early indication of, something that will happen in the future. // When the star running back went down with an injury in the team’s first game, it turned out to be the harbinger of a disappointing season. See the entry > Examples: “Whether a subtle whiff of campfire on a cool autumn breeze or the less-than-subtle lure of a pumpkin spice latte, the spicy, savory harbingers of fall spark a shift in the food and wine we crave.” — Anna Lee Iijima, The Chicago Tribune, 14 Sept. 2022 Did you know? In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring, four hobbits—pursued by riders in black—seek safe harbor in the village of Bree. Unbeknownst to the hobbits, the innkeeper of The Prancing Pony, Butterbur, was made aware of their potential arrival by the wizard Gandalf some months prior (“... I was asked to look out for hobbits of the Shire ...”). When you consider the oldest, now-obsolete definitions of harbinger, there are multiple harbingers in this section of the tale. The first is Butterbur himself: coming from the Anglo-French herberge, meaning “lodgings,” harbinger was used as long ago as the 12th century to mean “one who provides lodgings.” Later on, harbinger was also used for a person sent ahead of a main party to seek lodgings. Those sent ahead would announce the approach of those following behind (the hobbits did not send Gandalf to Bree, but he did still herald their eventual arrival—making him a harbinger of sorts), which is how our modern sense of harbinger came to be used for someone or something which foretells a future event—such as how the hobbits’ arrival is a harbinger of the evil pursuing them and threatening all of Middle Earth.
9/14/20232 minutes, 13 seconds
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abstain

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 13, 2023 is: abstain • \ub-STAYN\  • verb To abstain from something is to choose to not do or have that thing. Abstain can also mean specifically "to choose not to vote." // The doctor insisted that Drew abstain from eating for at least 12 hours before his blood test. // Ten members voted for the proposal, six members voted against it, and two abstained. See the entry > Examples: "In this impassioned plea to restore native ecosystems, landscape designer Reynolds (The Garden Awakening) sets out to recruit green 'warriors' to build ARKs, or 'Acts of Restorative Kindness,' on their land. ... Those looking to turn their gardens into ARKs should overcome 'the shame of having a messy garden'; abstain from using fungicides, pesticides, and herbicides; cut back on concrete usage in landscaping so as to 'let the earth breathe as much as possible'; and plant native flora." — Publisher's Weekly, 1 Aug. 2022 Did you know? If you abstain, you're consciously, and usually with effort, choosing to hold back from doing something that you would like to do. Lucky for you, we’d never abstain from sharing a good bit of word history. Abstain traces back through Middle English and Anglo-French to the Latin verb abstinēre, which combines the prefix ab- ("from, away, off") with tenēre, a Latin verb meaning "to hold." (Spanish speakers might recognize tenēre’s influence in the Spanish verb tener, meaning "to have, hold, or take.") Tenēre has many offspring in English; other descendants include contain, detain, maintain, obtain, pertain, retain, and sustain, as well as some words that don’t end in -tain, such as tenant and tenacious. Abstain, like many of its cousins, has been used by English speakers since at least the 14th century.
9/13/20232 minutes, 17 seconds
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fallible

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 12, 2023 is: fallible • \FAL-uh-bul\  • adjective Fallible means “capable of making mistakes or being wrong.” // We can be too hard on ourselves at times and often need gentle reminders that everyone is fallible. See the entry > Examples: “AI is fallible. We see biased responses. ... This is because of how AI models are trained—in other words, it’s because of the data. Skewed data will lead to skewed results and misrepresentations.” — Kevin Collins, Forbes, 8 June 2023 Did you know? “Humanum est errare” is a Latin expression that translates as “To err is human.” Of course, cynics might say that it is also human to deceive. The history of the word fallible simultaneously recognizes both of these character flaws. In modern usage, fallible refers to one’s ability to make mistakes, but it descends from the Latin verb fallere, which means “to deceive.” Fallible has been used to describe the potential for error since at least the 15th century. Other descendants of fallere in English, all of which actually predate fallible, include fallacy (the earliest, now obsolete, meaning was “guile, trickery”), fault, false, and even fjail. Whoops, we mean fail.
9/12/20231 minute, 43 seconds
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injunction

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 11, 2023 is: injunction • \in-JUNK-shun\  • noun Injunction refers to an order from a court of law that says something must be done or must not be done. // The group has obtained an injunction to prevent the demolition of the building. See the entry > Examples: “While a district court rejected the group's request for an emergency injunction at the end of June, the Fifth Circuit obliged—blocking the new rule from being carried out for the time being.” — Ayelet Sheffey, Business Insider, 7 Aug. 2023 Did you know? Injunction, injunction, what’s your function? When it first joined the English language in the 1400s, injunction referred to an authoritative command, and in the following century it developed a legal second sense applying specifically to a court order. Both of these meanings are still in use. Injunction ultimately comes from the Latin verb injungere (“to enjoin,” i.e., to issue an authoritative command or order), which in turn is based on jungere, meaning “to join”: it is joined as a jungere descendant by several words including junction, conjunction, enjoin, and join.
9/11/20231 minute, 36 seconds
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orotund

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 10, 2023 is: orotund • \OR-uh-tund\  • adjective Orotund is a formal word used as a synonym of sonorous to describe something—usually a voice—marked by fullness, strength, and clarity of sound. It can also be used disapprovingly to mean "pompous" or "bombastic." // As a child, she loved listening to her grandfather’s rich, orotund baritone as he told stories of his childhood growing up overseas. // Every year the mayor gives a version of the same overblown, orotund speech, full of fancy promises they never seem to keep. See the entry > Examples: "The interplay of warring voices informs the thesis of Pan’s project. The abstract structure, at least compared to a traditional opera, piercingly emphasizes the beauty of its arrangements. Across the seamless span of 'A Found Lament' and 'A Tender Accent,' swooning sighs and orotund mezzo-soprano are backed by an almost melodic drone, and high-pitched voices cry out, '害怕! (Fear!),' to protest the minatory wall of mechanical sound encroaching on them." — Zhenzhen Yu, Pitchfork, 22 Jan. 2022 Did you know? An experiment: first breathe in deeply, then try to sing the strongest, lowest note that you can, at the utmost floor of your register. How lovely. Now, what vowel did you sing for your one-syllable song? We’ll bet you a skillet full of bacon it was o. Why? Shaping one’s mouth into an o-shape is pretty much a surefire way to produce an orotund or resonant sound, that is, one that is full, strong, and loud. Try the same exercise with a long e sound, as in sleep, and see (or hear) what we mean. Orotund comes from the Latin phrase ore rotundo, literally meaning "with round mouth." It was adopted into English in the late 18th century to describe the strength of one’s vocal delivery but has since picked up an additional sense of "pompous" or "bombastic" to describe inflated speech that may be full of sound and fury, yet signifies nothing.
9/10/20232 minutes, 21 seconds
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bellwether

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 9, 2023 is: bellwether • \BEL-WEH-ther\  • noun Bellwether refers to someone or something that leads others or shows what will happen in the future—in other words, a leader or a trendsetter. // She was known as a bellwether of fashion because she was always one step ahead of the runways and magazines. See the entry > Examples: “To shape a subjective and experiential cinema between the wilds of 1960s Haiti and a contemporary French boarding school—the blackest of nights, the comfiest of bourgeois trappings—constitutes a remarkable achievement. If there will be a future cinema indebted to Twin Peaks season three, Zombi Child’s our bellwether.” — Nick Newman, The Film Stage, 22 Dec. 2020 Did you know? Because it suggests the act of forecasting, one might be inclined to think that bellwether has something to do with weather. But the wether in bellwether has nothing to do with meteorology. Instead, to learn whither wether, we must head to the sheep farm. We usually think of sheep more as followers than leaders, but in a flock one sheep must lead the way. Since long ago, it has been common practice for shepherds to hang a bell around the neck of one sheep in their flock, thereby designating it the lead sheep. This animal was historically called the bellwether, a word formed by a combination of the Middle English words belle (meaning “bell”) and wether (a noun that refers to a male sheep, and today specifically to a castrated male sheep). It eventually followed that bellwether would come to refer to someone who takes initiative or who actively establishes a trend that is taken up by others. This usage first appeared in English in the 15th century and has remained in the language ever since.
9/9/20232 minutes, 20 seconds
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redound

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 8, 2023 is: redound • \rih-DOWND\  • verb Redound is a formal word that when paired with to means “to have a particular result.” It is often used in one of two idioms: “It redounds to someone's credit/honor” is used to say that a person deserves credit/respect for having done something. “Redound to the advantage of” means “to benefit (someone or something).” Redound is also sometimes used as a synonym of accrue and reflect. // It redounds to his credit that he worked so hard to prevent this crisis. // We need to be aware that this new policy may redound to the advantage of our competitors. See the entry > Examples: “Making mass transit more affordable and better utilized reduces hardship and its attendant costly ills while boosting air quality and public health. This investment in the health and well-being of those with the least resources in our county will redound to everyone's benefit.” — Dawn Plummer, The Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Post-Gazette, 12 Apr. 2022 Did you know? A rising tide, as they say, lifts all boats. Or to be redundant: a redounding tide undulates such that the surrounding water elevates every pontoon. This latter sentence—in addition to featuring five words with some relationship to the Latin word for “wave,” unda (redundant, redound, undulate, surround, and water)—highlights the earliest and now-archaic meaning of redound, “to swell or overflow,” which entered English in the 14th century. Since then, additional uses of redound have abounded (abound being another unda relation), all containing ripples, however faint, of the original aqueous meaning. When an action or accomplishment redounds to someone’s credit or honor, for example, it reflects positively back on them the way a wave produced by someone jumping into a pool bounces back to the jumper. And when something redounds to someone’s advantage, one might say that it helps by accruing like, well, a rising tide.
9/8/20232 minutes, 29 seconds
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redound

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 8, 2023 is: redound • \rih-DOWND\  • verb Redound is a formal word that when paired with to means “to have a particular result.” It is often used in one of two idioms: “It redounds to someone's credit/honor” is used to say that a person deserves credit/respect for having done something. “Redound to the advantage of” means “to benefit (someone or something).” Redound is also sometimes used as a synonym of accrue and reflect. // It redounds to his credit that he worked so hard to prevent this crisis. // We need to be aware that this new policy may redound to the advantage of our competitors. See the entry > Examples: “Making mass transit more affordable and better utilized reduces hardship and its attendant costly ills while boosting air quality and public health. This investment in the health and well-being of those with the least resources in our county will redound to everyone's benefit.” — Dawn Plummer, The Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Post-Gazette, 12 Apr. 2022 Did you know? A rising tide, as they say, lifts all boats. Or to be redundant: a redounding tide undulates such that the surrounding water elevates every pontoon. This latter sentence—in addition to featuring five words with some relationship to the Latin word for “wave,” unda (redundant, redound, undulate, surround, and water)—highlights the earliest and now-archaic meaning of redound, “to swell or overflow,” which entered English in the 14th century. Since then, additional uses of redound have abounded (abound being another unda relation), all containing ripples, however faint, of the original aqueous meaning. When an action or accomplishment redounds to someone’s credit or honor, for example, it reflects positively back on them the way a wave produced by someone jumping into a pool bounces back to the jumper. And when something redounds to someone’s advantage, one might say that it helps by accruing like, well, a rising tide.
9/8/20232 minutes, 29 seconds
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disingenuous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 7, 2023 is: disingenuous • \dis-in-JEN-yuh-wuss\  • adjective Disingenuous is a formal word that describes things, such as speech or behavior, that give a false appearance of being honest or sincere. Similarly, a person who is being disingenuous may seem sincere, but is in fact only pretending to be open and candid. // Her recent expressions of concern about the community center closing are disingenuous at best because she stands to benefit financially when the property is redeveloped. See the entry > Examples: “You know those one-line reviews on Amazon listings that don’t quite seem legitimate? Like the ones that rate a product five stars and say something incredibly vague, like “This is such a great item,” without expanding on any specifics? Well, that’s just one type of fake feedback that the FTC wants to crack down on. The FTC’s proposed rule seeks to ban several different types of disingenuous reviews and would not just punish the companies that use them but also the brokers that falsify feedback.” — Emma Roth, TheVerge.com, 30 June 2023 Did you know? To be disingenuous is to feign sincerity—to pretend you are speaking genuinely and honestly while concealing an ulterior motive. Similarly, a disingenuous remark might contain a hint of truth, but it is delivered with the intent to deceive or to serve some hidden purpose. While not currently defined in our dictionary, the internet term sealioning might also shed some light on the meaning of disingenuous, especially if you’ve ever been dragged into an online argument with a stranger whose true purpose is to exhaust you and erode your goodwill. As media critic Anita Sarkeesian wrote for Marie Claire magazine, “Sealioning is when an uninvited stranger pops into your conversation and peppers you with unsolicited and insincere questions. The sealion politely demands evidence for even the most mundane or self-evident statements and insists that you justify your opinions until he’s satisfied—which he never is, since he’s asking questions in bad faith.” In other words: textbook disingenuous behavior.
9/7/20232 minutes, 35 seconds
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pareidolia

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 6, 2023 is: pareidolia • \pair-eye-DOH-lee-uh\  • noun Pareidolia refers to the tendency to perceive a specific and often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern. // For those especially prone to pareidolia, a simple piece of toast can get distracting. See the entry > Examples: “A key to interpersonal interactions is the ability to read facial expressions, which is why we are hardwired to recognise faces and often believe to see them even in random objects (this is called face pareidolia). Just as with faces, recognising social dynamics is largely innate and effortless.” — Damian K. F. Pang, Psychology Today, 14 May 2023 Did you know? If you’ve ever spotted an image of a dog or a shoe in the clouds, you’ve exhibited what is called pareidolia, the tendency to perceive a meaningful image in a random pattern. Pareidolia emerged in English in 1962, borrowed from the German word Pareidolie, itself a combination of the Greek prefix par-, the Greek noun eídōlon (“image, reflection”), and the German suffix -ie. But although the word may be relatively new to English speakers, the concept is not. During the Renaissance, for example, artists such as Giuseppe Arcimboldo—who painted collections of fruits, vegetables, and other objects to look like human portraits—used pareidolia as a technique in their work, while Leonardo da Vinci once wrote, “… if you look at any walls spotted with various stains or with a mixture of different kinds of stones, if you are about to invent some scene you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys, and various groups of hills.” So the next time you see the man or even a toad in the moon, you can think of your kinship with Da Vinci.
9/6/20232 minutes, 24 seconds
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ambiguous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 5, 2023 is: ambiguous • \am-BIG-yuh-wus\  • adjective To describe something as ambiguous is to say that it can be understood in more than one way or that it has more than one possible meaning. // We were confused by the ambiguous wording of his message. See the entry > Examples: “There are a lot of reasons for medical errors: inexperienced caregivers; ambiguous symptoms; understaffed hospitals, underlying conditions.” — Jeffrey Kluger, Time, 26 July 2023 Did you know? Ambiguous may highlight the vague and obscure, but its origins are as clear as a bell. This word comes from the Latin verb ambigō or ambigere, meaning “to be undecided; to dispute,” which in turn combines amb- (“on both sides”) with agere (“to be in motion”). Ambi- is a prefix to many English words denoting two or more options, such as ambivalent, ambidextrous, and ambient. Similar prefixes include bi- (as in bicentennial), di- (as in dialect), and multi- (as in multiverse).
9/5/20231 minute, 35 seconds
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gauntlet

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 4, 2023 is: gauntlet • \GAWNT-lut\  • noun Gauntlet was first used in English to refer to the reinforced glove worn with a suit of armor in the Middle Ages. Gauntlet later came to refer to any long, heavy glove worn to protect the hand, as well as to an open challenge to an argument, fight, competition, etc., usually in the common phrase “throw down the gauntlet.” // In marketing the product this way, the company has thrown down the gauntlet to its top two competitors. See the entry > Examples: “WGA [Writers Guild of America] and SAG [Screen Actors Guild] sought a residual formula that would give standardization and certainty to creators and performers. The talent, a spokesman for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists said in 1960, is ‘entitled to get a portion of all this money that is floating around. It is as simple as that. Where would everybody be without talent?’ The WGA threw down the gauntlet first. On Jan. 16, 1960, citing ‘a consistently uncompromising attitude on the part of producers,’ WGA president Curtis Kenyon, a former screenwriter now toiling in television, called a ‘two-pronged’ strike against both film and television production.” — Thomas Doherty, The Hollywood Reporter, 18 July 2023 Did you know? There’s no reason to treat the word gauntlet with kid gloves, so let’s go straight to the punch: gauntlet (which comes from the Middle French word gantelet, the diminutive of gant, meaning “glove”) first referred to the reinforced glove of a suit of armor, but today it’s mostly encountered in figurative phrases, such as “throw down the gauntlet” and “pick up the gauntlet,” that arose from the conventions of medieval combat. To challenge someone to combat, a knight would throw his glove at another knight’s feet. The second knight would pick the glove up if he intended to accept the challenge, in which case a jousting match might ensue. Accordingly, to throw down the gauntlet is to issue an open challenge, while to pick up the gauntlet is to accept one. (The gauntlet that means “severe trial,” or “ordeal,” often used in the phrase “run the gauntlet,” is an alteration of gantelope, a word that originates from Swedish gata, meaning “lane” or “way.”)
9/4/20232 minutes, 51 seconds
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gauntlet

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 4, 2023 is: gauntlet • \GAWNT-lut\  • noun Gauntlet was first used in English to refer to the reinforced glove worn with a suit of armor in the Middle Ages. Gauntlet later came to refer to any long, heavy glove worn to protect the hand, as well as to an open challenge to an argument, fight, competition, etc., usually in the common phrase “throw down the gauntlet.” // In marketing the product this way, the company has thrown down the gauntlet to its top two competitors. See the entry > Examples: “WGA [Writers Guild of America] and SAG [Screen Actors Guild] sought a residual formula that would give standardization and certainty to creators and performers. The talent, a spokesman for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists said in 1960, is ‘entitled to get a portion of all this money that is floating around. It is as simple as that. Where would everybody be without talent?’ The WGA threw down the gauntlet first. On Jan. 16, 1960, citing ‘a consistently uncompromising attitude on the part of producers,’ WGA president Curtis Kenyon, a former screenwriter now toiling in television, called a ‘two-pronged’ strike against both film and television production.” — Thomas Doherty, The Hollywood Reporter, 18 July 2023 Did you know? There’s no reason to treat the word gauntlet with kid gloves, so let’s go straight to the punch: gauntlet (which comes from the Middle French word gantelet, the diminutive of gant, meaning “glove”) first referred to the reinforced glove of a suit of armor, but today it’s mostly encountered in figurative phrases, such as “throw down the gauntlet” and “pick up the gauntlet,” that arose from the conventions of medieval combat. To challenge someone to combat, a knight would throw his glove at another knight’s feet. The second knight would pick the glove up if he intended to accept the challenge, in which case a jousting match might ensue. Accordingly, to throw down the gauntlet is to issue an open challenge, while to pick up the gauntlet is to accept one. (The gauntlet that means “severe trial,” or “ordeal,” often used in the phrase “run the gauntlet,” is an alteration of gantelope, a word that originates from Swedish gata, meaning “lane” or “way.”)
9/4/20232 minutes, 51 seconds
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upbraid

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 3, 2023 is: upbraid • \up-BRAYD\  • verb To upbraid someone is to speak to them in an angry or critical way in response to something they have done wrong—in other words, to scold them. // The teacher upbraided the class after discovering the chalkboard erasers had been clapped all over the walls. See the entry > Examples: “Shot mostly in black-and-white, with amusing bits of animation included (the scene in which Troyal is upbraided for ordering a steak well-done is a quirky comedic highlight), this movie gets better the more it strays from its real-life models and into hazy hallucinatory American weirdness.” — Glenn Kenny, The New York Times, 7 Apr. 2023 Did you know? First things first: do not confuse upbraid with topknot lest you be upbraided for it. Topknot is a noun referring to a hairstyle, while upbraid is a verb (and an ancient one at that) meaning “to criticize or scold severely.” However, it may soothe your pride to know that the braid in upbraid likely comes from the same source as our hirsutal verb braid, meaning “to do up (the hair) by interweaving three or more strands.” That source is the Old English word bregdan, which could be used to mean “to snatch,” “to move suddenly,” or “to plait,” i.e. “braid.” The Old English verb ūpbregdan is probably a combination of this bregdan with ūp, meaning “up.” If the connection between moving suddenly upward at someone and berating them seems obscure, you might consider upbraid to be a more formal counterpart of the expression “to get/be in someone’s face.”
9/3/20232 minutes, 5 seconds
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copacetic

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 2, 2023 is: copacetic • \koh-puh-SET-ik\  • adjective Copacetic (less commonly spelled copasetic or copesetic) describes things that are very satisfactory. // Worry not: I assure you that everything's copacetic. See the entry > Examples: "Yes, 'atmosphere,' has always been a factor in restaurant criticism and there have been some extraordinary and inspiring outliers, but restaurateurs of the past didn't necessarily agonize over coming up with a unique look or small decor details. For the most part, as long as the place looked nice (and clean) and there were chairs to sit in and tables to eat at, everything was copacetic." — Elizabeth Chorney-Booth, The Calgary (Alberta) Herald, 1 July 2023 Did you know? If you’re living the life of Riley, strolling along easy street, or wallowing in hog heaven, your circumstances may be described as copacetic. A word of obscure origin, copacetic has for over a century satisfied those who’ve had a hankering to describe that which is hunky-dory or otherwise completely satisfactory. (If "of obscure origin" leaves you feeling less than copacetic, the note here will undoubtedly remedy that.) Life isn’t always beer and skittles, but when you do find yourself walking that primrose path, just remember: it’s all copacetic.
9/2/20231 minute, 50 seconds
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copacetic

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 2, 2023 is: copacetic • \koh-puh-SET-ik\  • adjective Copacetic (less commonly spelled copasetic or copesetic) describes things that are very satisfactory. // Worry not: I assure you that everything's copacetic. See the entry > Examples: "Yes, 'atmosphere,' has always been a factor in restaurant criticism and there have been some extraordinary and inspiring outliers, but restaurateurs of the past didn't necessarily agonize over coming up with a unique look or small decor details. For the most part, as long as the place looked nice (and clean) and there were chairs to sit in and tables to eat at, everything was copacetic." — Elizabeth Chorney-Booth, The Calgary (Alberta) Herald, 1 July 2023 Did you know? If you’re living the life of Riley, strolling along easy street, or wallowing in hog heaven, your circumstances may be described as copacetic. A word of obscure origin, copacetic has for over a century satisfied those who’ve had a hankering to describe that which is hunky-dory or otherwise completely satisfactory. (If "of obscure origin" leaves you feeling less than copacetic, the note here will undoubtedly remedy that.) Life isn’t always beer and skittles, but when you do find yourself walking that primrose path, just remember: it’s all copacetic.
9/2/20231 minute, 50 seconds
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embargo

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 1, 2023 is: embargo • \im-BAHR-goh\  • noun Embargo refers to a government order that limits trade in some way. In broader usage, embargo can function as a synonym of prohibition. // The government has placed an embargo on arms shipments. See the entry > Examples: “Since its review embargo lifted on July 18, ‘Barbie’ has received a largely positive critical response, with The Independent describing it as ‘a near-miraculous achievement’ and The Times dubbing it ‘a gorgeous and fascinating mishmash.’” — Eleanor Burleigh, The Bucks Free Press (Buckinghamshire, England), 21 July 2023 Did you know? English speakers got embargo—both the word and the concept, it seems—from the Spanish in the early 17th century. The word first referred specifically to a government order prohibiting commercial ships from entering or leaving that country’s ports. (The Spanish word comes from embargar, “to bar.”) By the middle of the 17th century embargo was being used more broadly to refer to any government order that limits trade in some way. Today, the word is applied more broadly still to refer to various prohibitions. Publishers, for example, often place an embargo on a book to prevent stores from selling it before its official release date. And in Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion, Anne Elliot says “I lay no embargo on anybody's words.” We feel similarly.
9/1/20231 minute, 53 seconds
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pundit

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 31, 2023 is: pundit • \PUN-dit\  • noun A pundit is someone who is usually considered an expert on a particular subject and who shares their opinion on that subject in a public setting (such as a television or radio program). // Grandpa likes watching liberal and conservative pundits spar about the issues of the day on the Sunday morning talk shows. See the entry > Examples: “… the family film quickly fell flat at the box office in the latest blow for the storied animation studio. Many pundits worry that original animated IP [intellectual property] is no longer a theatrical proposition.” — Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter, 19 June 2023 Did you know? It’s no hot take to say that the original pundits were highly learned scholars and teachers in India; it’s just a statement of fact. Our English word pundit comes from the Hindi word paṇḍit, a term of respect (and sometimes an honorary title) for a wise person, especially one with knowledge of philosophy, religion, and law; its ultimate source is the Sanskrit word paṇḍita, meaning “learned.” English speakers have used pundit to refer to sages of India since the 1600s, but as is typically done with English, they eventually pushed the word into new semantic territory. By the late 1800s, pundit could also refer to a member of what is sometimes called the commentariat or punditocracy—that is, the collective group of political commentators, financial analysts, and newspaper columnists often paid to share their views on a variety of subjects.
8/31/20232 minutes
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caustic

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 30, 2023 is: caustic • \KAWSS-tik\  • adjective In general contexts, caustic describes bluntly and harshly critical remarks, statements, or ways of being and communicating, as in "a caustic remark" or "caustic humor." In contexts involving chemistry, caustic is a synonym of corrosive, and is used to describe things capable of destroying or eating away matter by chemical action. // She was a writer whose caustic wit endears her still to readers everywhere. // The chemical was so caustic that it ate through the pipes. See the entry > Examples: "For [novelist Milan] Kundera, the deadly foe of truthful art was kitsch: the narcissistic sentimentality that, under any social system, effaces realities and encourages people to 'gaze into the mirror of the beautifying lie.' With caustic irony, mordant wit and acrobatic literary skill, he mocked the beautifying lie wherever he found it—in politics, in culture or in personal relationships." — The Economist, 13 July 2023 Did you know? If you have a burning desire to know the origins of caustic, you're already well on your way to figuring it out. Caustic was formed in Middle English as an adjective describing chemical substances, such as lime and lye, that are capable of destroying or eating away at something. The word is based on the Latin adjective causticus, which itself comes ultimately from the Greek verb kaiein, meaning "to burn." In time, caustic was baked into the English language as an adjective describing people or things (such as wit or remarks) that are bitingly sarcastic. Other kaiein descendants in English include cautery and cauterize, causalgia (a burning pain caused by nerve damage), and encaustic (a kind of paint that is heated after it's applied).
8/30/20232 minutes, 17 seconds
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oxymoron

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 29, 2023 is: oxymoron • \ahk-sih-MOR-ahn\  • noun An oxymoron is a combination of words that have opposite or very different meanings, such as “cruel kindness” or “open secret.” In broader usage, oxymoron can also refer to something (such as a concept) that is made up of contradictory or incongruous elements. // Her favorite Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliet, is filled with clever wordplay, including oxymorons such as “sweet sorrow” and “heavy lightness.” See the entry > Examples: “Until now I thought ‘enjoyable science book’ was an oxymoron. [Author, Katie] Spalding proved me wrong. I learned a lot and had fun doing it. Turns out a spoonful of snark helps the factoids go down—in a most delightful way.” — Curt Schleier, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 19 May 2023 Did you know? The ancient Greeks exhaustively classified the elements of rhetoric, or effective speech and writing, and gave the name oxymoron—literally "pointed foolishness"—to the deliberate juxtaposing of seemingly contradictory words. The roots of oxymoron, oxys meaning "sharp" or "keen," and mōros meaning "foolish," are nearly antonyms themselves, making oxymoron nicely self-descriptive. Oxymoron originally applied to a meaningful paradox condensed into a couple of words, as in "precious bane," "lonely crowd," or "sweet sorrow." Today, however, what is commonly cited as an oxymoron is often simply a curiosity of language, where one or both elements have multiple meanings (shrimp in "jumbo shrimp" doesn't mean "small"; it refers to a sea creature), or a phrase whose elements seem antithetical in spirit, such as "organized chaos."
8/29/20232 minutes, 9 seconds
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assay

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 28, 2023 is: assay • \a-SAY\  • verb Assay is a technical word meaning "to test something (such as a metal or drug) to find out what it contains or to assess its value." // Experts will assay the gold to determine its purity. See the entry > Examples: "An obscure testing lab was hired to assay the metal because using the leading firm in the field would supposedly alert the Canadian nickel cartel." — Walter Shapiro, The New Republic, 24 Mar. 2022 Did you know? Usage experts warn against confusing the verbs assay and essay. Some confusion shouldn’t be surprising; not only do the two somewhat uncommon words look and sound alike, they also come from the same root, the Middle French word essai, meaning "test" or "effort." (Essai, in turn, comes from the Late Latin word exagium, meaning "act of weighing.") At one time, the two terms were synonyms, sharing the meaning "try" or "attempt," but they are now typically differentiated, with essay meaning "to try or attempt" (as in "a comedic actor essaying her first dramatic role") and assay meaning "to test or evaluate" (as in "blood assayed to detect the presence of the antibody"). Of course, essay is more common as a noun referring to a short analytic or personal literary composition, but that’s another essay.
8/28/20231 minute, 54 seconds
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myriad

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 27, 2023 is: myriad • \MEER-ee-ud\  • noun The noun myriad is usually followed by of and means “a great number,” as in “a myriad of possibilities.” It is also common as an adjective meaning “very many” or “both numerous and diverse,” as in “myriad topics were discussed at the convention.” // The middle school class generated a myriad of ideas for ways they could volunteer in the community. See the entry > Examples: “With a film career spanning more than three decades as an actor, director, writer, and martial artist, Michael Jai White has cemented himself as one of the top action stars and Black martial artists in the genre today. Studying martial arts since a young age, White learned a myriad of styles over the years … with eight black belts to his name and earning the title of ‘The Mantle of the Black Dragon’ in 2019 at the Urban Action Film Showcase from the Black Dragon himself, Ron van Clief.” — Frankie “Balboa” Diaz, Polygon.com, 15 June 2023 Did you know? You don’t need ten thousand justifications to use myriad as a noun, only one: with more than 400 years of usage history behind it, the noun myriad, as in the phrase “a myriad of,” is a well-established and respectable member of the English language. Still, we understand that “myriad of” raises the hackles of myriad folks who were taught at one point or another that myriad is only to be used as an adjective, and that phrases like “a myriad of emailers vexed about myriad” should be shunned in favor of “myriad emailers vexed about myriad.” Now, to each their own lexical peeves and pleasures, but let it be known that myriad entered the English language in the mid-1500s as a noun, and since its introduction has been used in the senses of “ten thousand,” “a set of ten thousand,” “an immense or indefinitely large number,” and “a great multitude”; furthermore, it has appeared in the works of such writers as Milton, Thoreau, Twain, and DuBois—no slouches when it comes to wielding words. Myriad the adjective is about 200 years younger, but both continue to enjoy wide use today.
8/27/20232 minutes, 37 seconds
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suffrage

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 26, 2023 is: suffrage • \SUF-rij\  • noun Suffrage means “the right to vote in an election.” // The Nineteenth Amendment, which granted suffrage to women, was certified on August 26, 1920, making it an official part of the Constitution of the United States. See the entry > Examples: “The Liberty Tree dates back to 1763, and it played a significant role in the Underground Railroad. ... The tree also stands outside what were once the High Street stables of Edward E. Bennett, a local hotel keeper who sheltered enslaved people seeking freedom along the Underground Railroad. During the 19th century, people often gathered around the tree to hear speeches by leaders of the time such as William Lloyd Garrison, Lucy Stone, and Douglass on subjects ranging from abolition to women's suffrage.” — Tiana Woodard, The Boston Globe, 8 July 2023 Did you know? Why would a 17th-century writer warn people that a chapel was only for “private or secret suffrages”? Because suffrage has been used since the 14th century to mean “prayer” (especially a prayer requesting divine help or intercession). So how did suffrage come to mean “a vote” or “the right to vote”? In answering that question, we get a lesson about the ways Latin words enter English. The Latin word suffrāgium has a number of vote-related meanings, including “a vote cast in an assembly” and “the right to vote.” In Medieval Latin, this same word had expanded to mean “vote, selection, aid, support, intercessory prayer,” and it’s this suffrāgium that gave us the prayer kind of suffrage in the 14th century. It wasn’t until the 16th century that English speakers mined the older—the classical—Latin suffrāgium for a word to use with regard to voting, and especially to refer to the right to vote.
8/26/20232 minutes, 21 seconds
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quiescent

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 25, 2023 is: quiescent • \kwy-ESS-unt\  • adjective Quiescent is a formal word that describes things that are quiet, inactive, or in a state of peaceful rest. In medical contexts it describes a condition that is not currently developing or causing symptoms, as in "a quiescent disease/virus." // Volcanoes often exist for centuries in a quiescent state before their sudden, violent eruptions. See the entry > Examples: "The mechanism is just one way that scientists are realizing that asteroids can be active, dynamic places rather than quiescent lumps of rock." — Meghan Bartels, Scientific American, 29 Mar. 2023 Did you know? Hush your puppies and calm your kitties, it’s time to make much (tranquil) ado about quiescent. As you might expect from both its meaning and the sequence of its first four letters, quiescent shares roots with the far more common, and less formal, word quiet. In fact, short is the list of English words beginning "q-u-i-e" that have no kinship with quiet and its various relations suggestive of restfulness and calm. (Our unabridged dictionary lists only two: quiebracha and quiebrahacha, both rare variants of quebracho.) Today’s adjective quiescent traces back to the Latin verb quiēscere, meaning "to become quiet" or "to rest," and was possibly first used by Francis Bacon, who wrote in 1605 that "… as Aristotle endeavoureth to prove, that in all motion there is some point quiescent…" Way to bring it home, Bacon.
8/25/20232 minutes, 7 seconds
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empirical

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 24, 2023 is: empirical • \im-PEER-uh-kul\  • adjective When we describe something, such as data, as empirical, we mean that it originated in, or was based on, observation or experience. Empirical can also be used to describe something that is capable of being verified or disproved by observation or experiment, as in “empirical laws.” // The team of conservation biologists gathered reams of empirical data—from species inventories to soil analyses—to help them get a better understanding of the forest’s ecology. See the entry > Examples: “Scholars have long tried to understand why Neolithic farmer populations go through boom-bust cycles, including ‘collapses’ when whole regions are abandoned. According to one common explanation, climate fluctuations are the main driver, but empirical tests do not fully support this claim. In a new paper, published in the latest issue of Scientific Reports, Turchin and his team seem to have come up with a new piece of information. ‘Our study shows that periodic outbreaks of warfare—and not climate fluctuations—can account for the observed boom-bust patterns in the data,’ argues Turchin...” — The Complexity Science Hub, Phys.org, 19 June 2023 Did you know? When empirical first appeared as an adjective in English, it meant simply “in the manner of an empiric.” In the ancient world, empirics were members of a sect of doctors who practiced medicine using treatments observed to be clinically effective, rather than treatments based on theoretical principles. This sounds all fine and good to a modern reader, but empirics were in direct opposition to Galen, the 2nd century Greek physician whose theories and practices (including the theory of bodily humors) dominated medicine in Europe from the Middle Ages until the mid-17th century. As the underdogs in this rivalry, empirics took some reputational hits, evidenced by the use of empiric to refer to someone who disregards or deviates from the rules of science or accepted practice; to be called an empiric was sometimes like being called a quack or charlatan. Empirical can still be used critically to describe ideas and practices that rely on experience or observation alone and without due regard for system or theory. But, perhaps in a bit of a case of “the Empirics strike back,” empirical more often keeps its narrower sense, and is used positively to describe evidence and information grounded in observation and experience, or capable of being verified or disproved by observation or experiment.
8/24/20233 minutes, 4 seconds
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duplicity

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 23, 2023 is: duplicity • \doo-PLISS-uh-tee\  • noun Duplicity is a formal word that refers to dishonest behavior meant to trick or deceive someone. // The extent of his duplicity wasn't clear until a century after his death, when documents revealing more of his many deceptions were discovered. See the entry > Examples: “Series three ended with a bang—patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox, in one of TV's most memorable performances) doing the dirty on his children and rewriting his divorce settlement to rob them of boardroom power at the family firm, just as they were about to wrest control from him. And, the kicker, he was able to do it thanks to the duplicity of son-in-law Tom (Matthew Macfadyen).” — Chris Bennion, The Daily Telegraph (London), 25 May 2023 Did you know? We’ve all probably dealt with someone who acted a little two-faced—they said one thing and did another, for example, or they talked “from both sides of their mouth.” If such behavior has made you do a double take or left you feeling double-crossed, you may be single-minded in your quest to learn more about duplicity. Duplicity comes from a long line of “double” talk, starting with its Latin ancestor duplex, which means “double” or “twofold.” Duplex is also the source of the English word duplex (which can be a noun meaning “a two-family house” or an adjective meaning “double”), and it is the root of another term for doubling it up, duplicate.
8/23/20231 minute, 56 seconds
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lackluster

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 22, 2023 is: lackluster • \LAK-luss-ter\  • adjective Lackluster describes something lacking in sheen, brilliance, or vitality—in other words, something dull or mediocre. // After a summer of lackluster sales, business is booming at the coffee shop now that students are returning. See the entry > Examples: “Layers of texture and pattern can keep a black-and-white bedroom from feeling lackluster.” — Monique Valeris, Good Housekeeping, April 2021 Did you know? Lackluster may describe things that are dull, but the word itself is no yawn. In its earliest uses in the early 17th century, lackluster (also spelled lacklustre) usually described eyes that were dull or lacking in brightness, as in “a lackluster stare.” Later, it came to describe other things whose sheen had been removed; Charles Dickens, in his 1844 novel Martin Chuzzlewit, writes of the faded image of the dragon on the sign outside a village alehouse: “many a wintry storm of rain, snow, sleet, and hail, had changed his colour from a gaudy blue to a faint lack-lustre shade of grey.” These days lackluster is broadly used to describe anything blah, from a spiritless sensation to a humdrum hump day.
8/22/20231 minute, 47 seconds
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frisson

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 21, 2023 is: frisson • \free-SOHN (the second vowel is pronounced nasally)\  • noun Frisson refers to a brief moment of emotional excitement. // He felt a frisson of delight as he stepped tentatively through the door to the walled garden. See the entry > Examples: “I still remember the frisson of mild excitement when a reporter entered the committee room. The members sat up, some straightened their ties, others coughed, and a new urgency was brought to the business of quizzing some hapless civil servant on whatever mundane business was before them.” — John McManus, The Irish Times, 6 July 2023 Did you know? A chill down one’s spine isn’t always a sensation of fear or suspense. As Daniel Marenco writes, “What is most exciting about literature is how much it surprises us and makes us fall in love. Poetry especially has this gift, the gift of provoking in us a frisson, a shiver, this capacity, like a bee, to put honey on the tip of our tongue, provoking that pleasant sensation of feeling and perceiving.” His relating of frisson and shiver is apt given that frisson comes from the French word for “shiver.” (Those familiar with shivering will note that it’s also apt that frisson traces back to ultimately to Late Latin frīgēre “to be cold” or frīgēscere “to become cold.”) A frisson can be compared to a thrill or a rush, as it refers to a brief moment of emotional excitement, as in “a frisson of surprise.”
8/21/20231 minute, 58 seconds
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frisson

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 21, 2023 is: frisson • \free-SOHN (the second vowel is pronounced nasally)\  • noun Frisson refers to a brief moment of emotional excitement. // He felt a frisson of delight as he stepped tentatively through the door to the walled garden. See the entry > Examples: “I still remember the frisson of mild excitement when a reporter entered the committee room. The members sat up, some straightened their ties, others coughed, and a new urgency was brought to the business of quizzing some hapless civil servant on whatever mundane business was before them.” — John McManus, The Irish Times, 6 July 2023 Did you know? A chill down one’s spine isn’t always a sensation of fear or suspense. As Daniel Marenco writes, “What is most exciting about literature is how much it surprises us and makes us fall in love. Poetry especially has this gift, the gift of provoking in us a frisson, a shiver, this capacity, like a bee, to put honey on the tip of our tongue, provoking that pleasant sensation of feeling and perceiving.” His relating of frisson and shiver is apt given that frisson comes from the French word for “shiver.” (Those familiar with shivering will note that it’s also apt that frisson traces back to ultimately to Late Latin frīgēre “to be cold” or frīgēscere “to become cold.”) A frisson can be compared to a thrill or a rush, as it refers to a brief moment of emotional excitement, as in “a frisson of surprise.”
8/21/20231 minute, 58 seconds
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balmy

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 20, 2023 is: balmy • \BAH-mee\  • adjective Balmy is an adjective that is often used to describe weather that is warm, calm, and pleasant. It can also be used to describe someone or something (such as an idea) that is foolish or irrational. // After a long, eight-hour drive, we were rewarded with a mild, balmy evening at our vacation spot on the shores of Lake Erie. // Despite being a devout Green Bay fan, she finds the idea of attending games in head-to-toe yellow and green body paint to be a bit balmy. See the entry > Examples: “While our warmer winters have caused some of these dinosaur-like birds to remain in southern Michigan all year long, most are just now returning from balmier winter locales like Mexico and Cuba. You’re most likely to find sandhill cranes this time of year in wet meadows, marshy areas and agricultural fields, though if you learn their distinctive, prehistoric-sounding call, you can also hear them as they flock overhead this season.” — Emily Bingham, MLive.com (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 14 Mar. 2023 Did you know? Aromatic ointments and fragrances are the bomb. They are also, literally, balms: healing substances and soothing scents with the power to ease both mind and body. The original balm, what Latin-speakers referred to as balsamum, was the oleoresin of a species of balsam tree. In Anglo-French, balsamum became basme and baume, spellings which entered Middle English and later became balm. Balm eventually begat the adjective balmy, used to describe things with a balm’s comforting, calming qualities, as when Shakespeare’s Othello speaks of “balmy slumbers.” Today balmy is typically used to describe the weather—balmy breezes, balmy temperatures, balmy spring afternoons, et al—conditions that are neither too hot nor too cold, but just right—Goldilocks conditions, even.
8/20/20232 minutes, 20 seconds
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slake

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 19, 2023 is: slake • \SLAYK\  • verb Slake is a verb meaning "to satisfy or quench." It can also mean "to hydrate." // The quest to slake his wanderlust was never-ending. // They slaked their thirst with cold lemonade. See the entry > Examples: "The warm weather of late spring and summer brings certain wines to mind—racy rosés to slake our thirst, for example." — Dave McIntyre, The Washington Post, 1 June 2023 Did you know? Have no fear, the Word of the Day is here to slake your thirst for knowledge. The uses of slake are varied and fluid. Its most common meaning is synonymous with satisfy or quench—one can slake anything from curiosity to literal thirst. In chemistry, slake can mean "to cause a substance to heat and crumble by treatment with water," and is used specifically in the noun phrase slaked lime, which refers to a compound used in binding agents such as plaster and cement. The word has some obsolete meanings as well: in Shakespearean times, slake meant "to subside or abate" or "to lessen the force of." The most erudite word enthusiasts may also be aware of earlier meanings of slake, such as "to slacken one’s efforts" or "to cause to be relaxed or loose." These early meanings recall the word’s Old English ancestor sleac, which not only meant "slack" but is also slack’s source.
8/19/20231 minute, 58 seconds
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inkling

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 18, 2023 is: inkling • \INK-ling\  • noun Inkling refers to a slight, uncertain idea about something, or to a slight amount of knowledge about something. // As the professor explained the complex math formula in class, I didn’t have an inkling of what it all meant. See the entry > Examples: “It was in Jim [Melchert]’s class that I first felt the inkling that there was more to being an artist than simply expressing yourself. It was also about paying attention—looking closely and curiously—and being open to where it might take you.” — Sharon Mizota, The Los Angeles Times, 5 June 2023 Did you know? This may come as a surprise, but inkling has not a drop to do with ink, whether of squid, tattoo, or any other variety. Originating in English in the early 16th century, inkling comes instead from Middle English yngkiling, meaning “whisper or mention,” and perhaps further back from the verb inclen, meaning “to hint at.” An early sense of the word meant “a faint perceptible sound or undertone” or “rumor,” but now people usually use the word to refer to a vague notion someone has (“had an inkling they would be there”), or to a hint of something present (“a conversation with not even an inkling of anger”). One related word you might not have heard of is the rare verb inkle, a back-formation of inkling that in some British English dialects can mean “to utter or communicate in an undertone or whisper, to hint, give a hint of” or “to have an idea or notion of.” (Inkle is also a noun referring to “a colored linen tape or braid woven on a very narrow loom and used for trimming” but etymologists don’t have an inkling of where that inkle came from.)
8/18/20232 minutes, 21 seconds
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volatile

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 17, 2023 is: volatile • \VAH-luh-tul\  • adjective Volatile has several closely related meanings, including “subject to rapid or unexpected change,” “having or showing extreme or sudden changes of emotion,” and “likely to become dangerous or out of control.” // Our financial advisor cautioned us to be conservative with our investments while the stock market was still volatile. // One classic trope of war movies is the drill sergeant with a volatile temper, always ready to yell at recruits for the slightest infraction of the rules. // The protests are increasing, creating a volatile situation in the capital. See the entry > Examples: “This smart … novel has more secrets than you could successfully hide from your Sunday school teacher. Set in a beautifully evoked Cape Cod, in politically volatile 2016, the novel centers on the Gardner family. There's Adam, the brilliant, but erratic, father; Ken, his Babbitt-like real estate developer son; and Abby, his artist daughter, whom he considers ‘a special snowflake of the highest order.’” — Jeffrey Ann Goudie, The Boston Globe, 23 June 2023 Did you know? Volatile was originally for the birds—quite literally. Back in the 14th century, the word was a noun and volatiles were birds (especially wild fowl) or other winged creatures, such as butterflies. That's not as flighty as it sounds. Volatile traces back to the Latin verb volare, which means “to fly.” By the end of the 16th century, people were using volatile as an adjective to describe meal ground so fine and light that it could easily “fly” or be blown about. Soon after, the adjective was extended to creatures that were capable of flying (as in “volatile insects”), later to vapors and gases, and by the early 17th century, to individuals or things as prone to sudden change as some gaseous substances. In recent years, volatile has alighted in economic, political, and technical contexts far flown from its avian origins.
8/17/20232 minutes, 21 seconds
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chasten

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 16, 2023 is: chasten • \CHAY-sun\  • verb To chasten someone is to cause them to feel sad or embarrassed about something that has happened, or in other words, to make them feel more humble or restrained. // He was arrogant as a young man, but he has been chastened by life's hardships and is now more cognizant of his own failings and weaknesses. See the entry > Examples: "AutoPacific asked people looking to buy a new vehicle about their interest in 11 different ... features, starting with a data plan for the car for a hypothetical price of $15/month. The results may chasten some of the investors demanding that the car companies keep traveling down this path. The most in-demand or desirable feature was Internet connection with a Wi-Fi hotspot.... But only 30 percent of people looking to buy a new car said they were interested in paying for their car's Internet access." — Jonathan M. Gitlin, Ars Technica, 24 Mar. 2023 Did you know? Buck up, logophiles! There’s no need to fret if you have a hard time sussing out the finer distinctions between chasten, castigate, and chastise, three verbs with overlapping histories and meanings. All three come (via different routes) from the Latin verb castīgāre, meaning "to punish," and all have been used to refer to physical punishment, but today are more likely to refer to a verbal dressing-down than a rap on the knuckles (or worse). However, while one is usually castigated or chastised by another person, one can be chastened—made to feel humility or embarrassment—by a humbling situation or experience. Just don’t let encountering an unfamiliar or subtle word be one of them; that’s what we’re here for.
8/16/20232 minutes, 7 seconds
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nexus

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 15, 2023 is: nexus • \NEK-sus\  • noun A nexus is a relationship or connection between people or things. // Her final research paper for her pedagogy class highlighted the nexus between teachers and students. See the entry > Examples: “Darren Tucker, a field supervisor with Arizona Game and Fish, said that the last known fatal bear attack in Arizona happened in 2011 in the Pinetop area, further adding to the ‘extremely uncommon’ nature of the attack, stating that it seemed ‘predatory in nature.’ ‘We didn't see any obvious attractants. The location and the surrounding residencies looked pretty tidy,’ Tucker told reporters. ‘However, typically, nine times out of ten when we have wildlife-human conflict there is some nexus to food.’” — Kye Graves, USA Today, 16 June 2023 Did you know? If you’re unfamiliar with the word nexus, the popular, long-running video game series The Legend of Zelda may provide an object lesson in its several definitions (and if you’re unfamiliar with the games, we will explain). When nexus came into English in the 17th century, it meant “connection” or “link.” Eventually, people began using it to refer to a connected group or series of things, as in “a nexus of relationships.” In recent decades it has taken on a third meaning: “center” or “hub,” perhaps from the notion that a point in the center of an arrangement serves to join together the objects that surround it. Now, one might plausibly say that the 20 Zelda games (not counting remakes and spin-offs) themselves form a nexus, as each represents an installment in a long, twisty saga with numerous echoes and callbacks to other games in the series. Most of these feature the fictional land of Hyrule, which often presents magical nexuses to shadowy alternate dimensions (1991’s A Link to the Past), the past (2011’s Skyward Sword), or the underworld (2023’s Tears of the Kingdom) that the hero, Link (ahem) must traverse. As for nexus’s third meaning, Hyrule’s map is nearly always situated around a central nexus, or hub, in the form of the castle where the titular Zelda lives. (If you’re into gaming or curious about its lingo, don’t miss the article “Popular Gaming Terms Explained”).
8/15/20232 minutes, 58 seconds
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asunder

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 14, 2023 is: asunder • \uh-SUN-der\  • adverb or adjective Asunder is most often used as an adverb—often with a verb such as tear or pull—to mean "apart" or "into pieces." It is more rarely used as an adjective meaning "apart from each other," as in "he stood with his legs wide asunder." // The park was torn asunder by yesterday's microburst, and many of its trails have been blocked by fallen trees. See the entry > Examples: "House of the Dragon chronicles the events leading up to and during the Dance of the Dragons, the name given by the poets of Westeros to a gruesome civil war that tore House Targaryen asunder." — Nick Romano, EW.com, 11 Aug. 2022 Did you know? To get to the root of today’s word, it helps to take it apart and focus on the sunder. You see, asunder comes from the verb sunder, which means "to break apart" or "to become parted, disunited, or severed." Both words come from the Old English word sundor, meaning "apart." The adverbial "into parts" sense of asunder is often used in the phrase "tear asunder," which can be used both literally (as in "fabric torn asunder") and, more often, figuratively (as in "a community torn asunder by the dispute"). The adjectival "apart from each other" sense can be found in the phrase "poles asunder," used to describe two things that are as vastly far apart as the poles of the Earth.
8/14/20231 minute, 57 seconds
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travesty

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 13, 2023 is: travesty • \TRAV-uh-stee\  • noun Travesty refers to something that is shocking, upsetting, or ridiculous because it is not what it is supposed to be, but is instead a distorted or badly inferior imitation of it. The word is often used in the phrase “a travesty of.” Travesty is not a synonym of tragedy, which refers instead to a disastrous event. // That the timber company only had to pay a minimal fine after being found guilty of illegal logging was considered by many to be a travesty of justice. See the entry > Examples: “Ten years and a number of entries later, ‘Fast Five’ is the first sequel to the 2001 ‘The Fast and the Furious’ that’s worth watching, that isn’t an embarrassment or a travesty of the original picture.” — Mick LaSalle, SFChronicle.com, 20 May 2023 Did you know? When disaster strikes, keeping track of which word to use seems pretty unimportant. But you don’t want to describe disastrous events as travesties, because they’re not: they’re tragedies. Travesties are terrible too, but travesty refers specifically to something that is done in a way that makes a mockery of what it’s supposed to be: for example, a contest won by the judge’s spouse could be considered a travesty. And a trial in which the defendant wasn’t allowed to present evidence could be described as a “travesty of justice.” Travesty, which can also function as a verb meaning “to make a travesty of” or “to parody,” comes from the French verb travestir, meaning “to disguise.” Its roots, however, wind back through Italian to the Latin verb vestire, meaning “to clothe” or “to dress.” Other descendants of vestire include vestment, divest, and invest.
8/13/20232 minutes, 16 seconds
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fungible

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 12, 2023 is: fungible • \FUN-juh-bul\  • adjective Fungible describes things, such as currency, goods, and commodities, that can be exchanged for something else of the same kind or value. In broader usage, fungible can also mean “interchangeable,” as well as “readily changeable to adapt to new situations.” // A dollar bill is considered fungible because it can easily and acceptably be traded for ten dimes, four quarters, twenty nickels, or one hundred pennies. // Since fruits and vegetables are regarded as fungible in this diet, you are allowed a total of five servings of either or both. // Some baseball team managers set their batting orders in stone, while others prefer to keep their lineups fungible, to respond to the strengths or weaknesses of different opposing pitchers. See the entry > Examples: “Network television operates a little differently from its streaming counterparts. Episode orders are more fungible and networks also have the benefit of airing reruns.” — Alec Bojalad and David Crow, DenOfGeek.com, 11 May 2023 Did you know? Before expectations about the origins of fungible mushroom into mycological fantasy: no, fungible has no relation to the noun fungus and its plural fungi. The fungi in fungible is there because of the Latin verb fungi, meaning “to perform,” ancestor of both fungible and function. Fungible is considerably less familiar than its cousin to most English users, but it pops up like toadstools (sorry) in legal, technological, and economic contexts. Something described as fungible can be exchanged for something else of the same kind. For example, when we say “oil is a fungible commodity,” we mean that when a purchaser is expecting a delivery of oil, any oil of the stipulated quantity and quality will usually do. Another example of something fungible is cash. It doesn't matter what twenty dollar bill you get—it’s still worth the same amount as any other twenty dollar bill. In contrast, something like a work of art (or an NFT, aka a “non-fungible token”) isn’t fungible; a purchaser would expect a specific, identifiable item to be delivered. In broader use, fungible can mean “interchangeable,” or sometimes “readily changeable to adapt to new situations.”
8/12/20232 minutes, 38 seconds
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boycott

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 11, 2023 is: boycott • \BOY-kaht\  • verb To boycott something is to refuse to buy, use, or participate in that thing as a form of protest. To boycott an entity, such as a company or country, is to stop using the goods or services of that entity until changes are made. // People are boycotting the company for its refusal to reduce its yearly greenhouse gas emissions. See the entry > Examples: "Over 100 music artists, including Tom Morello and Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine, have banded together to announce they are boycotting concert venues that use facial recognition technology, according to a Rolling Stone report on Thursday. The artists cite a number of concerns, including privacy infringement and increased discrimination." — Lawrence Bonk, Engadget.com, 22 June 2023 Did you know? In the 1870s, Irish farmers faced an agricultural crisis that threatened to result in a repeat of the terrible famine and mass evictions of the 1840s. Anticipating financial ruin, they formed a Land League to campaign against the rent increases and evictions landlords were imposing as a result of the crisis. When retired British army captain Charles Boycott, acting as an agent for an absentee landlord, tried to evict tenant farmers for refusing to pay their rent, he was ostracized by the League and community. His laborers and servants quit, and the crops in his care began to rot. Boycott’s fate was soon well known, and his name became a byword for that particular protest strategy, both as a verb and as a noun. Across the Atlantic three-quarters of a century later, boycotts such as the Montgomery bus boycott were pivotal components of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
8/11/20232 minutes, 20 seconds
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encomium

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 10, 2023 is: encomium • \en-KOH-mee-um\  • noun Encomium refers to an expression of glowing and warmly enthusiastic praise. // Upon achieving EGOT status, the actor was deservedly showered with encomiums from across the entertainment world. See the entry > Examples: “Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) is desperately trying to save the life of her brother, King T’Challa (the late Chadwick Boseman) … until her mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett), arrives to deliver the dreaded news: ‘Your brother is with the ancestors.’ Thus does ‘Wakanda Forever’ address, head on, the tragic loss of Boseman, who died of colon cancer in 2020. In a fitting tribute, the shuffle of iconic characters that opens every Marvel movie here is composed entirely of images of Boseman, a moving encomium to a gifted and charismatic actor who left the stage much too soon.” — Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post, 8 Nov. 2022 Did you know? Kudos to encomium for being a marvelous, magnificent, must-have word for high praise for over four centuries—at least in formal speech and writing. Indeed, like its synonym panegyric, encomium (from the Greek word enkōmion, meaning “celebration”) has seen a steady drop in usage since the early 1800s and is rarely encountered outside of literary or highfalutin contexts. It does pop up in pop culture now and again, however. Music fans of a certain generation may remember a host of their favorite artists, from Tori Amos to Stone Temple Pilots, paying tribute to Led Zeppelin in 1995 on the appropriately titled album Encomium: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin. And more recently, the famously loquacious television series Gilmore Girls dropped encomium no less than five times in a 2016 episode featuring “Stars Hollow: The Musical,” a show-within-a-show featuring the line “Not so fast with the encomiums!” Of course, you may dish out your own encomiums in any manner or velocity you wish—and verily we shall tip our chapeaux.
8/10/20232 minutes, 38 seconds
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reticent

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 9, 2023 is: reticent • \RET-uh-sunt\  • adjective Reticent is often used as a synonym of reserved to describe someone who does not readily or openly talk to others. Despite objections from some, reticent is also often used as a synonym of reluctant. // She is reticent about discussing her personal business with anyone. // Despite claims of openness, the organization has always been reticent to disclose even the most basic information about its internal operations. See the entry > Examples: “Having long harbored ambitions to produce and direct, [Eva] Longoria decided it was time to pivot. But the same industry that was ready to program her into its fall lineup was more reticent to put her behind the camera for one of its series.” — Mia Galuppo, The Hollywood Reporter, 28 June 2023 Did you know? We hate to break it to the language sticklers among us, but use of reticent as a synonym of reluctant—though it veers away from the word’s Latin origins in the verb reticēre, meaning “to keep silent”—is well established, and there is no reason to be reticent about employing it. In fact, reticent took on its “reluctant” sense a mere 50 years after first appearing in English in the early 19th century with the meaning “inclined to be silent or uncommunicative.” Though brows may furrow and lips may purse, the development of reticent’s newer meaning has some logic to it: English speakers first used reticent synonymously with reluctant when the context was speech, as in “he was reticent to talk about his past,” keeping the word close to its “silent” beginnings. Eventually, however, exclusive association with speech was abandoned, and one can now be reticent to do anything, even if it’s to admit that language is not immutable.
8/9/20232 minutes, 13 seconds
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preen

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 8, 2023 is: preen • \PREEN\  • verb To preen is to make one's appearance neat and tidy or to behave or speak with obvious pride or self-satisfaction. In ornithology, preen means "to groom with the bill." // She stood preening herself in front of the mirror. // The award-winners were preening backstage. See the entry > Examples: "One day, I crossed the Nakdong River on foot, over a bridge connecting the neighborhood of Hadan to Eulsuk Island. That area, where the river meets the ocean, had been the site of the Nakdong Bulge, part of a monthlong battle in 1950. It is now an estuary for migrating birds, and I thrilled at seeing a great egret preen on a glittering field of water." — E. Tammy Kim, The New Yorker, 6 Jan. 2023 Did you know? Preen hatched in 14th-century Middle English, and early on it displayed various spelling forms, including prenen, prayne, prene, and preyne. The word traces to the Anglo-French puroindre, or proindre, linking pur-, meaning "thoroughly," with uindre, oindre, meaning "to anoint or rub." One of the first writers known to apply preen to the human act of primping was Geoffrey Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales: "He preens himself and prunes and combs his curls / To take the fancy of this queen of girls." Centuries later (sometime during the late 19th century), the prideful meaning of preen took flight, joining bird-related verbs plume, which was being used with the meaning "to pride or congratulate (oneself)," and peacock, a word still used today to mean "to show off."
8/8/20232 minutes, 6 seconds
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malaise

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 7, 2023 is: malaise • \muh-LAYZ\  • noun Malaise refers to a slight or general feeling of not being healthy or happy. // She couldn’t pinpoint the cause of this overwhelming feeling of malaise. See the entry > Examples: “Despite its less-than-satisfying ending, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse serves the coolest animated kids I’ve seen since Miles felt that first bite from a radioactive spider five years ago. The movie opens with an all-girl, multiracial garage band coping with Gwen Stacy’s (Hailee Steinfeld) malaise and ends with a team as powerful as rock stars ready to save the world.” — Eisa Nefertari Ulen, The Hollywood Reporter, 13 June 2023 Did you know? A recipe: combine a handful of the blahs, a pinch of the blues, and maybe a soupçon of ennui, season generously with “under the weather,” and voila, you’ve got yourself the stew of sinking sensations known as malaise. Malaise, whose Old French ancestor was formed from the combination of mal (“bad”) and aise (“comfort”), has been a part of English since the mid-18th century. It originally referred to a vague feeling of weakness or discomfort accompanying the onset of an illness—a meaning still in use today when a v