Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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Fri, 10/21/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 21, 2016 is:

evanescent • \ev-uh-NESS-unt\  • adjective

: tending to vanish like vapor


"As stunning as his dishes could be, in the end, the maestro understood its evanescent nature. Furstenberg remembers Richard telling him, 'It's supposed to be food.'" — Tom Sietsema, The Washington Post, 15 Aug. 2016

"I think because we are young, issues we encounter with mental health are often excused as evanescent, and therefore not something to be taken seriously." — Morgan Hughes, The Marquette Tribune (Marquette University), 6 Sept. 2016

Did you know?

The fragile, airy quality of things evanescent reflects the etymology of the word evanescent itself. It derives from a form of the Latin verb evanescere, which means "to evaporate" or "to vanish." Given the similarity in spelling between the two words, you might expect evaporate to come from the same Latin root, but it actually grew out of another steamy Latin root, evaporare. Evanescere did give us vanish, however, by way of Anglo-French and Vulgar Latin.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Thu, 10/20/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 20, 2016 is:

hoick • \HOIK\  • verb

: to move or pull abruptly : yank


"Occasionally he hoicks up the waistband of his trousers when he thinks no one is looking." — Elizabeth Day, The Observer, 24 Feb. 2015

"The flutist … looks forward, unfolding a retinue of futuristic techniques—sounds that purr like a cat, pop like a cork or hoick like a spitball—on the way to a final improvisation…." — David Allen, The New York Times, 29 Mar. 2016

Did you know?

Etymologists suspect that hoick is an alteration of the verb hike, which is itself akin to hitch. According to the evidence, hike entered the language during the first decade of the 19th century, whereas hoick appeared near that century's close. The word hoick can be used for any type of abrupt pulling movement but is commonly used for the sudden pulling back on the joystick of an airplane; a rough, jerky movement when rowing; and a jerky, elevated shot in cricket. In fox hunting, the word hoicks is used to call attention to a hound that has picked up the scent and to bring the pack together.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Wed, 10/19/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 19, 2016 is:

colubrine • \KAHL-yuh-bryne\  • adjective

1 : of, relating to, or resembling a snake

2 : of or relating to a large cosmopolitan family (Colubridae) of chiefly nonvenomous snakes


The trellis's latticework was covered with colubrine ivy.

"Most of the colubrine snakes are entirely harmless, and are the common snakes that we meet everywhere." — Theodore Roosevelt, Through the Brazilian Wilderness, 1914

Did you know?

Colubrine may be less common than other animal words—such as canine, feline, and bovine—but it has been around for a good long while. Ultimately derived from the Latin colubra ("snake"), it slithered into the English language in the 16th century. (Cobra, by the way, comes from the same Latin word, but it entered English through Portuguese.) Some other words for "snakelike" are serpentine (a more common alternative) and ophidian (from the Greek word for snake: ophis).

Categories: Fun Stuff


Tue, 10/18/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 18, 2016 is:

jacquerie • \zhah-kuh-REE\  • noun

: (often capitalized Jacquerie) a peasants' revolt


"There were no bloodthirsty sansculottes preparing to erect guillotines; nor were farmers, however angry about government excise taxes and other matters—as Shays's Rebellion suggested—ready to burn down the manorial estates of their feudal overlords in some version of an American jacquerie." — Steve Fraser, Wall Street: America's Dream Palace, 2008

"The thicker the masonry, the more likely the fortress would withstand the anticipated Jacquerie." — Michael Knox Beran, National Review, 7 Sept. 2009

Did you know?

The first jacquerie was an insurrection of peasants against the nobility in northeastern France in 1358, so-named from the nobles' habit of referring contemptuously to any peasant as "Jacques," or "Jacques Bonhomme" (in French bonhomme means "fellow"). It took some time—150 years—for the name of the first jacquerie to become a generalized term for other revolts. The term is also occasionally used to refer to the peasant class, as when Madame Defarge in Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities tells her husband to "consider the faces of all the world that we know, consider the rage and discontent to which the Jacquerie addresses itself with more and more of certainty every hour."

Categories: Fun Stuff

ab initio

Mon, 10/17/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 17, 2016 is:

ab initio • \ab-ih-NISH-ee-oh\  • adverb

: from the beginning


"Like many of contemporary architecture's most celebrated figures, [Zaha] Hadid is often presented as an artist who conceives her buildings entirely ab initio." — Ellis Woodman, The Daily Telegraph (London), 3 Sept. 2012

"Two months ago, the Supreme Court ruled that Federal Court judges are not eligible to represent Quebec on its bench. Justice Nadon's nomination was therefore void ab initio." — André Pratte, The Globe and Mail (Canada), 29 May 2014

Did you know?

We'll tell you right from the beginning where ab initio comes from. This adverb was adopted at the beginning of the 17th century directly from Latin, where it translates as "from the beginning." (Initio is a form of the noun initium, meaning "beginning," which gave rise to such English words as initial, initiate, and initiative.) Ab initio most frequently appears in legal contexts, but it is not surprising to find it used outside of the courtroom. The phrase is also used as an adjective meaning "starting from or based on first principles" (as in "predicted from ab initio calculations").

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sun, 10/16/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 16, 2016 is:

lavation • \lay-VAY-shun\  • noun

: the act or an instance of washing or cleansing


"… we cannot keep the skin healthy without frequent lavations of the whole body in pure water. It is impossible to calculate the benefits of this simple practice." — Walt Whitman, "Bathing, Cleanliness, Personal Beauty," June 1846

"In Maycomb County, it was easy to tell when someone bathed regularly, as opposed to yearly lavations…." — Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960

Did you know?

It sounds logical that you would perform a lavation in a lavatory, doesn't it? And it is logical: both words come from Latin lavare, meaning, appropriately, "to wash." English picked up a few other words from this root as well. In medicine, the therapeutic washing out of an organ is lavage. There is also lavabo (in Latin, literally, "I shall wash"), which in English can refer to a ceremony at Mass in which the celebrant washes his hands, to the basin used in this religious ceremony, or to other kinds of basins. Even the word lavish, via a Middle French word for a downpour of rain, comes to us from lavare.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sat, 10/15/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 15, 2016 is:

waggish • \WAG-ish\  • adjective

1 : resembling or characteristic of a wag : displaying good-humored mischief

2 : done or made for sport : humorous


"A warm person who enjoys banter with often-waggish reporters, [Elizabeth] Brenner joked that her next move would be to take a newspaper-carrier route in Pewaukee. 'No, that's not what I'm going to do,' she quickly added. 'Can't get up that early.'" — Rick Romell, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 17 May 2016

"The waggish reaction to Guaranteed Rate's name and arrow logo is like the feedback Energy Solutions received when its name replaced that of Delta Air Lines on the Utah Jazz's arena a decade ago. Energy Solutions' business—disposing of low-level nuclear waste in the Utah desert—led to people calling the arena the Dump, the Isotope and Radium Stadium." — Richard Sandomir, The New York Times, 25 Aug. 2016

Did you know?

One who is waggish acts like a wag. What, then, is a wag? Etymologists think wag probably came from waghalter, a word that was once used for a gallows bird (that is, a person who was going to be, or deserved to be, hanged). Waghalter was apparently shortened to wag and used jokingly or affectionately for mischievous pranksters or youths. Hence a wag is a joker, and waggery is merriment or practical joking. Waggish can describe the prank itself as well as the prankster type; the class clown might be said to have a "waggish disposition" or be prone to "waggish antics."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Fri, 10/14/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 14, 2016 is:

nemesis • \NEM-uh-siss\  • noun

1 a : one that inflicts retribution or vengeance

b : a formidable and usually victorious rival or opponent

2 a : an act or effect of retribution

b : a source of harm or ruin : curse


"My nemesis was a young woman who, at the end of the film, had the honour of sending me to my doom at the bottom of a well. Her name meant nothing to me then: Jennifer Aniston." — Warwick Davis,, 10 Apr. 2010

"The leaves were pale … and, upon closer inspection, the stems had small nibble marks on them. I immediately suspected slugs since they've been my nemesis in the past so I sprang into action." — Susan Mulvihill, The Spokesman Review (Spokane, Washington), 21 Aug. 2016

Did you know?

Nemesis was the Greek goddess of vengeance, a deity who doled out rewards for noble acts and punishment for evil ones. The Greeks believed that Nemesis didn't always punish an offender immediately but might wait generations to avenge a crime. In English, nemesis originally referred to someone who brought a just retribution, but nowadays people are more likely to see animosity than justice in the actions of a nemesis.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Thu, 10/13/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 13, 2016 is:

univocal • \yoo-NIV-uh-kul\  • adjective

1 : having one meaning only

2 : unambiguous


The president declared that it was important to send a univocal message of support to the beleaguered country.

"Often cited as America's greatest indigenous art form, jazz wriggles away from any univocal definition, resisting the confines of a single track like water flowing on broken ground." — Charles Donelan, The Santa Barbara (California) Independent, 23 Sept. 2010

Did you know?

Earliest known print evidence of univocal, in the sense of "having one meaning only," dates the word to the mid-1500s, somewhat earlier than its more familiar antonym equivocal (meaning "often misleadingly subject to two or more interpretations"). Both words trace back to the Latin noun vox, which means "voice." The prefix uni- ("one") was combined with vox to create the Late Latin word univocus, from which English speakers borrowed univocal. Univocal was indeed once used in the sense of "speaking in one voice" (or "unanimous") as its etymology would imply, but that use is now obsolete.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Wed, 10/12/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 12, 2016 is:

phlegmatic • \fleg-MAT-ik\  • adjective

1 : resembling, consisting of, or producing the humor phlegm

2 : having or showing a slow and stolid temperament


"She said 'Good morning, Miss,' in her usual phlegmatic and brief manner; and taking up another ring and more tape, went on with her sewing." — Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1847

"You are aware of the finality of fate, and tend to have a phlegmatic and sometimes unhappy compromise with your life, even when you long for a definitive resolution." — Molly Shea, The New York Post, 31 Aug. 2016

Did you know?

According to the ancient Greeks, human personalities were controlled by four bodily fluids or semifluids called humors: blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm. Each humor was associated with one of the four basic elements: air, earth, fire, and water. Phlegm was paired with water—the cold, moist element—and it was believed to impart the cool, calm, unemotional personality we now call the "phlegmatic type." That's a bit odd, given that the term derives from the Greek phlegma, which literally means "flame," perhaps a reflection of the inflammation that colds and flus often bring.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Tue, 10/11/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 11, 2016 is:

scion • \SYE-un\  • noun

1 : a detached living portion of a plant (as a bud or shoot) joined to a stock in grafting and usually supplying solely aerial parts to a graft

2 : descendant, child; especially : a descendant of a wealthy, aristocratic, or influential family

3 : heir


"The duke was the billionaire owner of swaths of central London, a friend of Britain's royal family and the scion of an aristocratic family stretching back to the Norman Conquest." — The Boston Herald, 14 Aug. 2016

"The vibe of the place is a mixture of old-school cool and Brit eccentric. There are poems etched onto the wall by the artist Hugo Guinness, … a scion of the famous Anglo-Irish brewing family." — Christa D'Souza, W, September 2016

Did you know?

Scion derives from the Middle English sioun and Old French cion and is related to the Old English cīth and the Old High German kīdi (meaning "sprout" or "shoot"). When it first sprouted in English in the 14th century, scion meant "a shoot or twig." That sense withered in horticultural contexts, but the word branched out, adding the grafting-related meaning we know today. A figurative sense also blossomed referring to one's descendants, with particular reference to those who are descendants of notable families.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Mon, 10/10/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 10, 2016 is:

roister • \ROY-ster\  • verb

: to engage in noisy revelry : carouse


Hugh didn't get much sleep last night because his neighbors were roistering until the wee hours of the morning.

"North Highlands, apparently, is also what they call a part of Scotland where the prince's grandmum (the Queen Mother) kept a wee castle where the little royals used to roister." — Carlos Alcala, The Sacramento (California) Bee, 27 Oct. 2005

Did you know?

As British writer Hugo Williams asserted in The Times Literary Supplement (November 15, 1991), roistering tends to be "funnier, sillier and less harmful than standard hooliganism, being based on nonsense rather than violence." Boisterous roisterers might be chagrined to learn that the word roister derives from a Middle French word that means "lout" or "boor," rustre. Ultimately, however, it is from the fairly neutral Latin word rusticus, meaning "rural." In the 16th century, the original English verb was simply roist, and one who roisted was a roister. Later, we changed the verb to roister and the corresponding noun to roisterer.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sun, 10/09/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 9, 2016 is:

odious • \OH-dee-us\  • adjective

: arousing or deserving hatred or repugnance : hateful


Volunteers gathered on Saturday morning to scrub away the odious graffiti spray-painted on the school.

"I can't help being reminded of the progress we've made as a nation, as well as the odious past of slavery, the many men and women who have lost their lives in wars…." — Candi Castleberry Singleton, quoted in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 5 Sept. 2016

Did you know?

Odious has been with us since the days of Middle English. We borrowed it from Anglo-French, which in turn had taken it from Latin odiosus. The Latin adjective came from the noun odium, meaning "hatred." Odium is also an ancestor of the English verb annoy (another word that came to Middle English via Anglo-French). And, at the beginning of the 17th century, odium entered English in its unaltered form, giving us a noun meaning "hatred" or "disgrace" (as in "ideas that have incurred much odium").

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sat, 10/08/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 8, 2016 is:

truncate • \TRUNG-kayt\  • verb

: to shorten by or as if by cutting off


"Apparently, a federal law … requires printed credit card receipts truncate not only the credit card number, but also the expiration date." — Jack Greiner, The Cincinnati Enquirer, 28 Aug. 2016

"Google's own URL shortener service … instantly truncates the URL you're visiting and copies the new address to the clipboard for use anywhere." — Eric Griffith,, 23 Aug. 2016

Did you know?

Truncate descends from the Latin verb truncare, meaning "to shorten," which in turn can be traced back to the Latin word for the trunk of a tree, which is truncus. Incidentally, if you've guessed that truncus is also the ancestor of the English word trunk, you are correct. Truncus also gave us truncheon, which is the name for a police officer's billy club, and the obscure word obtruncate, meaning "to cut the head or top from."

Categories: Fun Stuff