Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 07, 2015 is:

hoosegow • \HOOSS-gow\  • noun
: jail

The perpetrator was sentenced to three months in the hoosegow.

"Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds has issued a blunt warning to pet owners: treat your dogs and cats humanely or you might wind up in the hoosegow." — Bill Hendrick, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 16, 2014

Did you know?
In Spanish, juzgado means "panel of judges, courtroom." The word is based on the Spanish past participle of juzgar, meaning "to judge," which itself was influenced by Latin judicare—a combination of jus, "right, law," and dicere, "to decide, say." When English speakers of the American West borrowed juzgado in the early 1900s, they recorded it the way they heard it: hoosegow. They also associated the word specifically with the jail that was usually in the same building as a courthouse. Today, hoosegow has become slang for any place of confinement for lawbreakers.

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Mon, 07/06/2015 - 11:23am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 06, 2015 is:

categorical • \kat-uh-GOR-ih-kul\  • adjective
1 : absolute, unqualified 2 : of, relating to, or constituting a category

"For his part, Morell, who became deputy CIA director in 2010 and twice served as acting director before retiring in 2013, was categorical in his denial." — Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy DC, May 13, 2015

"Following the AT&T Byron Nelson (tournament), Spieth ranked as the No. 12 celebrity people aspire to be in the future. His other categorical rankings—from endorsement to influence to trend-setter to trustworthiness—all saw similar results." — Candace Carlisle, Dallas Business Journal, June 10, 2015

Did you know?
The ancestor of categorical and category has been important in logic and philosophy since the days of Aristotle. Both English words derive from Greek katēgoria, which Aristotle used to name the 10 fundamental classes (also called "predications" or "assertions") of terms, things, or ideas into which he felt human knowledge could be organized. Ironically, although those categories and things categorical are supposed to be absolute and fundamental, philosophers have long argued about the number and type of categories that exist and their role in understanding the world. High-level philosophical disputes aside, the word categorical continues to refer to an absolute assertion, one that involves no conditions or hypotheses (for example, the statement "all humans are mortal").

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Sun, 07/05/2015 - 11:23am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 05, 2015 is:

bunkum • \BUNG-kum\  • noun
: insincere or foolish talk : nonsense

I hesitated to voice my opinions, fearful that my companions would deride my views as bunkum.

"The now-discredited study got headlines because it offered hope. It seemed to prove that our sense of empathy … could overcome prejudice and bridge seemingly irreconcilable differences. It was heartwarming, and it was utter bunkum." — Charles Seife, Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2015

Did you know?
Some words in our language have more colorful histories than others, but 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 Buncombe County, North Carolina, 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 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 later for any kind of nonsense.

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Sat, 07/04/2015 - 11:23am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 04, 2015 is:

stringent • \STRIN-junt\  • adjective
1 : tight, constricted 2 : marked by rigor, strictness, or severity 3 : marked by money scarcity and credit strictness

Brandon and Sarah had to adjust to living on a stringent budget during the four months when Brandon was looking for a job.

"In an effort to address the perils of climate change, the county supervisors voted 3–2 to adopt the most stringent greenhouse-gas-emission restrictions of any county in California…." — Nick Welsh, Santa Barbara (California) Independent, May 21, 2015

Did you know?
Words that are synonymous with stringent include rigid, which implies uncompromising inflexibility ("rigid rules of conduct"), and rigorous, which suggests hardship and difficulty ("the rigorous training of firefighters"). Also closely related is strict, which emphasizes undeviating conformity to rules, standards, or requirements ("strict enforcement of the law"). Stringent usually involves severe, tight restrictions or limitations ("the college has stringent admissions rules"). That's logical. After all, rigorous and rigid are both derived from rigēre, the Latin word meaning "to be stiff," and stringent and strict developed from the Latin verb stringere, meaning "to bind tight."

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Fri, 07/03/2015 - 11:23am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 03, 2015 is:

interpellate • \in-ter-PELL-ayt\  • verb
: to question (someone, such as a foreign minister) formally concerning an official action or policy or personal conduct

At the international tribunal, U.N. officials interpellated the premier about his country's acquisition of illegal weapons. "The group noted that Mr. Lotilla was being interpellated at the time by Rep. Elpidio F. Barzaga, Jr., a member of the majority bloc who supported the fare hike." — Melissa Luz T. Lopez and Vince Alvic Alexis F. Nonato, Business World, January 23, 2015

Did you know?
Interpellate is a word you might encounter in the international news section of a newspaper or magazine. It refers to a form of political challenging used in the congress or parliament of many nations throughout the world, in some cases provided for in the country's constitution. Formal interpellation isn't practiced in the U.S. Congress, but in places where it is practiced, it can be the first step in ousting an appointed official or bringing to task an elected one. The word was borrowed from the Latin term interpellatus, past participle of interpellare, which means "to interrupt or disturb a person speaking." The "interrupt" sense, once used in English, is now obsolete, and interpellate should not be confused with interpolate, which means "to insert words into a text or conversation."

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Thu, 07/02/2015 - 11:23am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 02, 2015 is:

apprehension • \ap-rih-HEN-shun\  • noun
1 a : the act or power of perceiving or comprehending b : the result of apprehending mentally : conception 2 : seizure by legal process : arrest 3 : suspicion or fear especially of future evil : foreboding

"Oddly combined with her sharp apprehension … was the primitive simplicity of her attitude…." — Edith Wharton, The Reef, 1912

"Rife with memories of lessons learned and laughter shared and full of hopeful apprehension facing uncertain futures in a big, brave new world, 241 seniors graduated from Princeton Senior High School Friday evening." — Tammie Toler, Princeton (West Virginia) Times, June 5, 2015

Did you know?
The Latin verb prehendere really grabs our attention. It means "to grasp" or "to seize," and it is an ancestor of various English words. It teamed up with the prefix ad- (which takes the form ap- before p and means "to," "toward," or "near") to form apprehendere, the Latin predecessor of our words apprehension, apprehend, and apprehensive. When prehendere joined the prefix com- ("with," "together," "jointly"), Latin got comprehendere, and English eventually got comprehend, comprehension, and comprehensive. Prehendere also gave us the words comprise, prehensile ("adapted for seizing or grasping"), prison, reprehend, and reprise, among others.

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Wed, 07/01/2015 - 11:23am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 01, 2015 is:

precarious • \prih-KAIR-ee-us\  • adjective
1 : dependent on uncertain premises : dubious 2 a : dependent on chance circumstances, unknown conditions, or uncertain developments b : dangerously lacking in security or steadiness

The books were stacked high in a precarious tower that was liable to topple at any moment.

"[Margaret] Atwood, whose futuristic fictions include 'The Handmaid's Tale,' 'Oryx and Crake' and 'MaddAddam,' knows that the entire premise of trees growing to be harvested for paper for print books many decades hence is a bit precarious. 'I am sending a manuscript into time,' she wrote in a prepared statement. 'Will any human beings be waiting there to receive it?'" — Carolyn Kellogg, The Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2015

Did you know?
"This little happiness is so very precarious, that it wholly depends on the will of others." Joseph Addison, in a 1711 issue of Spectator magazine, couldn't have described the oldest sense of precarious more precisely—the original meaning of the word was "depending on the will or pleasure of another." Prayers and entreaties directed at that "other" might or might not help, but what precariousness really hangs on, in the end, is prex, the Latin word for prayer. From prex came the Latin word precarius, meaning "obtained by entreaty," from whence came our own adjective precarious. Anglo-French priere, also from precarius, gave us prayer.

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Tue, 06/30/2015 - 11:23am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 30, 2015 is:

disinformation • \dis-in-fer-MAY-shun\  • noun
: false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth

The writer's latest book examines the effects of propaganda and disinformation during the Cold War.

"But more than anything else, we believe the level of fury and disinformation in this debate does a disservice to every student, teacher and taxpayer." — editorial, Newsday (New York), April 19, 2015

Did you know?
In 1939, a writer describing Nazi intelligence activities noted, "The mood of national suspicion prevalent during the last decade ... is well illustrated by General Krivitsky's account of the German 'Disinformation Service,' engaged in manufacturing fake military plans for the express purpose of having them stolen by foreign governments." Although the Nazis were accused of using disinformation back in the 1930s, the noun and the practice are most often associated with the Soviet KGB. Many people think disinformation is a literal translation of the Russian dezinformatsiya, which means "misinformation," a term the KGB allegedly used in the 1950s to name a department created to dispense propaganda.

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Mon, 06/29/2015 - 11:23am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 29, 2015 is:

expeditious • \ek-spuh-DISH-us\  • adjective
: marked by or acting with prompt efficiency

Geraldine was impressed by the company's expeditious response, which arrived in the mail only one week after she had submitted her query.

"[Councilman Frank Colonna] also noted that the recently formed Economic Development Commission is actively working to make the city more business friendly, and he hopes issues such as this can be dealt with in a more expeditious way." — Ashleigh Ruhl, Press-Telegram (Long Beach, CA), May 9, 2015

Did you know?
Like expeditious, all of the following words contain ped. Can you guess which ones get those three letters from the same Latin root as expeditious?

encyclopedia, expedition, stampede, torpedo, orthopedic, & impede

The Latin source of expeditious is the verb expedire, which means "to extricate," "to prepare," or "to be useful." The ped is from pes, meaning "foot." (The ex- means "out of," and the literal sense of expedire is "to free the feet.") The ped in impede also comes from pes. But the ped in encyclopedia and orthopedic is from the Greek pais, meaning "child"; stampede is from the Spanish estampar, meaning "to stamp"; and torpedo is from the Latin torpēre, meaning "to be sluggish." What about expedition? Meaning both "a journey" and "promptness," it is from expedire and, in turn, pes.

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Sun, 06/28/2015 - 11:23am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 28, 2015 is:

cybrarian • \sye-BRAIR-ee-un\  • noun
: a person whose job is to find, collect, and manage information that is available on the World Wide Web

The university's cybrarians maintain libraries of Web sites pertaining to specific fields of study.

"Mike Tromblee is on a mission. The new Redwood Area School District cybrarian and media center specialist wants to take technology education to the next level in the classroom." — Troy Krause, Redwood Falls (Maine) Gazette, August 30, 2010

Did you know?
We've been using librarian for the people who manage libraries since at least the beginning of the 18th century, and the word was used for scribes and copyists even earlier than that. Cybrarian, on the other hand, is much newer; its earliest documented use is from 1991. Librarian combines library (itself from liber, the Latin word for book) and the noun suffix -an, meaning "one specializing in." When people wanted a word for a person who performed duties similar to those of a librarian by using information from the Internet, they went a step further and combined cyber-, meaning "of, relating to, or involving computers or a computer network," with librarian to produce the new cybrarian.

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Sat, 06/27/2015 - 11:23am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 27, 2015 is:

mesmerize • \MEZ-muh-ryze\  • verb
1 : to subject to mesmerism; also : hypnotize 2 : spellbind

Moviegoers will find themselves mesmerized by the visual intricacy and frenetic pacing of the animated sequence that opens the movie.

"In 2008, Democrats had a 47-year-old candidate who mesmerized the party and ran away with the votes of Americans aged 18 to 29." — Byron York, Daily Review (Morgan City, Louisiana), April 30, 2015

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 late 18th-century 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 a force he termed animal magnetism. Many believe that what he actually used was what we now call hypnotism. Mesmer's name was first applied to a technique for inducing hypnosis by one of his students in 1784.

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Fri, 06/26/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 26, 2015 is:

waddy • \WAH-dee\  • noun
: cowboy

"One of the waddies, a young, long-faced kid in an oversized black hat, held Renegade's reins up close to the bridle and was running a soothing hand down the skewbald's stout neck." — Peter Brandvold, .45 Caliber Firebrand, 2009

"There is always an Old West gunfight re-enactment to watch, a nightly rodeo to attend, and waddies on horseback to witness strolling into downtown, tying their steed to a hitching post at the historic Irma Hotel—named after Buffalo Bill's daughter—and enjoying an after-work beverage and dinner." — Michael Johnson, Alamogordo (New Mexico) Daily News, May 26, 2012

Did you know?
It's easier to rope a wild mustang than to round up the origin of waddy. Some folks claim it comes from wadding (the material used in stuffing or padding) because waddies were once extra hands hired to fill in when extra cowhands were needed. But other evidence suggests that waddy originally referred to a cattle rustler, a usage that wouldn't support the wadding theory. There is also an Australian waddy meaning "stick" or "club," but definitive evidence of a connection between the Australian and American words remains elusive. All researchers can say with certainty is that waddy has been used to refer to a cowboy since at least the late 19th century.

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Thu, 06/25/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 25, 2015 is:

futile • \FYOO-tul\  • adjective
1 : serving no useful purpose : completely ineffective 2 : occupied with trifles : frivolous

Unfortunately, all efforts to repair the damage ultimately proved futile.

"Kumiko's journey is a tragic one. It is made clear from the beginning that her quest is futile." — Josh Weitzel, Columbia Chronicle (Columbia College Chicago), April 13, 2015

Did you know?
Futile floated into the English language in the mid-16th century from Middle French, where it took shape from the Latin adjective futilis, meaning "that easily pours out" or "leaky." That leak of information lets you in on how futile developed its "ineffective" and "frivolous" meanings: things that are leaky are of no use. In 1827, English author Robert Southey found use for the word by blending it into utilitarian to form futilitarian, a word that is used today for anyone who believes that human striving is futile.

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Wed, 06/24/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 24, 2015 is:

anastrophe • \uh-NASS-truh-fee\  • noun
: inversion of the usual syntactical order of words for rhetorical effect

My father was fond of word play, especially anastrophe, when he talked to my sister and me about things we would rather not talk about; he would say things like "Tired you are not but to bed you must go."

"Should you buy 'Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric'? If you're at all interested in the techniques of writing, yes. At the very least, you'll learn that that last sentence, with its inversion of the usual word order —'yes' at the end instead of the beginning of the sentence—is an instance of anastrophe." — Michael Dirda, Washington Post, May 5, 2011

Did you know?
"Powerful you have become Dooku, the dark side I sense in you." Fans of Star Wars will recognize Yoda's line in Attack of the Clones. Others might guess that Yoda is the speaker because of the unconventional syntax that is the hallmark of Yoda's speech. (In typical Yoda fashion, the subject is second instead of first in both clauses—it follows a predicate adjective and the direct object, respectively.) The name for this kind of syntactical inversion is anastrophe, from the Greek verb anastrephein, meaning "to turn back." President John F. Kennedy employed anastrophe for rhetorical effect when he inverted the typical positive-to-negative parallelism in his famous line "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country." In poetry, anastrophe is often used to create rhythm, as in these lines from Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky": "So rested he by the Tumtum tree, / And stood awhile in thought."

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