Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 22, 2014 is:

shrive • \SHRYVE\  • verb
1 : to administer the sacrament of reconciliation to 2 : to free from guilt

"Once every three months, Pancho took his savings and drove into Monterey to confess his sins, to do his penance, and be shriven and to get drunk, in the order named." — John Steinbeck, The Pastures of Heaven, 1932

"Members of Congress, a generally spineless lot, like nothing better than to be shriven of responsibility for the edicts that come out of Washington." — editorial, The Eagle-Tribune (Andover, Massachusetts), January 30, 2014

Did you know?
We wouldn't want to give the history of shrive short shrift, so here's the whole story. It began when the Latin verb scribere (meaning "to write") found its way onto the tongues of certain Germanic peoples who brought it to Britain in the early Middle Ages. Because it was often used for laying down directions or rules in writing, 8th-century Old English speakers used their form of the term, scrīfan, to mean "to prescribe or impose." The Church adopted scrīfan to refer to the act of assigning penance to sinners and, later, to hearing confession and administering absolution. Today shrift, the noun form of shrive, makes up half of "short shrift," a phrase meaning "little or no consideration." Originally, "short shrift" was the barely adequate time for confession before an execution.

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golden handcuffs

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 21, 2014 is:

golden handcuffs • \GOHL-dun-HAND-kufs\  • noun
: special benefits offered to an employee as an inducement to continue service

It was in the company's interests to offer Janice a set of golden handcuffs in the form of company stock, since her connections and knowledge of industry secrets would not be easy to replace.

"Coffey quit Moore Capital at the age of 41 to spend more time with his family having previously made his name, and a reported $700 million fortune, at GLG, where he turned down a $250 million golden handcuffs deal to stay." — Jamie Dunkley, London Evening Standard, October 8, 2014

Did you know?
Chances are you've heard of a "golden handshake," which is a particularly tempting severance agreement offered to an employee in an effort to induce the person to retire early. People started getting "golden handshakes" (by that name) around 1960; by 1976, English speakers had also coined the accompanying "golden handcuffs" to describe a situation in which someone is offered a special inducement to stay. The expression turns up often in quasi-literal uses, such as "slapped golden handcuffs on" or "a shiny new set of golden handcuffs."

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Thu, 11/20/2014 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 20, 2014 is:

weal • \WEEL\  • noun
: a sound, healthy, or prosperous state : well-being

The president spoke of devotion to the common weal and the hope of creating a better country.

"'Higher healthcare costs'? No one could be for that, so the campaign [against it] looks like a flag-carrier for the public weal." — Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, October 10, 2014

Did you know?
Weal is most often used in contexts referring to the general good. One reads, for example, of the "public weal" or the "common weal." The latter of these led to the formation of the noun commonweal, a word that once referred to an organized political entity, such as a nation or state, but today usually means "the general welfare." The word commonwealth shares these meanings, but its situation is reversed; the "political entity" sense of commonwealth is still current, whereas the "general welfare" sense has become archaic. At one time, weal and wealth were also synonyms; both meant "riches" ("all his worldly weal") and "well-being." Both words stem from wela, the Old English word for "well-being," and are closely related to the Old English word for "well."

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Wed, 11/19/2014 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 19, 2014 is:

officious • \uh-FISH-us\  • adjective
1 : volunteering one's services where they are neither asked nor needed : meddlesome 2 : informal, unofficial

Staff members view the new consultant as an officious individual offering unwanted feedback, but she is simply doing her job.

"During an interview this week with Morris News, Saxby, a Republican, said he is frustrated by the delay but attributes it more to officious federal bureaucrats than to partisan gamesmanship." — Carla Caldwell, Atlanta Business Chronicle, April 2, 2014

Did you know?
Don't mistake officious for a rare synonym of official. Both words stem from the Latin noun officium (meaning "service" or "office"), but they have very different meanings. When the suffix -osus ("full of") was added to officium, Latin officiosus came into being, meaning "eager to serve, help, or perform a duty." When this adjective was borrowed into English in the 16th century as officious, it carried the same meaning. Early in the 17th century, however, officious began to develop a negative sense describing a person who offers unwanted help. This pejorative sense has driven out the original "eager to help" sense to become the predominant meaning of the word in modern English. Officious can also mean "of an informal or unauthorized nature," but that sense isn't especially common.

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Tue, 11/18/2014 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 18, 2014 is:

leitmotif • \LYTE-moh-teef\  • noun
1 : a melodic phrase or figure that accompanies the reappearance of an idea, person, or situation in a music drama 2 : a dominant recurring theme

The overcoming of obstacles and a love of theater are the two leitmotifs of her autobiography.

"'Collaboration' is the author's supporting theme, and he weaves it in throughout his anecdotes and character studies. Approached lazily, this kind of leitmotif would be more irritating than illuminating, but Isaacson fully commits." — James Norton, The Christian Science Monitor, October 13, 2014

Did you know?
The English word leitmotif (or leitmotiv, as it is also spelled) comes from the German Leitmotiv, meaning "leading motive" and formed from leiten ("to lead") and Motiv ("motive"). In its original sense, the word applies to opera music and was first used by writers interpreting the works of composer Richard Wagner, who was famous for associating a melody with a character or important dramatic element. Leitmotif is still commonly used with reference to music and musical drama but is now also used more broadly to refer to any recurring theme in the arts or in everyday life.

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Mon, 11/17/2014 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 17, 2014 is:

rife • \RYFE\  • adjective
1 : prevalent especially to an increasing degree 2 : abundant, common 3 : copiously supplied : abounding

After the newspaper's managing editor was fired, speculation was rife about who would replace him.

"In the battle over Amendment 2, Drug Free Florida has decried the medical marijuana ballot initiative as being rife with loopholes." — Dan Sweeney, The Sun-Sentinel (South Florida), October 15, 2014

Did you know?
English is rife with words that have Germanic connections, many of which have been handed down to us from Old English. Rife is one of those words. Not a whole lot has changed with rife in its 900-year history. We continue to use the word, as we have since the 12th century, for negative things, especially those that are widespread or prevalent. Typical examples are "shoplifting was rife" or "the city was rife with greed and corruption." Rumors and speculation are also frequently described as "rife," as well. But rife can also be appropriately used, as it has been for hundreds of years, for good or neutral things. For example, you might speak of "the summer garden, rife with scents."

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Sun, 11/16/2014 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 16, 2014 is:

meliorism • \MEE-lee-uh-riz-um\  • noun
: the belief that the world tends to improve and that humans can aid its betterment

The author's meliorism is evident in such statements as, "I believe that peace is inevitable."

"Eric Schlosser's fine Fast Food Nation wavered between a pragmatic meliorism, devoted to reforming the meatpacking and restaurant industry, and a visionary despair over the conditions of modern American life." — Stephen Metcalf, Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2001

Did you know?
In 1877, British novelist George Eliot believed she had coined meliorist when she wrote, "I don't know that I ever heard anybody use the word 'meliorist' except myself." Her contemporaries credited her with coining both meliorist and meliorism, and one of her letters contains the first documented use of meliorism, but there is evidence that meliorist had been around for 40 years or so before she started using it. Whoever coined it did so by drawing on the Latin melior, meaning "better." It is likely that the English coinages were also influenced by another melior descendant, meliorate, a synonym of ameliorate ("to make better") that was introduced to English in the mid-1500s.

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Sat, 11/15/2014 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 15, 2014 is:

execrable • \EK-sih-kruh-bul\  • adjective
1 : deserving to be execrated : detestable 2 : very bad : wretched

It turned out that the execrable odor was coming from a bag of onions rotting in the back of the pantry.

"If the waiter laid my plate on the table and said, 'Eat!' I wouldn't mind. But 'Enjoy!' is another matter. There's something cloying, manipulative and, yes, distasteful about being told to enjoy something that might, for all you know, be bland or even execrable." — Tim Johnson, The Burlington (Vermont) Free Press , February 16, 2013

Did you know?
He or she who is cursed faces execrable conditions. Keep this in mind to remember that execrable is a descendant of the Latin verb exsecrari, meaning "to put under a curse." Since its earliest uses in English, beginning in the 14th century, execrable has meant "deserving or fit to be execrated," the reference being to things so abominable as to be worthy of formal denouncement (such as "execrable crimes"). But in the 19th century we lightened it up a bit, and our "indescribably bad" sense has since been applied to everything from roads ("execrable London pavement" — Sir Walter Scott) to food ("The coffee in the station house was ... execrable." — Clarence Day) to, inevitably, the weather ("the execrable weather of the past fortnight" — The (London) Evening Standard).

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Fri, 11/14/2014 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 14, 2014 is:

devise • \dih-VYZE\  • verb
1 a : to form in the mind by new combinations or applications of ideas or principles : invent b : to plan to obtain or bring about : plot 2 : to give (real estate) by will

The author's childhood home was devised to the city and the Historical Commission will turn it into a museum devoted to her life.

"Students at the Ilead Charter School devised three ways to bash pumpkins into pieces. One method used rubber surgical tubing to create an Angry Birds-style slingshot to propel the squash through the air. A more direct device crushed the pumpkins with a weight and a bowling ball." — Kevin Lillard, Juneau County Star-Times (Wisconsin), October 15, 2014

Did you know?
There's something inventive about devise, a word that stems from Latin dividere, meaning "to divide." By the time devise appeared in English in the 1200s, its Anglo-French forebear deviser had accumulated an array of senses, including "to divide," "distribute," "arrange," "array," "digest," "order," "plan," "invent," "contrive," and "assign by will." English adopted most of these and added some new senses over the course of time: "to imagine," "guess," "pretend," and "describe." In modern use, we've disposed of a lot of the old meanings, but we kept the one that applies to wills. Devise traditionally referred to the transfer of real property (land), and bequeath to personal property; these days, however, devise is often recognized as applying generally to all the property in a person's estate.

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Thu, 11/13/2014 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 13, 2014 is:

threnody • \THREN-uh-dee\  • noun
: a song of lamentation for the dead : elegy

Christina wrote the poem as a threnody for her grandmother, who had died the previous spring.

"Ian Hobson will lead the Sinfonia strings in Strauss' 'Metamorphosen,' his threnody on the destruction of German musical monuments at the end of World War II." — John Frayne, The News-Gazette (Champaign, Illinois), September 11, 2014

Did you know?
Threnody encompasses all genres. There are great threnodies in prose (such as the lines from Charles Dickens’ Bleak House upon the death of Little Jo: "Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead…."), in poetry (as in W. H. Auden’s "Funeral Blues": "The stars are not wanted now: put out every one, / Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun…."), and in music (Giovanni Pergolesi’s "Stabat Mater," for one). Threnody, which we borrowed from the Greek word thrēnōidia (from thrēnos, the word for "dirge"), has survived in English since the early 1600s. Melody, tragedy, and comedy are related to threnody through the Greek root that forms their ending—aeidein, which means "to sing."

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Wed, 11/12/2014 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 12, 2014 is:

hallowed • \HAL-ohd\  • adjective
1 : holy, consecrated 2 : sacred, revered

"He who enters a university walks on hallowed ground," declared Harvard President James Bryant Conant on the celebration of that institution's 300th anniversary.

"People pass Richards Memorial Park every day, many without knowing the amount of rich Talbot County history buried in its hallowed grounds." — Josh Bollinger, Sunday Star (Easton, Maryland), October 12, 2014

Did you know?
The adjective hallowed probably doesn't give you the shivers—or does it? Hallowed is the past participle of the verb hallow, a term that descends from the Middle English halowen. That word can in turn be traced back to hālig, Old English for "holy." During the Middle Ages, All Hallows' Day was the name for what Christians now call All Saints' Day, and the evening that preceded All Hallows' Day was All Hallow Even—or, as we know it today, Halloween.

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Tue, 11/11/2014 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 11, 2014 is:

anodyne • \AN-uh-dyne\  • adjective
1 : serving to alleviate pain 2 : not likely to offend or arouse tensions

The group's latest album is a fairly anodyne affair; it contains a number of lively tunes that are easy on the ears, but which play it far too safe to ever be anything more than passing amusements.

"British comics in the 1950s were pale imitations of American ones. Many were anodyne: the first two prosecutions under a 1955 law prohibiting 'harmful publications' for children were both in 1970." — The Economist, May 10, 2014

Did you know?
Anodyne came to English via Latin from Greek anōdynos ("without pain"), and it has been used as both an adjective and a noun ("something that relieves pain") since the 16th century. It has sometimes been used of things that dull or lull the senses and render painful experiences less so. Edmund Burke used it this way, for example, in 1790 when he referred to flattery as an "anodyne draft of oblivion" that renders one (in this particular case, the deposed King Louis XVI) forgetful of the flatterer's true feelings. In the 1930s, a newer second sense began appearing in our vocabulary. Now, in addition to describing things that dull pain, anodyne can also refer to that which doesn't cause discomfort in the first place.

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Mon, 11/10/2014 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 10, 2014 is:

egregious • \ih-GREE-juss\  • adjective
: conspicuous; especially : conspicuously bad : flagrant

It was an egregious breach of theater etiquette on Eugene's part when he left his cell phone on during the play and it rang during an important scene.

"Stanford still leads in the nation in scoring defense, but had perhaps the most egregious defensive breakdown of the weekend, failing to cover a Notre Dame receiver who scored the winning touchdown on a fourth-down pass with 1:01 left." — Jake Curtis, San Francisco Chronicle, October 5, 2014

Did you know?
Egregious derives from the Latin word egregius, meaning "distinguished" or "eminent." In its earliest English uses, egregious was a compliment to someone who had a remarkably good quality that placed him or her eminently above others. That's how English philosopher and theorist Thomas Hobbes used it in flattering a colleague when he remarked, "I am not so egregious a mathematician as you are." Since Hobbes' day, however, the meaning of the word has become noticeably less complimentary, possibly as a result of ironic use of its original sense.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sun, 11/09/2014 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 09, 2014 is:

injunction • \in-JUNK-shun\  • noun
1 : the act or an instance of enjoining : order, admonition 2 : a court order requiring a party to do or refrain from doing a specified act

The family gathered in the room to hear the matriarch's dying injunctions.

"A Superior Court judge Tuesday issued a preliminary injunction preventing a Santa Fe Springs wastewater plant from removing sludge from tanks … until a plan has been approved by the local air quality district." — Mike Sprague, Whittier Daily News (California), October 7, 2014

Did you know?
Injunction derives, via Anglo-French and Late Latin, from the Latin verb injungere, which in turn derives from jungere, meaning "to join." Like our verb enjoin, injungere means "to direct or impose by authoritative order or with urgent admonition." (Not surprisingly, enjoin is also a descendant of injungere.) Injunction has been around in English since at least the 15th century, when it began life as a word meaning "authoritative command." In the 16th century it developed a legal second sense applying to a court order. It has also been used as a synonym of conjunction, another jungere descendant meaning "union," but that sense is extremely rare.

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