Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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

tyro • \TYE-roh\  • noun
: a beginner in learning : novice

The ranch has one riding trail for tyros and several more challenging options for experienced riders.

"The young Falcons tyro is up for the challenge after missing the first two games of the season with an ankle injury he carried through pre-season." — Sunshine Coast Daily, March 25, 2015

Did you know?
The word tyro is hardly a newcomer to Western language. It comes from the Latin tiro, which means "young soldier," "new recruit," or more generally, "novice." The word was sometimes spelled tyro as early as Medieval Latin, and can be spelled tyro or tiro in English (though tyro is the more common American spelling). Use of tyro in English has never been restricted to the original "young soldier" meaning of the Latin term. Writers in the 17th and 18th centuries wrote of tyros in various fields and occupations. Herman Melville used tyro to refer to men new to whaling and life at sea. The word is sometimes used attributively—that is, directly before another noun—as it has been since the 17th century, as in phrases like "tyro reporter" and "tyro actors."

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Thu, 04/23/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 23, 2015 is:

null • \NULL\  • adjective
1 : having no legal or binding force : invalid 2 : amounting to nothing : nil 3 : having no value : insignificant 4 : having no elements

The court will declare the city ordinance null if it is found to be in conflict with state law.

"Michigan voters in November rejected two ballot questions that would essentially have allowed the state Natural Resources Commission to decide the hunting of wolves. But a legislative maneuver made those votes null." — John Barnes, Kalamazoo (Michigan) Gazette, December 23, 2014

Did you know?
English borrowed null from the Anglo-French nul, meaning "not any." That word, in turn, traces to the Latin word nullus, from ne-, meaning "not," and ullus, meaning "any." We sometimes use null with the meaning "lacking meaning or value," as in "By the time I heard it, the news was null." In math, null is sometimes used to mean "containing nothing"; for example, the set of all whole numbers that are divisible by zero is the null set (that is, there are no numbers that fit that description). The phrase null and void is a term in its own right, defined as "having no validity."

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Wed, 04/22/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 22, 2015 is:

quidnunc • \KWID-nunk\  • noun
: a person who seeks to know all the latest news or gossip : busybody

We were naturally curious when the moving van appeared in the Michaelsons' driveway, but the neighborhood quidnunc, Mrs. Dyer, had already heard that Mr. Michaelson was being transferred to a new job out of town.

"To spend time with a book in order to read scandalous revelations about real-life people is not an elevated or honourable thing to do, but it appeals to the gossip-sharing quidnunc in all of us." — John Walsh, The Independent (London), July 22, 2003

Did you know?
"What's new?" That's a question every busybody wants answered. Latin-speaking Nosey Parkers might have used some version of the expression quid nunc, literally "what now," to ask the same question. Appropriately, the earliest documented English use of quidnunc to refer to a gossiper appeared in 1709 in Sir Richard Steele's famous periodical, The Tatler. Steele is far from the only writer to ply quidnunc in his prose, however. You can also find the word among the pages of works by such writers as Washington Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne. But don't think the term is old news—it sees some use in current publications, too.

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Tue, 04/21/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 21, 2015 is:

omnipotent • \ahm-NIP-uh-tunt\  • adjective
: having virtually unlimited authority or influence

Small children often believe their parents to be omnipotent, capable of commanding any situation or resolving any problem they find before them.

"As test scores become the omnipotent factor in what determines an effective educator, a successful student, or the quality of a school, awe-inspired learning moments begin to pale in comparison to the urgency of bubbling in a correct answer." — Laurie Futterman, Miami Herald, March 11, 2015

Did you know?
The word omnipotent made its way into English through Anglo-French, but it ultimately derives from 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 an animal that eats both plants and other animals). Although omnipotent is used in general contexts to mean "all-powerful" (as in "an omnipotent warlord"), its original applications in English referred specifically to the power held by an almighty God. The word has been used as an English adjective since the 14th century; since 1600 it has also been used as a noun referring to one who is omnipotent.

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Mon, 04/20/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 20, 2015 is:

ailurophile • \eye-LOOR-uh-fyle\  • noun
: a cat fancier : a lover of cats

Ailurophiles, young and old, are sure to love the art museum's new exhibit featuring paintings and photographs of felines, ranging from tabbies to man-eaters.

"Yes, it's book one of a series…. And yes, the primary villain is a cat, whereas I'm an unashamed ailurophile. … But none of that mattered when I closed the back cover—I just wanted more, more, more." — Katie Ward Beim-Esche, Christian Science Monitor, December 30, 2014

Did you know?
Although the word ailurophile has only been documented in English since the early 1900s, ailurophiles have been around for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians were perhaps history's greatest cat lovers, pampering and adorning felines, honoring them in art, even treating them as gods. But the English word ailurophile does not descend from Egyptian; rather, it comes from a combination of the Greek word ailouros, which means "cat," and the suffix -phile, meaning "lover." If Egyptian cat-loving sentiments leave you cold and you're more sympathetic to medieval Europeans who regarded cats as wicked agents of evil, you might prefer the word ailurophobe (from ailouros plus -phobe, meaning "fearing or averse to"). That's a fancy name for someone who hates or fears cats.

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Sun, 04/19/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 19, 2015 is:

desiccate • \DESS-ih-kayt\  • verb
1 : to dry up or become dried up 2 : to preserve (a food) by drying : dehydrate 3 : to drain of emotional or intellectual vitality

Weeks of blazing heat along with a prolonged lack of rain have desiccated many of the plants in our garden.

"Since these insects desiccate easily, they will build tunnels to provide themselves the moisture they need." — Paula Weatherby, Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville), February 7, 2015

Did you know?
Raisins are desiccated grapes; they're also dehydrated grapes. And yet, a close look at the etymologies of desiccate and dehydrate raises a tangly question. In Latin siccus means "dry," whereas the Greek stem hydr- means "water." So how could it be that desiccate and dehydrate are synonyms? The answer is in the multiple identities of the prefix de-. It may look like the same prefix, but the de- in desiccate means "completely, thoroughly," as in despoil ("to spoil utterly") or denude ("to strip completely bare"). The de- in dehydrate, on the other hand, means "remove," the same as it does in defoliate ("to strip of leaves") or in deice ("to rid of ice").

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Sat, 04/18/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 18, 2015 is:

wimple • \WIM-pul\  • verb
1 : to cover with or as if with a wimple : veil 2 : to ripple 3 : (chiefly Scottish) to follow a winding course : meander

A thick fog wimpled the shoreline so that the only thing that could be seen from the distance was the light winking from the top of the lighthouse.

"In retrospect, [The Sound of Music] may have been the first movie to introduce the concept of 'saboteur nun,' and made people think differently about the wimpled sorority." — James Lileks, National Review Online, December 9, 2013

Did you know?
Wimple is the name of the covering worn over the head and around the neck and chin by women in the late medieval period, as well as by some modern nuns. Its name is akin to Old Saxon wimpal and Middle Dutch wimpel, both of which mean "veil" or "banner." Like the word veil, wimple is also used as a verb meaning "cover" and was adopted by literary writers as a substitute for ripple and meander, especially when writing about streams. "Over the little brook which wimpled along below towered an arch," James Russell Lowell once observed.

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Fri, 04/17/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 17, 2015 is:

rebarbative • \rih-BAR-buh-tiv\  • adjective
: repellent, irritating

The cantankerous professor found the music, clothing, and slang favored by her students to be rebarbative.

"For all the complaints about his abrasiveness, the shadow chancellor is simply doing his job.… He once gave me a heartfelt radio interview in which he suggested, like the character in the Roger Rabbit movie, that he was not so much bad but 'just drawn that way,' and that maturity had taken the edge off his rebarbative manner." — Anne McElvoy, The Guardian, February 22, 2015

Did you know?
You may be surprised to learn that today's word traces back to the Latin word for beardbarba—making it a very distant relative of the English word beard. But there is some sense to the connection. After all, beards may not be repellent, but they can be prickly and scratchy. Another descendant of Latin barba is the English word barb, which can refer to a sharp projection (as found on barbed wire) or a biting critical remark, both of which can discourage others from getting too close. An interesting side note: barber too traces back to barba—but by way of an Anglo-French word for beard.

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hat trick

Thu, 04/16/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 16, 2015 is:

hat trick • \HAT-TRICK\  • noun
1 : the retiring of three batsmen with three consecutive balls by a bowler in cricket 2 : the scoring of three goals in one game by a single player 3 : a series of three victories, successes, or related accomplishments

"Scoring a celestial hat trick, the space shuttle Discovery placed its third satellite in orbit Saturday." — The Houston Post, September 2, 1984

"Eleven seconds into the third period, hundreds of hats were thrown onto the ice after Flyers center Brayden Schenn apparently scored the first hat trick of his career." — Sam Carchidi, Philadelphia Inquirer, March 15, 2015

Did you know?
It may surprise some people to learn that the term hat trick actually originated in British cricket. A bowler who retired three batsmen with three consecutive balls in cricket was entitled to a new hat at the expense of the club to commemorate this feat. Eventually, the phrase was applied to the same player scoring three goals in any goal sport, and baseball announcers now occasionally refer to a batter who gets three hits in three turns at bat as having managed a hat trick as well. The phrase finally broadened to include any string of three important successes or achievements in any field.

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Wed, 04/15/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 15, 2015 is:

stentorian • \sten-TOR-ee-un\  • adjective
: extremely loud

The foreman barked out his orders in a stentorian tone that could be heard clearly over the din of the factory's machinery.

"[Lawrence] Tanter … was the first voice to stand out among the bedlam when the Lakers came from behind to beat Boston in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals. He said simply in his stentorian way, 'Number 16.'" — Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2015

Did you know?
The Greek herald Stentor was known for having a voice that came through loud and clear. In fact, in the Iliad, Homer described Stentor as a man whose voice was as loud as that of fifty men together. Stentor's powerful voice made him a natural choice for delivering announcements and proclamations to the assembled Greek army during the Trojan War, and it also made his name a byword for any person with a loud, strong voice. Both the noun stentor and the related adjective stentorian pay homage to the big-voiced warrior, and both have been making noise in English since the early 17th century.

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Tue, 04/14/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 14, 2015 is:

bilk • \BILK\  • verb
1 : to block the free development of : frustrate 2 a : to cheat out of something valuable : defraud b : to evade payment of or to 3 : to slip away from

The investigation revealed that the garage had been bilking motorists for repairs that had never been made.

"Two women were convicted Thursday of taking part in a scheme in which unnecessary medical procedures were carried out in order to bilk insurance companies out of more than $50 million." — Sean Emery, Orange County Register (California), March 7, 2015

Did you know?
Initially, "bilking" wasn't considered cheating—just good strategy for cribbage players. Language historians aren't sure where bilk originated, but they have noticed that its earliest uses occur in contexts referring to cribbage. Part of the scoring in cribbage involves each player adding cards from his or her hand to a pile of discards called the "crib." At the end of a hand, the dealer gets any points in the crib. Strategically, then, it's wisest for the dealer's opponent to discard non-scoring cards—the ones most likely to "balk," or put a check on, the dealer's score. Etymologists theorize that "bilk" may have originated as an alteration of that card-game "balk."

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Mon, 04/13/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 13, 2015 is:

febrile • \FEB-ryle\  • adjective
: marked or caused by fever : feverish

The patient exhibited a rash and febrile symptoms that were consistent with a certain rare tropical infection.

"Febrile seizures typically occur between the ages of 6 months and 6 years old. They happen when a fever spikes very quickly...." — Vikki Ortiz Healy, Chicago Tribune, August 4, 2014

Did you know?
Not too surprisingly, febrile originated in the field of medicine. We note its first use in the work of the 17th-century medical reformer Noah Biggs. Biggs used it in admonishing physicians to care for their "febrile patients" properly. Both feverish and febrile are from the Latin word for fever, which is febris. Nowadays, febrile is used in medicine in a variety of ways, including references to such things as "the febrile phase" of an illness. And, like feverish, it also has an extended sense, as in "a febrile emotional state."

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Sun, 04/12/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 12, 2015 is:

lotusland • \LOH-tus-land\  • noun
1 : a place inducing contentment especially through offering an idyllic living situation 2 : a state or an ideal marked by contentment often achieved through self-indulgence

The tropical resort was stunning, but after two weeks of recreation and relaxation, I was ready to leave lotusland and return home.

"As a work of fiction it was artless at best, but as a portrait of the pampered children of lotusland it had a devastating aura of authenticity; younger people may have read it for titillation, but their parents read it as a disturbing report from an unknown country." — Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post, October 12, 1987

Did you know?
In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus and his men discover a magical land of lotus-eaters. Some of the sailors eat the delicious "lotus" and forget about their homeland, pleading to stay forever in this "lotusland." (It is likely that the lotus in question was inspired by the fruit of a real plant of the buckthorn family, perhaps the jujube, whose sweet juice is used in candy making and which has given its name to a popular fruity candy.) The label lotusland is now applied to any place resembling such an ideal of perfection, but it also carries connotations of indolence and self-indulgence, possibly derived from the way the sailors refused to work once they reached the original lotusland. The dreamy unreality of a lotusland is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sat, 04/11/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 11, 2015 is:

verdant • \VER-dunt\  • adjective
1 a : green in tint or color b : green with growing plants 2 : unripe in experience or judgment : green

The golf course was noted for its tricky hazards and lush, verdant borders along its fairways.

"Her favorite part of the room was the expansive window looking out over a verdant landscape of hills and distant mountains." — (San Diego), March 9, 2015

Did you know?
English speakers have been using verdant as a ripe synonym of green since the late 16th century, and as a descriptive term for inexperienced or naive people since the 1820s. (By contrast, the more experienced green has colored our language since well before the 12th century and was first applied to inexperienced people in the 1540s.) Verdant is derived from the Old French word for green, vert, which in turn is from Latin virēre, meaning "to be green." Today, vert is used in English as a word for green forest vegetation and the heraldic color green. Another descendant of virēre is the adjective virescent, meaning "beginning to be green."

Categories: Fun Stuff