Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 25, 2013 is:
pertain \per-TAYN\ verb
1 a : to belong as a part, quality, or function b : to be appropriate to something 2 : to have reference
Maria keeps a journal of news articles that pertain to her interests.
"When filing, candidates received copies of the charter and the portion of the code that pertains to elections, said City Clerk Tina Flowers." From an article by Eileen P. Duggan in South County Times, April 12, 2013
Did you know?
"Pertain" comes to us via Anglo-French from the Latin verb "pertinēre," meaning "to reach to" or "to belong." "Pertinēre," in turn, was formed by combining the prefix "per-" (meaning "through") and "tenēre" ("to hold"). "Tenēre" is a popular root in English words and often manifests with the "-tain" spelling that can be seen in "pertain." Other descendants include "abstain," "contain," "detain," "obtain," "maintain," "retain," and "sustain," to name a few of the more common ones. Not every "-tain" word has "tenēre" in its ancestry, though. "Ascertain," "attain," and "certain" are among the exceptions. And a few "tenēre" words don't follow the usual pattern: "tenacious" and "tenure" are two.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 24, 2013 is:
goldbrick \GOHLD-brik\ noun
1 a : a worthless brick that looks like gold b : something that appears valuable but is actually worthless 2 : a person who shirks assigned work
Jake is a goldbrick who spends too much time trying to cozy up to the boss instead of finishing his assignments.
"History is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams. It almost makes you wonder whether loafers, goldbricks and no-accounts aren't responsible for more of the world's great ideas, inventions and masterpieces than the hardworking." From an article by Tim Kreider in The New York Times, July 1, 2012
Did you know?
"The gold brick swindle is an old one but it crops up constantly," states an 1881 National Police Gazette article referring to the con artist's practice of passing off bricks made of base metal as gold. By the time World War I was under way, the word "goldbrick" was associated with another sort of trickery. The sense of the word meaning "shirker" originated in the slang of the United States Army, where it referred to a soldier who feigned illness or injury in order to get out of work or service. That sense has since expanded in usage to refer to any person who avoids or tries to get out of his or her assignment.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 23, 2013 is:
amalgamate \uh-MAL-guh-mayt\ verb
: to unite in or as if in a mixture of elements; especially : to merge into a single body
On her latest album, the artist has amalgamated several different styles of music.
"Sure enough, in 1999, Congress dutifully went along with Weill's push for repeal, and Wall Street promptly rushed to amalgamate more Citigroups, thus creating the 'too-big-to-fail' system thatonly eight years laterdid indeed fail." From an article by Jim Hightower in the Illinois Times (Springfield, Illinois), August 9, 2012
Did you know?
The noun "amalgam" derives by way of Middle French from Medieval Latin "amalgama." It was first used in the 15th century with the meaning "a mixture of mercury and another metal." (Today, you are likely to encounter this sense in the field of dentistry; amalgams can be used for filling holes in teeth.) Over time, use of "amalgam" broadened to include any mixture of elements.and by the 18th century the word was also being applied figuratively, as in "an amalgam of citizens." The verb "amalgamate" has been in use since at least 1617. It too can be used either technically, implying the creation of an alloy of mercury, or more generally for the formation of any compound or combined entity.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 22, 2013 is:
canker \KANK-er\ verb
1 : to become infested with erosive or spreading sores 2 : to corrupt the spirit of 3 : to become corrupted
"I have never seen any children, only debased imitations of men and women, cankeredA Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains, 2005
"If you have dead or cankered branches on your trees, disinfect pruning tools between cuts to prevent chances of spreading fire blight bacteria from infected trees." From an article in the Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, South Dakota), March 13, 2013
Did you know?
"Canker" is commonly known as the name for a type of spreading sore that eats into the tissuea use that obviously furnished the verb with both its medical and figurative senses. The word ultimately traces back to Latin "cancer," which can refer to a crab or a malignant tumor. The Greeks have a similar word, "karkinos," and according to the Ancient Greek physician Galen the tumor got its name from the way the swollen veins surrounding the affected part resembled a crab's limbs. "Cancer" was adopted into Old English, becoming "canker" in Middle English and eventually shifting in meaning to become a general term for ulcerations. "Cancer" itself was reintroduced to English later, first as a zodiacal word and then as a medical term.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 21, 2013 is:
filial \FIL-ee-ul\ adjective
1 : of, relating to, or befitting a son or daughter 2 : having or assuming the relation of a child or offspring
Margaret's sense of filial responsibility is only part of her motivation for carrying on her parents' business; she also loves the work.
"Confucianism, which emphasizes filial piety, has been the bedrock of Korean society for hundreds of years and, historically, older citizens would rely on their children to take care of them." From an article by Audrey Yoo in Time, March 25, 2013
Did you know?
"Filial" is descended from Latin "filius," meaning "son," and "filia," meaning "daughter," and in English (where it has been used since at least the 14th century) it has always applied to both sexes. The word has long carried the dutiful sense "owed to a parent by a child," as found in such phrases as "filial respect" and "filial piety." These days it can also be used more generally for any emotion or behavior of a child to a parent. You might suspect that "filia" is also the source of the word "filly," meaning "a young female horse" or "a young girl," but it isn't. Rather, "filly" is from Old Norse "fylja."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 20, 2013 is:
muliebrity \myoo-lee-EB-ruh-tee\ noun
"She was one of those women who are wanting inwhat is the word?muliebrity." From H. G. Wells' 1911 novel New Machiavelli
"She is a motherly figure, but altogether unlike his mother, motherly in a way that allows too for muliebrity." From Michael Griffith's 2012 book Bibliophilia: A Novella and Stories
Did you know?
"Muliebrity" has been used in English to suggest the distinguishing character or qualities of a woman or of womankind since the 16th century. (Its masculine counterpart, "virility," entered the language at about the same time.) "Muliebrity" comes from Latin "mulier," meaning "woman," and probably is a cognate of Latin "mollis," meaning "soft." "Mollis" is also the source of the English verb "mollify"a word that implies a "softening" of hurt feelings or anger.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 19, 2013 is:
atone \uh-TOHN\ verb
1 : to supply satisfaction for 2 : to make amends
Jamie tried to atone for his teasing of his sister by offering her some of his candy.
"For all the redemption songs in recent weeks, Bank of America Corp. still hasn't fully atoned for its mortgage mishaps." From an article by Adam O'Daniel in Charlotte Business Journal, March 1, 2013
Did you know?
"Atone" comes to us from the combination in Middle English of "at" and "on," the latter of which is an old variant of "one." Together they meant "in harmony." (In current English, we use "at one" with a similar suggestion of harmony in such phrases as "at one with nature.") When it first entered English, "atone" meant "to reconcile" and suggested the restoration of a peaceful and harmonious state between people or groups. These days the verb specifically implies addressing the damage (or disharmony) caused by one's own behavior.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 18, 2013 is:
alameda \al-uh-MEE-duh\ noun
: a public promenade bordered with trees
"The evening was soft and warm and in the little alameda grackles were settling in the trees and calling to one another." From Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel No Country for Old Men
"The use of street trees and public gardens in plans for new towns in the late eighteenth century and the creation of alamedas and paseos in most of the larger existing towns reflect the spread of Enlightenment ideas to the colonies from Europe." From Henry W. Lawrence's 2008 book City Trees: A Historical Geography from the Renaissance Through the Nineteenth Century
Did you know?
Residents of the American Southwest may remember the "álamo" in "alameda." This "álamo" is not the 18th-century Franciscan mission that was the site of a key battle in the fight for Texas independence, however, but the Spanish name for the poplar tree (the mission, the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, was named for the trees that grew near it). Spanish speakers used "álamo" as the basis for their word "alameda," which can name either a grove of poplars or a tree-lined avenue. English speakers found "alameda" so appropriate for a shady public promenade that they borrowed it as a generic term in the 1700s. And yes, the Spanish "alameda" and nearby poplar trees also contributed to the naming of the city of Alameda, California.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 17, 2013 is:
litmus test \LIT-mus-TEST\ noun
: a test in which a single factor (as an attitude, event, or fact) is decisive
For Curtis, the litmus test of good barbeque ribs is whether or not they have that moist fall-off-the-bone quality.
"The students who are following the discussion often look uncomfortable at this point, and the moment serves as a litmus test to see who really is paying attention." From an article by Dolores T. Puterbaugh in USA Today, November 2012
Did you know?
It was in the 14th century that scientists discovered that litmus, a mixture of colored organic compounds obtained from lichen, turns red in acid solutions and blue in alkaline solutions and, thus, can be used as an acid-base indicator. Six centuries later, people began using "litmus test" figuratively. It can now refer to any single factor that establishes the true character of something or causes it to be assigned to one category or another. Often it refers to something (such as an opinion about a political or moral issue) that can be used to make a judgment about whether someone or something is acceptable or not.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 16, 2013 is:
caterwaul \KAT-er-wawl\ verb
1 : to make a harsh cry 2 : to protest or complain noisily
The toddler caterwauled loudly when her toy was taken away.
"Stockton's leaders clearly calculated that at this point they have little to lose by shortchanging bondholdersits credit rating is already so low that it'd have a hard time financing a used Hyundai with $5,000 downand that while creditors may sue, complain, and caterwaul, they do not get to vote." From an article by Kevin D. Williamson in National Review, April 3, 2013
Did you know?
An angry (or amorous) cat can make a lot of noise. As long ago as the mid-1300s, English speakers were using "caterwaul" for the act of voicing feline passions. The "cater" part is, of course, connected to the cat, but scholars disagree about whether it traces to Middle Dutch "cāter," meaning "tomcat," or if it is really just "cat" with an "-er" added. The "waul" is probably imitative in origin; it represents the feline howl itself. English's first "caterwaul" was a verb focused on feline vocalizations, but by the 1600s it was also being used for noisy people or things. By the 1700s it had become a noun naming any sound as loud and grating as a tomcat's yowl.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 15, 2013 is:
down \DOWN\ noun
1 : an undulating generally treeless upland with sparse soil usually used in plural b plural and often capitalized : treeless chalk uplands along the south and southeast coast of England 2 often capitalized : a sheep of any breed originating in the downs of southern England
She lives in a large estate outside of the village, at the foot of the downs.
"They also said that it is increasingly difficult to walk on the Downs as there are cattle grazing and the ground has been 'churned up' and been made slippery by work carried out by the farm." From an article by Hannah White in the Salisbury Journal (United Kingdom), March 27, 2013
Did you know?
Today's word has a number of homographs in English, all of which share etymological kinship to the same Sanskrit origins, though they followed different paths into modern English usage. The "down" we are featuring today can be traced back to Old English "dūn," which is related to Old Irish "dūn" ("fortress") and Sanskrit "dhūnoti" ("he shakes"). The noun "down" that is used for a covering of soft fluffy feathers comes from Old Norse "dūnn," which is also related to Sanskrit "dhūnoti." The adverb "down" (and the related preposition, adjective, verb, and noun) used to indicate a lower physical position or direction is from Old English "dūne," a shortening of "adūne," itself a combination of "a-" ("from, of, or off") and "dūne," the dative form of "dūn" (the Old English ancestor of today's word).
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 14, 2013 is:
requite \rih-KWYTE\ verb
1 a : to make return for : repay b : to make retaliation for : avenge 2 : to make suitable return to for a benefit or service or for an injury
Beautiful but malevolent, Maude requited Sydney's love with scorn and treachery.
"Odds are that OBrien's flare-up of romantic love for Amanda won't be requited." From a movie review by John Wirt in The Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), November 16, 2012
Did you know?
You might be familiar with the phrase "unrequited love." Love that has not been requited is love that has not been returned or paid back in kind, which brings us to the common denominator in the above definitions for "requite"the idea of repayment, recompense, or retribution. The "quite" in "requite" is a now obsolete English verb meaning "to set free, discharge, or repay." ("Quite" is also related to the English verb "quit," the oldest meanings of which include "to pay up" and "to set free.") "Quiten," the Middle English source of "quite," can be traced back through Anglo-French to Latin "quietus" ("quiet" or "at rest"), a word which is also an ancestor of the English word "quiet."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 13, 2013 is:
sui generis \soo-eye-JEN-uh-ris\ adjective
: constituting a class alone : unique, peculiar
Among history's greats, Leonardo da Vinci is often considered sui generisa man of such stupendous genius that the world may never see his like again.
"So let us celebrate the glory that was Elaine Stritch in her prime. For among modern entertainers she is sui generis." From a review by Stephen Holden in the New York Times, April 4, 2013
Did you know?
English contains many terms that ultimately trace back to the Latin forms "gener-" or "genus" (which are variously translated as "birth," "race," "kind," and "class"). Offspring of those roots include "general," "generate," "generous," "generic," "degenerate," and "gender." But "sui generis" is truly a one-of-a-kind "gener-" descendant that English speakers have used for singular things since the late 1600s. Its earliest uses were in scientific contexts, where it identified substances, principles, diseases, and even rocks that were unique or that seemed to be the only representative of their class or group. By the early 1900s, however, "sui generis" had expanded beyond solely scientific contexts, and it is now used more generally for anything that stands alone.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 12, 2013 is:
sesquipedalian \sess-kwuh-puh-DAIL-yun\ adjective
1 : having many syllables : long 2 : using long words
Jacob's editor advised him to do away with much of the sesquipedalian prose he favored and opt for simpler words that would reach readers of all ages and backgrounds.
"'You just don't see that many sesquipedalian writers like William F. Buckley Jr. in the media anymore,' said a colleague to whom I mentioned this topic." From an article by Mary Schmich in the Chicago Tribune, December 5, 2012
Did you know?
Horace, the Roman poet known for his satire, was merely being gently ironic when he cautioned young poets against using "sesquipedalia verba""words a foot and a half long"in his book Ars poetica, a collection of maxims about writing. But in the 17th century, English literary critics decided the word "sesquipedalian" could be very useful for lambasting writers using unnecessarily long words. Robert Southey used it to make two jibes at once when he wrote "the verses of [16th-century English poet] Stephen Hawes are as full of barbarous sesquipedalian Latinisms, as the prose of [the 18th-century periodical] the Rambler." The Latin prefix "sesqui-" is used in modern English to mean "one and a half times," as in "sesquicentennial" (a 150th anniversary).