Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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Tue, 07/28/2015 - 1:00am

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

pachyderm • \PAK-ih-derm\  • noun
: any of various nonruminant mammals (such as an elephant, a rhinoceros, or a hippopotamus) of a former group (Pachydermata) that have hooves or nails resembling hooves and usually thick skin; especially : elephant

"The archetypal Seuss hero … was Horton, a conscientious pachyderm who was duped by a lazy bird into sitting on her egg." — Eric Pace, New York Times, September 26, 1991

"Each month, as Nandi bounds closer to her first birthday on Aug. 20, we will keep you in the know on what’s new with this precious pachyderm’s progress." — Johanna Willett, Arizona Daily Star, June 18, 2015

Did you know?
Pachydermos in Greek means literally "having thick skin" (figuratively, it means "dull" or "stupid"). It's from pachys, meaning "thick," and derma, meaning "skin." In the late 1700s the French naturalist Georges Cuvier adapted the Greek term as pachyderme and used it for any one of a whole assemblage of hoofed animals having thickish skin: elephants, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, tapirs, horses, pigs, and more. English speakers learned the word from French in the early 1800s. The adjective pachydermatous means "of or relating to the pachyderms" or "thickened" (referring to skin). Not too surprisingly, it also means "callous" or "insensitive" (somewhat unfairly to elephants, which are actually known to be rather sensitive).

Categories: Fun Stuff


Mon, 07/27/2015 - 1:00am

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

yaw • \YAW\  • verb
1 a : (of a ship) to deviate erratically from a course (as when struck by a heavy sea); especially : to move from side to side b : (of an airplane, spacecraft, or projectile) to turn by angular motion about the vertical axis 2 : alternate

The ship yawed hard to starboard when the rogue wave hit it broadside.

"In 2002, contractors … explored the wreck using a remotely-operated submarine. They found ropes and lights from previous visits, and worked out how the big plane skipped and yawed across the water before sinking to the bottom." — Steve Weintz,, February 1, 2015

Did you know?
In the heyday of large sailing ships, numerous nautical words appeared on the horizon, many of which have origins that have never been traced. Yaw is one such word. It began showing up in print in the 16th century, first as a noun (meaning "movement off course" or "side to side movement") and then as a verb. For more than 350 years it remained a sailing word, with occasional side trips to the figurative sense "to alternate." Then dawned the era of airplane flight in the early 20th century, and "yawing" was no longer confined to the sea. Nowadays, people who love boats still use yaw much as the sailors of old did, but pilots and astronauts also refer to the "yawing" of their crafts.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sun, 07/26/2015 - 1:00am

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

abulia • \ay-BOO-lee-uh\  • noun
: abnormal lack of ability to act or to make decisions

"Abulia is a motivational deficit that is associated with apathy, loss of will, and lack of initiating behaviors." — Handbook of the Neuroscience of Language, 2008

"The remoteness of the country house made him feel isolated and displaced—feelings that worsened his abulia and melancholy—so he decided to move back closer to town, where he felt more at home." — Adam Sobsey, Independent Weekly (Durham, North Carolina), March 7, 2007

Did you know?
"I must have a prodigious quantity of mind," Mark Twain once wrote. "It takes me as much as a week, sometimes, to make it up." The indecision Twain laments is fairly common; only when inability to make decisions reaches an abnormal level does it have an uncommon name: abulia. The English term we use today comes from a New Latin word that combines the prefix a-, meaning "without," with the Greek word boulē, meaning "will." Abulia can refer to the kind of generalized indecision that makes it impossible to choose what flavor ice cream you want, though it was created to name a severe medical disorder that can render a person nearly inert.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sat, 07/25/2015 - 1:00am

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

dubious • \DOO-bee-us\  • adjective
1 a : of doubtful promise or outcome b : questionable or suspect as to true nature or quality 2 : unsettled in opinion : doubtful

Jesse made the dubious claim that he could eat a whole watermelon in one sitting; then we sat in awe and watched him do it.

"'Can you work with what I have?' he asked, sounding dubious. 'Absolutely!' I said, though I was dubious, too. I'd always staged houses with my own furnishings.'" — Marni Jameson, San Jose Mercury News (California), June 11, 2015

Did you know?
Dubious derives from the Latin verb dubare, meaning "to hesitate in choice of opinions or courses," and it is related to the Latin word for "two": duo. Dubious can be used to indicate uncertainty about the result of an action or the truth of a statement as well as about the uncertainty of a person and his or her character. In either case, it usually implies a feeling of doubt from suspicion, mistrust, or hesitation.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Fri, 07/24/2015 - 1:00am

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

umbra • \UM-bruh\  • noun
1 : a shaded area 2 a : a conical shadow excluding all light from a given source; specifically : the conical part of the shadow of a celestial body excluding all light from the primary source b : the central dark part of a sunspot

During the eclipse, the moon was in the umbra of the earth's shadow for about 90 minutes.

"When the moon passes into the penumbra, it darkens the surface of the moon, making it look as if a 'bite' has been taken from the lunar surface. 'Totality' occurs when the moon is completely submerged in the umbra, and takes on a deep red hue." — Maria Rovito, The Snapper: Millersville University, April 9, 2015

Did you know?
The Latin word umbra ("shade, shadow") has given English a range of words in addition to umbra itself. An umbrella can provide us with shade from the sun. So can an umbrageous tree—in this case, umbrageous means "affording shade." The connection to shade or shadow in other umbra words is less obvious. When we say someone takes umbrage, we mean they take offense, but in times past people used the word as a synonym of shade or shadow. Those two senses of umbrage influenced umbrageous, which can mean "inclined to take offense easily" as well as "affording shade."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Thu, 07/23/2015 - 1:00am

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

meticulous • \muh-TIK-yuh-lus\  • adjective
: marked by extreme or excessive care in the consideration or treatment of details

The composer's meticulous, almost obsessive, attention to detail is evident in even the smallest musical flourishes that the average listener will likely never notice.

"The Australian-American [Justine] Larbalestier's scholarly background is on full display in her latest novel, with its meticulous attention to detail and strong emphasis on overlooked voices from history." — Jennifer Hubert Swan, New York Times, May 31, 2015

Did you know?
It may surprise you to learn that meticulous is derived from the Latin word for "fearful"—meticulosus—and ultimately comes from the Latin noun metus, meaning "fear." Although meticulous currently has no "fearful" meanings, it was originally used as a synonym of frightened and timid. This sense had fallen into disuse by 1700, and in the 19th century meticulous acquired a new sense of "overly and timidly careful" (probably influenced by the French word méticuleux). This in turn led to the current meaning of "painstakingly careful," with no connotations of fear at all. The newest use was controversial among some usage commentators at first, but it has since become by far the most common meaning and is no longer considered an error.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Wed, 07/22/2015 - 1:00am

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

octothorpe • \AHK-tuh-thorp\  • noun
: the symbol #

"To demonstrate and test the varying thicknesses that a pen is capable of imparting, Ivy League students often begin by writing an octothorpe—known to some plebians as a 'hashtag.'" — Evan Siegel, Columbia Spectator (Columbia University), December 6, 2014

"Whatever it ought to be called, Messina chose to use this symbol for collating Twitter searches in 2007 because he wanted a sign that could be input from a low-tech cellphone. He had two options: octothorpe or asterisk. He chose the former." — Roman Mars,, December 17, 2014

Did you know?
A versatile symbol with many names (among them hash mark, number sign, and pound sign), the octothorpe has become popularized as the go-to symbol for marking trending topics on Twitter and other social media. It is believed to have been adopted by the telecommunications industry with the advent of touch-tone dialing in the 1960s. Stories abound about how the odd symbol got its name. The octo- part almost certainly refers to the eight points on the symbol, but the -thorpe remains a mystery. One story links it to a telephone company employee who happened to burp while talking about the symbol with co-workers. Another relates it to the athlete Jim Thorpe and the campaign to restore posthumously his Olympic medals, which were taken away after it was discovered that he played baseball professionally previous to the 1912 Games. A third claims it derives from an Old English word for "village."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Tue, 07/21/2015 - 1:00am

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

truculent • \TRUCK-yuh-lunt\  • adjective
1 : feeling or displaying ferocity : cruel, savage 2 : deadly, destructive 3 : scathingly harsh : vitriolic 4 : aggressively self-assertive : belligerent

Warren's truculent demeanor made him unpleasant to work with, particularly as deadlines approached.

"When I interviewed her at the end of last year, she struck me as an unusually truculent person, one who certainly couldn't be pushed about, by me or anyone." — Rachel Cooke, The Observer (London), May 31, 2015

Did you know?
Truculent derives from truculentus, a form of the Latin adjective trux, meaning "savage." It has been used in English since the 16th century to describe people or things that are cruel and ferocious, such as tyrannical leaders, and has also come to mean "deadly or destructive" (as in "a truculent disease"). In current use, however, it has lost much of its etymological fierceness. It now frequently serves to describe speech or writing that is notably harsh (as in "truculent criticism") or a person who is notably self-assertive and surly (such as "a truculent schoolboy"). Some usage commentators have criticized these extended uses because they do not match the savagery of the word's original sense, but they are well-established and perfectly standard.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Mon, 07/20/2015 - 1:00am

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

longanimity • \long-guh-NIM-uh-tee\  • noun
: a disposition to bear injuries patiently : forbearance

The fans showed longanimity by coming back year after year to cheer on the perpetually losing team.

"Our family successes will vary from year to year, as will those of the garden. The constant is this: After the soil is tended, the garden—and the family—eventually takes root and flourishes. Meanwhile, I am showing as much longanimity as possible in anticipating those tomatoes." — Sheila Jones, Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, July 27, 2013

Did you know?
Longanimity is a word with a long history. It came to English in the 15th century from the Late Latin adjective longanimis, meaning "patient" or "long-suffering." Longanimis, in turn, derives from the Latin combination of longus ("long") and animus ("soul"). Longus is related to the ancestors of our word long and is itself an ancestor to several other English words, including longevity ("long life"), elongate ("to make longer"), and prolong ("to lengthen in time"). Now used somewhat infrequently in English, longanimity stresses the character of one who, like the figure of Job in the Bible, endures prolonged suffering with extreme patience.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sun, 07/19/2015 - 1:00am

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

rue • \ROO\  • verb
: to feel regret, remorse, or penitence for

I rue the day I agreed to serve on this committee.

"While times do change, they don't always change for the best; Sheldon rues that Sundays are no longer a church-dominated day in many Christian denominations." — Carolyn Bostick, Observer-Dispatch (Utica, New York), April 18, 2015

Did you know?
If you remember your high school French, or if you've ever strolled down the Rue de Rivoli in Paris, you may have the notion that the English word rue is somehow connected to the French word for "street." In actuality, the French and English words are not related at all. The English rue is originally from the Old English word hrēow, meaning "sorrow." Used as both a noun (meaning "regret, sorrow") and, more frequently, a verb, rue is very old, dating back to before the 12th century.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sat, 07/18/2015 - 1:00am

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

neophyte • \NEE-uh-fyte\  • noun
1 : a new convert : proselyte 2 : novice 3 : tyro, beginner

As a neophyte to chess, Brock was still learning the rules and basic strategies of the game.

"Abby Wambach taught a soccer neophyte named David Letterman (whatever happened to him?) the intricacies of the sport by booting balls into moving New York taxis." — Martin Rogers,, June 14, 2015

Did you know?
Neophyte is hardly a new addition to the English language (it's been part of the English vocabulary since the 1400s), but it wasn't in general use before the 19th century. When it was used in a 16th-century translation of the Bible, some folks derided it as pretentious and Latinate. One critic lumped it with other "ridiculous inkhorn terms" and another went as far as to write, "Neophyte, to a bare Englishman is nothing at all." The criticisms of neophyte weren't entirely justified, given the word's long history in English, but it is true that neophyte has classical roots. It traces back through Late Latin to the Greek word neophytos, meaning "newly planted" or "newly converted."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Fri, 07/17/2015 - 1:00am

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

superannuated • \soo-per-AN-yuh-way-tud\  • adjective
1 : outmoded, old-fashioned 2 a : incapacitated or disqualified for active duty by advanced age b : older than the typical member of a specified group

The article focused on senior citizens who retire from the workplace and return to school to become superannuated graduate students.

"A handful of superannuated navy ships let rip with their ear-splitting horns, cheering the speedboats on, while military officers gathered on the pier to snap cellphone shots of the flashing hulls…." — Jamie Dettmer, The Daily Beast, June 8, 2015

Did you know?
Superannuated was first put to use in English in the 1600s, having been borrowed from Medieval Latin superannuatus, past participle of superannuari ("to be too old")—from Latin super- ("over" or "above") and annus ("year"). Shortly thereafter, we made our own verb, superannuate, from the adjective. Superannuate means "to dismiss or retire from service with a pension" as well as "to declare obsolete," meanings that are still in active service. Superannuated can mean "outmoded or old-fashioned," as in "superannuated slang" or the "superannuated navy ships" of our second example, or it can simply mean "older than usual," as in our first example sentence.

Categories: Fun Stuff

weasel word

Thu, 07/16/2015 - 1:00am

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

weasel word • \WEE-zul-WERD\  • noun
: a word used in order to evade or retreat from a direct or forthright statement or position

Many people suspected that the politician's weasel words concealed a deeper agenda.

"Lesson: When your team messes up, take responsibility, fully and openly. No exculpatory clauses or weasel words." — Scot Lehigh, Boston Globe, March 4, 2015

Did you know?
Some people believe that weasels can suck the insides out of an egg without damaging the shell, so that an egg thus weasel-treated would look fine on the outside but would actually be empty and useless. It was this supposed behavior on the part of the weasel that led people to start using weasel word to refer to any term intended to give the impression that everything is fine when the speaker is really trying to avoid answering a question, telling the truth, or taking the blame for something.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Wed, 07/15/2015 - 1:00am

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

innocuous • \ih-NAH-kyuh-wus\  • adjective
1 : producing no injury : harmless 2 : not likely to give offense or to arouse strong feelings or hostility : inoffensive, insipid

Laura was relieved to discover that the wild plants her dog had eaten were innocuous.

"We're constantly being tracked through social media and our Internet browsing habits for such innocuous details as age, marital status, where we live, recent life events, education level and dog ownership, so companies can pitch their wares to us." — Elizabeth Simpson, Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Virginia), June 21, 2015

Did you know?
Innocuous has harmful roots—it comes to us from the Latin adjective innocuus, which was formed by combining the negative prefix in- with a form of the verb nocēre, meaning "to harm" or "to hurt." In addition, nocēre is related to the truly "harmful" words noxious, nocent, and even nocuous. Innocent is from nocēre as well, but like innocuous it has the in- prefix negating the hurtful possibilities. Innocuous first appeared in print in 1631 with the clearly Latin-derived meaning "harmless or causing no injury" (as in "an innocuous gas"). The second sense is a metaphorical extension of the idea of injury used to indicate that someone or something does not cause hurt feelings, or even strong feelings ("an innocuous book" or "innocuous issues," for example).

Categories: Fun Stuff


Tue, 07/14/2015 - 1:00am

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

duffer • \DUFF-er\  • noun
1 a : a peddler especially of cheap flashy articles b : something counterfeit or worthless 2 : an incompetent, ineffectual, or clumsy person; especially : a mediocre golfer

Most of the people playing in the charity tournament were duffers, but it was all for a good cause.

"The snow is melting, and the grass from the area's golf courses are beginning to look like an oasis, beckoning veterans and duffers alike." — Matt Becker, Observer-Dispatch (Utica, New York), April 12, 2015

Did you know?
Duffers have never really been straight shooters—on or off the golf course. The original duffers of the mid-18th century were shysters of the first order, merchants who palmed off trashy goods as if they were highly valuable (they often implied to unwary buyers that the goods had been smuggled and were very rare). Over time, the meaning of duffer was extended from a no-good peddler to anyone who was "no good," not just because the individual had low morals, but because he or she was incompetent or stupid. The term has been applied to hopelessly bad golfers since the late 19th century.

Categories: Fun Stuff