Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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Sat, 11/28/2015 - 12:00am

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

colligate • \KAH-luh-gayt\  • verb
1 : to bind, unite, or group together 2 : to subsume (isolated facts) under a general concept 3 : to be or become a member of a group or unit

"For instance, many words colligate with the word 'the,' which is a grammatical marker of definiteness rather than a word that carries significant semantic content." — Tony McEnery and Andrew Hardie, Corpus Linguistics: Method, Theory and Practice, 2012

"Research that examines the combined effect of lifestyle factors on mortality is plentiful, and data have been colligated in a recent meta-analysis." — Valentina A. Andreeva et al., The American Journal of Public Health, November 2014

Did you know?
Colligate (not to be confused with collocate or collegiate) is a technical term that descends from Latin colligare, itself from com- ("with") plus ligare ("to tie"). Which of the following words is NOT tied to ligare? Ligature, ligament, lien, rely, ally, collogue, oblige, furl, league. Ligature, ligament, lien, rely, ally, oblige, furl, and league (in the sense of "an association of persons, groups, or teams") can all be traced back along varying paths to ligare. That leaves only collogue (meaning "to confer")—whose origin is unknown. (Collocate and collegiate are also unrelated via ligare.)

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Fri, 11/27/2015 - 12:00am

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

minatory • \MIN-uh-tor-ee\  • adjective
: having a menacing quality

In the moonlight, the twisted winter trees took on a particularly baleful and minatory appearance.

"No one likes to hear or heed prophets of doom, but history is replete with them.… The minatory mutterings of the Delphic Oracle were often unheeded by the Greeks." — Brian Roche, Redlands (California) Daily Facts, 28 Sept. 2015

Did you know?
Knowing that minatory means "threatening," can you take a guess at a related word? If you're familiar with mythology, perhaps you guessed Minotaur, the name of the bull-headed, people-eating monster of Crete. Minotaur is a good guess, but as terrifying as the monster sounds, its name isn't related to today's word. The relative we're searching for is actually menace. Minatory and menace both come from derivatives of the Latin verb minari, which means "to threaten." Minatory was borrowed directly from Late Latin minatorius. Menace came to English via Anglo-French manace, menace, which came from Latin minac-, minax, meaning "threatening."

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Thu, 11/26/2015 - 12:00am

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

Xanadu • \ZAN-uh-doo\  • noun
: an idyllic, exotic, or luxurious place

To Arthur, the beach house was a Xanadu, the perfect spot for the romantic tropical vacation he had dreamed of for years.

"Others traveled to Tolchester Beach, the Xanadu of the Chesapeake, aboard Wilson Line steamers…." — Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun, 31 July 2015

Did you know?
"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure-dome decree." Those lines are from the poem "Kubla Khan" (published in 1816) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge's fantastic description of an exotic utopia fired public imagination and ultimately contributed to the transition of Xanadu from a name to a generalized term for an idyllic place. The Xanadu in the poem was inspired by Shang-tu, the summer residence of Mongolian general and statesman Kublai Khan (grandson of Genghis Khan). You might also recognize Xanadu as the name of the fantastic estate in Orson Welles's 1941 film Citizen Kane and as the name of a 1980 musical film starring Olivia Newton-John.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Wed, 11/25/2015 - 12:00am

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

dyed-in-the-wool • \dyde-in-thuh-WOOL\  • adjective
: thoroughgoing, uncompromising

"In public, Hunter [S. Thompson] was never his true self; he was playing Brando-gone-mad, a true, dyed-in-the-wool, 100 percent all-American showman." — Douglas Brinkley, Rolling Stone, 24 Mar. 2005

"But let's be realistic. Dyed-in-the-wool [White] Sox fans can't possibly be thrilled beyond measure for the good fortune of their rivals [the Cubs]. It goes against the competition tradition." — Martha F. Grieashamer, letter in The Chicago Tribune, 15 Oct. 2015

Did you know?
Early yarn makers would dye wool before spinning it into yarn to make the fibers retain their color longer. In 16th-century England, that make-it-last coloring practice provoked writers to draw a comparison between the dyeing of wool and the way children could, if taught early, be influenced in ways that would adhere throughout their lives. In the 19th-century U.S., the wool-dyeing practice put eloquent Federalist orator Daniel Webster in mind of a certain type of Democrat whose attitudes were as unyielding as the dye in unspun wool. Of course, Democrats were soon using the term against their opponents, too, but over time the partisanship of the expression faded and it is now a general term for anyone or anything that seems unlikely or unwilling to change.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Tue, 11/24/2015 - 12:00am

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

henotheism • \HEN-uh-thee-iz-um\  • noun
: the worship of one god without denying the existence of other gods

"For Assyrian kings, the god Ashur … was proclaimed to be the true king, and the human king was the god's regent. In other words, in the ancient world, henotheism was a convenient method for imposing a king's rule over subject peoples: one all-powerful god means one all-powerful king as well." — A. C. Black, Canaan and Israel in Antiquity: An Introduction, 2001

"Wishing to find the roots of Jewish monotheism in the cult of Aten, Freud worked freely with ancient Egyptian henotheism: that is, the concept of the sun as one supreme divinity among many." — David Meghnagi, The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 2014

Did you know?
Henotheism comes to us from the German word Henotheismus, which in turn is derived from Greek hen- ("one") and theos ("god"). Someone who engages in henotheism worships one god but does not deny that there are others. Max Müller, a respected 19th-century scholar, is credited with promoting the word henotheism as a counterpart to polytheism ("belief in or worship of more than one god") and monotheism ("the doctrine or belief that there is but one God"). Müller also used the related word kathenotheism, from Greek kath' hena ("one at a time"), for the worship of several gods successively.

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Mon, 11/23/2015 - 12:00am

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

foreshorten • \for-SHORT-un\  • verb
1 : to shorten by proportionately contracting in the direction of depth so that an illusion of projection or extension in space is obtained 2 : to make more compact : abridge, shorten

"The past is a giant foreshortened with his feet towards us; and sometimes the feet are of clay." — G. K. Chesterton, A Short History of England, 1917

"A low vantage point provides the opportunity to dramatically foreshorten the dimensions of the building, drawing the eye upward to the dome." — Mary McNaughton, The Little Book of Drawing, 2007

Did you know?
Foreshorten first appeared in a 1606 treatise on art by the British writer and artist Henry Peacham: "If I should paint ... an horse with his brest and head looking full in my face, I must of necessity foreshorten him behinde." Peacham's foreshorten comes from fore- (meaning "earlier" or "beforehand") plus shorten. The addition of fore- to verbs was a routine practice in Peacham's day, creating such words as fore-conclude, fore-consider, fore-instruct, and fore-repent. Foreshorten, along with words like foresee and foretell, is one of the few fore- combinations to still survive.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sun, 11/22/2015 - 12:00am

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

nebula • \NEB-yuh-luh\  • noun
1 : any of numerous clouds of gas or dust in interstellar space 2 : any of the very large groups of stars and associated matter that are found throughout the universe; especially : a galaxy other than the Milky Way galaxy — not used technically

The explosion of a supernova leaves behind a nebula from which, upon cooling, new stars and planets may develop.

"A dazzling image of Messier 17, a reddish nebula 5,500 light-years from Earth, provides a detailed view of its newborn stars, gas clouds and dust." — Sindya N. Bhanoo, The New York Times, 28 Sept. 2015

Did you know?
The history of the word nebula is not lost in the mists of time, although its history does get misty at points. The word traces back to the Latin word (spelled the same way as our modern term) for "mist" or "cloud." In its earliest English uses in the 1600s, nebula referred to a cloudy speck or film on the eye that caused vision problems. It was first applied to great interstellar clouds of gas and dust in the early 1700s. The adjective nebulous comes from the same Latin root as nebula, but the first uses of nebulous in the astronomical sense don't appear in English until the late 1700s, well after the discovery of interstellar nebulae.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sat, 11/21/2015 - 12:00am

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

fulsome • \FULL-sum\  • adjective
1 a : characterized by abundance : copious b : generous in amount, extent, or spirit 2 : aesthetically, morally, or generally offensive 3 : exceeding the bounds of good taste : overdone 4 : excessively complimentary or flattering : effusive

"The magnolia was in fulsome bloom, great waxy cups in dark green saucers pressing against the windows." — Caroline Graham, The Killings at Badger's Drift, 1987

"Consider, in particular, the case of Britain. In 2010, when the new government of Prime Minister David Cameron turned to austerity policies, it received fulsome praise from many people on this side of the Atlantic." — Paul Krugman, The New York Times, 24 Jan. 2013

Did you know?
One has only to survey the meanings of fulsome—listed above in the order in which they developed—to understand why there is a lot of confusion about exactly what fulsome means. Some critics disapprove of using it in its original "copious" sense because they feel that sense is not negative enough; they say that fulsome should always be at least mildly deprecatory. It's true that today fulsome is often used pejoratively to describe overly effusive language, but modern English writers still sometimes use it simply to mean "abundant," or occasionally even in contexts where it is complimentary. Some writers go to the more negative extreme, using it for things that are offensive to normal tastes or sensibilities. To avoid misinterpretation, either be sure that the context in which you use the word makes the intended meaning clear or choose a different word.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Fri, 11/20/2015 - 12:00am

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

vicinity • \vuh-SIN-uh-tee\  • noun
1 : the quality or state of being near : proximity 2 : a surrounding area or district : neighborhood 3 : an approximate amount, extent, or degree

There are several wonderful little stores in the vicinity of our new house.

"He showed me how to draw the bowstring and where to keep my sights. Within a few tries, I was shooting in the vicinity of the target." — Lisa Lutz, Self, June 2015

Did you know?
Vicinity has its origins in the idea of neighborliness—it was borrowed into English in the 16th century from Middle French vicinité, which in turn derives from the Latin adjective vicinus, meaning "neighboring." Vicinus itself can be traced back to the noun vicus, meaning "row of houses" or "village," and ultimately all the way back to the same ancient word that gave Gothic, Old Church Slavic, and Greek words for "house." Other descendants of vicinus in English include vicinal ("local" or "of, relating to, or substituted in adjacent sites in a molecule") and vicinage, a synonym of vicinity in the sense of "a neighboring or surrounding district."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Thu, 11/19/2015 - 12:00am

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

ruly • \ROO-lee\  • adjective
: obedient, orderly

As far as groups of young children go, this one was unusually ruly: the youngsters were all fully engaged in building with a large set of colored blocks.

"My hair is ruly, in fact, and I get it cut at least once a month." — Mike Pound, The Joplin (Missouri) Globe, 22 June 2013

Did you know?
You're probably familiar with unruly, meaning "not readily controlled or disciplined." It's a useful word, along with such synonyms as defiant and willful. It has plenty of antonyms too, among them the wholly logical ruly. Haven't heard of ruly till now? We're not surprised. Ruly and unruly are of the same 15th-century vintage, but the former never caught on the way unruly did. The more common unruly is also the older of the pair: ruly was formed by a process called "back-formation" from unruly. Ultimately, both words come from reuly, a Middle English word meaning "disciplined." Reuly in turn comes from Middle English reule, a predecessor of rule.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Wed, 11/18/2015 - 12:00am

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

onomastics • \ah-nuh-MAS-tiks\  • noun
1 a : the science or study of the origins and forms of words especially as used in a specialized field b : the science or study of the origin and forms of proper names of persons or places 2 : the system underlying the formation and use of words especially for proper names or of words used in a specialized field

As a student of onomastics, Gloria liked to keep track of the most popular baby names across generations.

"Leaving that aside, the name Fatima is also used by Catholics, who take it from the town where the Virgin Mary was reported to have appeared in 1917 (itself, in one of those byways of onomastics, named after a princess who bore the name of Mohammed's daughter)." — Dot Wordsworth, The Spectator (London), 9 May 2015

Did you know?
The original word for the science of naming was onomatology, which was adopted from French in the mid-19th century. About a century later, however, people began referring to the science as onomastics, a term based on the Greek verb onomazein ("to name"). Like many sciences, onomastics is itself composed of special divisions. An onomastician might, for example, study personal names or place names, names of a specific region or historical period, or even the character names of a particular author, like Charles Dickens.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Tue, 11/17/2015 - 12:00am

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

inviolable • \in-VYE-uh-luh-bul\  • adjective
1 : secure from violation or profanation 2 : secure from assault or trespass : unassailable

The senator agreed to an interview on the basis of a set of clear and inviolable rules about what she would and would not answer.

"Perhaps M Train represents the attempt by someone whose career is as public as can be imagined to stake out a zone of inviolable privacy, albeit through the public act of writing a book meant for publication." — Geoffrey O’Brien, The New York Review of Books, 22 Oct. 2015

Did you know?
Inviolable is a venerable word that has been with us since the 15th century. Its opposite, violable ("capable of being or likely to be violated") appeared a century later. The English playwright Shackerley Marmion made good use of violable in A Fine Companion in 1633, writing, "Alas, my heart is Tender and violable with the least weapon Sorrow can dart at me." But English speakers have never warmed up to that word the way we have to inviolable, and it continues to be used much less frequently. Both terms descend from Latin violare, which both shares the meaning and is an ancestor of the English word violate.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Mon, 11/16/2015 - 12:00am

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

talisman • \TAL-iss-mun\  • noun
1 : an object held to act as a charm to avert evil and bring good fortune 2 : something producing apparently magical or miraculous effects

Ever since he was in grade school, Sarah's grandfather has carried a rabbit's foot in his pocket as a talisman.

"Relics are physical possessions that were once touched by saints, or even their clothing or body parts, which for many serve as a talisman of good fortune." — Larry Getlen, The New York Post, 6 Sept. 2015

Did you know?
Do you believe in lucky charms? Language reflects the fact that many people do. We might have borrowed talisman from French, Spanish, and Italian; all three include similar-looking words for a lucky charm. Those three terms derive from a single Arabic word for a charm, tilsam. Tilsam in turn can be traced to the ancient Greek verb telein, which means "to initiate into the mysteries." While the word talisman, in its strictest use, refers to an object, even a human being can be considered a talisman—such as a player on a team whose mere presence somehow causes magical things to happen.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sun, 11/15/2015 - 12:00am

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

purloin • \per-LOYN\  • verb
: to appropriate wrongfully and often by a breach of trust

The columnist resigned from the paper after it was revealed that he had purloined material from other journalists.

"The C.I.A. hacks into computers that Senate intelligence committee staffers are using in the basement of a C.I.A. facility because the spy agency thinks its Congressional overseers have hacked into the C.I.A. network to purloin hidden documents on torture." — Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, 12 Mar. 2014

Did you know?
Purloin, pilfer, and filch may just seem like fancy words for "steal," but each has a slightly different connotation. Pilfer implies stealing repeatedly in small amounts, as in this sentence: "It was months before her boss realized she was pilfering office supplies." Filch adds a suggestion of snatching quickly and surreptitiously, e.g., "He filched an apple from the tray." Purloin stresses removing or carrying off something for one's own use or purposes, as in "She purloined the manuscript and tried to pass it off as her own work."

Categories: Fun Stuff