Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 04, 2015 is:

extradite • \EK-struh-dyte\  • verb
: to send (one who has been accused of a crime) to another state or country for trial

An alleged criminal is typically only extradited under the provisions of a treaty or statute, but a fugitive is occasionally surrendered by one state or country to another as an act of good will.

"A spokesperson [for the U.S. State Department] said that since Zimbabwe and the United States signed an extradition treaty in 2000, neither nation has extradited anyone to the other." — Jennifer Bjorhus and Paul Walsh, The Star-Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 3 Aug. 2015

Did you know?
Some countries have a tradition of extradition—a fact which might concern criminals. Likely of significantly less concern to most criminals is the fact that extradition and tradition are related; both come from the Latin verb tradere, which means "to hand over." (Think of a tradition as something handed over from one generation to the next.) Some other words that have been handed down from tradere include betray, traitor, and treason.

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Sat, 10/03/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 03, 2015 is:

haplology • \hap-LAH-luh-jee\  • noun
: contraction of a word by omission of one or more similar sounds or syllables

The speech therapist assured the child's parents that "the tendency towards haplology will likely correct itself with age."

"Haplology is responsible for a variety of forms found in rapid speech in English: not just probly, but also libry (library), nesry (necessary), interpretive (interpretative), and others." — Gretchen McCulloch,, 4 Apr. 2014

Did you know?
Try to say "pierced-ear earrings" three times fast. That exercise will demonstrate why haplology happens: sometimes it's just easier to drop a syllable and leave yourself with something that's easier to say (such as "pierced earrings"). American philologist Maurice Bloomfield recognized the tendency to drop one of a pair of similar syllables over 120 years ago. He has been credited with joining the combining form hapl- or haplo- (meaning "single") with -logy (meaning "oral or written expression") to create haplology as a name for the phenomenon. Haplology is quite common in English, and often the contracted forms it generates spread into the written language. In fact, haplology played a role in naming the nation that is the cradle of English: England was condensed via haplology from "Engla land."

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Fri, 10/02/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 02, 2015 is:

spontaneous • \spahn-TAY-nee-us\  • adjective
1 : done, said, or produced freely and naturally 2 : arising from a momentary impulse 3 : produced without being planted or without human labor : indigenous 4 : acting or taking place without apparent external cause or influence

Since childhood, Marie has been prone to spontaneous displays of affection.

"Surveys show that visitors and New Yorkers aren't looking for Disneyland when they go to Times Square, which they want to remain spontaneous and a little crazy." — Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times, 22 Aug. 2015

Did you know?
Spontaneous derives, via the Late Latin spontaneus, from the Latin sponte, meaning "of one's free will, voluntarily," and first appeared in English in the mid-17th century. Thomas Hobbes was an early adopter: he wrote that "all voluntary actions … are called also spontaneous, and said to be done by man's own accord" in his famous 1656 The Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity, and Chance. Today the word is more often applied to things done or said in a natural and often sudden way, without a lot of thought or planning—or to people who do or say things in such a way.

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Thu, 10/01/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 01, 2015 is:

consternation • \kahn-ster-NAY-shun\  • noun
: amazement or dismay that hinders or throws into confusion

To the consternation of her students, Mrs. Jennings gave a pop quiz on the first Friday of the school year.

"A [Russian] law that obliged bloggers to register with the government caused consternation last year…." — Sam Schechner and Olga Razumovskaya, The Wall Street Journal, 31 Aug. 2015

Did you know?
Wonder what the seemingly dissimilar words prostrate ("stretched out with face on the ground"), stratum ("layer"), and stratus ("a low cloud form extending over a large area") have in common with consternation? They are all thought to share the Latin ancestor sternere, meaning "to spread" or "to strike or throw down." Much to our consternation, we cannot make that sentence definitive: while prostrate, stratum, and stratus are clearly the offspring of sternere, etymologists will only go so far as to say that consternation comes from Latin consternare—and that they have a strong suspicion that consternare is another descendent of sternere.

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Wed, 09/30/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 30, 2015 is:

paroxysm • \PAIR-uk-sih-zum\  • noun
1 : a fit, attack, or sudden increase or recurrence of symptoms (as of a disease) : convulsion 2 : a sudden violent emotion or action : outburst

Though he seldom loses his temper, his occasional and unpredictable paroxysms of anger are legendary among his colleagues.

"Today, for National Hot Dog Month, I rank the 25 best hot dog places in the state…. Hot dog purists may go into pickle-fueled paroxysms of paranoia, aghast that several legends … are not on this list." — Peter Genovese, The Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey), 27 July 2015

Did you know?
Paroxysm didn't just burst onto the scene recently; its roots go back to ancient Greek. The word ultimately derives from the Greek paroxynein, which means "to stimulate." Oxynein, a parent of paroxynein, means "to provoke" or "to sharpen" and comes from oxys, a Greek word for "sharp." (That root also underlies the word oxygen.) In its earliest known English uses in the 15th century, paroxysm denoted agitation or intensification of a disease or its symptoms. (A still-used example of that sense is "a paroxysm of coughing.") Additionally, paroxysm soon took on a broader sense referring to an outburst, especially a dramatic physical or emotional one.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Tue, 09/29/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 29, 2015 is:

askew • \uh-SKYOO\  • adverb or adjective
: out of line : awry

He said he was fine but he looked as if he'd been in a fight: his hair and clothes were disheveled and his glasses were askew on the bridge of his nose.

"Even so, the impact of the collision damaged the interior wall of the building and sent post office boxes askew." — Jon Johnson, The Eastern Arizona Courier (Safford, Arizona), 17 Aug. 2015

Did you know?
It's believed that askew was formed simply by attaching the prefix a- (meaning, among other things, "in (such) a state or condition") to skew. The word skew, which derives via Middle English from Anglo-French eschiver, meaning "to escape or avoid," can be a verb, adjective, or noun. But at the time of the first appearance of askew in English, in the middle of the 16th century, skew had only been established as a verb meaning "to take an oblique course or direction." At least one etymologist has suggested that askew might have been influenced by an Old Norse phrase, and that the same phrase might have also given us askance. In the past, askew was used synonymously with askance, as in "She looked at me askew after my ill-timed joke."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Mon, 09/28/2015 - 1:00am

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

vilipend • \VIL-uh-pend\  • verb
1 : to hold or treat as of little worth or account : contemn 2 : to express a low opinion of : disparage

As a women's movement pioneer, Susan B. Anthony fought against the dicta of those who would vilipend women by treating them as second-class citizens.

"Most people who retire do so after having invested multiple years in employment…. Most are on fixed incomes with tight budgets, hoping for good health and years of stress-free happiness. To vilipend them about their choice of not working, even if they are healthy enough, is just not fair." — John F. Sauers, letter in The Rochester (New York) Democrat and Chronicle, 26 June 2005

Did you know?
Vilipend first appeared in English in the 15th century and had its heyday during the 19th century—being found in the works of such well-known authors as Sir Walter Scott, William Makepeace Thackeray, and George Meredith—but it fell into relative obscurity by the 20th century. The word comes to us through French from the Latin roots vilis, meaning "cheap" or "vile," and pendere, meaning "to weigh" or "to estimate." These roots work in tandem to form a meaning of "to deem to be of little worth." Each has contributed separately to some other common English words. Other vilis offspring include vile and vilify, while pendere has spawned such terms as append, expend, and dispense.

Categories: Fun Stuff

catbird seat

Sun, 09/27/2015 - 1:00am

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

catbird seat • \KAT-berd-SEET\  • noun
: a position of great prominence or advantage

Susan found herself sitting in the catbird seat with lucrative offers from three potential employers in front of her.

"For the first time since the economic recovery began six years ago, white-collar professionals with specialized skills in fields like technology, finance, engineering and software find themselves in the catbird seat." — Nelson D. Schwartz, The New York Times, 25 July 2015

Did you know?
"In the catbird seat" was among the numerous folksy expressions that legendary baseball broadcaster Red Barber used to delight listeners. Some say he invented the expression; others say that he dug it up from his Southern origins. But the truth may be far stranger than those rumors. In a 1942 short story titled "The Catbird Seat," James Thurber featured a character, Mrs. Barrows, who liked to use the phrase. Another character, Joey Hart, explained that Mrs. Barrows must have picked up the expression from Red Barber. To Red, according to Joey, "sitting in the catbird seat" meant "'sitting pretty,' like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him." But, according to Barber's daughter, it was only after Barber read Thurber's story that he started using "in the catbird seat" himself.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sat, 09/26/2015 - 1:00am

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

limpid • \LIM-pid\  • adjective
1 a : marked by transparency : pellucid b : clear and simple in style 2 : absolutely serene and untroubled

From where we stood we could see the glimmer of coins settled at the bottom of the limpid fountain.

"He could converse—and converse easily, naturally, with idiom and parlance and a certain nonchalance—on all sorts of subjects: Tony Blair's earnest righteousness, Timberland boots, the limpid prose of Bruce Chatwin." — Wendell Steavenson, The New Yorker, 16 Aug. 2015

Did you know?
Since the early 1600s, limpid has been used in English to describe things that have the soft clearness of pure water. The aquatic connection is not incidental; language scholars believe that limpid probably traces to lympha, a Latin word meaning "water." That same Latin root is also the source of the word lymph, the English name for the pale liquid that helps maintain the body's fluid balance and that removes bacteria from tissues.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Fri, 09/25/2015 - 1:00am

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

morpheme • \MOR-feem\  • noun
: a distinctive collocation of phonemes (such as the free form pin or the bound form -s of pins) having no smaller meaningful parts

The word "laughed" is made up of two morphemes: "laugh" and the past-tense morpheme "-ed."

"English requires its speakers to grammatically mark events that are ongoing, by obligatorily applying the -ing morpheme: 'I am playing the piano and I cannot come to the phone' or 'I was playing the piano when the phone rang.' German doesn’t have this feature." — Panos Athanasopoulos, Business Insider, 4 Aug. 2015

Did you know?
Morphemes are the indivisible basic units of language, much like the atoms which physicists once assumed were the indivisible units of matter. English speakers borrowed morpheme from French morphème, which was itself created from the Greek root morphē, meaning "form." The French borrowed -ème from their word phonème, which, like English phoneme, means "the smallest unit of speech that can be used to make one word different from another word." The French suffix and its English equivalent -eme are used to create words that refer to distinctive units of language structure. Words formed from -eme include lexeme ("a meaningful linguistic unit that is an item in the vocabulary of a language"), grapheme ("a unit of a writing system"), and toneme ("a unit of intonation in a language in which variations in tone distinguish meaning").

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Thu, 09/24/2015 - 1:00am

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

timeless • \TYME-luss\  • adjective
1 a : having no beginning or end : eternal b : not restricted to a particular time or date 2 : not affected by time : ageless

Fashion experts say that a black dress worn with a strand of pearls is timeless.

"That song's timeless mix of celebration and longing served as an ideal segue to the Kentucky-bred songwriter's set, which mixed pain with immediate pleasure and ultimate rewards in an intoxicating way." — Patrick Foster, The Washington Post, 22 Aug. 2015

Did you know?
"Time is money." "Time is the great physician." "Time is a dressmaker specializing in alterations." Everyone seems to know what time is, but what does it mean to be "timeless"—that is, "without time"? Until around the turn of the 20th century, timeless was sometimes used to mean "untimely" or "premature," as in "he met his timeless end." That usage, which dates back to the late 16th century, is now considered archaic, but an equally venerable sense, "eternal" or "having no beginning or end," has proven more enduring. The two remaining senses are somewhat newer. The "not restricted to a particular time or date" meaning dates to the mid-18th century, while the most modern meaning—"ageless"—didn't exist until just before the turn of the 20th century. (By the way, the quotations we started with came from Benjamin Franklin, British statesman Benjamin Disraeli, and American writer Faith Baldwin, respectively.)

Categories: Fun Stuff


Wed, 09/23/2015 - 1:00am

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

equinox • \EE-kwuh-nahks\  • noun
1 : either of the two points on the celestial sphere where the celestial equator intersects the ecliptic 2 : either of the two times each year (as about March 21 and September 23) when the sun crosses the equator and day and night are everywhere on earth of approximately equal length

Though many in the U.S. and Canada consider summer to end on Labor Day, the autumnal equinox, which falls on September 22nd or 23rd (and the latter in 2015), marks the true beginning of autumn.

"In between the solstices are the equinoxes, when the Sun reaches its midpoint in the sky and the day has an equal amount of daylight and darkness." — Kevin Schindler, The Arizona Daily Sun, 1 Aug. 2015

Did you know?
Equinox descends from aequus, the Latin word for "equal," and nox, the Latin word for "night"—a fitting history for a word that describes days of the year when the daytime and nighttime are equal in length. In the northern hemisphere, the vernal equinox marks the first day of spring and occurs when the sun moves north across the equator. (Vernal comes from the Latin word ver, meaning "spring.") The autumnal equinox marks the first day of autumn in the northern hemisphere and occurs when the sun crosses the equator going south. In contrast, a solstice is either of the two moments in the year when the sun's apparent path is farthest north or south from the equator.

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Tue, 09/22/2015 - 1:00am

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

binary • \adjective\  • BYE-nuh-ree
1 : consisting of two things or parts 2 : relating to, being, or belonging to a number system having 2 as its base 3 : involving a choice between or condition of two alternatives only (such as on-off or yes-no)

Brass is a binary alloy, having the two metallic elements copper and zinc.

"NASA's New Horizons is described as a mission to Pluto, but one of the reasons the dwarf planet is so fascinating to scientists is that it's part of the only known binary planet system in our solar system." — Karen Kaplan, The Los Angeles Times, 15 July 2015

Did you know?
As the old children's song goes, "The animals went in two by two, the elephant and the kangaroo…." It was a binary parade of sorts that went into Noah's ark "for to get out of the rain"—the critters were represented in pairs. If you recall those doubled up beasts, you'll remember the etymology of binary because it traces to the Latin bini, which translates as "two by two." Although binary can be used for anything with two parts, it is now used especially in relation to computers and information processing. Digital computers use the binary number system, which includes only the digits 0 and 1, to process even complex data. In binary form, for instance, the word HELLO looks like this: 01001000 01000101 01001100 01001100 01001111.

Categories: Fun Stuff

war story

Mon, 09/21/2015 - 1:00am

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

war story • \WOR-STOR-ee\  • noun
: a story of a memorable personal experience typically involving an element of danger, hardship, or adventure

When asked what was most difficult about her present job, the interviewee freely shared some rather entertaining and impressive war stories.

"Now, we old veterans of an educational system that has gone extinct sit back and tell war stories of that time." — Peter Devlin, The Green Bay (Wisconsin) Press-Gazette, 27 July 2015

Did you know?
People have been telling stories about real wars since long before Washington Irving wrote the following in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: "folks … sat smoking at one end of the piazza, … drawing out long stories about the war." But today's tellers of "war stories" need not have experienced a literal battlefield. In the latter half of the 20th century, war story took on a more figurative meaning, and nowadays such accounts can encompass challenges in the workplace, on the campaign trail, in sports, in one's travels—wherever difficulties need to be overcome.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sun, 09/20/2015 - 1:00am

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

peruse • \puh-ROOZ\  • verb
1 a : to examine or consider with attention and in detail : study b : to look over or through in a casual or cursory manner 2 : read; especially : to read over in an attentive or leisurely manner

Dmitri perused the menu while we waited for a table.

"She comes about five days a week, does Internet research for her online business management classes and peruses the bookstore run by the Friends of the Library." — Greg Mellen, The Orange County (California) Register, 13 Aug. 2015

Did you know?
Peruse has long been a literary word, used by such famous authors as Shakespeare, Tennyson, and Thomas Hardy, and it tends to have a literary flavor even in our time. Peruse can suggest paying close attention to something, but it can also simply mean "to read." The "read" sense, which is not especially new and was in fact included in Samuel Johnson's 1755 dictionary, has drawn some criticism over the years for being too broad. Some commentators have recommended that peruse be reserved for reading with great care and attention to detail. But the fact remains that peruse is often used in situations where a simple "read" definition could be easily substituted. It may suggest either an attentive read or a quick scan.

Categories: Fun Stuff