Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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Fri, 02/05/2016 - 11:00pm

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 6, 2016 is:

rescript • \REE-skript\  • noun

1 : a written answer of a Roman emperor or of a pope to a legal inquiry or petition

2 : an official or authoritative order, decree, edict, or announcement

3 : an act or instance of rewriting


The rescript declared that the lands surrounding the new palace would henceforth belong to the royal family.

"It was noon on August 25 when Japan's Emperor finally broke the silence. His recorded voice was broadcast to the nation, reading the Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War." — Jamie Seidel, The Daily Telegraph (Australia), 15 Aug. 2015

Did you know?

Rescript was first used in the 15th century for the written reply of a sovereign or pope to a question about some matter of law or state, and then for any type of authoritative declaration. Since the 19th century, however, it has also seen use as a synonym of rewrite. Charlotte Brontë, for one, used the word this way in her novel Villette. "I wrote [the letter] three times ... subduing the phrases at every rescript," her narrator confesses.

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Thu, 02/04/2016 - 11:00pm

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 5, 2016 is:

challah • \KHAH-luh\  • noun

: egg-rich yeast-leavened bread that is usually braided or twisted before baking and is traditionally eaten by Jews on the Sabbath and holidays


My father made a blessing over the challah before it was broken and passed around the Shabbat table.

"The table was graced with the latkes and doughnuts that mark the Jewish holiday, but also featured brisket, challah and tzimmes…." — Deanna Fox, The Times-Union (Albany, New York), 31 Dec. 2015

Did you know?

When English speakers first borrowed challah from Yiddish, they couldn't quite settle on a single spelling, so the word showed up in several forms; challah, challa, hallah, and the plural forms challoth, challot, halloth, and hallot were all common enough to merit inclusion in Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged when it was released in 1961. Today, challah and the anglicized plural challahs are the variants that are usually encountered by English speakers. The initial ch of challah is frequently pronounced as a velar fricative, like the ch in the German Buch or the Scottish English loch.

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Wed, 02/03/2016 - 11:00pm

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 4, 2016 is:

whilom • \WYE-lum\  • adjective

: former


I was pleased to find an interview with the whilom president of my alma mater in the local paper.

"On the eastern side settlement and agriculture have all but obliterated the whilom tallgrass prairie, so that it is hardly visible to anyone who would not seek it out on hands and knees...." — William Least Heat-Moon, The Atlantic, September 1991

Did you know?

Whilom shares an ancestor with the word while. Both trace back to the Old English word hwil, meaning "time" or "while." In Old English hwilum was an adverb meaning "at times." This use passed into Middle English (with a variety of spellings, one of which was whilom), and in the 12th century the word acquired the meaning "formerly." The adverb's usage dwindled toward the end of the 19th century, and it has since been labeled archaic. The adjective first appeared on the scene in the 15th century, with the now-obsolete meaning "deceased," and by the 19th century it was being used with the meaning "former." It's a relatively uncommon word, but it does see occasional use.

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Tue, 02/02/2016 - 11:00pm

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 3, 2016 is:

reminisce • \rem-uh-NISS\  • verb

: to indulge in the process or practice of thinking or telling about past experiences


Justin met up with some of his college buddies to reminisce about old times.

"Most of us have a comfort food we eat when we are reminiscing, sad or depressed." — Marion Goldberg, The Poughkeepsie (New York) Journal, 16 Dec. 2015

Did you know?

Reminisce and its relative reminiscence come from the mind—that is to say, they come from the Latin word for "mind," which is mens. A root related to mens teamed up with the prefix re- to create the Latin verb reminisci ("to remember"), an ancestor of both words. Reminisce is one of several English verbs starting with re- that mean "to bring an image or idea from the past into the mind." Others in this group include remember, recall, remind, and recollect. Reminisce distinguishes itself from the others by implying a casual recalling of experiences long past, often with a sense of nostalgia.

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Mon, 02/01/2016 - 11:00pm

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 2, 2016 is:

foliage • \FOH-lee-ij\  • noun

1 : a representation of leaves, flowers, and branches for architectural ornamentation

2 : the aggregate of leaves of one or more plants

3 : a cluster of leaves, flowers, and branches


A trip to the local conservatory was just the thing to beat my winter blues—the bright flowers against the backdrop of verdant foliage was rejuvenating.

"The builders are charging up to $100 million for apartments that offer helicopter views of lush foliage, jagged skylines, soothing rivers and angelic clouds." — Max Frankel, The New York Times, 31 Dec. 2015

Did you know?

The English language has its share of common but disputed usages. One such example is the pronunciation of foliage as FOH-lij or, even more irksome to some, FOY-lij. The first of these two pronunciations, though frequently disparaged, is consistent with the pronunciation of the -iage ending in marriage and carriage, as well the less common but widely accepted pronunciation of verbiage as VER-bij. The second of these is often more fiercely denounced, in part because of its association with the nonstandard spelling foilage. Oddly enough, foliage traces back to Middle French foille ("leaf"), which is also the source of the English word foil (as in "aluminum foil"). When adopted by Middle English speakers, foil originally meant "leaf."

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Sun, 01/31/2016 - 11:00pm

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 1, 2016 is:

abject • \AB-jekt\  • adjective

1 : sunk to or existing in a low state or condition

2 a : cast down in spirit : servile, spiritless

b : showing hopelessness or resignation

3 : expressing or offered in a humble and often ingratiating spirit


The organization is dedicated to alleviating the suffering of those living in abject poverty.

"Harvey, the comedian and TV-radio host, offered abject apologies after first saying Miss Colombia had won, then later Miss Philippines—to the world’s shock and amazement." — Ken Stone,, 21 Dec. 2015

Did you know?

Abject comes from abjectus, the past participle of the Latin verb abicere, meaning "to cast off." Its original meaning in English was "cast off" or "rejected," but it is now used to refer more broadly to things in a low state or condition. Abject shares with mean, ignoble, and sordid the sense of being below the normal standards of human decency and dignity. Abject may imply degradation, debasement, or servility ("abject poverty"). Mean suggests having such repellent characteristics as small-mindedness or ill temper ("mean and petty satire"). Ignoble suggests a loss or lack of some essential high quality of mind or spirit ("an ignoble scramble after material possessions"). Sordid is stronger than all of these in stressing physical or spiritual degradation and lowness ("a sordid story of murder and revenge").

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Sat, 01/30/2016 - 11:00pm

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 31, 2016 is:

sumptuous • \SUMP-shuh-wus\  • adjective

: extremely costly, rich, luxurious, or magnificent


The hotel's most sumptuous suite overlooks the lush gardens and includes a palatial marble bathroom with a spa and a commodious, intricately tiled walk-in shower.

"On Thanksgiving, guests dine at a sumptuous table of traditional foods, sweet potatoes, green salads, squash, corn, beans, wine and pumpkin pie. But here, the turkey sits at the head of the table, enjoying their own plate of food." — Paula Poundstone, speaking on NPR, 10 Oct. 2015

Did you know?

The word sumptuous can be used to describe both lush surroundings and rich desserts, and it has an equally rich history. The word, which appeared in English in the 15th century, derives via Middle English from the Latin noun sumptus, meaning "expense." Sumptus is related to the Latin verb sumere, which means "to take" or "to spend" and from which we get a treasure trove of useful verbs: consume ("to use up or spend"), subsume ("to include or place in something larger"), resume ("to take up again"), presume ("to take to be true without proof"), and assume ("to take upon oneself"). Another sumere descendant is our adjective sumptuary, which commonly precedes law to describe legislation designed to regulate extravagant expenditures or habits.

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Fri, 01/29/2016 - 11:00pm

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 30, 2016 is:

herald • \HAIR-uld\  • verb

1 : to give notice of : announce

2 a : to greet especially with enthusiasm : hail

b : publicize

3 : to signal the approach of : foreshadow


The first real snowfall heralded the arrival of skiing season.

"… the transportation agency's initiative has been heralded as a new way to approach transportation planning because it will take factors such as neighborhood vitality and pedestrian connectivity into account." — Brandon Formby, The Dallas Morning News, 30 Dec. 2015

Did you know?

The exact origin of herald is uncertain, but it is thought to derive from Germanic roots. Specifically, etymologists believe that herald developed from an assumed Frankish compound whose first component is akin to the Old High German heri-, meaning "army," and whose second component is akin to the Old High German word waltan, meaning "to rule." When herald first appeared on the scene in the 14th century, it referred to an official at a tournament of arms whose duties included the making of announcements. The verb forms, extending the "announcement" idea, soon followed.

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Thu, 01/28/2016 - 11:00pm

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 29, 2016 is:

obstreperous • \ub-STREP-uh-rus\  • adjective

1 : marked by unruly or aggressive noisiness : clamorous

2 : stubbornly resistant to control : unruly


After two months at sea with dwindling food supplies and declining confidence in the captain, the ship's crew became obstreperous and began to plot a mutiny.

"It is Rob she calls for when crankily refusing to go to bed, and when Alan attempts to calm her she grows only more obstreperous." — Charles Isherwood, The New York Times, 9 Nov. 2015

Did you know?

The handy Latin prefix ob-, meaning "in the way," "against," or "toward," occurs in many Latin and English words, often in alternate forms. Obstreperous comes from ob- plus strepere, a verb meaning "to make a noise," so someone who is obstreperous is literally making noise to rebel against something, much like a protesting crowd or an unruly child. The word has been used in English since around the beginning of the 17th century. Strepere has not played a role in the formation of any other notable English words, but ob- words abound; these include obese, obnoxious, occasion, offend, omit, oppress, and oust.

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Wed, 01/27/2016 - 11:00pm

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 28, 2016 is:

jeremiad • \jair-uh-MYE-ud\  • noun

: a prolonged lamentation or complaint; also : a cautionary or angry harangue


Mrs. Whinge waggled a finger at us and launched into a doleful jeremiad about how we would come to no good end.

"[Pope Francis's] now-famous jeremiads as pope against today's culture of excessive consumption and environmental degradation are rooted in a thrift ethic that he acquired early in life and never abandoned." — David Blankenhorn, The Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City), 11 Dec. 2015

Did you know?

Jeremiah was a Jewish prophet who lived from about 650 to 570 BC. He spent his days lambasting the Hebrews for their false worship and social injustice and denouncing the king for his selfishness, materialism, and inequities. When not calling on his people to quit their wicked ways, he was lamenting his own lot; a portion of the Bible's Book of Jeremiah is devoted to his "confessions," a series of lamentations on the hardships endured by a prophet with an unpopular message. Nowadays, English speakers use Jeremiah for a pessimistic person and jeremiad for the way these Jeremiahs carry on. The word jeremiad was actually borrowed from the French, who coined it as jérémiade.

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Tue, 01/26/2016 - 11:00pm

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 27, 2016 is:

proscribe • \proh-SCRYBE\  • verb

1 : to publish the name of as condemned to death with the property of the condemned forfeited to the state

2 : to condemn or forbid as harmful or unlawful : prohibit


The town passed an ordinance that proscribed the ownership of snakes and other exotic pets.

"Military law may proscribe conduct which is otherwise protected in the civilian world due to the different character of the military community and of the military mission." — Capt. Anne C. Hsieh, quoted in The Herald Democrat (Sherman, Texas), 18 Oct. 2015

Did you know?

Proscribe and prescribe both have Latin-derived prefixes meaning "before" attached to the verb scribe (from scribere, meaning "to write"). Yet the two words have very distinct, often nearly opposite meanings. Why? In a way, you could say it's the law. In the 15th and 16th centuries both words had legal implications. To proscribe was to publish the name of a person who had been condemned, outlawed, or banished. To prescribe meant "to lay down a rule," including legal rules or orders.

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Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:00pm

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 26, 2016 is:

zeugma • \ZOOG-muh\  • noun

: the use of a word to modify or govern two or more words in such a way that it applies to each in a different sense or makes sense with only one (as in "opened the door and her heart to the homeless boy")


A clever use of zeugma was demonstrated by Groucho Marx's character Rufus T. Firefly in Duck Soup (1933):"You can leave in a taxi. If you can't get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff."

"The hallmarks of [David Foster Wallace's] later fiction … are there from the first page…. So, too, are the performative contractions ('w/r/t' as 'with respect to'), lists and self-conscious rhetorical tropes that pepper non-fiction. I don't think anyone has ever wielded zeugma with such knowing playfulness." — Jon Day, The Financial Times, 26 Dec. 2014

Did you know?

"Zeugma, like the pun, is economical: it contracts two sentences into one . . .; it links unrelated terms—mental with moral, abstract with physical, high with low—and thus generates surprise," wrote Walter Redfern in Puns (1984). Zeugma, which has been a part of the English language since the 15th century, comes from Greek, where it literally means "joining." The Greek word has another connection to English as well. In the early 1970s, a chemistry professor named Paul Lauterbur developed a technique for producing images of internal organs. He called it zeugmatography because it involved the joining of magnetic fields. Lauterbur was awarded a Nobel Prize, but the name he chose didn’t stick. The technique is known today as magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI.

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Sun, 01/24/2016 - 11:00pm

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 25, 2016 is:

harry • \HAIR-ee\  • verb

1 : to make a pillaging or destructive raid on : assault

2 : to force to move along by harassing

3 : to torment by or as if by constant attack


The young boy harried the kitten until it swiped him with its claws.

"Coming off a Thursday schedule packed with practice, a Pearl Harbor visit and a luau, the Aggies shot 54 percent on Friday and harried the Rainbow Wahine basketball team into turnovers that fueled an 82-41 rout at the Cannon Activities Center in Laie." — Jason Kaneshiro, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 6 Dec. 2015

Did you know?

Was there once a warlike man named Harry who is the source for today's word? One particularly belligerent Harry does come to mind: Shakespeare once described how "famine, sword, and fire" accompanied "the warlike Harry," England's King Henry the Fifth. But neither this king nor any of his namesakes are the source for the verb harry. Rather, harry (or a word resembling it) has been a part of English for as long as there has been anything that could be called English. It took the form hergian in Old English and harien in Middle English, passing through numerous variations before finally settling into its modern spelling. The word's Old English ancestors are related to the Old High German words heriōn ("to lay waste") and heri ("army").

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Sat, 01/23/2016 - 11:00pm

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 24, 2016 is:

pundit • \PUN-dit\  • noun

1 : a learned person : teacher

2 : a person who gives opinions in an authoritative manner usually through the mass media : critic


Grandpa likes watching liberal and conservative pundits spar about the issues of the day on the Sunday morning talk shows.

"But in general, pundits and analysts tend to overestimate the potential for early-state victories to catapult candidates to the nomination." — Nate Cohn, The New York Times, 22 Dec. 2015

Did you know?

The original pundits were highly respected teachers and leaders in India. Their title was taken from the Hindi word paṇḍit, a term of respect for a wise person that itself derives from the Sanskrit paṇḍita, meaning "learned." English speakers began using the form pundit specifically to refer to those Hindu sages as long ago as the 1600s. By the 1800s, they had also extended the term to refer to other sagacious individuals, and now pundit is often used with a hint of sarcasm to refer to informed opinion makers (such as political commentators, financial analysts, and newspaper columnists) who boldly share their views (sometimes at great length) on just about any subject that lies within their areas of expertise.

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