Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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13 hours 17 min ago

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

pontificate • \pahn-TIF-uh-kayt\  • verb
1 a : to officiate as a pontiff b : to celebrate pontifical mass 2 : to speak or express opinions in a pompous or dogmatic way

Stan loves to hear himself talk and will often pontificate on even the most trivial issues.

"Though the game was another dud—a Patriots' blowout of the hapless Colts—sports columnists worldwide were given a unique chance to pontificate on, of all things, the air pressure of footballs." — Shelly Griffith, Daily Post-Athenian (Athens, Tennessee), January 30, 2015

Did you know?
In ancient Rome, the pontifices were powerful priests who administered the part of civil law that regulated relationships with the deities recognized by the state. Their name, pontifex, derives from the Latin words pons, meaning "bridge," and facere, meaning "to make," and some think it may have developed because the group was associated with a sacred bridge over the river Tiber (although there is no proof of that). With the rise of Catholicism, the title pontifex was transferred to the Pope and to Catholic bishops. Pontificate derives from pontifex, and in its earliest English uses it referred to things associated with such prelates. By the late 1800s, pontificate was also being used derisively for individuals who spoke as if they had the authority of an ecclesiastic.

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Fri, 02/27/2015 - 12:00am

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

rationale • \rash-uh-NAL\  • noun
1 : an explanation of controlling principles of opinion, belief, practice, or phenomena 2 : an underlying reason : basis

The newspaper's editorial reflected the concerns of many who questioned the rationale behind the mayor's decision.

"… the sacred trust that elected officials will share all options they've explored, identify the ones they haven't, and share the rationale behind their decisions." — Robert F. Walsh, Stratford (Connecticut) Star, January 29, 2015

Did you know?
The word rationale appeared in the second half of the 17th century, just in time for the Age of Reason. It is based on the Latin ratio, which means "reason," and rationalis, which means "endowed with reason." At first, rationale meant "an explanation of controlling principles" ("a rationale of religious practices," for example), but soon it began to refer to the underlying reason for something (as in "the rationale for her behavior"). The latter meaning is now the most common use of the term. The English word ratio can also mean "underlying reason" (in fact, it had this meaning before rationale did), but in current use, that word more often refers to the relationship (in number, quantity, or degree) between things.

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Thu, 02/26/2015 - 12:00am

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

captious • \KAP-shuss\  • adjective
1 : marked by an often ill-natured inclination to stress faults and raise objections 2 : calculated to confuse, entrap, or entangle in argument

Befuddled by the captious question, the suspect broke down and confessed to the crime.

"During the past 15 years Mr. Maxwell has established himself as one of the few sui generis voices in experimental theater, and like all truly original talents, he has been subject to varied and captious interpretations." — Ben Brantley, New York Times, October 24, 2012

Did you know?
If you suspect that captious is a relative of capture and captivate, you're right. All of those words are related to the Latin verb capere, which means "to take." The direct ancestor of captious is captio, a Latin offspring of capere, which literally means "a taking" but which was also used to mean "a deception" or "a sophistic argument." Arguments labeled "captious" are likely to capture you in a figurative sense; they often entrap through subtly deceptive reasoning or trifling points. A captious individual is one who you might also dub "hypercritical," the sort of carping, censorious critic only too ready to point out minor faults or raise objections on trivial grounds.

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Wed, 02/25/2015 - 12:00am

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

gourmand • \GOOR-mahnd\  • noun
1 : one who is excessively fond of eating and drinking 2 : one who is heartily interested in good food and drink

Uncle Gerald was a bit of a gourmand; he traveled far and wide to the finest restaurants and always remembered to bring his appetite.

"The dish that caused the grizzled old gourmands at my table to put down their forks in wonder, however, was a helping of dark, softly gnarled sunchokes, which Kornack cooks to a kind of sweetbread tenderness, then plates over a freshly whipped chestnut purée with disks of shaved truffles and the faintest exotic hint of eucalyptus." — Adam Platt, New York Magazine, December 29, 2014

Did you know?
"What God has plagu'd us with this gourmaund guest?" As this exasperated question from Alexander Pope's 18th-century translation of Homer's Odyssey suggests, being a gourmand is not always a good thing. When gourmand began appearing in English texts in the 15th century, it was a decidedly bad thing, a synonym of glutton that was reserved for a greedy eater who consumed well past satiation. That negative connotation mostly remained until English speakers borrowed the similar-sounding (and much more positive) gourmet from French in the 19th century. Since then, the meaning of gourmand has softened so that although it still isn't wholly flattering, it now suggests someone who likes good food in large quantities rather than a slobbering glutton.

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Tue, 02/24/2015 - 12:00am

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

thrasonical • \thray-SAH-nih-kul\  • adjective
: of, relating to, resembling, or characteristic of Thraso : bragging, boastful

"There was never any thing so sudden but the fight of two rams and Caesar's thrasonical brag of 'I came, saw, and overcame'…." — William Shakespeare, As You Like It, 1623

"After pages of thrasonical twaddle sprinkled with fawning photos, charts and esoteric columns of numbers I learned only of the flawless perfection of the university...." — Peter B. Fletcher, Ann Arbor (Michigan) News, December 16, 2003

Did you know?
Thraso was a blustering old soldier in the comedy Eunuchus, a play written by the great Roman dramatist Terence more than 2,000 years ago. Terence is generally remembered for his realistic characterizations, and in Thraso he created a swaggerer whose vainglorious boastfulness was not soon to be forgotten. Thraso's reputation as a braggart lives on in thrasonical, a word that boasts a 450-year history as an English adjective.

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Mon, 02/23/2015 - 12:00am

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

acumen • \uh-KYOO-mun\  • noun
: keenness and depth of perception, discernment, or discrimination especially in practical matters

Detective Morton possesses a superior acumen that enables him to solve the most bizarre and puzzling of mysteries.

"[Suzanne] Isken says the pieces on display fall in the category of fine art based on their technical acumen and their ability to push aesthetic boundaries and upend accepted themes of the traditional medium." — Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2015

Did you know?
A keen mind and a sharp wit can pierce the soul as easily as a needle passes through cloth. Remember the analogy between a jabbing needle and piercing perception, and you will readily recall the history of acumen. Our English word retains the spelling and figurative meaning of its direct Latin ancestor, a term that literally meant "point." Latin acumen traces to the verb acuere, which means "to sharpen" and derives from acus, the Latin word for "needle." In its first known English uses in the 1500s, acumen referred specifically to a sharpness of wit. In modern English, it conveys the sense that someone is perceptive enough to grasp a situation quickly and clever enough to use it.

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Sun, 02/22/2015 - 12:00am

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

lampoon • \lam-POON\  • verb
: to make the subject of a satire : ridicule

Trevor writes for a humor Web site that lampoons celebrities from film, music, and television.

"One has to be just a hair off center to fully appreciate Portlandia. The Peabody Award-winning sketch comedy series lampoons the hipster lifestyle and stars Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen." — Michael Storey, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 8, 2015

Did you know?
Lampoon can be a noun or a verb. The noun lampoon (meaning "satire" or, specifically, "a harsh satire usually directed against an individual") was first used in English in 1645. The verb followed about a decade later. The words come from the French lampon, which probably originated from lampons, the first person plural imperative of lamper ("to guzzle"). Lampons! (meaning "Let us guzzle!") is a frequent refrain in 17th-century French satirical poems.

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jeunesse dorée

Sat, 02/21/2015 - 12:00am

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

jeunesse dorée • \zheuh-ness-dor-RAY\  • noun
: young people of wealth and fashion

It was clear that the magazine was targeting the jeunesse dorée based on its ads for expensive trendy clothes and profiles of the hottest nightspots.

"On a walk in Montreal's Little Burgundy neighborhood, the streets were quiet but inside restaurants were buzzing and the city's jeunesse dorée were shoulder-to-stylish-shoulder at gallery openings." — Christopher Muther, Boston Globe, October 18, 2014

Did you know?
French revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre and his allies, the Jacobins, gained many enemies for their role in the Reign of Terror. One of their fiercest opponents was Louis Freron, a former Jacobin who played a key role in overthrowing their government. On July 27, 1794, counter-revolutionaries toppled the Jacobin regime and had Robespierre arrested and executed. In the midst of the chaos that followed, Louis Freron organized gangs of fashionably dressed young toughs to terrorize the remaining Jacobins. French speakers called those stylish young thugs the jeunesse dorée—literally, the "gilded youth." By the time the term jeunesse dorée was adopted into English in the 1830s, it had lost its association with violent street gangs and simply referred to any wealthy young socialites.

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Fri, 02/20/2015 - 12:00am

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

histrionic • \his-tree-AH-nik\  • adjective
1 : deliberately affected : theatrical 2 : of or relating to actors, acting, or the theater

The candidate declared that he would not stoop to address his opponent's histrionic and patently untrue accusations.

"When we listen in on one-sided telephone conversations in the movies, often the behavior is not quite human. Rather, it becomes an actor's showcase for histrionic tears or smiling through tears—a good old-fashioned wallow in capital-O Overacting." — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune, January 16, 2015

Did you know?
The term histrionic developed from histrio, Latin for "actor." Something that is histrionic tends to remind one of the high drama of stage and screen and is often stagy and over-the-top. It especially calls to mind the theatrical form known as melodrama, where plot and physical action, not characterization, are emphasized. But something that is histrionic isn't always overdone; the word can also describe actors, acting, or the theater, and in that sense it becomes a synonym of thespian. The related plural noun histrionics is similarly bifurcated. It can refer to either theatrical performances or to a deliberate display of emotion for effect.

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Thu, 02/19/2015 - 12:00am

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

whammy • \WAM-ee\  • noun
1 a : a supernatural power bringing bad luck b : a magic curse or spell : jinx, hex 2 : a potent force or attack; specifically : a paralyzing or lethal blow

After making three errors in one inning, Mitch became convinced that someone had put the whammy on his glove.

"Finally, Finland is dealing with the double whammy of a loss of trade with Russia—after the European Union imposed Ukraine-related sanctions—and the decline of its golden goose, Nokia." — Michael Booth, Washington Post, January 18, 2015

Did you know?
The origin of whammy is not entirely certain, but it is assumed to have been created by combining wham ("a solid blow") with the whimsical -y ending. The first example of whammy in print occurred in 1940, but the word was popularized in the 1950s by the cartoonist Al Capp in the comic strip Li'l Abner. The character Evil-Eye Fleegle could paralyze someone with the sheer power of his gaze. The "single whammy" was a look with one eye, and the fearsome "double whammy" used both eyes. As you may know, "double whammy" has also found a place in English as a general term. It means "a combination of two adverse forces, circumstances, or effects"—in other words, a one-two punch.

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vox populi

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 12:00am

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

vox populi • \VOKS-POP-yoo-lye\  • noun
: popular sentiment

"Social media is supposed to be an arena that amplifies the vox populi, that makes it easier to know what we the people think. But sometimes it seems as though social media only makes it easier to see what we the people are thinking about." — Kate Allen, Toronto Star, November 1, 2014

"Wheeler is moving forward with support from President Obama and from four million commenters to the FCC—a vox populi partly stirred to action by Oliver's viral HBO piece last summer on 'network neutrality,' the underlying principle that bars network owners from favoring one company's bits over another's." — Jeff Gelles, Philadelphia Inquirer, January 18, 2015

Did you know?
Vox populi is a Latin phrase that literally translates as "the voice of the people." It can be found in the longer maxim, Vox populi, vox Dei, which means "The voice of the people is the voice of God." Many people think that expression means that the people are always right, but it really implies that the will of the masses—right or wrong—is often irresistible. Since the mid-1960s, English speakers, especially British ones, have trimmed vox populi down to the abbreviated form vox pop, an expression used particularly for popular opinion as it is used and expressed by the media.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Tue, 02/17/2015 - 12:00am

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

superfluous • \soo-PER-floo-us\  • adjective
1 : exceeding what is sufficient or necessary : extra 2 : not needed : unnecessary

The textbook includes so much superfluous information that students often overlook key points.

"Music director Anu Tali's clear direction, free of superfluous gestures, embodied the elegance that shone through, particularly in the increasingly polished blend of string sound that the orchestra has been producing." — Gayle Williams, Sarasota (Florida) Herald Tribune, January 11, 2015

Did you know?
If you think that superfluous must mean "extra 'fluous,'" along the pattern of such words as superabsorbent and superabundant, you're not far off. Superfluous comes from the Latin adjective superfluus, meaning literally "running over" or "overflowing." Superfluus, in turn, derives from the combination of the prefix super- (meaning "over" or "more") and fluere, "to flow." (Fluere also gave us fluid, fluent, and influence, among others.) Since its first appearance in English in the 15th century, superfluous has referred to an "overflowing" of some supply, as of time or words, which hearkens back to its Latin origins.

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Mon, 02/16/2015 - 12:00am

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

deflagrate • \DEF-luh-grayt\  • verb
1 : to burn rapidly with intense heat and sparks being given off 2 : to cause to burn in such a manner

The city has banned fireworks and similar devices that deflagrate when lit.

"'It wasn't a pipe bomb, it was a destructive device,' [Gage County Chief Deputy] Klaus said. 'It was poorly constructed and it actually just deflagrated, it didn't explode. It just burned at a rapid rate.'" — Luke Nichols, Beatrice (Nebraska) Daily Sun, June 9, 2010

Did you know?
Deflagrate combines the Latin verb flagrare, meaning "to burn," with the Latin prefix de-, meaning "down" or "away." Flagrare is also an ancestor of such words as conflagration and flagrant and is distantly related to fulgent and flame. In the field of explosives, deflagrate is used to describe the burning of fuel accelerated by the expansion of gasses under the pressure of containment, which causes the containing vessel to break apart. In comparison, the term detonate (from the Latin tonare, meaning "to thunder") refers to an instant, violent explosion that results when shock waves pass through molecules and displace them at supersonic speed. Deflagrate has been making sparks in English since about 1727, and detonate burst onto the scene a couple of years later.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sun, 02/15/2015 - 12:00am

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

overweening • \oh-ver-WEE-ning\  • adjective
1 : arrogant, presumptuous 2 : immoderate, exaggerated

With her overweening ego, the actress expected to be recognized and flattered by everyone she met.

"The idea that an overweening federal government is a threat to both freedom and equality (not to mention prosperity) goes back to Jefferson, James Madison, Patrick Henry and some other fairly respectable personages." — Jonathan Rauch, The New York Times, January 4, 2015

Did you know?
"The overweening conceit which the greater part of men have of their own abilities is an ancient evil remarked by the philosophers and moralists of all ages." So wrote Adam Smith in his The Wealth of Nations. But while overweening conceit might be an age-old evil, the word overweening has only been part of English since the 14th century. It developed from the Middle English overwening, the present participle of the verb overwenen, which meant "to be arrogant." That term derived in turn from wenen, which meant "to think" or "to imagine." Today, the adjective overweening is the most widely used of the wenen descendants, but historical texts also occasionally include overween, a term for thinking too highly of your own opinion.

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