Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

Syndicate content Merriam-Webster Online
Free daily dose of word power from Merriam-Webster's experts
Updated: 2 hours 8 min ago


1 hour 22 min ago

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

berate • \bih-RAYT\  • verb

: to scold or condemn vehemently and at length


When her son arrived home way past curfew without so much as a phone call or text, Nancy berated him for his lack of consideration.

"We'd announced the tour and Mick looked at it and went, 'I can't do this,' which was not great news at all. I wanted to slightly berate him, 'What the heck?!,' but he sounded so sad. He really wasn't up to it." — Paul Rodgers,, 13 April 2016

Did you know?

Berate and rate can both mean "to scold angrily or violently." This sense of rate was first recorded in the 14th century, roughly two centuries before the now more familiar (and etymologically unrelated) rate meaning "to estimate the value of." We know that berate was probably formed by combining be and the older rate, but the origins of this particular rate itself are somewhat more obscure. We can trace the word back to the Middle English form raten, but beyond that things get a little murky. It's possible that rate, and by extension berate, derives from the same ancient word that led to the Swedish rata (meaning "to find blame, despise") and earlier the Old Norse hrata ("to fall, stagger"), but this is uncertain.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sun, 07/24/2016 - 12:00am

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

simulacrum • \sim-yuh-LAK-rum\  • noun

1 : image, representation

2 : an insubstantial form or semblance of something : trace


"Most theater shows aim to conjure a simulacrum of reality onstage." — Rohan Preston, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 21 Apr. 2015

"There, hanging above you, is a simulacrum of a tardigrade, otherwise known as a water bear or moss piglet, at about 5,000 times larger than life-size." — James Gorman, The New York Times, 3 Apr. 2015

Did you know?

It's not a figment of your imagination; there is a similarity between simulacrum and simulate. Both of those English words derive from simulare, a Latin verb meaning "to copy, represent, or feign." In its earliest English uses, simulacrum named something that provided an image or representation (as, for instance, a portrait, marble statue, or wax figure representing a person). Perhaps because a simulacrum, no matter how skillfully done, is not the real thing, the word gained an extended sense emphasizing the superficiality or insubstantiality of a thing.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sat, 07/23/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 23, 2016 is:

vatic • \VAT-ik\  • adjective

: prophetic, oracular


"Compared with [Stan] Lee's wisecracking dialogue and narrative prose, [Jack] Kirby's writing was stilted and often awkward, though at times it rose to a level of vatic poetic eloquence." — Jeet Heer, The New Republic, 7 Aug. 2015

"[Walt Whitman] dreamed of a new democratic civilization, which he pictured ultimately as a worldwide revolutionary democracy of labor—the vision that you can see in his vatic and ecstatic processional poem 'Song of the Broad-Axe.'" — Paul Berman, Tablet (, 3 May 2016

Did you know?

Some people say only thin lines separate poetry, prophecy, and madness. We don't know if that's generally true, but it is in the case of vatic. The adjective derives directly from the Latin word vates, meaning "seer" or "prophet." But that Latin root is, in turn, distantly related to the Old English wōth, meaning "poetry," the Old High German wuot, meaning "madness," and the Old Irish fáith, meaning both "seer" and "poet."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Fri, 07/22/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 22, 2016 is:

usufruct • \YOO-zuh-frukt\  • noun

1 : the legal right of using and enjoying the fruits or profits of something belonging to another

2 : the right to use or enjoy something


He has willed all of his property to the conservation society, though his children will retain the house as a 50-year usufruct.

"When there's no will, the state of Louisiana gives the surviving spouse a usufruct on the property." — Mary Anna Evans, Plunder, 2012

Did you know?

Thomas Jefferson said, "The earth belongs in usufruct to the living." He apparently understood that when you hold something in usufruct, you gain something of significant value, but only temporarily. The gains granted by usufruct can be clearly seen in the Latin phrase from which the word developed, usus et fructus, which means "use and enjoyment." Latin speakers condensed that phrase to ususfructus, the term English speakers used as the model for our modern word. Usufruct has been used as a noun for the legal right to use something since the mid-1600s. Any right granted by usufruct ends at a specific point, usually the death of the individual who holds it.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Thu, 07/21/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 21, 2016 is:

tactile • \TAK-tul\  • adjective

1 : perceptible by touch : tangible

2 : of, relating to, or being the sense of touch


"The keyboard has good tactile feedback, and the touch pad is responsive without being too twitchy." — Bruce Brown, PC Magazine, 20 Feb. 2001

"Sensitive 'robot skin' was developed by researchers at Georgia Tech in 2014. The skin makes use of flexible touch sensors that communicate with a memory device that can store tactile interactions, mimicking human sensory memory." — Karen Turner, The San Diego Union Tribune, 29 May 2016

Did you know?

Tangible is related to tactile, and so are intact, tact, contingent, tangent, and even entire. There's also the uncommon noun taction, meaning "the act of touching." Like tactile, all of these words can be traced back to the Latin verb tangere, meaning "to touch." Tactile was adopted by English speakers in the early 17th century (possibly by way of the French tactile) from the Latin adjective tactilis ("tangible"). Tactilis comes from tactus, a past participle of tangere.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Wed, 07/20/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 20, 2016 is:

winkle • \WINK-ul\  • verb

1 : (chiefly British) to displace, remove, or evict from a position

2 : (chiefly British) to obtain or draw out by effort


"In 1483 a new English king, Richard III, tried again to winkle Henry out of Brittany, but he found that the young man was now a significant pawn on the European chessboard." — Nigel Calder, The English Channel, 1986

"The reclusive actress, 48, had been winkled out of her New Mexico ranch and flown halfway around the world only to stand there and be ignored as Amal battled with her chiffon frills and the cameras rattled like gunfire." — Jan Moir, The Daily Mail (UK), 20 May 2016

Did you know?

If you have ever extracted a winkle from its shell, then you understand how the verb winkle came to be. The word winkle is short for periwinkle, the name of a marine or freshwater snail. Periwinkle is ultimately derived from Latin pina, the name of a mussel, and Old English wincle, a snail shell. Evidently the personnel of World War I's Allied Powers found their duty of finding and removing the enemy from the trenches analogous to extracting a well-entrenched snail and began using winkle to describe their efforts. The action of "winkling the enemy out" was later extended to other situations, such as "winkling information out of someone."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Tue, 07/19/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 19, 2016 is:

raconteur • \ra-kahn-TER\  • noun

: a person who excels in telling anecdotes


A bona fide raconteur, Taylor can turn even mundane experiences into hilariously entertaining stories.

"Her fans, any of whom would welcome the chance to share … a bowl of pimento cheese with her, know [Julia] Reed as a tremendous wit, a sharp observer of the complexities of Southern culture, a great storyteller and fabulous raconteur." — Greg Morago, The Houston Chronicle, 1 June 2016

Did you know?

The story of raconteur is a tale of telling and counting. English speakers borrowed the word from French, where it traces back to the Old French verb raconter, meaning "to tell." Raconter in turn was formed from another Old French verb, aconter or acompter, meaning "to tell" or "to count," which is ultimately from Latin computare, meaning "to count." Computare is also the source of our words count and account. Raconteur has been part of the English vocabulary since at least 1828.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Mon, 07/18/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 18, 2016 is:

astute • \uh-STOOT\  • adjective

1 : having or showing shrewdness and perspicacity

2 : crafty, wily


The candidate made a number of astute observations about both foreign and domestic policy during the debate.

"Sure, he was funny, but George Carlin was also an astute observer of the way humans think and behave." — Keith Magill, The Shawnee (Oklahoma) News-Star, 12 June 2016

Did you know?

Astute is similar in meaning to shrewd and sagacious, but there are subtle differences in connotation among them. All three suggest sharp thinking and sound judgment, but shrewd stresses practical, hardheaded cleverness and judgment ("a shrewd judge of character"), whereas sagacious implies wisdom and foresight combined with good judgment ("sagacious investors"). Astute, which derives from the Latin noun astus, meaning "craft," suggests cleverness, mental sharpness, and diplomatic skill ("an astute player of party politics").

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sun, 07/17/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 17, 2016 is:

parlay • \PAHR-lay\  • verb

1 : to bet in a parlay

2 a : to exploit successfully

b : to increase or otherwise transform into something of much greater value


"Leong said she parlayed a measly $5 winning ticket into her big bonanza. First she exchanged the $5 winning ticket for another that won $10, and with that she bought a $10 ticket that won $100. She decided to try her luck two more times and used the winnings to buy two $20 tickets, one of which hit the mother lode." — Megan Cerullo & Nancy Dillon, The New York Daily News, 8 June 2016

"Johnson parlayed the experience she gained while writing her own fashion and lifestyle blog into her first job at New York social media marketing agency Attention." — Samantha Masunaga, The Waterbury (Connecticut) Republican-American, 13 June 2016

Did you know?

If you're the gambling type, you may already know that parlay can also be used as a noun describing a series of bets in which a person places a bet, then puts the original stake of money and all of its winnings on new wagers. But you might not know that parlay represents a modified spelling of the French name for such bets: paroli. You might also be unaware that the original French word is still occasionally used in English with the same meaning as the noun parlay. Be careful not to mix up parlay with the similar word parley, meaning "to discuss terms with an enemy." Although the spellings are very close, parley comes from the Latin word for "speech."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sat, 07/16/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 16, 2016 is:

caesura • \sih-ZYUR-uh\  • noun

1 : a break in the flow of sound usually in the middle of a line of verse

2 : break, interruption

3 : a pause marking a rhythmic point of division in a melody


"The Anglo-Saxon idiom of Beowulf sounds particularly alien to modern ears: four stresses per line, separated in the middle by a strong pause, or caesura, with the third stress in each line alliterating with one or both of the first two." — Paul Gray, Time, 20 Mar. 2000

"Whenever anyone asks what I studied in school, the caesura of a deep breath inserts itself before the next line—the time it takes to summon the strength it takes to summon the word: 'poetry.'" — Michael Andor Brodeur, The Boston Globe, 14 June 2016

Did you know?

Caesuras (or caesurae) are those slight pauses one makes as one reads verse. While it may seem that their most obvious role is to emphasize the metrical construction of the verse, more often we need these little stops (which may be, but are not necessarily, set off by punctuation) to introduce the cadence and phrasing of natural speech into the metrical scheme. The word caesura, borrowed from Late Latin, is ultimately from Latin caedere meaning "to cut." Nearly as old as the 450-year-old poetry senses is the general meaning of "a break or interruption."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Fri, 07/15/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 15, 2016 is:

ostracize • \AH-struh-syze\  • verb

1 : to exile by ostracism

2 : to exclude from a group by common consent


Athletes who cheat risk being ostracized by their peers and colleagues—in addition to suffering professional ruin.

"Hateful speech is employed to offend, marginalize and ostracize. It's replaced reasonable persuasion by those too lazy or ignorant to be thoughtful." — Tom Fulks, The San Luis Obispo (California) Tribune, 26 Dec. 2015

Did you know?

In ancient Greece, prominent citizens whose power or influence threatened the stability of the state could be exiled by a practice called ostracism. Voters would elect to banish another citizen by writing that citizen's name down on a potsherd. Those receiving enough votes would then be subject to temporary exile from the state (usually for ten years). The English verb ostracize can mean "to exile by the ancient method of ostracism," but these days it usually refers to the general exclusion of one person from a group at the agreement of its members. Ostracism and ostracize derive from the Greek ostrakizein ("to banish by voting with potsherds"). Its ancestor, the Greek ostrakon ("shell" or "potsherd"), also helped to give English the word oyster.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Thu, 07/14/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 14, 2016 is:

éclat • \ay-KLAH\  • noun

1 : ostentatious display : publicity

2 : dazzling effect : brilliance

3 a : brilliant or conspicuous success

b : praise, applause


"The … protagonist is a familiar archetype, that washed-up star who can't quite reclaim the éclat of decades past." — Kevin Zawacki, Paste, 25 Aug. 2014

"A woman, a hostess, could play an important subterfuge.… She could serve dinner with éclat, put people at ease, and spice the conversation with the wit that obscured the politics in political discussions." — Louisa Thomas, New York Magazine, 14 Apr. 2016

Did you know?

Éclat burst onto the scene in English in the 17th century. The word derives from French, where it can mean "splinter" (the French idiom voler en éclats means "to fly into pieces") as well as "burst" (un éclat de rire means "a burst of laughter"), among other things. The "burst" sense is reflected in the earliest English sense of the word, meaning "ostentatious display or publicity." This sense found its own idiomatic usage in the phrase "to make an éclat," which at one time meant "to create a sensation." By the 1740s, éclat took on the additional meaning of "applause or acclamation," as in "The performer was received with great éclat."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Wed, 07/13/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 13, 2016 is:

natant • \NAY-tunt\  • adjective

: swimming or floating in water


The pond was quiet, though occasionally a fish would rise to make a little splash among the natant lily pads.

"The life cycle of spiny lobsters consists of two major phases: a lengthy planktonic larval phase that develops in oceanic water, and a benthic phase that begins when the natant post-larvae … settle onto some benthic habitat." — Patricia Briones-Fourzán and Enrique Lozano-Álvarez, in Lobsters: Biology, Management, Aquaculture and Fisheries, 2013

Did you know?

Natant and the smattering of other words birthed in the waters of Latin natare, meaning "to swim," can sound overly formal in many contexts. Rather than use the word natatorium, for example, we're more likely to refer simply to an indoor swimming pool. Similarly, instead of complimenting a friend's skills in natation, you're probably more apt to tell her she's a good swimmer. The common German-derived word swimming suits most of us just fine. Science, though, often prefers Latin, which is why you're most likely to encounter natare words in scientific contexts.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Tue, 07/12/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 12, 2016 is:

gust • \GUST\  • noun

: keen delight


"He was pleased to find his own importance, and he tasted the sweets of companionship with more gust than he had yet done." — Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Godolphin, 1833

"… the more pampered burgess and guild-brother was eating his morsel with gust, or curiously criticising the quantity of the malt and the skill of the brewer." — Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe, 1820

Did you know?

You're no doubt familiar with the simple gust that means "a brief burst of wind." At least a century and a half before that word first appeared in print in the late 16th century, however, a differently derived homograph came on the scene. The windy gust is probably derived from an Old Norse word gustr, whereas our older featured word (which is now considerably rarer than its look-alike) comes to us through Middle English from gustus, the Latin word for "taste." Gustus gave English another word as well. Gusto (which now usually means "zest" but can also mean "an individual or specific taste") comes to us from gustus by way of Italian.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Mon, 07/11/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 11, 2016 is:

liminal • \LIM-uh-nul\  • adjective

1 : of or relating to a sensory threshold

2 : barely perceptible

3 : of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition : in-between, transitional


"Kipling is drawn to images of his characters sitting in perilous places, because he aims to communicate a liminal anxiety about identity and imperial history." — Tom Paulin, The Times Literary Supplement, 8 Mar. 2002

"Solnit suggests that separating the feeling of becoming lost from a feeling of fear leads to a certain kind of spiritual growth. In that liminal space, between what we know and what we can't imagine, we are remade." — Amanda Petrusich, The New Yorker, 24 May 2016

Did you know?

The noun limen refers to the point at which a physiological or psychological effect begins to be produced, and liminal is the adjective used to describe things associated with that point, or threshold, as it is also called. Likewise, the closely related word subliminal means "below a threshold"; it can describe something inadequate to produce a sensation or something operating below a threshold of consciousness. Because the sensory threshold is a transitional point where sensations are just beginning to be perceptible, liminal acquired two extended meanings. It can mean "barely perceptible" and is now often used to mean "transitional" or "intermediate," as in "the liminal zone between sleep and wakefulness."

Categories: Fun Stuff