Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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Thu, 06/30/2016 - 12:00am

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

nadir • \NAY-deer\  • noun

1 : the point of the celestial sphere that is directly opposite the zenith and vertically downward from the observer

2 : the lowest point


Only once the novel's protagonist reaches her nadir does she arouse the reader's empathy, and we root for her to climb back to respectability.

"The nadir came in the MLS Cup Final, when a gaffe in front of his net led to a Portland goal just 27 seconds after the opening whistle." — Shawn Mitchell, The Columbus Dispatch, 4 Mar. 2016

Did you know?

Nadir is part of the galaxy of scientific words that have come to us from Arabic, a language that has made important contributions in the vocabulary of mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and chemistry. Nadir derives from an Arabic word meaning "opposite"—the opposite, that is, of the zenith, or the highest point of the celestial sphere, the one vertically above the observer. (The word zenith itself is a modification of another Arabic word that means "the way over one's head.") The English poet John Donne is first on record as having used nadir in the figurative sense of "lowest point" in a sermon he wrote in 1627.

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Wed, 06/29/2016 - 12:00am

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

attenuate • \uh-TEN-yuh-wayt\  • verb

1 : to make thin or slender

2 : to make thin in consistency : rarefy

3 : to lessen the amount, force, magnitude, or value of : weaken

4 : to reduce the severity, virulence, or vitality of


"… it's been well established that daily exercise such as walking for 30 minutes yields substantial health benefits and that regular physical activity attenuates the health risks associated with overweight and obesity." — Yuri Elkaim, The Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, 4 June 2016

"Confined to a contemporary art emporium, however, an artist such as Ms. Abdalian is often forced either to fill up the chamber so much that it feels like granny’s attic, or to attenuate the offering so that the viewer gets a pretty good idea of what the artist is usually up to, aesthetically and philosophically, elsewhere." — Peter Plagens, The Wall Street Journal, 6 May 2016

Did you know?

Attenuate ultimately comes from a combination of the Latin prefix ad-, meaning "to" or "toward," and tenuis, meaning "thin." It has been on the medical scene since the 16th century, when a health treatise recommended eating dried figs to attenuate bodily fluids. That treatment might be outmoded nowadays, but attenuate is still used in medicine to refer to procedures that weaken a pathogen or reduce the severity of a disease. Most often, though, attenuate implies that something has been reduced or weakened by physical or chemical means. You can attenuate wire by drawing it through successively smaller holes, or attenuate gold by hammering it into thin sheets. You can even attenuate the momentum of a play by including too many costume changes.

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Tue, 06/28/2016 - 12:00am

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

licit • \LISS-it\  • adjective

: conforming to the requirements of the law : not forbidden by law : permissible


The program subsidizes farmers growing licit crops, such as rubber, cassava, and cocoa.

"The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) explained, opioids are a class of drugs that include the illicit drug heroin and the licit prescription pain relievers oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and others." — The Recorder: Central Connecticut University, 5 May 2016

Did you know?

Licit is far less common than its antonym illicit, but you probably won't be surprised to learn that the former is the older of the two. Not by much, though: the first known use of licit in print is from 1483, whereas illicit shows up in print for the first time in 1506. For some reason illicit took off while licit just plodded along. When licit appears these days, it often modifies drugs or crops. Meanwhile, illicit shows up before words like thrill and passion (as well as gambling, relationship, activities, and, of course, drugs and crops.) The Latin word licitus, meaning "lawful," is the root of the pair; licitus itself is from licēre, meaning "to be permitted."

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Mon, 06/27/2016 - 12:00am

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

crackerjack • \CRACK-er-jack\  • adjective

: of striking ability or excellence


She is a crackerjack athlete who excels in soccer and softball.

"Like a well-made suspense film, Mr. Scovel's jokes have twists you don't see coming and the thrilling tension of a crackerjack plot where you have no idea what will happen next." — Jason Zinoman, The New York Times, 12 May 2016

Did you know?

The late 19th-century pairing of crack and jack to form crackerjack topped off a long history for those words. Cracker is an elongation of crack, an adjective meaning "expert" or "superior" that dates from the 18th century. Prior to that, crack was a noun meaning "something superior" and a verb meaning "to boast." (The verb use evolved from the expression "to crack a boast," which came from the sense of crack meaning "to make a loud sharp sound.") Jack has been used for "man" since the mid-1500s, as in "jack-of-all-trades." Crackerjack entered English first as a noun referring to "a person or thing of marked excellence," then as an adjective. You may also know Cracker Jack as a snack of candied popcorn and peanuts. That trademarked name dates from the 1890s.

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Sun, 06/26/2016 - 12:00am

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

jactitation • \jak-tuh-TAY-shun\  • noun

: a tossing to and fro or jerking and twitching of the body


"The effect of the first dose was most fortunate. In about ten minutes after it was swallowed, the jactitation ceased." — Edward H. Clarke, The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, 16 June 1870

"It is clear that Mrs Y.'s tics are far more complex in form than mere Parkinsonian jerks, jactitations, or precipitations...." — Oliver Sacks, Awakenings, 1973

Did you know?

In the 17th century, lawyers began tossing around the word jactitation, which can be traced back to the Latin verb jactare, meaning "to throw." Originally, jactitation was used as a word for a false claim or assertion being publicly thrown about to the detriment of another person. Run-of-the-mill slander and false claims of being married to someone were two common types of jactitation brought to court. Before long, jactitation had jumped over to the medical profession, where it continues to serve as a word for restless, jerky, or twitchy body movements. In 1761, British writer Laurence Sterne threw jactitation into his novel Tristram Shandy as a substitute for discussion, but that meaning never caught on.

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Sat, 06/25/2016 - 12:00am

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

extirpate • \EK-ster-payt\  • verb

1 a : to destroy completely : wipe out

b : to pull up by the root

2 : to cut out by surgery


"The spread of piracy has been treated more as a nuisance to be endured rather than as a deadly cancer that must be extirpated for the sake of both Somalia and the rule of law." — Tara Helfman and Dan O'Shea, Commentary, February 2011

"Over the past decades, the reptiles have reclaimed much of the native range from which they'd been extirpated." — Shannon Tompkins, The Houston Chronicle, 12 May 2016

Did you know?

If we do a little digging, we discover that extirpate finds its roots in, well, roots (and stumps). Early English uses of the word in the 16th century carried the meaning of "to clear of stumps" or "to pull something up by the root." Extirpate grew out of a combination of the Latin prefix ex- and the Latin noun stirps, meaning "trunk" or "root." The word stirp itself remains rooted in our own language as a term meaning "a line descending from a common ancestor."

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Fri, 06/24/2016 - 12:00am

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

hermetic • \her-MET-ik\  • adjective

1 : relating to or characterized by occultism or abstruseness : recondite

2 a : airtight 

b : impervious to external influence

c : recluse, solitary


The infomercial claimed that the new containers used modern technology to guarantee a hermetic seal that would keep food fresh for months.

"Later, as Western Europe welcomed foreign guest workers, Central Europe remained in the hermetic enclosure of Soviet rule." — Sara Miller Llana, The Christian Science Monitor, 10 Mar. 2016

Did you know?

Hermetic derives from Greek via the Medieval Latin word hermeticus. When it first entered English in the early 17th century, hermetic was associated with writings attributed to Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom. Thoth, whom the Greeks called Hermes Trismegistus ("thrice-great Hermes"), was believed to be the author of a number of mystical, philosophical, and alchemistic works. The obscure subject matter of these works may have made them difficult to wade through, for soon English speakers were also applying hermetic to things that were beyond ordinary human comprehension. Additionally, Hermes Trismegistus was said to have invented a magic seal that could keep vessels airtight. Hermetic thus came to mean "airtight," both literally and figuratively. These days, it can also sometimes mean "solitary."

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Thu, 06/23/2016 - 12:00am

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

genius • \JEEN-yus\  • noun

1 : a single strongly marked capacity or aptitude

2 : extraordinary intellectual power especially as manifested in creative activity

3 : a person endowed with transcendent mental superiority; especially : a person with a very high IQ


"An airplane mechanic in World War II, my father had a genius for anything mechanical. He would overhaul an engine at the drop of a hat." — Jack McCall, The Hartsville (Tennessee) Vidette, 28 Apr. 2016

"By the time Purple Rain was released, Prince's overt sexiness, inventive style, technical brilliance, and musical genius had established an irrefutable fact: He was the new James Brown." — Simon Doonan,, 26 Apr. 2016

Did you know?

The belief system of the ancient Romans included spirits that were somewhere in between gods and humans and were thought to accompany each person through life as a protector. The Latin name for this spirit was genius, which came from the verb gignere, meaning "to beget." This sense of "attendant spirit" was first borrowed into English in the 14th century. Part of such a spirit's role was to protect a person's moral character, and from that idea an extended sense developed in the 16th century meaning "an identifying character." In time, that meaning was extended to cover a special ability for doing something, and eventually genius acquired senses referring particularly to "very great intelligence" and "people of great intelligence."

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Wed, 06/22/2016 - 12:00am

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

feign • \FAYN\  • verb

1 : to give a false appearance of : to induce as a false impression

2 : to assert as if true : pretend


"If a predator approaches the nest, the parent feigns a broken wing, often leading the predator far from the nest before bursting into flight, the injured wing suddenly fully functional." — Jan Bergstrom, The St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times, 7 May 2016

"The local high school … wasn't of particularly high quality, and I was not intellectually stimulated or motivated there. In fact, I became disinterested, started skipping class and feigning illness to avoid going to school." — Brian Calle, The Orange County (California) Register, 8 May 2016

Did you know?

Feign is all about faking it, but that hasn't always been so. In one of its earliest senses, feign meant "to fashion, form, or shape." That meaning is true to the term's Latin ancestor: the verb fingere, which also means "to shape." The current senses of feign still retain the essence of the Latin source, since to feign something, such as surprise or an illness, requires one to fashion an impression or shape an image. Several other English words that trace to the same ancestor refer to things that are shaped with either the hands, as in figure and effigy, or the imagination, as in fiction and figment.

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Tue, 06/21/2016 - 12:00am

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

inchoate • \in-KOH-ut\  • adjective

: being only partly in existence or operation : incipient; especially : imperfectly formed or formulated : formless, incoherent


Five years ago, the restaurant was merely an inchoate notion in Nathan's head; today it is one of the most popular eateries in the city.

"The nexus point in any populist upwelling is whether or not it evolves from an inchoate outrage into a legitimate movement." — Gene Altshuler, The Mountain Democrat (Placerville, California), 2 Mar. 2016

Did you know?

Inchoate derives from inchoare, which means "to start work on" in Latin but translates literally as "to hitch up." Inchoare was formed from the prefix in- and the noun cohum, which refers to the part of a yoke to which the beam of a plow is fitted. The concept of implementing this initial step toward the larger task of plowing a field can help provide a clearer understanding of inchoate, an adjective used to describe the imperfect form of something (such as a plan or idea) in its early stages of development. Perhaps because it looks a little like the word chaos (although the two aren't closely related), inchoate now not only implies the formlessness that often marks beginnings but also the confusion caused by chaos.

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Mon, 06/20/2016 - 12:00am

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

heliolatry • \hee-lee-AH-luh-tree\  • noun

: sun worship


Archeologists believe that the members of the ancient civilization practiced heliolatry because each temple faced east, toward the rising sun.

"An observer would assume that all of us—humans and shorebirds alike—are guilty of heliolatry…. We had endured a series of dark, gloomy, winter days, during which the sun had been continually hidden behind dense, rain clouds. Now that the sun has emerged from its cloudy cave, the beach is bathed in brilliant sunshine." — George Thatcher, The Biloxi (Mississippi) Sun Herald, 22 Jan. 2013

Did you know?

The first half of heliolatry derives from hēlios, the Greek word for "sun." In Greek mythology, Hēlios was the god of the sun, imagined as "driving" the sun as a chariot across the sky. From hēlios we also get the word helium, referring to the very light gas that is used in balloons and airships, and heliocentric, meaning "having or relating to the sun as center," as in "a heliocentric orbit." The suffix -latry, meaning "worship," derives via Late Latin and French from the Greek latreia, and can be found in such words as bardolatry ("worship of Shakespeare") and zoolatry ("animal worship"). A person who worships the sun is called a heliolater.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sun, 06/19/2016 - 12:00am

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

dolorous • \DOH-luh-rus\  • adjective

: causing, marked by, or expressing misery or grief


With his dolorous songs about hard-bitten people down on their luck, Johnny Cash garnered legions of fans across generations.

"I felt myself sinking now and then into a dolorous state in which I allowed myself to succumb to a deep despair about life here…." — Alan Cheuse, Song of Slaves in the Desert, 2011

Did you know?

"No medicine may prevail … till the same dolorous tooth be … plucked up by the roots." When dolorous first appeared around 1400, it was linked to physical pain—and appropriately so, since the word is a descendant of the Latin word dolor, meaning "pain" as well as "grief." (Today, dolor is also an English word meaning "sorrow.") When the British surgeon John Banister wrote the above quotation in 1578, dolorous could mean either "causing pain" or "distressful, sorrowful." "The death of the earl [was] dolorous to all Englishmen," the English historian Edward Hall had written a few decades earlier. The "causing pain" sense of dolorous coexisted with the "sorrowful" sense for centuries, but nowadays its use is rare.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sat, 06/18/2016 - 12:00am

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

kvell • \KVEL\  • verb

: to be extraordinarily proud : rejoice


Critics kvelled over the violinist's triumphant return to the stage where she had made her debut many years ago.

"My older brother, by two years and nine months, was a loving uncle who absolutely kvelled over his two nephews and was always asking me when I was next bringing them to San Francisco to see him." — Lincoln Mitchell, The New York Observer, 28 Oct. 2014

Did you know?

We are pleased to inform you that the word kvell is derived from Yiddish kveln, meaning "to be delighted," which, in turn, comes from the Middle High German word quellen, meaning "to well, gush, or swell." Yiddish has been a wellspring of creativity for English, giving us such delightful words as meister ("one who is knowledgeable about something"), maven ("expert"), and shtick ("one's special activity"), just to name a few. The date for the appearance of kvell in the English language is tricky to pinpoint exactly. The earliest known printed evidence for the word in an English source is found in a 1952 handbook of Jewish words and expressions, but actual usage evidence before that date remains unseen.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Fri, 06/17/2016 - 12:00am

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

benign • \bih-NYNE\  • adjective

1 : of a gentle disposition : gracious

2 a : showing kindness and gentleness

b : favorable, wholesome

3 a : of a mild type or character that does not threaten health or life; especially : not becoming cancerous

b : having no significant effect : harmless


"No doubt the history of this genial, white-haired American emigre was benign, but, still, I remember wondering about his real story, as distinct from the one he was telling me." — Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune, 29 July 2013

"University of Florida Health researchers say they are making progress in ascertaining whether a kidney tumor is cancerous or benign before a patient is subjected to an invasive needle biopsy or surgery." — (Polk County, Florida), 5 May 2016

Did you know?

Benediction, benefactor, benefit, benevolent, and benign are just some of the English words that derive from the well-tempered Latin root bene, which means "well." Benign came to English via Anglo-French from the Latin benignus, which in turn paired bene with gignere, meaning "to beget." Gignere has produced a few offspring of its own in English. Its descendants include congenital, genius, germ, indigenous, and progenitor, among others. Benign is commonly used in medical contexts to describe conditions, such as noncancerous masses, that present no apparent harm to the patient. It is also found in the phrase benign neglect, which refers to an attitude or policy of ignoring an often delicate or undesirable situation that one has the responsibility to manage.

Categories: Fun Stuff