Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 05, 2015 is:

ilk • \ILK\  • noun
: sort, kind

The hole beneath the stairs of the cabin's porch allows in squirrels, woodchucks, and other creatures of that ilk.

"In many parts of the world, anyone who will ever buy a smartphone probably has done so, and now we're on to the steady business of buying a new one only when we break, lose, or need to replace our old phones. When analysts discuss growth predictions for cell phones and their ilk, they signal nothing but caution." — Lindsey Turrentine, CNET, February 6, 2015

Did you know?
The Old English pronoun ilca is the predecessor of the modern noun ilk, but by way of a pronoun ilk that does not exist in most dialects of modern English. That ilk is synonymous with same, and persists in Scots where it's used in the phrase "of that ilk," meaning "of the same place, territorial designation, or name." It is used chiefly in reference to the names of land-owning families and their eponymous estates, as in "the Guthries of that ilk," which means "the Guthries of Guthrie." Centuries ago a misunderstanding arose concerning the Scots phrase: it was interpreted as meaning "of that kind or sort," a usage that found its way into modern English. Ilk has been established in English with its current meaning and part of speech since the late 18th century.

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Wed, 03/04/2015 - 12:00am

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

sprightly • \SPRYTE-lee\  • adjective
1 : marked by a cheerful lightness and vivacity (as of movement or manner) : spirited 2 : having a distinctively piquant taste

Uncle Jack, a sprightly man nearing 90, was an avid storyteller, and we all listened with rapt attention as he regaled us with his newest tale.

"The somber, pensive orchestral prelude to Act III was magnificent…. And Mr. Levine actually seemed to gain energy during the long final scene in the meadow, with the sprightly country dances and celebratory marches." — Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, December 3, 2014

Did you know?
Sprightly comes from spright, an archaic version of the word we now use for an elf or fairy: sprite. Ariel from Shakespeare's The Tempest and the leprechaun of Irish mythology are often referred to as sprites, and it's no coincidence that both are characterized by their light, flitting movements and mannerisms. Sprite derives via Middle English and Old French from the Latin spiritus, which of course gives us spirit as well. A similar-looking adjective that can describe someone who is nimble and energetic is spry, but that word is believed to be of Scandinavian origin.

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Tue, 03/03/2015 - 12:00am

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

thanatology • \than-uh-TAH-luh-jee\  • noun
: the description or study of the phenomena of death and of psychological mechanisms for coping with them

One of the seminal texts on thanatology is Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's On Death and Dying, which outlines the five stages of grief.

"In her eight-week yoga for grief course, Stang … uses her background in thanatology—the scientific study of death, dying and bereavement—to educate participants about death and normalize their experiences." — Anna Medaris Miller, U.S. News & World Report, January 7, 2015

Did you know?
In Greek mythology, Thanatos was the personification of death and the twin brother of Hypnos (Sleep). The ancient Greeks eventually came to use thanatos as a generic word for "death." Thanatology is a direct linguistic heir of the Greek term and was first documented in English in the mid-1800s. As a science, thanatology examines attitudes toward death, the meaning and behaviors of bereavement and grief, and other matters. In 1935, the word thanatos itself made its debut in English, ushered in with psychoanalytic theory to describe an unconscious tendency toward self-destruction.

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Mon, 03/02/2015 - 12:00am

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

chatoyant • \shuh-TOY-unt\  • adjective
: having a changeable luster or color with an undulating narrow band of white light

"Suddenly he felt himself again in Carthage. There was a river there, too: not a little bolt of chatoyant silk like the Avon, which they would have called a 'crick' back there." — Rupert Hughes, "Momma" And Other Unimportant People, 1920

"They had interesting rocks, everything from Texas Hill Country caliche and an agate found in a gravel parking lot to a trilobite fossil and slice of chatoyant tiger's eye from Colorado." — Tommy Simmons, The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), September 2, 2010

Did you know?
The complex structure of a cat's eye not only enables it to see at night but also gives it the appearance of glowing in the dark. Not surprisingly, jewels that sport a healthy luster are often compared with the feline ocular organ, so much that the term cat's-eye is used to refer to those gems (such as chalcedony) that give off iridescence from within. If you've brushed up on your French lately, you might notice that the French word for cat (chat) provides the first four letters of chatoyant, a word used by jewelers to describe such lustrous gems (and by others who see the same luster elsewhere). Chatoyant derives from the present participle of chatoyer, a French verb that literally means "to shine like a cat's eyes."

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Sun, 03/01/2015 - 12:00am

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

macaroni • \mak-uh-ROH-nee\  • noun
1 : pasta made from semolina and shaped in the form of slender tubes 2 : an affected young man : fop

One of Tracy's favorite comfort foods is homemade macaroni and cheese.

"He had been a macaroni of the eighteenth century, and the friend, in his youth, of Lord Ferrars." — Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1890

Did you know?
As you may have suspected, the macaroni in the song "Yankee Doodle" is not the familiar food. The feather in Yankee Doodle's cap apparently makes him a macaroni in the now rare "fop" or "dandy" sense. The sense appears to have originated with a club established in London by a group of young, well-traveled Englishmen in the 1760s. The founders prided themselves on their appearance, sense of style, and manners, and they chose the name Macaroni Club to indicate their worldliness. Because macaroni was, at the time, a new and rather exotic food in England, the name was meant to demonstrate how stylish the club's members were. The members were themselves called macaronis, and eventually macaroni became synonymous with dandy and fop.

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Sat, 02/28/2015 - 12:00am

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.

Categories: Fun Stuff


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.

Categories: Fun Stuff


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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