Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

Syndicate content Merriam-Webster Online
Free daily dose of word power from Merriam-Webster's experts
Updated: 9 hours 43 min ago


Mon, 08/31/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 31, 2015 is:

vaudeville • \VAUD-vil\  • noun
1 : a light often comic theatrical piece frequently combining pantomime, dialogue, dancing, and song 2 : stage entertainment consisting of various acts (such as performing animals, comedians, or singers)

Andrew's interest in vaudeville can be traced to his grandparents, who met as performers in the 1920s.

"This show is a throwback to vaudeville, with cheesy humor, plenty of audience participation, classic card tricks, flying arrows, colored live birds, fire, snow, choreography and just plain fun." —Tom Wharton, The Salt Lake Tribune, 25 June 2015

Did you know?
In the 15th century, several amusing songs became popular across France. These songs were said to have been written by a man named Olivier Basselin who lived in the valley of the river Vire in northwest France. The songs eventually became known as chansons du vau-de-Vire, meaning "songs of the valley of Vire." Other people began writing and performing similar songs, and as this form of entertainment became more widespread, the link to vau-de-Vire was forgotten, and the nickname was shortened to one word: vaudevire. As the phenomenon spread beyond France, further changes in pronunciation and spelling shifted vaudevire into vaudeville. The meaning also broadened to include humorous performances and variety shows.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sun, 08/30/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 30, 2015 is:

moot • \MOOT\  • adjective
1 a : open to question : debatable b : subjected to discussion : disputed 2 : deprived of practical significance : made abstract or purely academic

Since the team would have lost anyway, it's a moot point whether the umpire's call was right or not.

"… all such discussions are moot until both parties are willing to discuss the issue realistically and compromise." —John Melton, letter in The Springfield (Missouri) News-Leader, 1 Aug. 2015

Did you know?
Moot derives from gemōt, an Old English name for a judicial court. Originally, moot named either the court itself or an argument that might be debated by one. By the 16th century, the legal role of judicial moots had diminished, and the only remnant of them were "moot courts," academic mock courts in which law students could try hypothetical cases for practice. Back then, moot was also used as a synonym of debatable, but because the cases students tried in moot courts were simply academic exercises, the adjective gained another sense, "deprived of practical significance." Some commentators still frown on the use of moot to mean "purely academic," but most editors now accept it as standard.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sat, 08/29/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 29, 2015 is:

testimonial • \tess-tuh-MOH-nee-ul\  • noun
1 : evidence, testimony 2 a : a statement testifying to benefits received b : a character reference : letter of recommendation 3 : an expression of appreciation : tribute

The contractor's website included a photo gallery of his past work and testimonials from satisfied clients.

"Macari and Richichi brought to light the testimonies of Stamford's immigrants and war veterans and the city's history in the documentary. More than 40 on-camera testimonials were made by citizens and celebrities…." —Frank MacEachern, The Stamford (Connecticut) Daily Voice, 29 July 2015

Did you know?
In 1639, Scottish poet William Drummond responded to the political scene of his day by writing a facetious set of new laws, among them that "no man wear a . . . periwig, unless he have a testimonial from a town-clerk, that he is either bald, sickly, or asham'd of white hairs." Testimonials take different forms, but always, like in Drummond's recommended law, they provide affirmation or evidence. (Our word traces to Latin testimonium, meaning "evidence, witness.") In the 19th century, a gift presented to someone as a public expression of appreciation for service rendered became the newest version of a testimonial. Then, it was likely to be a statue or portrait. In the 20th century, we came up with testimonial dinners to show our appreciation or esteem. Testimonials (usually solicited) that endorse products or services are also a 20th-century phenomenon.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Fri, 08/28/2015 - 1:00am

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

prevaricate • \prih-VAIR-uh-kayt\  • verb
: to deviate from the truth : equivocate

In Henry Fielding's novel Tom Jones, Squire Allworthy demands of Mr. Dowling, "Do not hesitate nor prevaricate; but answer faithfully and truly to every question I ask."

"Some … do a good job informing voters of issues while others exaggerate, obfuscate and prevaricate." —Bill Bauer, The Santa Monica (California) Daily Press, 3 Nov. 2014

Did you know?
Prevaricate and its synonyms lie and equivocate all refer to playing fast and loose with the truth. Lie is the bluntest of the three. When you accuse someone of lying, you are saying he or she was intentionally dishonest, no bones about it. Prevaricate is less accusatory and softens the bluntness of lie, usually implying that someone is evading the truth rather than purposely making false statements. Equivocate is similar to prevaricate, but it generally implies that someone is deliberately using words that have more than one meaning as a way to conceal the truth.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Thu, 08/27/2015 - 1:00am

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

sycophant • \SIK-uh-funt\  • noun
: a servile self-seeking flatterer

Rosemary has little use for sycophants in her office, so if you want that promotion, do your best and let your work speak for itself.

"'Have I just surrounded myself with sycophants who are just telling me whatever I want to hear, regardless of the truth?' [Silicon Valley character Gavin Belson] asks his spiritual advisor, whose gulping response is a perfect 'No.'" —Caleb Pershan, SFist (, 18 May 2015

Did you know?
In the language of ancient Greece, sykophantēs meant "slanderer." The word derives from two other Greek words, sykon (meaning "fig") and phainein (meaning "to show or reveal"). How did fig revealers become slanderers? One theory has to do with the taxes Greek farmers were required to pay on the figs they brought to market. Apparently, the farmers would sometimes try to avoid making the payments, but squealers—fig revealers—would fink on them, and they would be forced to pay. Another possible source is a sense of the word fig meaning "a gesture or sign of contempt (such as thrusting a thumb between two fingers)." In any case, Latin retained the "slanderer" sense when it borrowed a version of sykophantēs, but by the time English speakers in the 16th century borrowed it as sycophant, the squealers had become flatterers.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Wed, 08/26/2015 - 1:00am

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

draconian • \dray-KOH-nee-un\  • adjective
1 : of, relating to, or characteristic of Draco or the severe code of laws held to have been framed by him 2 : cruel; also : severe

The editorial asserts that a life sentence for any non-violent crime is draconian.

"As electronic highway signs implore Californians to 'Save Water' and municipalities impose increasingly draconian conservation measures, we are seeing a phenomenon known as 'drought-shaming'—the humiliation of water-wasters among both the rich and famous and more ordinary residents." —Henry I. Miller,, 1 July 2015

Did you know?
Draconian comes from Draco, the name of a 7th-century B.C.E. Athenian legislator who created a written code of law. Draco's code was intended to clarify existing laws, but its severity is what made it really memorable. In Draco's code, even minor offenses were punishable by death, and failure to pay one's debts could result in slavery. Draconian, as a result, became associated with things cruel or harsh. Something draconian need not always be as cruel as the laws in Draco's code, though; today the word is used in a wide variety of ways and often refers to measures (steep parking fines, for example) that are relatively minor when compared with the death penalty.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Tue, 08/25/2015 - 1:00am

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

grog • \GRAHG\  • noun
: alcoholic liquor; especially : liquor (such as rum) cut with water and now often served hot with lemon juice and sometimes sugar

The reviewer praised the restaurant for serving an eclectic range of beers and wines and not just any old grog.

"In 1917 the Historical Society of the Town of Warwick held its first George Washington Day Picnic to celebrate and commemorate the visit of Washington and his entourage to Warwick's Baird's Tavern. A meticulous record keeper, Washington recorded this 1782 visit in his journal along with an itemized purchase of grog." — Roger Gavan, The Warwick (New York) Advertiser, July 16, 2015

Did you know?
Eighteenth-century English admiral Edward Vernon reputedly earned the nickname "Old Grog" because he often wore a cloak made from grogram (a coarse, loosely woven fabric made of silk or silk blended with mohair or wool). In Old Grog's day, sailors in the Royal Navy were customarily given a daily ration of rum, but in 1740 the admiral, concerned about the health of his men, ordered that the rum should be diluted with water. The decision wasn't very popular with the sailors, who supposedly dubbed the mixture grog after Vernon. Today, grog can be used as a general term for any liquor, even undiluted, and someone who acts drunk or shaky can be called groggy.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Mon, 08/24/2015 - 1:00am

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

cannibalize • \KAN-uh-buh-lyze\  • verb
1 : to take salvageable parts from (as a disabled machine) for use in building or repairing another machine 2 : to take (sales) away from an existing product by selling or being sold as a similar but new product usually from the same manufacturer; also : to affect (as an existing product) adversely by cannibalizing sales 3 : to practice cannibalism

The company is risking cannibalizing sales of its flagship truck with this impressive—and less expensive—new model.

"Of the 71 buses in the district's current fleet, three are no longer operational but are being cannibalized for parts—everything from mirrors and batteries to compressors and alternators." — Pat Maio, The San Diego Union-Tribune, July 2, 2015

Did you know?
During World War II, military personnel often used salvageable parts from disabled vehicles and aircraft to repair other vehicles and aircraft. This sacrifice of one thing for the sake of another of its kind must have reminded some folks of cannibalism by humans and animals, because the process came to be known as cannibalizing. The armed forces of this time were also known to cannibalize—that is, to take away personnel from—units to build up other units. It didn't take long for this military slang to become civilianized. Since its demobilization, the term has been used in a variety of contexts.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sun, 08/23/2015 - 1:00am

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

august • \aw-GUST\  • adjective
: marked by majestic dignity or grandeur

"But a great deal of life goes on without strong passion: myriads of cravats are carefully tied, dinners attended, even speeches made proposing the health of august personages without the zest arising from a strong desire." — George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, 1876

"When the Académie Française, the most august literary institution in France, inducted Dany Laferrière last month, it insisted that that Haitian-Québécois novelist was the first non-French citizen to enter its ranks." — Rachel Donadio, The New York Times, June 17, 2015

Did you know?
August comes from the Latin word augustus, meaning "consecrated" or "venerable," which in turn is related to the Latin augur, meaning "consecrated by augury" or "auspicious." In 8 B.C. the Roman Senate honored Augustus Caesar, the first Roman emperor, by changing the name of their month Sextilis to Augustus. Old English speakers inherited the name of the month of August, but it wasn't until the late 1500s that august came to be used generically in English, more or less as augustus was in Latin, to refer to someone with imperial qualities.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sat, 08/22/2015 - 1:00am

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

netiquette • \NET-ih-kut\  • noun
: etiquette governing communication on the Internet

"It's good netiquette to link to the article from which you borrow and to name your source." — John D. Farmer, Richmond (Virginia) Times Dispatch, May 30, 2011

"Good netiquette includes not using all caps when typing, as it comes across as shouting.… Netiquette also involves respecting the privacy of others online, and not sharing or forwarding emails and personal messages of others." — John DeGarmo, Keeping Foster Children Safe Online, 2014

Did you know?
When the first computer networks were being developed in the 1950s and 60s, few people could have predicted the extent to which the Internet would revolutionize our culture—and our language. These days, you don't have to be a computernik (a computer expert or enthusiast) or a mouse potato (someone who spends a great deal of time using a computer) to be familiar with words like blog, download, or the verb google. And even computerphobes are likely to know that in modern jargon, a "mouse" isn't necessarily a small furry rodent and the newest "virus" may be more of a threat to your computer than to your health. Netiquette, a blend of net (as in Internet) and etiquette, joined our language in the early 1980s.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Fri, 08/21/2015 - 1:00am

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

beholden • \bih-HOHL-dun\  • adjective
: being under obligation for a favor or gift : indebted

"I am thankful for myself, at any rate, that I can find my tiny way through the world, without being beholden to anyone…." — Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, 1850

"Such voices would indicate that we are a nation of independent thinkers, inspired by the grand principles of the Revolution that created the modern political system, not beholden to narrow partisan interests or affiliations." — Anouar Majid, The Portland (Maine) Press Herald, July 5, 2015

Did you know?
Have you ever found yourself under obligation to someone else for a gift or favor? It's a common experience, and, not surprisingly, many of the words describing this condition have been part of the English language for centuries. Beholden was first recorded in writing in the 14th century poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." Indebted, which entered English through Anglo-French, is even older, first appearing in the 13th century. English speakers in the 14th century would also have had another synonym of beholden to choose from: bounden. That word, though obscure, is still in use with the meaning "made obligatory" or "binding" (as in "our bounden duty"), but its "beholden" sense is now obsolete.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Thu, 08/20/2015 - 1:00am

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

obeisance • \oh-BEE-sunss\  • noun
1 : a movement of the body made in token of respect or submission : bow 2 : acknowledgment of another's superiority or importance : homage

"They took their hats off and made obeisance and many signs, which however, I could not understand any more than I could their spoken language …" — Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897

"College presidents and school officials frequently explain their obeisance to their athletic departments by saying that without big-time sports programs, they'd never get any money out of their alumni." — Murray A. Sperber, The Washington Post, March 15, 2015

Did you know?
When it first appeared in English in the late 14th century, obeisance shared the same meaning as obedience. This makes sense given that obeisance can be traced back to the Anglo-French verb obeir, which means "to obey" and is also an ancestor of our word obey. The other senses of obeisance also date from the 14th century, but they have stood the test of time whereas the obedience sense is now obsolete.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Wed, 08/19/2015 - 1:00am

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

exculpatory • \ek-SKUL-puh-tor-ee\  • adjective
: tending or serving to clear from alleged fault or guilt

The DNA found at the crime scene proved to be exculpatory; it did not match that of the defendant, and so he was acquitted.

"Authorities also were faulted for withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense, including an initial statement by Herrington to police that two men he identified as Jim and Ed were the real killers." — Jim Dey, The News-Gazette (Champaign, Illinois), July 19, 2015

Did you know?
Exculpatory is the adjectival form of the verb exculpate, meaning "to clear from guilt." The pair of words cannot be accused of being secretive—their joint etymology reveals all: they are tied to the Latin verb exculpatus, a word that combines the prefix ex-, meaning "out of" or "away from," with the Latin noun culpa, meaning "blame." The related but lesser-known terms inculpate and inculpatory are antonyms of exculpate and exculpatory. Inculpate means "to incriminate" and inculpatory means "incriminating." A related noun, culpable, means "meriting condemnation or blame for doing something wrong."

Categories: Fun Stuff

jog trot

Tue, 08/18/2015 - 1:00am

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

jog trot • \JAHG-TRAHT\  • noun
1 : a horse's slow measured trot 2 : a routine habit or course of action

The weekly Friday-night dances provided the townsfolk with a few hours of respite from the jog trot of life.

"The speed of the trot can vary between the very slow jog trot at less than four miles per hour to the very fast racing trot of the Standardbred, at well over fifteen miles per hour." — Lee Ziegler, Easy-Gaited Horses, 2005

Did you know?
The jog trot is a type of gait that is sometimes required at horse shows. It appears to have been so named because the horse's often jolting movement is certainly "jogging," and the gait itself is actually a kind of careful, deliberate trot. The term first appeared in print in 1796 and rapidly came to be used in a figurative sense as well, referring to a steady and usually monotonous routine, similar to the slow, regular pace of a horse at a jog trot. There is a suggestion with the generalized sense that the action is uniform and unhurried, and perhaps even a little dull.

Categories: Fun Stuff