Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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Wed, 07/23/2014 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 23, 2014 is:

interpolate • \in-TER-puh-layt\  • verb
1 a : to change (as a text) by inserting new or foreign matter b : to insert (words) into a text or into a conversation 2 : to insert (something) between other things or parts : to make insertions 3 : to estimate values of (data or a function) between two known values

"Ellis nicely interpolated a harpsichord solo between Bach's two movements…." — Tom Aldridge, NUVO (Indiana), May 18, 2013

"Most scanners can scan at higher resolutions than their maximum optical resolutions by using software to interpolate more dots per inch, but you really aren't getting any better quality." — Jim Rossman, The Virginian-Pilot, June 23, 2014

Did you know?
"Interpolate" comes from Latin "interpolare," a verb with various meanings, among them "to refurbish," "to alter," and "to falsify." "Interpolate" entered English in the 17th century and was applied early on to the alteration (and in many cases corruption) of texts by insertion of additional material. Modern use of "interpolate" still sometimes suggests the insertion of something extraneous or spurious, as in "she interpolated her own comments into the report."

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Tue, 07/22/2014 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 22, 2014 is:

Yooper • \YOO-per\  • noun
: a native or resident of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan — used as a nickname

The land of the Yoopers—the Upper Peninsula, or U.P.—is connected to Michigan's Lower Peninsula by means of the Mackinac Bridge.

"Every Yooper I've ever met was an uncommonly unique character—a real salt-of-the-earth townie, skilled at mechanics, deer hunting, and/or ice fishing." — Kelly O, The Stranger, January 29, 2014 – February 4, 2014

Did you know?
The word "Yooper" comes from the common nickname of Michigan's Upper Peninsula—the "U.P."—and the etymology requires the same follow-up question that a challenging joke does: "Get it?" If you're not there yet, try saying them both out loud: Yooper, U.P. Yoopers have been saying both out loud now for about 40 years, but it's only in recent years that those beyond the U.P. and its geographical neighbors have begun to encounter "Yooper" in use. Yoopers refer to people who live in the Lower Peninsula as "trolls" (they live "under" the Mackinac Bridge, after all), but that nickname is still at this point too regional for entry in our dictionaries.

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Mon, 07/21/2014 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 21, 2014 is:

fiduciary • \fuh-DOO-shee-air-ee\  • adjective
1 : involving a confidence or trust 2 : held or holding in trust for another

"While bank trust departments have a fiduciary duty to file claims on behalf of their clients, many are overworked and understaffed." — Business Wire, September 17, 2010

"The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decided a case in which it addressed a variety of fiduciary breaches alleged by employees participating in an employer’s 401(k) plans." — Peter K. Bradley, Anita Costello Greer, Michael J. Flanagan, Richard W. Kaiser, Arthur A. Marrapese III and Ryan M. Murphy,, May 30, 2014

Did you know?
Fiduciary relationships often concern money, but the word "fiduciary" does not, in and of itself, suggest financial matters. Rather, "fiduciary" applies to any situation in which one person justifiably places confidence and trust in someone else and seeks that person's help or advice in some matter. The attorney-client relationship is a fiduciary one, for example, because the client trusts the attorney to act in the best interest of the client at all times. "Fiduciary" can also be used as a noun for the person who acts in a fiduciary capacity, and "fiduciarily" or "fiducially" can be called upon if you are in need of an adverb. The words are all faithful to their origin: Latin "fidere," which means "to trust."

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big data

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 20, 2014 is:

big data • \BIG-DAY-tuh\  • noun
: an accumulation of data that is too large and complex for processing by traditional database management tools

"The age of big data has driven advances in technology that make it possible to collect, store, and transmit nearly infinite amounts of information." — Sean Lahman, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, May 30, 2014

"In other words, how do you use big data about people and things productively and profitably without risking a loss of trust and business patronage from consumers who are beginning to question it?" — Mary Shacklett,, June 16, 2014

Did you know?
"Big data" is a new addition to our language, but exactly how new is not an easy matter to determine. A 1980 paper by Charles Tilly provides an early documented use of "big data," but Tilly wasn't using the word in the exact same way we use it today; rather, he used the phrase "big-data people" to refer to historians engaged in data-rich fields such as cliometrics. Today, "big data" can refer to large data sets or to systems and solutions developed to manage such large accumulations of data, as well as for the branch of computing devoted to this development. Francis X. Diebold, a University of Pennsylvania economist, who has written a paper exploring the origin of big data as a term, a phenomenon, and a field of study, believes the term "probably originated in lunch-table conversations at Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) in the mid 1990s…."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sat, 07/19/2014 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 19, 2014 is:

blandish • \BLAN-dish\  • verb
1 : to coax or persuade with flattery : cajole 2 : to act or speak in a flattering or coaxing manner

Some of Tim's coworkers even managed to blandish him into doing their work for them by complimenting him shamelessly.

"Glennan believed a presidential statement would help to gain initiative against Congress and the media, and he repeatedly blandished Eisenhower to make a greater public relations effort." — Yanek Mieczkowski, Eisenhower's Sputnik Moment, 2013

Did you know?
The word "blandish" has been a part of the English language since at least the 14th century with virtually no change in its meaning. It ultimately derives from "blandus," a Latin word meaning "mild" or "flattering." One of the earliest known uses of "blandish" can be found in the sacred writings of Richard Rolle de Hampole, an English hermit and mystic, who cautioned against "the dragon that blandishes with the head and smites with the tail." Although "blandish" might not exactly be suggestive of dullness, it was the "mild" sense of "blandus" that gave us our adjective "bland," which has a lesser-known sense meaning "smooth and soothing in manner or quality."

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Fri, 07/18/2014 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 18, 2014 is:

lèse-majesté • \layz-MAJ-uh-stee\  • noun
1 : an offense violating the dignity of sovereign 2 : a detraction from or affront to dignity or importance

"That kind of suppression actually harkens back … to the 1976 coup, when the penalty for lèse majesté was increased to a maximum of 15 years in prison per count.…" —David Streckfuss, Vice News, June 3, 2014

"You can look it up, but every man who beat Roger Federer this year lost his next match. Maybe there is a psychic price to pay for lèse-majesté." — Roger Kaplan, The American Spectator, June 4, 2014

Did you know?
"Lèse-majesté" (or "lese majesty," as it is also styled in English publications) came into English by way of Middle French, from Latin "laesa majestas," which literally means "injured majesty." The English term can conceivably cover any offense against a sovereign power or its ruler, from treason to a simple breach of etiquette. "Lèse-majesté" has also acquired a more lighthearted or ironic meaning, that of an insult or impudence to a particularly pompous or self-important person or organization. As such, it may be applied to a relatively inoffensive act that has been exaggeratedly treated as if it were a great affront.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Thu, 07/17/2014 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 17, 2014 is:

walleyed • \WAWL-EYED\  • adjective
1 : having walleyes or affected with walleye 2 : marked by a wild irrational staring of the eyes

After getting beaned by the pitcher, the walleyed batter was immediately checked by the paramedics for signs of a concussion.

"And then after that, there's a picture with 10-year-old me holding a dog toy, staring at the viewer, sort of walleyed.…" — Allie Brosh, NPR (Fresh Air) interview, November 12, 2013

Did you know?
The noun "walleye" has several meanings. It can refer to an eye with a whitish or bluish-white iris or to one with an opaque white cornea. It can also refer to a condition in which the eye turns outward away from the nose. The extended second sense of the adjective "walleyed" came from the appearance of eyes affected with the condition of walleye. You might guess that "walleyed" has an etymological connection with "wall," but that's not the case. Rather, it is derived from "wawil-eghed," a Middle English translation of the Old Norse word "vagl-eygr," from "vagl" ("beam") and "eygr" ("eyed").

Categories: Fun Stuff


Wed, 07/16/2014 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 16, 2014 is:

steampunk • \STEEM-punk\  • noun
: science fiction dealing with 19th-century societies dominated by historical or imagined steam-powered technology

"The multiroom bar and restaurant is now decked out with steampunk-ish exposed ducts, geometric light fixtures, and rustic barn doors." — Anna Roth, SF Weekly, June 18, 2014

"It is also the vision of steampunk, a subculture that is the aesthetic expression of a time-traveling fantasy world, one that embraces music, film, design and now fashion, all inspired by the extravagantly inventive age of dirigibles and steam locomotives, brass diving bells and jar-shaped protosubmarines." — Ruth La Ferla, New York Times, May 8, 2008

Did you know?
"I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for [Tim] Powers, [James] Blaylock and myself." So wrote the science-fiction author K. W. Jeter, credited with coining the term "steampunk" in 1987 to describe a wave of fantasy novels set in Victorian times and celebrating the technology of the era, much of which was powered by steam. In both name and subject, "steampunk" is an antithesis to "cyberpunk," a genre often noted for featuring computerized, futuristic, or unearthly settings. The popularity of steampunk has since carried over to motion pictures, fashion, and even things like restaurant décor.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Tue, 07/15/2014 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 15, 2014 is:

instigate • \IN-stuh-gayt\  • verb
: to cause to happen or begin : to goad or urge forward : provoke

"The catcher instigated the collision by blocking home plate without the ball." — Ryne Sandberg, quoted in The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 8, 2014

"U.S. and European Union officials accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of instigating the insurgency against Kiev…."— Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times, June 3, 2014

Did you know?
"Instigate" is often used as a synonym of "incite" (as in "hoodlums instigating violence"), but the two words differ slightly in their overall usage. "Incite" usually stresses an act of stirring something up that one did not necessarily initiate ("the court's decision incited riots"). "Instigate" implies responsibility for initiating or encouraging someone else's action and usually suggests dubious or underhanded intent ("he was charged with instigating a conspiracy"). Another similar word, "foment," implies causing something by means of persistent goading ("the leader's speeches fomented a rebellion"). Deriving from the past participle of the Latin verb "instigare," "instigate" first appeared in English in the mid-16th century, approximately 60 years after "incite" and about 70 years before "foment."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Mon, 07/14/2014 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 14, 2014 is:

undertaker • \UN-der-tay-ker\  • noun
1 : one that undertakes : one that takes the risk and management of business : entrepreneur 2 : one whose business is to prepare the dead for burial and to arrange and manage funerals 3 : an Englishman taking over forfeited lands in Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries

The undertaker offered the family several choices of coffin for the burial service.

"An undertaker has admitted selling uninsured funeral plans in order to support himself and his struggling business." — Manchester Evening News, May 28, 2014

Did you know?
You may wonder how the word "undertaker" made the transition from "one who undertakes" to "one who makes a living in the funeral business." The latter meaning descends from the use of the word to mean "one who takes on business responsibilities." In the 18th century, a funeral-undertaker was someone who undertook, or managed, a funeral business. There were many undertakers in those days, undertaking all sorts of businesses, but as time went on "undertaker" became specifically identified with the profession of arranging burial. Today, "funeral director" is more commonly used, but "undertaker" still appears.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sun, 07/13/2014 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 13, 2014 is:

tortuous • \TOR-chuh-wus\  • adjective
1 : marked by repeated twists, bends, or turns : winding 2 a : marked by devious or indirect tactics : crooked, tricky b : circuitous, involved

After it left the tree, the leaf followed a tortuous path through the air before settling on the ground.

"The decision in Vergara vs. California also describes the tortuous procedure schools must go through to fire teachers, a process that makes it so difficult to get rid of even the worst teachers that many schools don't bother trying." — The Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2014

Did you know?
Be careful not to confuse "tortuous" with "torturous." These two words are relatives—both ultimately come from the Latin verb "torquere," which means "to twist," "to wind," or "to wrench"—but "tortuous" means "winding" or "crooked," whereas "torturous" means "painfully unpleasant." Something "tortuous" (such as a twisting mountain road) might also be "torturous" (if, for example, you have to ride up that road on a bicycle), but that doesn't make these words synonyms. The twists and turns that mark a tortuous thing can be literal ("a tortuous path" or "a tortuous river") or figurative ("a tortuous argument" or "a tortuous explanation"), but you should consider choosing a different descriptive term if no implication of winding or crookedness is present.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sat, 07/12/2014 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 12, 2014 is:

hobbyhorse • \HAH-bee-horss\  • noun
1 a : a stick having an imitation horse's head at one end that a child pretends to ride b : a rocking horse c : a toy horse suspended by springs from a frame 2 : a topic to which one constantly reverts

"The intricate toys, hobbyhorses and tiny working carriages, were made for child play before the eras of radio, TV, Nintendo or Internet." — Wendi Winters, The Capital (Annapolis, Maryland), December 24, 2006

"This has long been a hobbyhorse for McCain; who could forget—literally, because he said it roughly 1 billion times during the 2000/2008 campaigns—that Congress spent $3 million to study the DNA of bears in Montana?" — Chris Cillizza,, May 7, 2014

Did you know?
The hobbyhorse is a toy of yesteryear, dating back to a homespun era predating automobiles. In the 1400s, the word "hobby" could refer to a real-life horse of small or average size. It soon came to refer to the horse costume worn by one participating in a morris dance or burlesque performance, and then, later, to the child's toy. Another meaning of "hobbyhorse" was "a favorite pursuit or pastime"; our modern noun "hobby" ("an activity that one does for pleasure when not working") was formed by shortening this word. From "pastime," the meaning of "hobbyhorse" was extended to "a subject to which one repeatedly returns." The sense is typically encountered as part of such metaphorical phrases as "get on one's hobbyhorse" or "ride one's hobbyhorse."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Fri, 07/11/2014 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 11, 2014 is:

unregenerate • \un-rih-JEN-uh-rut\  • adjective
1 : not spiritually reborn or converted 2 a : not reformed : unreconstructed b : obstinate, stubborn

"She sings … in a voice that could melt the heart of the most unregenerate musical hater." — Charles Isherwood, The New York Times, May 18, 2008

"A string of revivals later known as the Great Awakening blazed up and down the eastern seaboard—although scholars suspect that many of these new converts soon backslid into their unregenerate ways." — Molly Worthen, The Daily Beast, June 1, 2014

Did you know?
One long-standing meaning of the adjective "regenerate" is "spiritually reborn or converted." By the late 1500s, English speakers had added "un-" to "regenerate" to describe someone who refused to accept spiritual reformation. Since then, "unregenerate" has taken on a life of its own, gaining the extended specific meanings of "unconverted to a particular doctrinaire viewpoint," "persisting in a reactionary stand," or just plain "stubborn." "Regenerate" and "unregenerate" trace back to the Latin word "genus," meaning "birth" or "descent."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Thu, 07/10/2014 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 10, 2014 is:

pho • \FUH\  • noun
: a soup made of beef or chicken broth and rice noodles

Joan and Rob decided they were too tired to cook, and ordered pho with an assortment of other Vietnamese food.

"As a first-generation Vietnamese-American growing up in Stillwater, I enjoyed my family's Sunday tradition that paid tribute to both cultures near and far: We read the local newspaper together, ate pho and watched the Minnesota Vikings game or any other sporting event that was on at the time." — Nancy Ngo, St. Paul Pioneer Press, January 28, 2014

Did you know?
"Pho," which first appeared in print in English in 1935, was borrowed from a Vietnamese word which was spelled "phở." English speakers replaced the vowel with "o" but preserved the pronunciation as "fuh," rather than "foh." Another Vietnamese food word that was borrowed into English is "nuoc mam," which refers to a type of fish sauce that is fermented in brine. In that case as well, the original Vietnamese word had accent marks that were lost on the journey into English. "Nuoc mam" was recorded in English just a few years before "pho" arrived.

Categories: Fun Stuff