Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 04, 2013 is:
benefic \buh-NEF-ik\ adjective
: producing good or helpful results or effects : beneficial
Coach Reed is a strong proponent of the view that participation in sports has a benefic influence on young people.
"The benefic properties of potassium hydrate have made it a commonly found element in many natural remedies." From a press release from SBWire, July 15, 2013
Did you know?
"Benefic" comes from Latin "beneficus," which in turn comes from "bene" ("well") and "facere" ("to do"). The word was originally used by astrologers to refer to celestial bodies believed to have a favorable influence, and it's still used in astrological contexts. "Benefic," "beneficent," and "beneficial" are all synonyms, but there are shades of difference. "Beneficial" usually applies to things that promote well-being (as in "beneficial treatment"), or that provide some benefit or advantage (as in "beneficial classes"). "Beneficent" means doing or effecting good (as in "a beneficent climate"), but in particular refers to the performance of acts of kindness or charity (as in "a beneficent organization")."Benefic," the rarest of the three, tends to be a bit high-flown, and it's mostly used to describe a favorable power or force.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 03, 2013 is:
lacuna \luh-KOO-nuh\ noun
1 : a blank space or a missing part : gap; also : deficiency, inadequacy 2 : a small cavity, pit, or discontinuity in an anatomical structure
The newly discovered Civil War documents will fill many lacunae in the museum's archives.
"There are some peculiar lacunae in this volume, however. While Mr. Ellsworth-Jones quotes from earlier interviews (mainly via e-mail) that Banksy has dispensed over the years to others, he did not bother to submit his own e-mail questions ." From a book review by Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times, February 8, 2013
Did you know?
Exploring the etymology of "lacuna" involves taking a plunge into the pitor maybe a leap into the "lacus" (that's the Latin word for "lake"). Latin speakers modified "lacus" into "lacuna," and used it to mean "pit," "cleft," or "pool." English speakers borrowed the term in the 17th century. It is usually pluralized as "lacunae," as in our example sentences, though "lacunas" is also an accepted variant plural. Another English word that traces its origin to "lacuna" is "lagoon," which came to us by way of Italian and French.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 02, 2013 is:
inveigh \in-VAY\ verb
: to protest or complain bitterly or vehemently : rail
Several property owners wrote letters to the paper inveighing against the high property taxes that they are required to pay.
"The anti-mine forces recruited personalities such as filmmaker and actor Robert Redford to inveigh against the project; companies such as Tiffany & Co. and Zale Corp. and dozens of others signed pledges to boycott the mine's products ." From an article by James Greiff in the Anchorage Daily News, October 2, 2013
Did you know?
You might complain or grumble about some wrong you see, or, for a stronger effect, you can "inveigh" against it. "Inveigh" comes from the Latin verb "invehere," which joins the prefix "in-" with the verb "vehere," meaning "to carry." "Invehere" literally means "to carry in," and when "inveigh" first appeared in English, it was also used to mean "to carry in" or "to introduce." Extended meanings of "invehere," however, are "to force one's way into," "attack," and "to assail with words," and that's where the current sense of "inveigh" comes from. A closely related word is "invective," which means "insulting or abusive language." This word, too, ultimately comes from "invehere."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 01, 2013 is:
clochard \kloh-SHAHR\ noun
: vagrant, tramp
"Yesterday, the pope lunched at a soup kitchen sitting down to table with 100 of the 2,000 clochards who regularly eat there." From an article by Paddy Agnew in the Irish Times, December 28, 2009
"The character, played by Michel Simon, is an archetypal French clochard, a kind of Gallic version of Chaplin's Little Tramp, who, mourning his lost dog, tries to off himself by jumping in the Seine." From an article by Stephen Heyman in The New York Times, September 15, 2013
Did you know?
Why such a fancy French word for a bum? The truth of the matter is, nine times out of ten, you will find "clochard" used for not just any bum, but a French bumeven more specifically, a Parisian bum. And, sometimes, it's even a certain type of Parisian buma type that has been romanticized in literature and is part of the local color. Nevertheless, as français as this word (which comes from the French verb "clocher," meaning "to limp") may seem, its regular appearance in English sources since 1937 makes it an English word, too.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 30, 2013 is:
lollapalooza \lah-luh-puh-LOO-zuh\ noun
: one that is extraordinarily impressive; also : an outstanding example
The device, which is due out this spring, is being touted as the lollapalooza of smart phones.
"This drink, at $38 a glass in South Beach, is a real lollapalooza." From an article by Malcolm Berko in NewsOK (Oklahoma), October 20, 2013
Did you know?
Some readers may recognize "lollapalooza" as the name of an American music festival, now held annually in Chicago. Actually, the word "lollapalooza" has been around since at least the 1890s, though etymologists aren't sure where it comes from. Occasionally, it has been used as a gambling term for a made-up hand used to trick an inexperienced playerbut primarily the term is used in a way very similar to "humdinger" and "doozy." It is spelled in a number of ways. "Lallapalooza," "lalapalooza," and "lollapaloosa" are among the variants, and in the past it was sometimes "lalapaloozer." Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist Rube Goldberg may have contributed to the popularity of this term with "Lala Palooza," one of his cartoon characters from the 1930s.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 29, 2013 is:
tomfoolery \tahm-FOO-luh-ree\ noun
: playful or foolish behavior
"Scott Ferber grew up one of three boys in a house with a strict mother who did not tolerate any tomfoolery." From an article by Sarah Gantz in the Baltimore Business Journal, October 18, 2013
"People's success also signaled a shift in the overall tone of print journalism, away from the stentorian voice of Time, the literariness of The New Yorker, and the New Journalism tomfoolery of New York and Esquire, to something looser, more image-saturated, and obviously market-friendly." From an article by Jim Windolf in Vanity Fair, October 16, 2013
Did you know?
In the Middle Ages, "Thome Fole" was a name assigned to those perceived to be of little intelligence. This eventually evolved into the spelling "tomfool," which, when capitalized, also referred to a professional clown or a buffoon in a play or pageant. The name "Tom" seems to have been chosen for its common-man quality, much like "Joe Blow" for an ordinary person or "Johnny Reb" for a soldier in the Confederate army, but "tomfoolery" need not apply strictly to actions by men. In Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables (1908), for example, Marilla Cuthbert complains of Anne: "She's gadding off somewhere with Diana, writing stories or practicing dialogues or some such tomfoolery, and never thinking once about the time or her duties."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 28, 2013 is:
foison \FOY-zun\ noun
1 : archaic : rich harvest 2 : chiefly Scottish : physical energy or strength 3 : plural, obsolete : resources
"Earth's increase, foison plenty, / Barns and garners* never empty; / Vines with clust'ring bunches growing, / Plants with goodly burden bowing. " From Shakespeare's 1623 play The Tempest
"Thither the extremely large wains bring foison of the fields ." From James Joyce's 1922 novel Ulysses
[*"Garner" can refer to a building or a bin in which grain is stored. It is entered in Merriam-Webster's Unabridged.]
Did you know?
The definition of "foison" is amply supplied with labels; they appear at each of the definition's three senses, and they all suggest that it's unlikely that you'll come across "foison" in your general reading. The word did appear, however, in some reading material that was probably familiar to some of the Mayflower's pilgrims: the late 16th century sermons of Henry Smith. One of those sermons included the following: "Such a foison hath your alms, that by the blessing of God it increases like the widow's meal ." "Foison" comes from Latin "fusion-, fusio," meaning "outpouring," which in turn comes from "fundere," meaning "to pour"the same source as that of the words "profuse" and "refund," among others.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 27, 2013 is:
divers \DYE-verz\ adjective
: made up of an indefinite number greater than one : various
"He is descended from the issue of Dudleys who managed to escape Bloody Mary's ax as well as the divers other perils of Tudor England." From an article by Christopher Buckley in the Architectural Digest, April 1989
"The tale that unfolds touches on such divers themes as a world-wide terror conspiracy, bioweapons, automated submarine drones, a Vatican spy, and even the lost kingdom of Atlantis." From a book review by Gloria Feit in the Reviewer's Bookwatch, May 1, 2013
Did you know?
Did you think we had misspelled "diverse"? We didn't! "Divers" is a word in its own right, albeit a fairly formal and uncommon one. Both words come from Latin "diversus," meaning "turning in opposite directions," and until around 1700 they were pretty much interchangeableboth meant "various" and could be pronounced as either DYE-verz (like the plural of the noun "diver") or dye-VERSS. Both words still carry the "various" meaning, but these days "divers" (now DYE-verz) is more likely to emphasize multiplicity (as in "on divers occasions"), whereas "diverse" (now dye-VERSS) usually emphasizes uniqueness. "Diverse" typically means either "dissimilar" (as in "a variety of activities to appeal to the children's diverse interests") or "having distinct or unlike elements or qualities" ("a diverse student body").
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 26, 2013 is:
insuperable \in-SOO-puh-ruh-bul\ adjective
: incapable of being surmounted, overcome, passed over, or solved
Though it had appeared that the visiting team had an insuperable lead, the home team rallied to win in the end.
"The project faced a perpetual lack of funding, constant bureaucratic delays, and, by the '30s, the near-insuperable hurdles of reconciling parts of Tolstoy's work (especially his religious writings) with the state's demands." From a post by Sal Robinson on Melville House Press's MobyLives blog, October 21, 2013
Did you know?
"Insuperable" first appeared in print in the 14th century, and it still means now approximately what it did then. "Insuperable" is a close synonym of "insurmountable." In Latin, "superare" means "to go over, surmount, overcome, or excel." The Latin word "insuperabilis" was formed by combining the common prefix "in-" (meaning "not" or "un-") with "superare" plus "abilis" ("able"). Hence "insuperabilis" meant "unable to be surmounted, overcome, or passed over," or more simply, "insurmountable." The word "insuperabilis" was later anglicized as "insuperable." Related words such as "superable," "superably," and even "superableness" have also found a place in English.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 25, 2013 is:
dragon's teeth \DRAG-unz-TEETH\ noun
1 : seeds of strife 2 : wedge-shaped concrete antitank barriers laid in multiple rows
The political analyst insisted that the government's policy was misguided and would only sow dragon's teeth by increasing poverty and discontent.
"Assiduously sown by the Kremlin, the dragon's teeth of demagoguery, paranoia, xenophobia, anti-Westernism, intolerance, and obscurantism are bound to yield a toxic harvest when the regime falters or loses control outright." From an article by Leon Aron, posted October 24, 2013 at american.com
Did you know?
In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne's child, Pearl, "never created a friend, but seemed always to be sowing broadcast the dragon's teeth, whence sprung a harvest of armed enemies, against whom she rushed to battle." In Hawthorne and elsewhere, "dragon's teeth" alludes to a story involving Cadmus, the legendary Phoenician hero reputed to have founded Thebes and invented the alphabet. The tale holds that Cadmus killed a dragon and planted its teeth in the ground. From the teeth sprang fierce armed men who battled one another until all were dead but five. These founded the noblest families of Thebes and helped build its citadel.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 24, 2013 is:
exact \ig-ZAKT\ verb
1 : to call for forcibly or urgently and obtain 2 : to call for as necessary or desirable
Although Jenny eventually succeeded, working full-time while taking a full college course load exacted a high toll from her.
"Bullied in five straight meetings, by an average of 13.2 points, the Jets on Sunday exacted a measure of revenge that extended beyond the outcome. Aside from outplaying the Patriots, they outsmarted them." From an article by Ben Shpigel in the New York Times, October 21, 2013
Did you know?
"Exact" derives from a form of the Latin verb "exigere," meaning "to drive out, to demand, or to measure." (Another descendant of "exigere" is the word "exigent," which can mean "demanding" or "requiring immediate attention.") "Exigere," in turn, was formed by combining the prefix "ex-" with the verb "agere," meaning "to drive." "Agere" has been a very prolific source of words for English speakers; it is the ancestor of "agent," "react," "mitigate," and "navigate," just to name a few. Incidentally, if you are looking for a synonym of the verb "exact," you could try "demand," "call for," "claim," or "require."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 23, 2013 is:
Svengali \sven-GAH-lee\ noun
: a person who manipulates or exerts excessive control over another
In her tell-all autobiography, the singer portrays her former husband/manager as an abusive and controlling Svengali.
"Not long before, he'd met Harvey Dorfman, a gruff, Bronx-born sports psychologist who was destined to become the pitcher's Svengali. The famously confrontational Dorfman drilled his self-help dictums into Moyer's head." From an article by Frank Fitzpatrick on philly.com, October 13, 2013
Did you know?
In George du Maurier's 1894 novel Trilby, a young artist's model named Trilby O'Ferrall falls under the spell of Svengali, a villainous musician and hypnotist. Svengali trains Trilby's voice through hypnosis and transforms her into a singing star, subjugating her completely in the process. Svengali's maleficent powers of persuasion made such an impression on the reading public that by 1919 his name was being used generically as a term for any wickedly manipulative individual.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 22, 2013 is:
forfend \for-FEND\ verb
1 : to ward off : prevent 2 : protect, preserve
The fort functioned as a place of refuge where the settlers could forfend themselves from attack.
"'Sir!' Scotty sounded genuinely indignant. 'You're not suggesting that I would let any piece of equipment aboard my ship fall into disrepair, are you?' 'Heaven forfend, Scotty,' Kirk answered, successfully keeping the smile he wore from his voice." From William Leisner's 2013 book Star Trek: The Original Series: The Shocks of Adversity
Did you know?
English speakers have been using "forfend" with the meanings "to forbid" and "to prevent" since the late 14th century, and the meaning "to protect" since the late 16th century. These days, however, the "forbid" sense is considered archaic; we only use it (as in our second example) in phrases like "heaven forfend" or "God forfend." "Forfend" comes from "for-" (an old prefix meaning "so as to involve prohibition, exclusion, omission, failure, neglect, or refusal") and Middle English "fenden" (a shorter variant of "defenden," meaning "to defend").
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 21, 2013 is:
trumpery \TRUMP-uh-ree\ noun
1 : worthless nonsense 2 : trivial or useless articles : junk
Moving to a new house has given me an excuse to toss out years of accumulated knickknacks and trumpery.
"But there's so much trumpery on parade, including a relentless air of self-importance, that it's even hard to simply enjoy the performances of the two stars, who give more than the film deserves." From a review by Walter Addiego in the San Francisco Chronicle, September 6, 2013
Did you know?
"Trumpery" derives from the Middle English "trumpery" and ultimately from the Middle French "tromper," meaning "to deceive." (You can see the meaning of this root reflected in the French phrase "trompe-l'oeil"literally, "deceives the eye"which in English refers to a style of painting with photographically realistic detail.) "Trumpery" first appeared in English in the mid-15th century with the meanings "deceit or fraud" (a sense that is now obsolete) and "worthless nonsense." Less than 100 years later, it was being applied to material objects of little or no value. The verb phrase "trump up" means "to concoct with the intent to deceive," but there is most likely no etymological connection between this phrase and "trumpery."