Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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

velar • \VEE-ler\  • adjective
1 : formed with the back of the tongue touching or near the soft palate 2 : of, forming, or relating to a velum and especially the soft palate

The word "keg" contains two velar consonants, "k" and "g."

"Those throat-clearing sounds you hear in German? That's the voiceless velar fricative, and it adds a wonderful percussiveness to '99 Luftbalons.' English speakers don't have it; it's one reason the Anglicized version of Nena's 1984 hit falls flat." — William Weir, Slate, November 8, 2012

Did you know?
Velar is ultimately derived from Latin velum (meaning "curtain" or "veil"), which was itself adopted into English by way of New Latin as a word for the soft palate (the fold at the back of the hard palate—palate, by the way, refers to the roof of the mouth—that partially separates the mouth from the pharynx). Velar is used by phonologists to refer to the position of the tongue in relation to the soft palate when making certain sounds. Other terms for what phonologists refer to as "places of articulation" are palatal (tongue against the roof of the mouth), dental (tongue against the upper teeth), and alveolar (tongue against the inner surface of the gums of the upper front teeth).

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Thu, 09/18/2014 - 1:00am

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

hegemony • \hih-JEM-uh-nee\  • noun
1 : dominant influence or authority over others 2 : the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group

Consumers welcomed the diversification of the software market as smaller innovators challenged the hegemony of the large companies.

"In the novel, a United States aircraft carrier group is sunk in the Pacific Ocean by a mysterious wing of fighter jets, later revealed to bear the red star of the Soviet forces from the parallel dimension, crossing over into our world to turn back the tide of American hegemony." — Andrew E. Kramer, The New York Times, August 20, 2014

Did you know?
Hegemony comes to English from the Greek hēgemonia, a noun formed from the verb hēgeisthai ("to lead"), which also gave us the word exegesis ("exposition" or "explanation"). The word was first used in English in the mid-16th century in reference to the control once wielded by the ancient Greek states, and it was reapplied in later centuries as other nations subsequently rose to power. By the 20th century, it had acquired a second sense referring to the social or cultural influence wielded by a dominant member over others of its kind, such as the domination within an industry by a business conglomerate over smaller businesses.

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Wed, 09/17/2014 - 1:00am

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

olfactory • \ahl-FAK-tuh-ree\  • adjective
: of, relating to, or connected with the sense of smell

The aroma of cinnamon rolls coming from the kitchen served as an enticing olfactory clue that breakfast was almost ready.

"First things first, it has to be said that the place smells like an aromatic candle. Equal parts cedar, pine, campfire, and patchouli, with a dash of earthiness, Awendaw Green is an olfactory wonderland." — Kirsten Schofield, Charleston City Paper, August 19, 2014

Did you know?
Olfactory derives from the past participle of the Latin olfacere, which means "to smell" and which was formed from the verb olēre (also "to smell") and facere ("to do"). Olfactory is a word that often appears in scientific contexts (as in "olfactory nerves," the nerves that pass from the nose to the brain and contain the receptors that make smelling possible), but it has occasionally branched out into less specialized contexts. The pleasant smell of spring flowers, for example, might be considered an "olfactory delight." A related word, olfaction, is a noun referring to the sense of smell or the act or process of smelling.

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Tue, 09/16/2014 - 1:00am

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

pell-mell • \pel-MEL\  • adverb
1 : in mingled confusion or disorder 2 : in confused haste

After the final bell of the day rang, the pupils bolted from their desks and ran pell-mell out the door into the schoolyard.

"So Congress has been racing pell-mell this month to fix this crisis that’s been simmering for two decades. And what they’ve come up with is a Rube Goldberg contraption even by their usual convoluted standards." — Danny Westneat, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (Washington), July 18, 2014

Did you know?
The word pell-mell was probably formed through a process called reduplication. The process—which involves the repetition of a word or part of a word, often including a slight change in its pronunciation—also generated such terms as bowwow, helter-skelter, flip-flop, and chitchat. Yet another product of reduplication is shilly-shally, which started out as a single-word compression of the question "Shall I?" For pell-mell, the process is believed to have occurred long ago: our word traces to a Middle French word of the same meaning, pelemele, which was likely a product of reduplication from Old French mesle, a form of mesler, meaning "to mix."

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Mon, 09/15/2014 - 1:00am

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

divarication • \dye-vair-uh-KAY-shun\  • noun
1 : the action, process, or fact of spreading apart 2 : a divergence of opinion

The team of botanists studied the growth patterns of the trees, including the divarication of their branches.

"For journalists, the futurists were at worst nothing more than a further example of the divarication between the world of art and the tastes of the public.…" — Luca Somigli, Legitimizing the Artist, 2003

Did you know?
There's no reason to prevaricate about the origins of divarication—the word derives from the Medieval Latin divaricatio, which in turn descends from the verb divaricare, meaning "to spread apart." Divaricare itself is derived from the Latin varicare, which means "to straddle" and is also an ancestor of prevaricate ("to deviate from the truth"). The oldest sense of divarication, which first appeared in print in English in 1578, refers to a literal branching apart (as in "divarication of the roads"). The word eventually developed a more metaphorical second sense that is used when opinions "stretch apart" from one another.

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Sun, 09/14/2014 - 1:00am

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

aleatory • \AY-lee-uh-tor-ee\  • adjective
: characterized by chance or random elements

Tom and Renee's romance had an aleatory beginning—for without the sudden rainstorm that led to their introduction beneath the shop's awning, would they ever have met?

"Pollard had learned the 'cut-up' technique from Burroughs, in which the song (or poem) is completed, then spliced, then rearranged in random order. This writing technique is aleatory: in other words, it deposits chance directly into the creative process. What’s produced as a result of the technique is completely random …." — Brian Burlage, The Michigan Daily, July 30, 2014

Did you know?
If you're the gambling type, then chances are good you've come across aleatory in your travels. Deriving from the Latin noun alea, which refers to a kind of dice game, aleatory was first used in English in the late 17th century to describe things that are dependent on uncertain odds, much like a roll of the dice. The term now describes things that occur by sheer chance or accident, such as the unlucky bounce of a golf shot or the unusual shape of an ink blot. Going a bit further, the term aleatory music, or chance music, describes a musical composition in which certain parts are left for the performer to concoct through improvisation.

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Sat, 09/13/2014 - 1:00am

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

grubstake • \GRUB-stayk\  • verb
: to provide with material assistance (as a loan) for launching an enterprise or for a person in difficult circumstances

For the production of his short film, Zachary was grubstaked by online donations from friends and supporters.

"Almost simultaneously, the Auerbachs opened a series of stores. They sold merchandise on commission throughout the Western states…. They grubstaked miners, held mining interests, purchased a sawmill and a 30-pack mule train." — Eileen Hallet Stone, The Salt Lake Tribune, November 16, 2013

Did you know?
Grubstake is a linguistic nugget that was dug up during the famous California Gold Rush, which began in 1848. Sometime between the first stampede and the early 1860s, when the gold-seekers headed off to Montana, prospectors combined grub ("food") and stake, meaning "an interest or share in an undertaking." At first grubstake was a noun, referring to any kind of loan or provisions that could be finagled to make an undertaking possible (with the agreement that the "grubstaker" would get a cut of any profits). By 1879, grubstake was also showing up as a verb meaning "to give someone a grubstake," and, since at least 1937, it has been applied to other situations in which a generous benefactor comes through with the funds.

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Fri, 09/12/2014 - 1:00am

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

lido • \LEE-doh\  • noun
: a fashionable beach resort

Sharon bought a new bathing suit in anticipation of her upcoming vacation at a luxurious lido.

"The lido on the Promenade at Grange-over-Sands has been abandoned since it closed in 1993, although there is now a campaign for it to be reopened." — Griff Witte,, August 13, 2014

Did you know?
The original Lido is a beach resort near Venice, Italy. The town’s name comes from the Italian word lido, which means "shore" or "bank." (The Italian root derives from litus, the Latin word for "shore.") By the mid-19th century, Lido’s reputation as a chic vacation destination for the well-to-do made it the envy of seaside resorts everywhere. English speaking social climbers generalized the town’s name and started using it for any fashionably Lido-esque beach.

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Thu, 09/11/2014 - 1:00am

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

exacerbate • \ig-ZASS-er-bayt\  • verb
: to make more violent, bitter, or severe

It seemed as though every new attempt at a solution served only to exacerbate the problem.

"The rise of commercial data profiling is exacerbating existing inequities in society and could turn de facto discrimination into a high-tech enterprise." — Seeta Peña Gangadharan, The New York Times, August 7, 2014

Did you know?
Make it a point to know that the Latin adjective acer, meaning "sharp," forms the basis of a number of words that have come into English. The words acerbic ("having a bitter temper or sour mood"), acrid ("having a sharp taste or odor"), and acrimony ("a harsh manner or disposition") are just the tip of the iceberg. First appearing in English in the 17th century, exacerbate derives from the Latin prefix ex-, which means "out of" or "outside," and acerbus, which means "harsh" or "bitter" and comes from acer. Just as pouring salt in a wound worsens pain, things that exacerbate can cause a situation to go from bad to worse. A pointed insult, for example, might exacerbate tensions between two rivals.

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Wed, 09/10/2014 - 1:00am

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

rathskeller • \RAHT-skel-er\  • noun
: a usually basement tavern or restaurant

Beneath the service club's new meeting hall is a rathskeller that is open for lunch and dinner.

"Troy's Germania Hall remains open. The club serves dinner every Friday night in its rathskeller." — Jeff Wilkin, The Gazette (Schenectady, New York), August 10, 2014

Did you know?
Rathskeller is a product of Germany, deriving from two German nouns: Rat (also spelled Rath in early Modern German), which means "council," and Keller, which means "cellar." (Nouns in German are always capitalized.) The etymology reflects the fact that many early rathskellers were located in the basements of "council houses," which were equivalent to town halls. (The oldest rathskeller found in Germany today is said to date from the first half of the 13th century.) The earliest known use of rathskeller in English dates from 1766, but the word wasn't commonly used until the 1900s. Although the German word is now spelled Ratskeller, English writers have always preferred the spelling with the "h"—most likely to avoid any association with the word rat.

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Tue, 09/09/2014 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 09, 2014 is:

stereotactic • \stair-ee-uh-TAK-tik\  • adjective
: involving or used in a surgical technique for precisely directing the tip of a delicate instrument or beam of radiation in three planes using coordinates provided by medical imaging in order to reach a specific locus in the body

"Once in the OR, Mario was given a local anesthetic. His head had been shaved, his brain targeted to millimeter precision by MRIs. Attached to his head was a stereotactic frame to provide surgeons with precise coordinates and mapping imagery." — Lauren Slater, Mother Jones, November 2005

"The center is equipped with a $5 million machine, known as a stereotactic body radiotherapy system, that zaps tumors with high doses of radiation without damaging nearby tissue and organs." — James T. Mulder, The Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), July 18, 2014

Did you know?
At the beginning of the 20th century, neurosurgeons were experimenting with a technique used to direct the tip of a needle or an electrode in three spatial planes (length, width, and depth) to reach a particular place in the brain. At that time, the word for this technique was "stereotaxic," based on the prefix "stereo-" ("dealing with three dimensions of space") and "taxis" (referring to the manual restoration of a displaced body part). In 1950, "stereotactic" (based on "tactic," meaning "of or relating to touch") joined the medical vocabulary as a synonym of "stereotaxic." Around the same time, a noninvasive neurosurgery technique was developed using beams of radiation. It is this procedure that is now often described as "stereotactic" and (less frequently) "stereotaxic."

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Mon, 09/08/2014 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 08, 2014 is:

culprit • \KUL-prit\  • noun
1 : one accused of or charged with a crime 2 : one guilty of a crime or a fault 3 : the source or cause of a problem

After the empty warehouse burned down, an investigation determined faulty wiring to be the culprit.

"Police searched a parking structure in the Mid-City area of Los Angeles Saturday for one of two armed suspects who robbed a pedestrian but were unable to locate the culprit." — Los Angeles Daily News, August 2, 2014

Did you know?
We would be culpable if we didn't clearly explain the origins behind culprit. Yes, it is related to culpable, which itself derives from Latin culpare, meaning "to blame," via Middle English and Anglo-French. But the etymology of culprit is not so straightforward. In Anglo-French, culpable meant "guilty," and this was abbreviated "cul." in legal briefs and texts. Culprit was formed by combining this abbreviation with prest, prit, meaning "ready"—that is, ready to prove an accusation. Literally, then, a culprit was one who was ready to be proven guilty. English then borrowed the word for one accused of a wrongdoing.

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Sun, 09/07/2014 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 07, 2014 is:

tantamount • \TAN-tuh-mount\  • adjective
: equivalent in value, significance, or effect

The boss had told Morris that he was being reassigned to the shipping department, and he knew that it was tantamount to a demotion.

"Mrs. Clinton declined an invitation to speak, organizers said. Democratic analysts said that was no surprise—for her to attend such a gathering would have been tantamount to announcing a presidential run, which she is not yet ready to do." — Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times, July 19, 2014

Did you know?
Tantamount comes from the Anglo-French phrase tant amunter, meaning "to amount to as much." This phrase comes from the Old French tant, meaning "so much" or "as much," and amounter, meaning "to ascend" or "to add up to." When tantamount first entered English, it was used similarly to the Anglo-French phrase, as a verb meaning "to be equivalent." "His not denying tant-amounteth to the affirming of the matter," wrote clergyman Thomas Fuller in 1659, for example. There was also a noun tantamount in the 17th century, but the adjective is the only commonly used form of the term nowadays.

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Sat, 09/06/2014 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 06, 2014 is:

disjunctive • \diss-JUNK-tiv\  • adjective
1 a : relating to, being, or forming a logical disjunction b : expressing an alternative or opposition between meanings of the words connected c : expressed by mutually exclusive alternatives joined by or 2 : marked by breaks or disunity

The detective walked into the interrogation room and bluntly asked the disjunctive question, "Were you with her on the night of the murder, or were you not?"

"I was not put off by the disjointed narrative—I was riveted by the character and the music—which I grew up with and adore. And while the film makes disjunctive cuts, especially from a pivotal backstage encounter with Brown's mother …, when we do return to the scene, the emotional payoff is there." — Anne Thomas, IndieWire, August 4, 2014

Did you know?
Disjunctive comes to us from disjunctus, the past participle of the Latin verb disjungere, meaning "to disjoin," and it is commonly used to describe things marked by breaks or separation, as in "a disjunctive account of events." Some people may be familiar with disjunctive conjunctions—like or, either… or, but, and though—which express an alternative or opposition between the meanings of the words connected. The opposite of such conjunctions are copulative conjunctions, which unite words or phrases—the principal one in English being and. In linguistics, disjunctive may also denote a vowel inserted in the body of a word to aid in pronunciation. For example, the schwa sometimes found in athlete is considered disjunctive.

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