Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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Fri, 06/24/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 24, 2016 is:

hermetic • \her-MET-ik\  • adjective

1 : relating to or characterized by occultism or abstruseness : recondite

2 a : airtight 

b : impervious to external influence

c : recluse, solitary


The infomercial claimed that the new containers used modern technology to guarantee a hermetic seal that would keep food fresh for months.

"Later, as Western Europe welcomed foreign guest workers, Central Europe remained in the hermetic enclosure of Soviet rule." — Sara Miller Llana, The Christian Science Monitor, 10 Mar. 2016

Did you know?

Hermetic derives from Greek via the Medieval Latin word hermeticus. When it first entered English in the early 17th century, hermetic was associated with writings attributed to Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom. Thoth, whom the Greeks called Hermes Trismegistus ("thrice-great Hermes"), was believed to be the author of a number of mystical, philosophical, and alchemistic works. The obscure subject matter of these works may have made them difficult to wade through, for soon English speakers were also applying hermetic to things that were beyond ordinary human comprehension. Additionally, Hermes Trismegistus was said to have invented a magic seal that could keep vessels airtight. Hermetic thus came to mean "airtight," both literally and figuratively. These days, it can also sometimes mean "solitary."

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Thu, 06/23/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 23, 2016 is:

genius • \JEEN-yus\  • noun

1 : a single strongly marked capacity or aptitude

2 : extraordinary intellectual power especially as manifested in creative activity

3 : a person endowed with transcendent mental superiority; especially : a person with a very high IQ


"An airplane mechanic in World War II, my father had a genius for anything mechanical. He would overhaul an engine at the drop of a hat." — Jack McCall, The Hartsville (Tennessee) Vidette, 28 Apr. 2016

"By the time Purple Rain was released, Prince's overt sexiness, inventive style, technical brilliance, and musical genius had established an irrefutable fact: He was the new James Brown." — Simon Doonan,, 26 Apr. 2016

Did you know?

The belief system of the ancient Romans included spirits that were somewhere in between gods and humans and were thought to accompany each person through life as a protector. The Latin name for this spirit was genius, which came from the verb gignere, meaning "to beget." This sense of "attendant spirit" was first borrowed into English in the 14th century. Part of such a spirit's role was to protect a person's moral character, and from that idea an extended sense developed in the 16th century meaning "an identifying character." In time, that meaning was extended to cover a special ability for doing something, and eventually genius acquired senses referring particularly to "very great intelligence" and "people of great intelligence."

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Wed, 06/22/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 22, 2016 is:

feign • \FAYN\  • verb

1 : to give a false appearance of : to induce as a false impression

2 : to assert as if true : pretend


"If a predator approaches the nest, the parent feigns a broken wing, often leading the predator far from the nest before bursting into flight, the injured wing suddenly fully functional." — Jan Bergstrom, The St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times, 7 May 2016

"The local high school … wasn't of particularly high quality, and I was not intellectually stimulated or motivated there. In fact, I became disinterested, started skipping class and feigning illness to avoid going to school." — Brian Calle, The Orange County (California) Register, 8 May 2016

Did you know?

Feign is all about faking it, but that hasn't always been so. In one of its earliest senses, feign meant "to fashion, form, or shape." That meaning is true to the term's Latin ancestor: the verb fingere, which also means "to shape." The current senses of feign still retain the essence of the Latin source, since to feign something, such as surprise or an illness, requires one to fashion an impression or shape an image. Several other English words that trace to the same ancestor refer to things that are shaped with either the hands, as in figure and effigy, or the imagination, as in fiction and figment.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Tue, 06/21/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 21, 2016 is:

inchoate • \in-KOH-ut\  • adjective

: being only partly in existence or operation : incipient; especially : imperfectly formed or formulated : formless, incoherent


Five years ago, the restaurant was merely an inchoate notion in Nathan's head; today it is one of the most popular eateries in the city.

"The nexus point in any populist upwelling is whether or not it evolves from an inchoate outrage into a legitimate movement." — Gene Altshuler, The Mountain Democrat (Placerville, California), 2 Mar. 2016

Did you know?

Inchoate derives from inchoare, which means "to start work on" in Latin but translates literally as "to hitch up." Inchoare was formed from the prefix in- and the noun cohum, which refers to the part of a yoke to which the beam of a plow is fitted. The concept of implementing this initial step toward the larger task of plowing a field can help provide a clearer understanding of inchoate, an adjective used to describe the imperfect form of something (such as a plan or idea) in its early stages of development. Perhaps because it looks a little like the word chaos (although the two aren't closely related), inchoate now not only implies the formlessness that often marks beginnings but also the confusion caused by chaos.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Mon, 06/20/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 20, 2016 is:

heliolatry • \hee-lee-AH-luh-tree\  • noun

: sun worship


Archeologists believe that the members of the ancient civilization practiced heliolatry because each temple faced east, toward the rising sun.

"An observer would assume that all of us—humans and shorebirds alike—are guilty of heliolatry…. We had endured a series of dark, gloomy, winter days, during which the sun had been continually hidden behind dense, rain clouds. Now that the sun has emerged from its cloudy cave, the beach is bathed in brilliant sunshine." — George Thatcher, The Biloxi (Mississippi) Sun Herald, 22 Jan. 2013

Did you know?

The first half of heliolatry derives from hēlios, the Greek word for "sun." In Greek mythology, Hēlios was the god of the sun, imagined as "driving" the sun as a chariot across the sky. From hēlios we also get the word helium, referring to the very light gas that is used in balloons and airships, and heliocentric, meaning "having or relating to the sun as center," as in "a heliocentric orbit." The suffix -latry, meaning "worship," derives via Late Latin and French from the Greek latreia, and can be found in such words as bardolatry ("worship of Shakespeare") and zoolatry ("animal worship"). A person who worships the sun is called a heliolater.

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Sun, 06/19/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 19, 2016 is:

dolorous • \DOH-luh-rus\  • adjective

: causing, marked by, or expressing misery or grief


With his dolorous songs about hard-bitten people down on their luck, Johnny Cash garnered legions of fans across generations.

"I felt myself sinking now and then into a dolorous state in which I allowed myself to succumb to a deep despair about life here…." — Alan Cheuse, Song of Slaves in the Desert, 2011

Did you know?

"No medicine may prevail … till the same dolorous tooth be … plucked up by the roots." When dolorous first appeared around 1400, it was linked to physical pain—and appropriately so, since the word is a descendant of the Latin word dolor, meaning "pain" as well as "grief." (Today, dolor is also an English word meaning "sorrow.") When the British surgeon John Banister wrote the above quotation in 1578, dolorous could mean either "causing pain" or "distressful, sorrowful." "The death of the earl [was] dolorous to all Englishmen," the English historian Edward Hall had written a few decades earlier. The "causing pain" sense of dolorous coexisted with the "sorrowful" sense for centuries, but nowadays its use is rare.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sat, 06/18/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 18, 2016 is:

kvell • \KVEL\  • verb

: to be extraordinarily proud : rejoice


Critics kvelled over the violinist's triumphant return to the stage where she had made her debut many years ago.

"My older brother, by two years and nine months, was a loving uncle who absolutely kvelled over his two nephews and was always asking me when I was next bringing them to San Francisco to see him." — Lincoln Mitchell, The New York Observer, 28 Oct. 2014

Did you know?

We are pleased to inform you that the word kvell is derived from Yiddish kveln, meaning "to be delighted," which, in turn, comes from the Middle High German word quellen, meaning "to well, gush, or swell." Yiddish has been a wellspring of creativity for English, giving us such delightful words as meister ("one who is knowledgeable about something"), maven ("expert"), and shtick ("one's special activity"), just to name a few. The date for the appearance of kvell in the English language is tricky to pinpoint exactly. The earliest known printed evidence for the word in an English source is found in a 1952 handbook of Jewish words and expressions, but actual usage evidence before that date remains unseen.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Fri, 06/17/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 17, 2016 is:

benign • \bih-NYNE\  • adjective

1 : of a gentle disposition : gracious

2 a : showing kindness and gentleness

b : favorable, wholesome

3 a : of a mild type or character that does not threaten health or life; especially : not becoming cancerous

b : having no significant effect : harmless


"No doubt the history of this genial, white-haired American emigre was benign, but, still, I remember wondering about his real story, as distinct from the one he was telling me." — Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune, 29 July 2013

"University of Florida Health researchers say they are making progress in ascertaining whether a kidney tumor is cancerous or benign before a patient is subjected to an invasive needle biopsy or surgery." — (Polk County, Florida), 5 May 2016

Did you know?

Benediction, benefactor, benefit, benevolent, and benign are just some of the English words that derive from the well-tempered Latin root bene, which means "well." Benign came to English via Anglo-French from the Latin benignus, which in turn paired bene with gignere, meaning "to beget." Gignere has produced a few offspring of its own in English. Its descendants include congenital, genius, germ, indigenous, and progenitor, among others. Benign is commonly used in medical contexts to describe conditions, such as noncancerous masses, that present no apparent harm to the patient. It is also found in the phrase benign neglect, which refers to an attitude or policy of ignoring an often delicate or undesirable situation that one has the responsibility to manage.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Thu, 06/16/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 16, 2016 is:

MacGuffin • \muh-GUFF-in\  • noun

: an object, event, or character in a film or story that serves to set and keep the plot in motion despite usually lacking intrinsic importance


The missing document is the MacGuffin that brings the two main characters together, but the real story centers on their tumultuous relationship.

"The story opens … at the funeral of elderly Oleander Gardener…. The childless Oleander has several nieces and nephews…. Questions of inheritance and a mysterious seed pod that each of her heirs receives constitute the framework of a tenuous plot, but these are primarily MacGuffins." — The Publisher's Weekly Review, 14 Mar. 2016

Did you know?

The first person to use MacGuffin as a word for a plot device was Alfred Hitchcock. He borrowed it from an old shaggy-dog story in which some passengers on a train interrogate a fellow passenger carrying a large, strange-looking package. The fellow says the package contains a "MacGuffin," which, he explains, is used to catch tigers in the Scottish Highlands. When the group protests that there are no tigers in the Highlands, the passenger replies, "Well, then, this must not be a MacGuffin." Hitchcock apparently appreciated the way the mysterious package holds the audience's attention and builds suspense. He recognized that an audience anticipating a solution to a mystery will continue to follow the story even if the initial interest-grabber turns out to be irrelevant.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Wed, 06/15/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 15, 2016 is:

verdure • \VER-jer\  • noun

1 : the greenness of growing vegetation; also : such vegetation itself

2 : a condition of health and vigor


"All right, I have to admit it. It's stunning. Even though the summer drought has leached the verdure from the grand, sweeping lawns." — Zofia Smardz, The Washington Post, 24 Oct. 2007

"The visit began and culminated with Can Tomas, her family house, which crests one of the hills on the island, providing unobstructed views of San Antonio Bay's sunsets and the seething palette of verdure and ocher soil that composes the island's countryside." — Nikil Saval, The New York Times, 10 Nov. 2015

Did you know?

English speakers have had the use of the word verdure since the 14th century, when it made its way into Middle English from Anglo-French. Like the more common verdant, the word traces back to Latin virēre, meaning "to be green." Since the early 16th century, verdure has also been used to refer to a kind of tapestry with a design based on plant forms. The verdure that English speakers sometimes encounter on menus is Italian; in that language verdure refers to green vegetables or to vegetables in general (as in "fettuccine con verdure").

Categories: Fun Stuff


Tue, 06/14/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 14, 2016 is:

obtuse • \ahb-TOOSS\  • adjective

1 a : not pointed or acute : blunt

b : exceeding 90 degrees but less than 180 degrees 

c : having an obtuse angle

2 a : lacking sharpness or quickness of sensibility or intellect : insensitive, stupid

b : difficult to comprehend : not clear or precise in thought or expression


"A wrinkled brow or wrinkled nose in response to someone volunteering life-changing news, imbued with hope for change, is the domain of the ignorant, the determinedly obtuse or the bigot." — Nicky Clark, The Independent (London), 8 Mar. 2016

"The angled walls and obtuse openings led to gallery areas beyond and made for a private and original environment that gave booths a more secluded and comfortable feeling." — Greg Smith, Antiques and The Arts Weekly, 18 May 2016

Did you know?

Obtuse, which comes to us from the Latin word obtusus, meaning "dull" or "blunt," can describe an angle that is not acute or a person who is mentally "dull" or slow of mind. The word has also developed a somewhat controversial sense of "hard to comprehend," probably as a result of confusion with abstruse. This sense of obtuse is well established, and it is now possible to speak of "obtuse language" and "obtuse explanations," as well as "obtuse angles" and "obtuse readers"; however, it may attract some criticism. If you're hesitant about using new meanings of words, you should probably stick with abstruse when you want a word meaning "difficult to understand."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Mon, 06/13/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 13, 2016 is:

tocsin • \TOCK-sin\  • noun

1 : an alarm bell or the ringing of it

2 : a warning signal


A coalition of parents was sounding the tocsin for the school music program—if voters didn't approve a tax increase, the program was sure to be axed.

"That may sound alarmist, but the tocsin is being rung by some pretty sober people." — Doyle McManus, Advance-News (Ogdensburg, New York), 16 Feb. 2016

Did you know?

Although it has occasionally been spelled like its homonym toxin, tocsin has nothing to do with poison. Rather, it is derived from the Middle French toquassen, which in turn comes from the Old Occitan tocasenh, and ultimately from the assumed Vulgar Latin verb toccare ("to ring a bell") and the Latin signum ("mark, sign"), which have given us, respectively, the English words touch and signal. Tocsin long referred to the ringing of church bells to signal events of importance to local villagers, including dangerous events such as attacks. Its use was eventually broadened to cover anything that signals danger or trouble.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sun, 06/12/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 12, 2016 is:

quaff • \KWAHF\  • verb

: to drink deeply


The kids thoroughly enjoyed running a lemonade stand for the day, and weren't bothered in the least by the paltry profits that always result when the proprietors quaff most of the product.

"Contrary to the time-honored campaign tradition of stopping at a local pub to quaff Budweiser with the after-work crowd, this cycle's candidates have gravitated toward local beer makers." — Matthew Osgood, The Atlantic, 8 May 2016

Did you know?

Nowadays, quaff has an old-fashioned, literary sound to it. For more contemporary words that suggest drinking a lot of something, especially in big gulps and in large quantity, you might try drain, pound, or slug. If you are a daintier drinker, you might say that you prefer to sip, imbibe or partake in the beverage of your choice. Quaff is by no means the oldest of these terms—earliest evidence of it in use is from the early 1500s, whereas sip dates to the 14th century—but it is the only one with the mysterious "origin unknown" etymology.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sat, 06/11/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 11, 2016 is:

renovate • \REN-uh-vayt\  • verb

1 : to restore to a former better state (as by cleaning, repairing, or rebuilding)

2 : to restore to life, vigor, or activity : revive


"… society gains nothing whilst a man, not himself renovated, attempts to renovate things around him: he has become tediously good in some particular, but negligent or narrow in the rest…." — Ralph Waldo Emerson, "New England Reformers," 3 Mar. 1844

"Voters in Sag Harbor on Tuesday gave the go-ahead for the Sag Harbor School District to purchase and renovate the former Stella Maris school building…." — Christine Sampson, The East Hampton Star, 17 May 2016

Did you know?

Renovate, renew, restore, refresh, and rejuvenate all mean to make like new. Renovate (a word ultimately derived from the Latin verb novare, meaning "to make new," itself a descendant of novus, meaning "new") suggests a renewing by cleansing, repairing, or rebuilding. Renew implies a restoration of what had become faded or disintegrated so that it seems like new ("efforts to renew the splendor of the old castle"). Restore suggests a return to an original state after depletion or loss ("restored a piece of furniture"). Refresh implies the supplying of something necessary to restore lost strength, animation, or power ("a refreshing drink"). Rejuvenate suggests the restoration of youthful vigor, powers, or appearance ("she was rejuvenated by her new job").

Categories: Fun Stuff