Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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

desiccate • \DESS-ih-kayt\  • verb
1 : to dry up or become dried up 2 : to preserve (a food) by drying : dehydrate 3 : to drain of emotional or intellectual vitality

Weeks of blazing heat along with a prolonged lack of rain have desiccated many of the plants in our garden.

"Since these insects desiccate easily, they will build tunnels to provide themselves the moisture they need." — Paula Weatherby, Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville), February 7, 2015

Did you know?
Raisins are desiccated grapes; they're also dehydrated grapes. And yet, a close look at the etymologies of desiccate and dehydrate raises a tangly question. In Latin siccus means "dry," whereas the Greek stem hydr- means "water." So how could it be that desiccate and dehydrate are synonyms? The answer is in the multiple identities of the prefix de-. It may look like the same prefix, but the de- in desiccate means "completely, thoroughly," as in despoil ("to spoil utterly") or denude ("to strip completely bare"). The de- in dehydrate, on the other hand, means "remove," the same as it does in defoliate ("to strip of leaves") or in deice ("to rid of ice").

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Sat, 04/18/2015 - 1:00am

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

wimple • \WIM-pul\  • verb
1 : to cover with or as if with a wimple : veil 2 : to ripple 3 : (chiefly Scottish) to follow a winding course : meander

A thick fog wimpled the shoreline so that the only thing that could be seen from the distance was the light winking from the top of the lighthouse.

"In retrospect, [The Sound of Music] may have been the first movie to introduce the concept of 'saboteur nun,' and made people think differently about the wimpled sorority." — James Lileks, National Review Online, December 9, 2013

Did you know?
Wimple is the name of the covering worn over the head and around the neck and chin by women in the late medieval period, as well as by some modern nuns. Its name is akin to Old Saxon wimpal and Middle Dutch wimpel, both of which mean "veil" or "banner." Like the word veil, wimple is also used as a verb meaning "cover" and was adopted by literary writers as a substitute for ripple and meander, especially when writing about streams. "Over the little brook which wimpled along below towered an arch," James Russell Lowell once observed.

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Fri, 04/17/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 17, 2015 is:

rebarbative • \rih-BAR-buh-tiv\  • adjective
: repellent, irritating

The cantankerous professor found the music, clothing, and slang favored by her students to be rebarbative.

"For all the complaints about his abrasiveness, the shadow chancellor is simply doing his job.… He once gave me a heartfelt radio interview in which he suggested, like the character in the Roger Rabbit movie, that he was not so much bad but 'just drawn that way,' and that maturity had taken the edge off his rebarbative manner." — Anne McElvoy, The Guardian, February 22, 2015

Did you know?
You may be surprised to learn that today's word traces back to the Latin word for beardbarba—making it a very distant relative of the English word beard. But there is some sense to the connection. After all, beards may not be repellent, but they can be prickly and scratchy. Another descendant of Latin barba is the English word barb, which can refer to a sharp projection (as found on barbed wire) or a biting critical remark, both of which can discourage others from getting too close. An interesting side note: barber too traces back to barba—but by way of an Anglo-French word for beard.

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hat trick

Thu, 04/16/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 16, 2015 is:

hat trick • \HAT-TRICK\  • noun
1 : the retiring of three batsmen with three consecutive balls by a bowler in cricket 2 : the scoring of three goals in one game by a single player 3 : a series of three victories, successes, or related accomplishments

"Scoring a celestial hat trick, the space shuttle Discovery placed its third satellite in orbit Saturday." — The Houston Post, September 2, 1984

"Eleven seconds into the third period, hundreds of hats were thrown onto the ice after Flyers center Brayden Schenn apparently scored the first hat trick of his career." — Sam Carchidi, Philadelphia Inquirer, March 15, 2015

Did you know?
It may surprise some people to learn that the term hat trick actually originated in British cricket. A bowler who retired three batsmen with three consecutive balls in cricket was entitled to a new hat at the expense of the club to commemorate this feat. Eventually, the phrase was applied to the same player scoring three goals in any goal sport, and baseball announcers now occasionally refer to a batter who gets three hits in three turns at bat as having managed a hat trick as well. The phrase finally broadened to include any string of three important successes or achievements in any field.

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Wed, 04/15/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 15, 2015 is:

stentorian • \sten-TOR-ee-un\  • adjective
: extremely loud

The foreman barked out his orders in a stentorian tone that could be heard clearly over the din of the factory's machinery.

"[Lawrence] Tanter … was the first voice to stand out among the bedlam when the Lakers came from behind to beat Boston in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals. He said simply in his stentorian way, 'Number 16.'" — Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2015

Did you know?
The Greek herald Stentor was known for having a voice that came through loud and clear. In fact, in the Iliad, Homer described Stentor as a man whose voice was as loud as that of fifty men together. Stentor's powerful voice made him a natural choice for delivering announcements and proclamations to the assembled Greek army during the Trojan War, and it also made his name a byword for any person with a loud, strong voice. Both the noun stentor and the related adjective stentorian pay homage to the big-voiced warrior, and both have been making noise in English since the early 17th century.

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Tue, 04/14/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 14, 2015 is:

bilk • \BILK\  • verb
1 : to block the free development of : frustrate 2 a : to cheat out of something valuable : defraud b : to evade payment of or to 3 : to slip away from

The investigation revealed that the garage had been bilking motorists for repairs that had never been made.

"Two women were convicted Thursday of taking part in a scheme in which unnecessary medical procedures were carried out in order to bilk insurance companies out of more than $50 million." — Sean Emery, Orange County Register (California), March 7, 2015

Did you know?
Initially, "bilking" wasn't considered cheating—just good strategy for cribbage players. Language historians aren't sure where bilk originated, but they have noticed that its earliest uses occur in contexts referring to cribbage. Part of the scoring in cribbage involves each player adding cards from his or her hand to a pile of discards called the "crib." At the end of a hand, the dealer gets any points in the crib. Strategically, then, it's wisest for the dealer's opponent to discard non-scoring cards—the ones most likely to "balk," or put a check on, the dealer's score. Etymologists theorize that "bilk" may have originated as an alteration of that card-game "balk."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Mon, 04/13/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 13, 2015 is:

febrile • \FEB-ryle\  • adjective
: marked or caused by fever : feverish

The patient exhibited a rash and febrile symptoms that were consistent with a certain rare tropical infection.

"Febrile seizures typically occur between the ages of 6 months and 6 years old. They happen when a fever spikes very quickly...." — Vikki Ortiz Healy, Chicago Tribune, August 4, 2014

Did you know?
Not too surprisingly, febrile originated in the field of medicine. We note its first use in the work of the 17th-century medical reformer Noah Biggs. Biggs used it in admonishing physicians to care for their "febrile patients" properly. Both feverish and febrile are from the Latin word for fever, which is febris. Nowadays, febrile is used in medicine in a variety of ways, including references to such things as "the febrile phase" of an illness. And, like feverish, it also has an extended sense, as in "a febrile emotional state."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sun, 04/12/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 12, 2015 is:

lotusland • \LOH-tus-land\  • noun
1 : a place inducing contentment especially through offering an idyllic living situation 2 : a state or an ideal marked by contentment often achieved through self-indulgence

The tropical resort was stunning, but after two weeks of recreation and relaxation, I was ready to leave lotusland and return home.

"As a work of fiction it was artless at best, but as a portrait of the pampered children of lotusland it had a devastating aura of authenticity; younger people may have read it for titillation, but their parents read it as a disturbing report from an unknown country." — Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post, October 12, 1987

Did you know?
In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus and his men discover a magical land of lotus-eaters. Some of the sailors eat the delicious "lotus" and forget about their homeland, pleading to stay forever in this "lotusland." (It is likely that the lotus in question was inspired by the fruit of a real plant of the buckthorn family, perhaps the jujube, whose sweet juice is used in candy making and which has given its name to a popular fruity candy.) The label lotusland is now applied to any place resembling such an ideal of perfection, but it also carries connotations of indolence and self-indulgence, possibly derived from the way the sailors refused to work once they reached the original lotusland. The dreamy unreality of a lotusland is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sat, 04/11/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 11, 2015 is:

verdant • \VER-dunt\  • adjective
1 a : green in tint or color b : green with growing plants 2 : unripe in experience or judgment : green

The golf course was noted for its tricky hazards and lush, verdant borders along its fairways.

"Her favorite part of the room was the expansive window looking out over a verdant landscape of hills and distant mountains." — (San Diego), March 9, 2015

Did you know?
English speakers have been using verdant as a ripe synonym of green since the late 16th century, and as a descriptive term for inexperienced or naive people since the 1820s. (By contrast, the more experienced green has colored our language since well before the 12th century and was first applied to inexperienced people in the 1540s.) Verdant is derived from the Old French word for green, vert, which in turn is from Latin virēre, meaning "to be green." Today, vert is used in English as a word for green forest vegetation and the heraldic color green. Another descendant of virēre is the adjective virescent, meaning "beginning to be green."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Fri, 04/10/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 10, 2015 is:

juncture • \JUNK-cher\  • noun
1 : joint, connection 2 : a point of time; especially : one made critical by a concurrence of circumstances

"At this juncture in the editing process," said Philip, "it is important that all facts have been double-checked and sources verified."

"Obasohan's absence came at a critical juncture when the game got away from the Crimson Tide...." — Kevin Scarbinsky,, March 3, 2015

Did you know?
Juncture has many relatives in English—and some of them are easy to spot, whereas others are not so obvious. Juncture derives from the Latin verb jungere ("to join"), which gave us not only join and junction but also conjugal ("relating to marriage") and junta ("a group of persons controlling a government"). Jungere also has distant etymological connections to joust, jugular, juxtapose, yoga, and yoke. The use of juncture in English dates back to the 14th century. Originally, the word meant "a place where two or more things are joined," but by the 17th century it could also be used of an important point in time or of a stage in a process or activity.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Thu, 04/09/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 09, 2015 is:

bicoastal • \bye-KOAST-ul\  • adjective
: of or relating to or living or working on both the east and west coasts of the United States

Richard and Laura had become a bicoastal couple, often shuttling between their primary home in New York and their vacation ranch in San Diego.

"Mish grew up in Southern California and now lives near the Chesapeake Bay. She uses those bicoastal influences to inspire her beachy, nautical designs." — Zoë Read, Baltimore Sun, January 1, 2015

Did you know?
Bicoastal is a word whose meaning shifted in the 1970s to reflect our mobile society. Prior to that, the term was occasionally used in general contexts involving both coasts (as in "a bicoastal naval defense"). These days bicoastal is almost always associated with people who make frequent trips between one coast and the other. An article with a Los Angeles dateline published in The New York Times in 1983 declared bicoastal to be "a popular term among an affluent, mobile set of Angelenos." But Angelenos weren't the only ones using the term—by that time, the word had already been appearing in national magazines.

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Wed, 04/08/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 08, 2015 is:

travail • \truh-VAIL\  • noun
1 a : work especially of a painful or laborious nature : toil b : a physical or mental exertion or piece of work : task, effort c : agony, torment 2 : childbirth, labor

"Japan's electronics industry has been able to hold on to its status as a powerhouse exporter in spite of numerous travails, such as the collapse of the bubble economy in the 1990s." — Tatsuo Ito, Wall Street Journal, February 24, 2015

"But this is not the first time Bono has dabbled in journalism, or exposed himself to the unforgiving gaze of the blogosphere. Other literary travails include a blog for the Financial Times in which he describes meeting the Japanese prime minister…." — Alexandra Topping, The Guardian, January 13, 2009

Did you know?
Etymologists are pretty certain that travail comes from trepalium, the Late Latin name of an instrument of torture. We don't know exactly what a trepalium looked like, but the word's history gives us an idea. Trepalium is derived from the Latin tripalis, which means "having three stakes" (from tri-, meaning "three," and palus, meaning "stake"). From trepalium sprang the Anglo-French verb travailler, which originally meant "to torment" but eventually acquired the milder senses "to trouble" and "to journey." The Anglo-French noun travail was borrowed into English in the 13th century, followed about a century later by travel, another descendant of travailler.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Tue, 04/07/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 07, 2015 is:

anfractuous • \an-FRAK-chuh-wus\  • adjective
: full of windings and intricate turnings : tortuous

"Dr. X almost never left the boundaries of Old Shanghai, which was part of a separate district; more to the point, he stuck to a small but anfractuous subregion…." — Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age, 1995

"The anfractuous remainder of the plot is a booby trap for anyone trying to explain it." — James MacKillop, Syracuse (New York) New Times, November 9, 2011

Did you know?
Plots and paths can be anfractuous. They twist and turn but do not break. Never mind that our English word comes from Latin anfractus (same meaning as anfractuous), which in turn comes from the Latin verb frangere, meaning "to break." (Frangere is also the source of fracture, fraction, fragment, and frail.) The prefix an- here means "around." At first, anfractuous was all about ears and the auditory canal's anfractuosity, that is, its being curved rather than straight. Now anfractuous has been around some 400 years, without a break, giving it plenty of time to wind its way into other applications; e.g., there can be an anfractuous thought process or an anfractuous shoreline.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Mon, 04/06/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 06, 2015 is:

purport • \per-PORT\  • verb
1 : to have the often specious appearance of being, intending, or claiming (something implied or inferred); also : claim 2 : intend, purpose

The authors purport to offer irrefutable proof of a conspiracy, but in reality their book gives us nothing but unproven conjecture.

"A disclosure requirement does not purport to be a solution, in and of itself, to a problematic public practice—no more than a news report about a scandal claims to resolve it." — Chris Gates, New York Times, March 2, 2015

Did you know?
The verb purport passed into English in the late 1300s. It derives from the Anglo-French verb purporter (meaning both "to carry" and "to mean"), which itself combined the prefix pur- ("thoroughly") and the verb porter ("to carry"). Like its French parent, purport originally referred to the indubitable meaning or intention conveyed in a text or statement. Inevitably, what was purported sometimes faced contradiction or doubt. By the late 17th century, use of purport reflected this fact in its now common sense referring to claims, assertions, or appearances that only seem to be true on the surface.

Categories: Fun Stuff