Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

Syndicate content Merriam-Webster Online
Free daily dose of word power from Merriam-Webster's experts
Updated: 23 min 40 sec ago


1 hour 1 min ago

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

wooden • \WOOD-un\  • adjective
1 : made or consisting of wood 2 : lacking ease or flexibility : awkwardly stiff

In the early days of basketball, baskets were often attached to balconies over which interfering spectators could lean—until wooden backboards made that interference impossible.

"Nick … is a fascinatingly flawed and sometimes explosive good-guy personality with his own demons. It's this deep character development … that distinguishes this novel from those in which wooden characters are only there to move the plot along." — Nancy Ward, The Alaska Dispatch News, 23 Aug. 2015

Did you know?
Humans have been making objects out of wood since before there was an English language, but the adjectival use of wood didn't come into being until the 14th century, and wooden didn't appear until the 16th. (The word wood has ancient roots, but it originally existed only as a noun.) In Middle English, the adjective of choice was tree or treen, as in a "tree vessel" or "treen shoes." Treen in turn came from the Old English word trēowen, from the noun trēow ("tree") and the suffix -en, which was used to indicate that something was composed of a certain material. As far as we know, no one ever used treen figuratively to describe things that are stiff as a board, but wooden was put to broader use soon after it was first recorded.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Fri, 10/09/2015 - 1:00am

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

incidence • \IN-suh-dunss\  • noun
1 a : angle of incidence b : the arrival of something (such as a projectile or a ray of light) at a surface 2 a : an act or the fact or manner of falling upon or affecting : occurrence b : rate of occurrence or influence

The neighborhood boasts excellent schools and a low incidence of crime.

"[Meditation] may also help people with insomnia and lower the incidence, duration, and severity of acute respiratory illnesses, such as influenza.…" — Alexia Severson, The Las Cruces (New Mexico) Sun-News, 4 Sept. 2015

Did you know?
The words incident, incidence, and instance may seem similar (and, in fact, incident and incidence are closely related), but they are not used identically. In current use, incidence usually means "rate of occurrence" and is often qualified in some way ("a high incidence of diabetes"). Incident usually refers to a particular event, often something unusual or unpleasant ("many such incidents go unreported"). Instance suggests a particular occurrence that is offered as an example ("another instance of bureaucratic bumbling"); it can also be synonymous with case ("many instances in which the wrong form was submitted"). The plural incidences sometimes occurs in such contexts as "several recent incidences of crime," but this use is often criticized as incorrect.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Thu, 10/08/2015 - 1:00am

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

manqué • \mahng-KAY\  • adjective
: short of or frustrated in the fulfillment of one's aspirations or talents—used postpositively

Natalie is an actress manqué who moved to New York 10 years ago and is still looking for her first big break.

"At the center of the author's examination is Alexander Popper, a fiction writer manqué … reluctant law-school graduate who winds up handling misdemeanor cases for the Cook County Public Defender." — The Austin (Texas) American-Statesman, 27 Nov. 2011

Did you know?
The etymology of manqué is likely to vex left-handers. English speakers picked up manqué directly from French more than two centuries ago, and it ultimately comes from Latin mancus, meaning "having a crippled hand." But in between the Latin and French portions of this word's history came the Italian word manco, which means both "lacking" and "left-handed." Lefties may be further displeased to learn that manqué isn't the only English word with a history that links left-handedness with something undesirable. For example, the word awkward comes from awke, a Middle English word meaning both "turned the wrong way" and "left-handed." And the noun gawk ("a clumsy stupid person") probably comes from a gawk that means "left-handed" in dialectal English.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Wed, 10/07/2015 - 1:00am

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

reprise • \rih-PREEZ\  • noun
1 : a recurrence, renewal, or resumption of an action 2 a : a musical repetition b : a repeated performance : repetition

"Jo Anne Worley … returns to Palm Springs this weekend for a reprise of her music and comedy act, 'For the Love of Broadway,' at the Purple Room Restaurant & Stage." — Bruce Fessier, The Desert Sun (Palm Springs, California), 1 Sept. 2015

"'Sing This All Together,' the album opener, is a ramshackle but charming number…. But the reprise at the end of the first side turns the tune inside out, a six-minute-plus psychedelic jam session preceding Mick Jagger's solo croon of the original melody." — Alex McCown, The A.V. Club (, 24 Aug. 2015

Did you know?
When reprise was first adopted into English in the 15th century, it referred to a deduction or charge made yearly out of a manor or estate (and was usually used in the plural form reprises). It probably won't surprise you, then, to learn that reprise comes from an Anglo-French word meaning "seizure, repossession, or expense." Eventually, reprise came to refer to any action that was repeated or resumed. A later sense, borrowed from modern French, applies to specific types of repetition in musical compositions. That sense was eventually generalized to describe any subsequent and identical performance. It's possible, for example, to have a reprise of a television program or a book.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Tue, 10/06/2015 - 1:00am

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

xeric • \ZEER-ik\  • adjective
: characterized by, relating to, or requiring only a small amount of moisture

She is a botanist who primarily studies deserts and xeric shrublands.

"As water restrictions were enacted through the metro area, the Kentucky bluegrass in other parts of the park dried up, while the three display beds filled with xeric varieties that don't take much water flourished." — Austin Briggs, The Denver Post, 6 Aug. 2015

Did you know?
By the late 1800s, botanists were using the terms xerophyte and xerophytic for plants that were well adapted for survival in dry environments. But some felt the need for a more generic word that included both animals and plants. In 1926 a group proposed using xeric (derived from xēros, the Greek word for "dry") as a more generalized term for either flora or fauna. They further suggested that "xerophytic … be entirely abandoned as useless and misleading." Not everyone liked the idea. In fact, the Ecological Society of America stated that xeric was "not desirable," preferring terms such as arid. Others declared that xeric should refer only to habitats, not to organisms. Scientists used it anyway, and by the 1940s xeric was well documented in scientific literature.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Mon, 10/05/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 05, 2015 is:

bailiwick • \BAY-lih-wik\  • noun
1 : the office or jurisdiction of a bailiff 2 : a special domain

Since the organization of the annual Halloween party is Rhonda's bailiwick, you'll have to let her know if you plan to bring something to the festivities this year.

"The conventional wisdom is that young people no longer care enough to stand up for what is important; that the days of activism and protest have faded into the past, the bailiwick of aging hippies and activists." — The Easton (Massachusetts) Journal, 22 May 2015

Did you know?
The first half of the word bailiwick comes from the Middle English word for "bailiff," in this case a term referring to a sheriff or chief officer of a town in medieval England, not the officer who assists today in U.S. courtrooms. Bailiff derives via Anglo-French from the Latin bajulare, meaning "to carry a burden." The second half of bailiwick comes from wik, a Middle English word for "dwelling place" or "village," which ultimately derived from the Latin vicus, meaning "village." (This root also gave us -wich and -wick, suffixes used in place names like Norwich and Warwick.) Although bailiwick dates from the 15th century, the "special domain" sense did not begin to appear in English until the middle of the 19th century.

Categories: Fun Stuff


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

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 04, 2015 is:

extradite • \EK-struh-dyte\  • verb
: to send (one who has been accused of a crime) to another state or country for trial

An alleged criminal is typically only extradited under the provisions of a treaty or statute, but a fugitive is occasionally surrendered by one state or country to another as an act of good will.

"A spokesperson [for the U.S. State Department] said that since Zimbabwe and the United States signed an extradition treaty in 2000, neither nation has extradited anyone to the other." — Jennifer Bjorhus and Paul Walsh, The Star-Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 3 Aug. 2015

Did you know?
Some countries have a tradition of extradition—a fact which might concern criminals. Likely of significantly less concern to most criminals is the fact that extradition and tradition are related; both come from the Latin verb tradere, which means "to hand over." (Think of a tradition as something handed over from one generation to the next.) Some other words that have been handed down from tradere include betray, traitor, and treason.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sat, 10/03/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 03, 2015 is:

haplology • \hap-LAH-luh-jee\  • noun
: contraction of a word by omission of one or more similar sounds or syllables

The speech therapist assured the child's parents that "the tendency towards haplology will likely correct itself with age."

"Haplology is responsible for a variety of forms found in rapid speech in English: not just probly, but also libry (library), nesry (necessary), interpretive (interpretative), and others." — Gretchen McCulloch,, 4 Apr. 2014

Did you know?
Try to say "pierced-ear earrings" three times fast. That exercise will demonstrate why haplology happens: sometimes it's just easier to drop a syllable and leave yourself with something that's easier to say (such as "pierced earrings"). American philologist Maurice Bloomfield recognized the tendency to drop one of a pair of similar syllables over 120 years ago. He has been credited with joining the combining form hapl- or haplo- (meaning "single") with -logy (meaning "oral or written expression") to create haplology as a name for the phenomenon. Haplology is quite common in English, and often the contracted forms it generates spread into the written language. In fact, haplology played a role in naming the nation that is the cradle of English: England was condensed via haplology from "Engla land."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Fri, 10/02/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 02, 2015 is:

spontaneous • \spahn-TAY-nee-us\  • adjective
1 : done, said, or produced freely and naturally 2 : arising from a momentary impulse 3 : produced without being planted or without human labor : indigenous 4 : acting or taking place without apparent external cause or influence

Since childhood, Marie has been prone to spontaneous displays of affection.

"Surveys show that visitors and New Yorkers aren't looking for Disneyland when they go to Times Square, which they want to remain spontaneous and a little crazy." — Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times, 22 Aug. 2015

Did you know?
Spontaneous derives, via the Late Latin spontaneus, from the Latin sponte, meaning "of one's free will, voluntarily," and first appeared in English in the mid-17th century. Thomas Hobbes was an early adopter: he wrote that "all voluntary actions … are called also spontaneous, and said to be done by man's own accord" in his famous 1656 The Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity, and Chance. Today the word is more often applied to things done or said in a natural and often sudden way, without a lot of thought or planning—or to people who do or say things in such a way.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Thu, 10/01/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 01, 2015 is:

consternation • \kahn-ster-NAY-shun\  • noun
: amazement or dismay that hinders or throws into confusion

To the consternation of her students, Mrs. Jennings gave a pop quiz on the first Friday of the school year.

"A [Russian] law that obliged bloggers to register with the government caused consternation last year…." — Sam Schechner and Olga Razumovskaya, The Wall Street Journal, 31 Aug. 2015

Did you know?
Wonder what the seemingly dissimilar words prostrate ("stretched out with face on the ground"), stratum ("layer"), and stratus ("a low cloud form extending over a large area") have in common with consternation? They are all thought to share the Latin ancestor sternere, meaning "to spread" or "to strike or throw down." Much to our consternation, we cannot make that sentence definitive: while prostrate, stratum, and stratus are clearly the offspring of sternere, etymologists will only go so far as to say that consternation comes from Latin consternare—and that they have a strong suspicion that consternare is another descendent of sternere.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Wed, 09/30/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 30, 2015 is:

paroxysm • \PAIR-uk-sih-zum\  • noun
1 : a fit, attack, or sudden increase or recurrence of symptoms (as of a disease) : convulsion 2 : a sudden violent emotion or action : outburst

Though he seldom loses his temper, his occasional and unpredictable paroxysms of anger are legendary among his colleagues.

"Today, for National Hot Dog Month, I rank the 25 best hot dog places in the state…. Hot dog purists may go into pickle-fueled paroxysms of paranoia, aghast that several legends … are not on this list." — Peter Genovese, The Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey), 27 July 2015

Did you know?
Paroxysm didn't just burst onto the scene recently; its roots go back to ancient Greek. The word ultimately derives from the Greek paroxynein, which means "to stimulate." Oxynein, a parent of paroxynein, means "to provoke" or "to sharpen" and comes from oxys, a Greek word for "sharp." (That root also underlies the word oxygen.) In its earliest known English uses in the 15th century, paroxysm denoted agitation or intensification of a disease or its symptoms. (A still-used example of that sense is "a paroxysm of coughing.") Additionally, paroxysm soon took on a broader sense referring to an outburst, especially a dramatic physical or emotional one.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Tue, 09/29/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 29, 2015 is:

askew • \uh-SKYOO\  • adverb or adjective
: out of line : awry

He said he was fine but he looked as if he'd been in a fight: his hair and clothes were disheveled and his glasses were askew on the bridge of his nose.

"Even so, the impact of the collision damaged the interior wall of the building and sent post office boxes askew." — Jon Johnson, The Eastern Arizona Courier (Safford, Arizona), 17 Aug. 2015

Did you know?
It's believed that askew was formed simply by attaching the prefix a- (meaning, among other things, "in (such) a state or condition") to skew. The word skew, which derives via Middle English from Anglo-French eschiver, meaning "to escape or avoid," can be a verb, adjective, or noun. But at the time of the first appearance of askew in English, in the middle of the 16th century, skew had only been established as a verb meaning "to take an oblique course or direction." At least one etymologist has suggested that askew might have been influenced by an Old Norse phrase, and that the same phrase might have also given us askance. In the past, askew was used synonymously with askance, as in "She looked at me askew after my ill-timed joke."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Mon, 09/28/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 28, 2015 is:

vilipend • \VIL-uh-pend\  • verb
1 : to hold or treat as of little worth or account : contemn 2 : to express a low opinion of : disparage

As a women's movement pioneer, Susan B. Anthony fought against the dicta of those who would vilipend women by treating them as second-class citizens.

"Most people who retire do so after having invested multiple years in employment…. Most are on fixed incomes with tight budgets, hoping for good health and years of stress-free happiness. To vilipend them about their choice of not working, even if they are healthy enough, is just not fair." — John F. Sauers, letter in The Rochester (New York) Democrat and Chronicle, 26 June 2005

Did you know?
Vilipend first appeared in English in the 15th century and had its heyday during the 19th century—being found in the works of such well-known authors as Sir Walter Scott, William Makepeace Thackeray, and George Meredith—but it fell into relative obscurity by the 20th century. The word comes to us through French from the Latin roots vilis, meaning "cheap" or "vile," and pendere, meaning "to weigh" or "to estimate." These roots work in tandem to form a meaning of "to deem to be of little worth." Each has contributed separately to some other common English words. Other vilis offspring include vile and vilify, while pendere has spawned such terms as append, expend, and dispense.

Categories: Fun Stuff

catbird seat

Sun, 09/27/2015 - 1:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 27, 2015 is:

catbird seat • \KAT-berd-SEET\  • noun
: a position of great prominence or advantage

Susan found herself sitting in the catbird seat with lucrative offers from three potential employers in front of her.

"For the first time since the economic recovery began six years ago, white-collar professionals with specialized skills in fields like technology, finance, engineering and software find themselves in the catbird seat." — Nelson D. Schwartz, The New York Times, 25 July 2015

Did you know?
"In the catbird seat" was among the numerous folksy expressions that legendary baseball broadcaster Red Barber used to delight listeners. Some say he invented the expression; others say that he dug it up from his Southern origins. But the truth may be far stranger than those rumors. In a 1942 short story titled "The Catbird Seat," James Thurber featured a character, Mrs. Barrows, who liked to use the phrase. Another character, Joey Hart, explained that Mrs. Barrows must have picked up the expression from Red Barber. To Red, according to Joey, "sitting in the catbird seat" meant "'sitting pretty,' like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him." But, according to Barber's daughter, it was only after Barber read Thurber's story that he started using "in the catbird seat" himself.

Categories: Fun Stuff