Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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Sun, 05/01/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 1, 2016 is:

Beltane • \BEL-tayn\  • noun

: the Celtic May Day festival


Although Beltane celebrates the approach of summer, those attending the Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, are warned to dress for the cool weather that is typical of early spring there.

"It's believed that when the goddess wakes from a long winter's sleep in March, she thaws the Earth and starts its life cycle anew. This rebirth, so to speak, is what sets the stage for the Pagan holiday Beltane, a fertility festival that occurs one month later." — Sara Coughlin, Refinery29 (, 18 Mar. 2016

Did you know?

To the ancient Celts, May Day was a critical time when the boundaries between the human and supernatural worlds were removed and people needed to take special measures to protect themselves against enchantments. The Beltane fire festival originated in a spring ritual in which cattle were herded between two huge bonfires to protect them from evil and disease. The earliest known mention of Beltane (formerly spelled beltene, belltaine, and beltine) is in an Old Irish dictionary commonly attributed to Cormac, a king and bishop who lived in Cashel, Ireland, toward the end of the first millennium. The Beltane spelling entered English in the 15th century by way of Scottish Gaelic.

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Sat, 04/30/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 30, 2016 is:

decorous • \DECK-er-us\  • adjective

: marked by propriety and good taste : correct


Before making her daily announcements, the principal mentioned how proud she was of the students' decorous conduct at their prom.

"When, during the constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1787, the discussion, polite and decorous till then, grew rather heated, Benjamin Franklin implored the delegates as follows: 'It has given me a great pleasure to observe that till this point … our debates were carried on with great coolness and temper. If anything of a contrary kind has on this occasion appeared I hope it will not be repeated….'" — Emanuel Epstein, The Davis (California) Enterprise, 5 Feb. 2016

Did you know?

The current meaning of decorous dates from the mid-17th century. One of the word's earliest recorded uses appears in a book titled The Rules of Civility (1673): "It is not decorous to look in the Glass, to comb, brush, or do any thing of that nature to ourselves, whilst the said person be in the Room." Decorous for a time had another meaning as well—"fitting or appropriate"—but that now-obsolete sense seems to have existed for only a few decades in the 17th century. Decorous derives from the Latin word decorus, an adjective created from the noun decor, meaning "beauty" or "grace." Decor is akin to the Latin verb decēre ("to be fitting"), which is the source of our adjective decent. It is only fitting, then, that decent can be a synonym of decorous.

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Fri, 04/29/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 29, 2016 is:

mulct • \MULKT\  • verb

1 : to punish by a fine

2 a : to defraud especially of money : swindle

b : to obtain by fraud, duress, or theft


Francis was finally barred from the securities industry when it was discovered he'd been mulcting investors for years.

"Attacking these firms is a crowd-pleasing sport for lawmakers, in part because every constituent has a story about being mulcted by a card issuer." — Michael Hiltzik, The Los Angeles Times, 4 May 2009

Did you know?

A fine assessed as a penalty for an infraction is generally considered justifiable. Fraud, on the other hand, is wrong—it's just the sort of thing that deserves a fine. So in mulct we have a unique word, one that means both "to fine" and "to defraud." The "fine" sense came first. Mulct was borrowed from the Latin word for a fine, which is multa or mulcta. The "fine" sense is still in use, mostly in legal contexts ("the court mulcted the defendant for punitive damages"), but these days mulct is more often used for an illegal act. It has been speculated that the use may have come about by association with the verb milk, in its sense "to exploit, to coerce profit from" (as in "she was milked by the lawyers for everything she had"), but that speculation has never been proven.

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Thu, 04/28/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 28, 2016 is:

invincible • \in-VIN-suh-bul\  • adjective

: incapable of being conquered, overcome, or subdued


"He calls the mixture Bulletproof coffee. Drink it, the name implies, and you'll feel invincible." — Gordy Megroz, Bloomberg Businessweek, 4 May 2015

"Eventually he stops terrorizing poor Holly Hunter and retires to Superman's spaceship … where he uses the Krypton Siri to create the invincible supervillain whom Batman and Superman will have to fight after they're done throwing each other through various walls…." — Rob Havilla, Deadspin, 23 Mar. 2016

Did you know?

The origins of invincible are easily subdued. The word derives, via Middle French, from Late Latin invincibilis—a combination of the negative prefix in- with vincibilis, an adjective meaning "conquerable," from the Latin verb vincere, "to conquer." Other descendants of vincere in English include convince, evince, vanquish, and even victor. Vincere also gave English vincible, meaning (unsurprisingly) "capable of being overcome or subdued," though it is significantly less common than invincible.

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Wed, 04/27/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 27, 2016 is:

belvedere • \BEL-vuh-deer\  • noun

: a structure (such as a cupola or summerhouse) designed to command a view


The couple wandered down to the belvedere at the edge of the bluff to take in the vivid colors of the sunset.

"… he chiefly talked of the view from the little belvedere on the roof of the casino, and how it looked like the prospect from a castle turret in a fairy tale." — Henry James, Roderick Hudson, 1875

Did you know?

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder—and someone with a belvedere will likely have a great deal of beauty to behold. Given the origins of the word, belvedere is the ideal term for a building (or part of a building) with a view; it derives from two Italian words, bel, which means "beautiful," and vedere, which means "view." The term has been used in English since the 1570s.

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Tue, 04/26/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 26, 2016 is:

inveterate • \in-VET-uh-rut\  • adjective

1 : firmly established by long persistence

2 : confirmed in a habit : habitual


Since Ernie is an inveterate liar, we naturally didn't believe him when he told us he'd met the movie star.

"As an inveterate letter writer, I started sending email as soon as I could sign on with dial-up, and became impatient to connect via DSL." — Deborah Lee Luskin, The Rutland (Vermont) Herald, 25 Feb. 2016

Did you know?

Like veteran, inveterate ultimately comes from Latin vetus, which means "old," and which led to the Latin verb inveterare ("to age"). That verb in turn gave rise eventually to the adjective inveteratus, the direct source of our adjective inveterate (in use since the 14th century). In the past, inveterate has meant "long-standing" or simply "old." For example, one 16th-century writer warned of "Those great Flyes which in the springe time of the yeare creepe out of inveterate walls." Today, inveterate most often applies to a habit, attitude, or feeling of such long existence that it is practically ineradicable or unalterable.

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Mon, 04/25/2016 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 25, 2016 is:

juxtapose • \JUK-stuh-pohz\  • verb

: to place side by side (as to compare or contrast)


Darlene has a keen eye for fashion, and she likes to juxtapose vintage pieces with contemporary styles to create new looks.

"ESPN posted an image of poverty outside Havana's sports stadium last week, to juxtapose the well-kept stadium with the shabby neighborhood around it." — Carolina Miranda, The Los Angeles Times (, 28 Mar. 2016

Did you know?

A back-formation is a word that has come about through the removal of a prefix or a suffix from a longer word. Etymologists think juxtapose is a back-formation that was created when people trimmed down the noun juxtaposition. Historical evidence supports the idea: juxtaposition was showing up in English documents as early as 1654, but juxtapose didn't appear until 1851. Juxtaposition is itself thought to be a combination of Latin juxta, meaning "near," and English position.

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Sun, 04/24/2016 - 12:00am

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

omniscient • \ahm-NISH-unt\  • adjective

1 : having infinite awareness, understanding, and insight

2 : possessed of universal or complete knowledge


The novel opens with an omniscient narrator recalling memories of her twelfth birthday.

"Digital advertisers … are increasingly omniscient: no longer do advertisers know just general things about you—a worldly professional, say, with superb taste in journalism—but they target you, specifically." — The Economist, 26 Mar. 2016

Did you know?

One who is omniscient literally knows all. The word omniscient, which has been part of English since at least the beginning of the 17th century, brings together two Latin roots: the prefix omni-, meaning "all," and the verb scire, meaning "to know." You will recognize omni- as the prefix that tells all in such words as omnivorous ("eating all" or, more precisely, "eating both meat and vegetables") and omnipotent ("all-powerful"). Scire likewise has a number of other knowledge-related descendants in English, including conscience, science, and prescience (meaning "foreknowledge").

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Sat, 04/23/2016 - 12:00am

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

exodus • \EK-suh-dus\  • noun

1 : (capitalized) the mainly narrative second book of canonical Jewish and Christian Scripture

2 : a mass departure : emigration


When the concert ended, the exodus of attendees clogged up traffic for miles.

"The path of corporate exodus from New York City to New Jersey is well-worn, but real estate brokers and others say that the pace has quickened recently." — Kathleen Lynn, The Record (Bergen County, New Jersey), 28 Feb. 2016

Did you know?

The Biblical book of Exodus describes the departure of the Israelites from Egypt, so it's no surprise that the word has come to refer more generally to any mass departure. The word itself was adopted into English (via Latin) from Greek Exodos, which literally means "the road out." The Greek word was formed by combining the prefix ex- and hodos, meaning "road" or "way." Other descendants of the prolific hodos in English include episode, method, odometer, and period. There are also several scientific words that can be traced back to hodos. Anode and cathode can refer, respectively, to the positive and negative electrodes of a diode, and hodoscope refers to an instrument for tracing the paths of ionizing particles.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Fri, 04/22/2016 - 12:00am

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

noetic • \noh-ET-ik\  • adjective

: of, relating to, or based on the intellect


In addition to her chemistry courses, Elena took electives in philosophy and the classics to satisfy her thirst for noetic stimulation.

"But the new emphasis on curiosity as a noetic virtue adds a note of transcendence to the portrait of the ideal thinker." — John J. Conley, America: The National Catholic Review, 1 Feb. 2016

Did you know?

Noetic derives from the Greek adjective noētikos, meaning "intellectual," from the verb noein ("to think") and ultimately from the noun nous, meaning "mind." (Nous also gave English the word paranoia by joining with a prefix meaning "faulty" or "abnormal.") Noetic is related to noesis, a rare noun that turns up in the field of philosophy and refers to the action of perceiving or thinking. The most notable use of noetic might be in the name of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, a research organization based in California that is devoted to studies of consciousness and the mind.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Thu, 04/21/2016 - 12:00am

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

litany • \LIT-uh-nee\  • noun

1 : a prayer consisting of a series of invocations and supplications by the leader with alternate responses by the congregation

2 a : a resonant or repetitive chant

b : a usually lengthy recitation or enumeration

c : a sizable series or set


"In a silent inner litany, I say 'thank you' for the magnificent gifts of a healthy body: lungs that breathe the cool, foggy air; a nose that smells eucalyptus leaves and banana muffins; eyes that see hummingbirds swooping outside my window; a tongue that has just savored a golden, juicy peach." — Anne Cushman, The Yoga Journal, January/February 2004

"A litany of NFL stars have retired early in recent years, with most of them citing the dangers of football as the primary reason they decided to hang it up." — Alex Reimer, Forbes, 28 Mar. 2016

Did you know?

Litany came to English through Anglo-French and Late Latin, ultimately from the Greek word litaneia, meaning "entreaty." Litany refers literally to a type of prayer in which a series of lines are spoken alternately by a leader and a congregation. This use dates to the 13th century. Between that century and the 20th, three figurative senses developed. The chant-like quality of a literal litany led first to a "repetitive chant" sense. Next, the repetitious—and sometimes interminable—nature of the original litany led to a "lengthy recitation" sense. Finally, the "lengthy recitation" sense was extended to refer to any sizable series or set.

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Wed, 04/20/2016 - 12:00am

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

piebald • \PYE-bawld\  • adjective

1 : composed of incongruous parts

2 : of different colors; especially : spotted or blotched with black and white


The horse she most enjoys riding is a sleek, leggy piebald mare.

"What they did find, though, were some surprise photos of a piebald deer, something few people ever get to see in the woods." — Brenda Charpentier, The New Hampshire Sunday News, 3 Jan. 2016

Did you know?

To many people, the noisy black and white birds that go by the scientific name Pica pica—better known as magpies—are nothing but pests. But the Latin root that was adopted for their name isn't a linguistic nuisance; it played an important role in the development of piebald. The pie of piebald (pie is another name for a magpie) derives from pica, which is Latin for "magpie." The other part of piebald comes from the word bald, which can mean "marked with white"; it can also be found in skewbald, an adjective used to describe animals marked with patches of white and any other color but black.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Tue, 04/19/2016 - 12:00am

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

koine • \koy-NAY\  • noun

1 : the Greek language commonly spoken and written in eastern Mediterranean countries in the Hellenistic and Roman periods

2 : a dialect or language of a region that has become the common or standard language of a larger area


"Examples of koines … include the Hindi/Bhojpuri varieties spoken in Fiji and South Africa, and the speech of 'new towns' such as Høyanger in Norway and Milton Keynes in England." — Paul Kerswill, in The Handbook of Language Variation and Change, 2013

"Hedrick has taken 30 hours of ancient languages—rendering him proficient in koine Greek, Aramaic and ancient Hebrew—and he tutored students in those subjects while in Greece." — Angela Spencer,, 28 Feb. 2016

Did you know?

Koine, which means "common" or "shared" in Greek, was the language spoken in the eastern Mediterranean countries from the 4th century B.C.E. until the time of the Byzantine emperor Justinian (mid-6th century C.E.). In linguistics, the word koine is applied to a language developed from contact between dialects of the same language over a large region. Basically, a koine adopts those grammatical and lexical elements from the dialects of the region that are easily recognized by most area speakers and dispenses with those that are not.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Mon, 04/18/2016 - 12:00am

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

unctuous • \UNK-chuh-wus\  • adjective

1 a : fatty, oily

b : smooth and greasy in texture or appearance

2 : plastic

3 : insincerely smooth in speech and manner


Anna was thankful that the unctuous man who first greeted her at the modeling agency would not be the person she would be working with.

"To make the most of its amazing qualities, marinate the lamb for a few hours and then slow-cook the meat. Over time, the layers of fat reduce to sticky, unctuous, lip-smacking perfection and help keep the meat moist…." — Ben Tish, The Guardian, 5 Mar. 2016

Did you know?

Nowadays, unctuous usually has a negative connotation, but it originated as a term describing a positive act, that of healing. The word comes from the Latin verb unguere ("to anoint"), a root that also gave rise to the words unguent ("a soothing or healing salve") and ointment. The oily nature of ointments may have led to the application of unctuous to describe things marked by an artificial gloss of sentimentality. An unctuous individual may mean well, but his or her insincere earnestness can leave an unwelcome residue with others, much like some ointments.

Categories: Fun Stuff