Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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

retronym • \REH-troh-nim\  • noun
: a term (such as analog watch or snail mail) that is newly created and adopted to distinguish the original or older version, form, or example of something from other, more recent versions, forms, or examples

"… first came paperback book, differentiated from a book with a cloth or leather binding, provoking the retronym hardcover book." — William Safire, The New York Times Magazine, November 18, 2007

''Nowadays we need such distinctions as free-range chickens, birth mother, natural blonde, … and manual toothbrushes. The faster we advance, the more retronyms we enlist." — David Astle, Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald, November 1, 2014

Did you know?
Remember way back when cameras used film? Back then, such devices were simply called cameras; they weren't specifically called film cameras until they needed to be distinguished from the digital cameras that came later. Similarly, the term desktop computer wasn't often used until laptops became prevalent. A lot of our common retronyms have come about due to technological advances: acoustic guitar emerged to contrast with electric guitar, and brick-and-mortar store to distinguish traditional stores from online retailers. Retronym was coined by Frank Mankiewicz, an American journalist and former president of National Public Radio, and first seen in print in 1980.

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Tue, 01/27/2015 - 12:00am

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

incontrovertible • \in-kahn-truh-VER-tuh-bul\  • adjective
: not open to question : indisputable

The manager presented the clerk's time card as incontrovertible evidence that the employee had been late for work all five days the previous week.

"No matter where you are on the political spectrum, the midterm elections produced one incontrovertible fact—there are more women in Congress than ever before." — Editorial Board, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 16, 2014

Did you know?
If something is indisputable, it's incontrovertible. But if it is open to question, is it controvertible? It sure is. The antonyms controvertible and incontrovertible are both derivatives of the verb controvert (meaning "to dispute or oppose by reasoning"), which is itself a spin-off of controversy. And what is the source of all of these controversial terms? The Latin adjective controversus, which literally means "turned against."

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Mon, 01/26/2015 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 26, 2015 is:

legerdemain • \lej-er-duh-MAYN\  • noun
1 : sleight of hand 2 : a display of skill and adroitness

The company's accountants used financial legerdemain to conceal its true revenues and avoided paying $2 million in taxes as a result.

"U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden is trying for a bit of late-session congressional magic to finally get some movement on proposals to increase federal timber harvests in western Oregon. The Oregon Democrat has pulled off some last-minute feats of legislative legerdemain in the past, so it's not at all out of the question that he can do it again…." — The Associated Press, November 17, 2014

Did you know?
In Middle French, folks who were clever enough to fool others with fast-fingered illusions were described as leger de main, literally "light of hand." English speakers condensed that phrase into a noun when they borrowed it in the 15th century and began using it as an alternative to the older sleight of hand. (That term for dexterity or skill in using one's hands makes use of sleight, an old word from Middle English that derives from an Old Norse word meaning "sly.") In more modern times, a feat of legerdemain can even be accomplished without using your hands, as in, for example, "an impressive bit of financial legerdemain."

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Sun, 01/25/2015 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 25, 2015 is:

constellate • \KAHN-stuh-layt\  • verb
1 : to unite in a cluster 2 : to set or adorn with or as if with constellations

"The members of the family seemed destined to constellate around a table, held by the gravity of our affection for each other." — Elsa M. Bowman, Christian Science Monitor, July 11, 1996

"The band is currently a three-piece, led by guitar-wielding singer Brett Kerr, 24, of North Muskegon. The group originally constellated around his songwriting in 2009." — Lou Jeannot, Muskegon (Michigan) Chronicle, July 1, 2010

Did you know?
It's plain that constellate is related to constellation, and, indeed, things that "constellate" (or "are constellated") cluster together like stars in a constellation. Both words derive ultimately from the Latin word for "star," which is stella. Constellation (which came to us by way of Middle French from Late Latin constellation-, constellatio) entered the language first—it dates to at least the 14th century. Constellate didn't appear until a full 300 years later.

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Sat, 01/24/2015 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 24, 2015 is:

evitable • \EV-uh-tuh-bul\  • adjective
: capable of being avoided

The investigator determined that the accident was certainly evitable and would not have happened if the driver hadn't been negligent.

"Books, journals, conventions, and electronic networks have made provincial isolation easily evitable…." — James Sledd, English Journal, November 1994

Did you know?
British author T. S. Eliot once gave a lecture at Trinity College (Cambridge, England) in which he spoke about "the disintegration of the intellect" in 19th century Europe, saying, "The 'disintegration' of which I speak may be evitable or inevitable, good or bad; to draw its optimistic or pessimistic conclusions is an occupation for prophets . . . of whom I am not one." Evitable, though not common, has been in English since the beginning of the 16th century; it's often found paired with its opposite, inevitable, as in Eliot's passage as well as in this self-reflection by Liverpool Echo writer Gary Bainbridge in March of 2014: "I have been thinking about my inevitable death, and decided I would like to make it a bit more evitable." Both words were borrowed from similar Latin adjectives, which in turn are based on the verb evitare, which means "to avoid."

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Fri, 01/23/2015 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 23, 2015 is:

anabasis • \uh-NAB-uh-sis\  • noun
1 : a going or marching up : advance; especially : a military advance 2 : a difficult and dangerous military retreat

Reluctantly, the general ordered a hasty anabasis in the face of overwhelming opposing forces.

"This German and Austro-Hungarian withdrawal from the Balkan Peninsula in the autumn of 1918 would presage a similar German anabasis…." — R. C. Hall, Balkan Breakthrough, 2010

Did you know?
The first sense of anabasis follows logically enough from its roots. In Greek, the word originally meant "inland march"; it is derived from anabainein, meaning "to go up or inland," which is formed by combining the prefix ana- ("up") and bainein ("to go"). The second and opposite sense, however, comes from an anabasis gone wrong. In 401 B.C., Greek mercenaries fighting for Cyrus the Younger marched into the Persian Empire only to find themselves cut off hundreds of miles from home. As a result, they were forced to undertake an arduous and embattled retreat across unknown territories. Xenophon, a Greek historian who accompanied the mercenaries on the march, wrote the epic narrative Anabasis about this experience, and consequently anabasis came to mean a dramatic retreat as well as an advance.

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Thu, 01/22/2015 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 22, 2015 is:

morganatic • \mor-guh-NAT-ik\  • adjective
: of, relating to, or being a marriage between a member of a royal or noble family and a person of inferior rank in which the rank of the inferior partner remains unchanged and the children of the marriage do not succeed to the titles, fiefs, or entailed property of the parent of higher rank

The king's son, the child of a morganatic marriage, will never rule.

"His marriage, when it came, was anything but conventional: a long-lasting morganatic alliance to actress Louisa Fairbrother, which produced several children but was never recognized by the queen." — Martin Rubin, The Washington Times, January 9, 2014

Did you know?
Although the deprivations imposed on the lower-ranking spouse by a morganatic marriage may seem like a royal pain in the neck, the word morganatic actually comes from a word for a marriage benefit. The New Latin term morganatica means "morning gift" and refers to a gift that a new husband traditionally gave to his bride on the morning after the marriage. So why was the New Latin phrase matrimonium ad morganaticam, which means literally "marriage with morning gift," the term for a morganatic marriage? Because it was just that—the wife got the morning gift, but that's all she was entitled to of her husband's possessions.

Categories: Fun Stuff


Wed, 01/21/2015 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 21, 2015 is:

pandiculation • \pan-dik-yuh-LAY-shun\  • noun
: a stretching and stiffening especially of the trunk and extremities (as when fatigued and drowsy or after waking from sleep)

"He was coming on to yawn. His breath sucked in the draught from the window. His shoulders hunched, his legs stretched to their toes, he made claws of his fingers in his hands—a fierce pandiculation of his limbs." — Jamie O'Neill, At Swim, Two Boys, 2001

"Carefully orchestrated pandiculations follow a routine: Lips part, the tongue hunkers down, and muscles in the face, mouth and diaphragm engage as the head tilts back." — Laura Sanders, Science News, May 7, 2011

Did you know?
Cat and dog owners who witness daily their pets' methodical body stretching upon awakening might wonder if there is a word to describe their routine—and there is: pandiculation. Pandiculation (which applies to humans too) is the medical term for the stretching and stiffening of the trunk and extremities, often accompanied by yawning, to arouse the body when fatigued or drowsy. The word comes from Latin pandiculatus, the past participle of pandiculari ("to stretch oneself"), and is ultimately derived from pandere, meaning "to spread." Pandere is also the source of expand.

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Tue, 01/20/2015 - 12:00am

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 20, 2015 is:

septentrional • \sep-TEN-tree-uh-nul\  • adjective
: northern

When he tired of the long, septentrional winters of New England, Grandfather retired to Florida.

"Once the tourists have filtered back to their septentrional homes in Europe, the men of Spetsai resume their norm of shooting birds…." — C. L. Sulzberger, The New York Times, September 28, 1986

Did you know?
Look to the northern night skies for the origin of septentrional. Latin Septentriones (or Septemtriones) refers to the seven stars in Ursa Major that make up the Big Dipper, or sometimes to the seven stars in Ursa Minor that comprise the Little Dipper. Because of the reliable northerly presence of these stars, Septentriones was extended to mean "northern quarter of the sky," or simply "the north"—hence, our borrowed adjective septentrional, meaning "northern." The noun septentrion also appears in works in Middle and Early Modern English to designate "northern regions" or "the north." In Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part III, for example, the Duke of York rebukes Queen Margaret, saying: "Thou art as opposite to every good … as the South to the Septentrion."

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Mon, 01/19/2015 - 12:00am

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

tintinnabulation • \tin-tuh-nab-yuh-LAY-shun\  • noun
1 : the ringing or sounding of bells 2 : a jingling or tinkling sound as if of bells

The tintinnabulation that could be heard throughout the village was from the church on the common announcing morning services.

"The song opens with the far-away electric tintinnabulation of an ice cream truck." — Colette McIntyre, Styleite, September 4, 2014

Did you know?
If the sound of tintinnabulation rings a bell, that may be because it traces to a Latin interpretation of the sound a ringing bell makes. Our English word derives from tintinnabulum, the Latin word for "bell." That Latin word, in turn, comes from the verb tintinnare, which means "to ring, clang, or jingle." Like the English terms "ting" and "tinkle," tintinnare originated with a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it—that is, it is onomatopoeic. Edgar Allan Poe celebrates the sonic overtones of tintinnabulation in his poem "The Bells," which includes lines about "the tintinnabulation that so musically wells / From the bells, bells, bells, bells, / Bells, bells, bells—/ From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Sun, 01/18/2015 - 12:00am

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

gratuitous • \gruh-TOO-uh-tuss\  • adjective
1 : done or provided without recompense : free 2 : not called for by the circumstances : unwarranted

John seems incapable of talking about anything he owns without a gratuitous reference to the amount of money he spent on it.

"Each gratuitous 'Mr.,' 'Mrs.,' 'Miss,' or 'Ms.' appeared not so much respectful as nostalgic, a yearning for a return to the days when all but the closest acquaintances addressed one another with titles and surnames." — Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune, December 10, 2014

Did you know?
Like gratitude, grace, and congratulate, gratuitous is a descendant of the Latin word gratus, which means "pleasing" or "grateful." When gratuitous was first used in the middle of the 17th century, it meant "free" or "given without return benefit or compensation." The extended meaning "done without good reason" or "unwarranted" came about just a few decades later, perhaps from the belief held by some people that one should not give something without getting something in return. Today, that extended meaning is the more common sense, often used in such phrases as "a gratuitous insult" or to describe elements of a story that are not relevant to the plot.

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Sat, 01/17/2015 - 12:00am

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

distemper • \dis-TEM-per\  • verb
: to throw out of order

Martha worried that employee morale at the company would be distempered if the rumored merger were to happen.

"The night was rightfully dedicated to much of the new album, 'Come On a Get It' opening the set while the Schoolhouse Rock-influenced 'Stand' and bolder still 'Rock Star City Life' distempered the more recognizable pellets in Kravitz's arsenal." — Selena Fragassi, PopMatters, February 15, 2013

Did you know?
If you temper something, you soften or dilute it by mixing in something else. You might, for example, temper wine with water or temper judgment with mercy. But what if you add the wrong thing and just end up with a big mess? That's the general idea behind distemper, which came to English in the 14th century from Late Latin distemperare ("to mix badly"). Nowadays, we often use the participial form distempered to refer to a mood that is affected by negative feelings. There's also the noun distemper, which can mean "bad humor or temper" or "a serious virus disease of dogs." Another noun and verb pair of distemper entered English centuries after our featured word. The noun refers to a painting process in which pigments are mixed with glutinous substances, like egg yolks or whites. The related verb means "to paint in or with distemper."

Categories: Fun Stuff

warp speed

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 12:00am

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

warp speed • \WORP-SPEED\  • noun
: the highest possible speed

When Mario saw Helen enter the elevator, he grabbed his laptop and vaulted down the stairs at warp speed to get to the meeting room ahead of her.

"You may have noticed that time, which is fleeting in the best of circumstances, has a way of moving at warp speed when you reach a certain age." — Ed Gebhart, Delaware County Daily Times, December 28, 2014

Did you know?
Warp speed is an example of a phrase that entered the public consciousness through science fiction and eventually gained enough popularity to end up in the dictionary. The expression was popularized on the science-fiction show Star Trek in the 1960s. On the show, warp speed referred to a specific concept, namely the idea of faster-than-light travel. Within a relatively short period of time, Star Trek gained a devoted and intense following. Fans were soon discussing the fictional concepts of the show, including warp speed, with great enthusiasm. Eventually, the term warp speed was adopted by the general population. In the process, however, it lost its specific fictional meaning and came to mean simply "the highest possible speed."

Categories: Fun Stuff


Thu, 01/15/2015 - 12:00am

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

Brobdingnagian • \brob-ding-NAG-ee-un\  • adjective
: marked by tremendous size

Our little dog was frightened by the Brobdingnagian proportions of the statues in the park.

"In a clever new show at the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Amy Toscani has mined thrift-store trinkets for inspiration and body parts for Brobdingnagian sculptures, whose huge scale dwarfs viewers." — Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), April 26, 2014

Did you know?
In Jonathan Swift's novel Gulliver's Travels, Brobdingnag is the name of a land that is populated by a race of human giants "as tall as an ordinary spire steeple." In Gulliver's first close-up encounter with the giants, he is attempting to get past a stile of which every step is six feet high when a group of field-workers approach with strides ten yards long and reaping hooks as large as six scythes. Their voices he at first mistakes for thunder. Swift's book fired the imagination of the public and within two years of the 1726 publication of the story, people had begun using Brobdingnagian to refer to anything of unusually large size. (Swift himself had used Brobdingnagian as a noun to refer to the inhabitants of Brobdingnag.)

Categories: Fun Stuff