Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

United States

Free daily dose of word power from Merriam-Webster's experts

Episodes

nudnik  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 23, 2017 is:

nudnik • \NOOD-nik (the "OO" is as in "good")\  • noun

: a person who is a bore or nuisance

Examples:

James worried that he would never finish his work if the office nudnik didn't quit hanging around his cubicle.

"Others may enjoy its gentle comedy, its plentiful caricatures and easy jokes, its lightweight tone. However, I found most of its characters to be obnoxious, insufferable nudniks who never shut up or mind their own business or resemble real human beings." — John Serba, The Flint (Michigan) Journal, 27 Mar. 2017

Did you know?

The suffix -nik came to English through Yiddish (and ultimately from Polish and Ukrainian). It means "one connected with or characterized by being." You might be familiar with beatnik, peacenik, or neatnik, but what about no-goodnik or allrightnik? The suffix -nik is frequently used in English to create nonce words that are often jocular or slightly derogatory. Some theorize that the popularity of the suffix was enhanced by Russian Sputnik, as well as Al Capp's frequent use of -nik words in his L'il Abner cartoons. The nud- of the Yiddish borrowing nudnik ultimately comes from the Polish nuda, meaning "boredom."



acerbic  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 22, 2017 is:

acerbic • \uh-SER-bik\  • adjective

: acid in temper, mood, or tone

Examples:

"It was [Dave Chappelle's] first comedy special in 17 years, and even though the specials were filmed in 2015 and 2016, they confirmed that Dave still had his … acerbic wit and impeccable comedic timing…." — Michael Harriot, The Root, 29 Mar. 2017

"It's tempting to view Tourist in This Town as a clean break from Crutchfield's previous music—a breakup record about a former bandmate that's reflected in a stark sonic departure from that band. But Crutchfield is still the same acerbic and fearless observer, her lyrics unflinchingly honest in their feminist perspective." — Nathan Tucker, The Portland (Oregon) Mercury, 22 Mar. 2017

Did you know?

English speakers created acerbic in the 19th century by adding -ic to the adjective acerb. Acerb had been around since the 17th century, but for most of that time it had been used only to describe foods with a sour taste. (Acerb is still around today, but now it's simply a less common synonym of acerbic.) Acerbic and acerb ultimately come from the Latin adjective acerbus, which can mean "harsh" or "unpleasant." Another English word that comes from acerbus is exacerbate, which means "to make more violent or severe."



philately  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 21, 2017 is:

philately • \fuh-LAT-uh-lee\  • noun

: the collection and study of postage and imprinted stamps : stamp collecting

Examples:

"With philately, it's not just the stamp that makes it valuable, but often the cancellation mark. Also, errors are considered good things." — Nancy Kennedy, The Citrus County (Florida) Chronicle, 5 June 2015

"Evidently, however, there is still enough interest in philately that local, national and international stamp shows are still regularly happening. San Diego has a Philatelic Council and an annual San Diego-based Sandical stamp show." — Karen Pearlman, The San Diego Union Tribune, 26 May 2016

Did you know?

Who wouldn't love something tax free? George Herpin did. He was a French stamp fancier back in the 1860s, when stamps were a fairly new invention. Before stamps, the recipient of a letter—not the sender—had to pay the postage. Stamps forced the sender to foot the bill, and created a lot of stamp lovers among folks on the receiving end of the mail—and a mania for stamp collecting. Timbromania was toyed with as a term to affix to this new hobby—from the French word for stamp, timbre. But when Herpin suggested philatélie (anglicized to philately), combining the Greek root phil-, meaning "loving," with Greek ateleia, meaning "tax-exemption," stamp lovers everywhere took a fancy to it and the name stuck.



baroque  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 20, 2017 is:

baroque • \buh-ROHK\  • adjective

1 : of, relating to, or having the characteristics of a style of artistic expression prevalent especially in the 17th century that is marked generally by use of complex forms, bold ornamentation, and the juxtaposition of contrasting elements often conveying a sense of drama, movement, and tension

2 : characterized by grotesqueness, extravagance, complexity, or flamboyance

Examples:

Though I was interested in the book's subject matter, I was put off by the baroque descriptions the author seemed to favor.

"The Rev. Canon Patrick Malloy, the priest who oversees arts-related projects at the cathedral …, said the idea was to recreate a Baroque chapel and show the tapestries differently from when they hung over the transepts." — James Barron, The New York Times, 21 Mar. 2017

Did you know?

Baroque came to English from the French word barroque, meaning "irregularly shaped." At first, the word in French was used mostly to refer to pearls. Eventually, it came to describe an extravagant style of art characterized by curving lines, gilt, and gold. This type of art, which was prevalent especially in the 17th century, was sometimes considered to be excessively decorated and overly complicated. It makes sense, therefore, that the meaning of the word baroque has broadened to include anything that seems excessively ornate or elaborate.



rebus  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 19, 2017 is:

rebus • \REE-bus\  • noun

: a representation of syllables or words by means of pictures or symbols; also : a riddle made up of such pictures or symbols

Examples:

The answer to yesterday's rebus, which showed a man on an ark, a spider web, and a spoon stirring coffee, was "Noah Webster."

"The books are rebuses: They combine normally written words with emojis that substitute for words or parts of words." — Jessica Roy, The Los Angeles Times, 14 Dec. 2016

Did you know?

A rebus communicates its message by means of pictures or symbols whose names sound like various parts of a word, phrase, or sentence. For example, a picture of a can of tomatoes followed by the letters UC and a picture of a well means "Can you see well?" In Latin, the word rebus means "by things"; rebus is a form of the Latin word res, which means "thing." English speakers started using the word rebus for picture writing in the early 1600s.



luscious  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 18, 2017 is:

luscious • \LUSH-us\  • adjective

1 : having a delicious sweet taste or smell

2 : sexually attractive

3 a : richly luxurious or appealing to the senses

b : excessively ornate

Examples:

"Stockman's abstract paintings … are simple yet luscious, with thick, sensuous, curved shapes in intense, vibrating hues." — Steffie Nelson, W, February 2017

"His exhortations of umami—that luscious, satisfying flavor, not exactly savory or sweet or sour or bitter, that the Japanese were the first to identify—whetted my curiosity. One night at dinner, a chef prepared a special batch of dashi—the umami-drenched base stock of Japanese soups—before my eyes, so I could observe and taste its alchemy as it brewed." — Liesl Schillinger, Vogue, March 2017

Did you know?

Have you ever heard a young child say something is "licius" when he or she really means it's "delicious"? Back in the Middle Ages, the word licius was sometimes used as a shortened form of delicious by adults and kids alike. Linguists believe that luscious developed when licius was further altered to lucius by 15th-century speakers. Both words ultimately derive from the Latin verb delicere, meaning "to entice by charm or attraction." The adjective lush, which can sometimes mean "delicious" as well, is not a shortened form of luscious; it derived on its own from the Middle English lusch, meaning "soft or tender."



castigate  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 17, 2017 is:

castigate • \KASS-tuh-gayt\  • verb

: to subject to severe punishment, reproof, or criticism

Examples:

Before sentencing, the judge angrily castigated the two young defendants for their malicious act of vandalism.

"You know, if [dandelions] weren't castigated as the No. 1 lawn weed, we all probably would love them. With their sunny little faces looking upward toward the sky and the strong, pointed green foliage, they really are beautiful plants." — Mary Stickley-Godinez, The Daily Progress (Charlottesville, VA), 24 Apr. 2017

Did you know?

Castigate has a synonym in chastise. Both verbs mean to punish or to censure someone. Fittingly, both words derive from the same root: the Latin castigare, formed from the words for "pure" (castus) and "to drive" (agere). (Castus also gave us the noun caste, meaning "social class or rank.") Another verb derived from castigare is chasten, which can also mean "to discipline by punishment" but more commonly means "to subdue or make humble" (as in "chastened by his foolish error"). Castigate is the youngest of the three verbs in English, dating from the early 17th century, while chasten dates to the early 16th century and chastise has been found in use as far back as the 14th.



hoodlum  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 16, 2017 is:

hoodlum • \HOOD-lum\  • noun

1 : thug; especially : a violent criminal

2 : a young ruffian

Examples:

The shaken couple tried to give the police an accurate physical description of the hoodlums who assailed them in the parking lot.

"The iconic opening shot of director Danny Boyle's 1996 'Trainspotting' was of junkie hoodlum Mark Renton's feet pounding the pavement while he and his mates bolted down an Edinburgh street pursued by police." — Sean Burns, WBUR.org, 23 Mar. 2017

Did you know?

A hoodlum can be anyone from a dangerous thug to a young person who's just up to no good. The exact origins of the word are not known, but one theory is that the word derives from hudelum, an adjective that means "disorderly" in dialects of German spoken in and around the region of Swabia. A similar-looking word for a young troublemaker is hooligan, but that word is not related to hoodlum; rather, it most likely derives from the name of Patrick Hooligan, an Irish youth purported to have wreaked havoc in the streets of Southwark, England, in the late 19th century.



hoodlum  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 16, 2017 is:

hoodlum • \HOOD-lum\  • noun

1 : thug; especially : a violent criminal

2 : a young ruffian

Examples:

The shaken couple tried to give the police an accurate physical description of the hoodlums who assailed them in the parking lot.

"The iconic opening shot of director Danny Boyle's 1996 'Trainspotting' was of junkie hoodlum Mark Renton's feet pounding the pavement while he and his mates bolted down an Edinburgh street pursued by police." — Sean Burns, WBUR.org, 23 Mar. 2017

Did you know?

A hoodlum can be anyone from a dangerous thug to a young person who's just up to no good. The exact origins of the word are not known, but one theory is that the word derives from hudelum, an adjective that means "disorderly" in dialects of German spoken in and around the region of Swabia. A similar-looking word for a young troublemaker is hooligan, but that word is not related to hoodlum; rather, it most likely derives from the name of Patrick Hooligan, an Irish youth purported to have wreaked havoc in the streets of Southwark, England, in the late 19th century.



peregrinate  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 15, 2017 is:

peregrinate • \PAIR-uh-gruh-nayt\  • verb

1 : to travel especially on foot : walk

2 : to walk or travel over : traverse

Examples:

"All my traveling life, 40 years of peregrinating Africa, Asia, South America and Oceania, I have thought constantly of home…." — Paul Theroux, The Smithsonian Magazine, September 2009

"Hundreds of passenger trains traversed millions of miles laden with travelers increasingly accustomed to peregrinating in style and comfort." — Dave Flessner, The Chattanooga (Tennessee) Times Free Press, 27 May 2015

Did you know?

We begin our narrative of the linguistic travels of peregrinate with the Latin word peregrinatus, the past participle of peregrinari, which means "to travel in foreign lands." The verb is derived from the Latin word for "foreigner," peregrinus, which was earlier used as an adjective meaning "foreign."That term also gave us the words pilgrim and peregrine, the latter of which once meant "alien" but is now used as an adjective meaning "tending to wander" and as a noun naming a kind of falcon. (The peregrine falcon is so named because it was traditionally captured during its first flight—or pilgrimage—from the nest.)



peregrinate  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 15, 2017 is:

peregrinate • \PAIR-uh-gruh-nayt\  • verb

1 : to travel especially on foot : walk

2 : to walk or travel over : traverse

Examples:

"All my traveling life, 40 years of peregrinating Africa, Asia, South America and Oceania, I have thought constantly of home…." — Paul Theroux, The Smithsonian Magazine, September 2009

"Hundreds of passenger trains traversed millions of miles laden with travelers increasingly accustomed to peregrinating in style and comfort." — Dave Flessner, The Chattanooga (Tennessee) Times Free Press, 27 May 2015

Did you know?

We begin our narrative of the linguistic travels of peregrinate with the Latin word peregrinatus, the past participle of peregrinari, which means "to travel in foreign lands." The verb is derived from the Latin word for "foreigner," peregrinus, which was earlier used as an adjective meaning "foreign."That term also gave us the words pilgrim and peregrine, the latter of which once meant "alien" but is now used as an adjective meaning "tending to wander" and as a noun naming a kind of falcon. (The peregrine falcon is so named because it was traditionally captured during its first flight—or pilgrimage—from the nest.)



indurate  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 14, 2017 is:

indurate • \IN-duh-rut\  • adjective

: physically or morally hardened

Examples:

"Anne-James Chaton, his indurate mien impassive and poker-faced, stands as still and stiff as a motorway signpost…." — Robert Barry, The Quietus, 24 July 2013

"In 1940, wildcat drillers bored about 900 feet into the indurate basalt in search of natural gas; they found a little, but not enough to warrant their trouble." — The Yakima (Washington) Herald-Republic, 18 Sep. 2013

Did you know?

Indurate is a hard word—in more than one way. Not only is it fairly uncommon in modern usage, but it also can be traced back to Latin durare, meaning "to harden." Durare can mean "to endure" as well, and appropriately indurate is a word that has lasted many years—it has been a part of the English language since the 14th century. Durare is also the root of other durable English words, including during, endure, duration, durance, and even durable itself. In addition, indurate can be a verb meaning "to make or grow hard," "to make unfeeling, stubborn, or obdurate," and "to establish firmly."



indurate  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 14, 2017 is:

indurate • \IN-duh-rut\  • adjective

: physically or morally hardened

Examples:

"Anne-James Chaton, his indurate mien impassive and poker-faced, stands as still and stiff as a motorway signpost…." — Robert Barry, The Quietus, 24 July 2013

"In 1940, wildcat drillers bored about 900 feet into the indurate basalt in search of natural gas; they found a little, but not enough to warrant their trouble." — The Yakima (Washington) Herald-Republic, 18 Sep. 2013

Did you know?

Indurate is a hard word—in more than one way. Not only is it fairly uncommon in modern usage, but it also can be traced back to Latin durare, meaning "to harden." Durare can mean "to endure" as well, and appropriately indurate is a word that has lasted many years—it has been a part of the English language since the 14th century. Durare is also the root of other durable English words, including during, endure, duration, durance, and even durable itself. In addition, indurate can be a verb meaning "to make or grow hard," "to make unfeeling, stubborn, or obdurate," and "to establish firmly."



microcosm  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 13, 2017 is:

microcosm • \MY-kruh-kah-zum\  • noun

1 : a little world; especially : the human race or human nature seen as an epitome of the world or the universe

2 : a community or other unity that is an epitome of a larger unity

Examples:

"The Mekong River Basin is a microcosm of the Earth's freshwater resources—it includes almost all of the natural forms freshwater takes on Earth: groundwater, lakes, ponds, streams, and wetlands." — Eleanor J. Sterling et al., Natural History, November 2007

"When walking through the district today, you see a microcosm of a city—a businessman walking next to a student, walking next to an artist, walking next to a parishioner—a true urban environment stitched together throughout 19 blocks and 68 acres. You see people of all ages, races, genders, shapes, and sizes living and breathing in the same space, creating a rich identity in and of itself." — Kim Butler, D Magazine, 7 Mar. 2017

Did you know?

A microcosm is a "little world"—mikros kosmos in Greek. The Greek term was modified to microcosmus in Medieval Latin. When early medieval scholars referred to humans as miniature embodiments of the natural universe, they either employed the Latin word microcosmus or they used the English translation, "less world." "Man is callyd the lasse worlde, for he shewyth in hymselfe lyknesse of all the worlde," wrote John Trevisa when he translated the Latin text of Bartholomaeus Anglicus' encyclopedia in the 14th century. But by the 15th century scholars had adopted an anglicized version of the Latin word, the word we use today—microcosm.



microcosm  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 13, 2017 is:

microcosm • \MY-kruh-kah-zum\  • noun

1 : a little world; especially : the human race or human nature seen as an epitome of the world or the universe

2 : a community or other unity that is an epitome of a larger unity

Examples:

"The Mekong River Basin is a microcosm of the Earth's freshwater resources—it includes almost all of the natural forms freshwater takes on Earth: groundwater, lakes, ponds, streams, and wetlands." — Eleanor J. Sterling et al., Natural History, November 2007

"When walking through the district today, you see a microcosm of a city—a businessman walking next to a student, walking next to an artist, walking next to a parishioner—a true urban environment stitched together throughout 19 blocks and 68 acres. You see people of all ages, races, genders, shapes, and sizes living and breathing in the same space, creating a rich identity in and of itself." — Kim Butler, D Magazine, 7 Mar. 2017

Did you know?

A microcosm is a "little world"—mikros kosmos in Greek. The Greek term was modified to microcosmus in Medieval Latin. When early medieval scholars referred to humans as miniature embodiments of the natural universe, they either employed the Latin word microcosmus or they used the English translation, "less world." "Man is callyd the lasse worlde, for he shewyth in hymselfe lyknesse of all the worlde," wrote John Trevisa when he translated the Latin text of Bartholomaeus Anglicus' encyclopedia in the 14th century. But by the 15th century scholars had adopted an anglicized version of the Latin word, the word we use today—microcosm.



grok  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 12, 2017 is:

grok • \GRAHK\  • verb

: to understand profoundly and intuitively

Examples:

"Understanding your character is as important as the lines. If you don't believe you are someone different, how will anyone else believe you? You must grok the role—or at least try." — Joseph Garcia, quoted in The Orange County (California) Register, 1 June 2014

"The Chronicle asked several insurance experts to read through the policy, which is written in impenetrable insurance-ese that makes it pretty hard for civilians to grok." — Carolyn Said, The San Francisco Chronicle, 27 Mar. 2014

Did you know?

Grok may be the only English word that derives from Martian. Yes, we do mean the language of the planet Mars. No, we're not getting spacey; we've just ventured into the realm of science fiction. Grok was introduced in Robert A. Heinlein's 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land. The book's main character, Valentine Michael Smith, is a Martian-raised human who comes to earth as an adult, bringing with him words from his native tongue and a unique perspective on the strange ways of earthlings. Grok was quickly adopted by the youth culture of America and has since peppered the vernacular of those who grok it.



grok  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 12, 2017 is:

grok • \GRAHK\  • verb

: to understand profoundly and intuitively

Examples:

"Understanding your character is as important as the lines. If you don't believe you are someone different, how will anyone else believe you? You must grok the role—or at least try." — Joseph Garcia, quoted in The Orange County (California) Register, 1 June 2014

"The Chronicle asked several insurance experts to read through the policy, which is written in impenetrable insurance-ese that makes it pretty hard for civilians to grok." — Carolyn Said, The San Francisco Chronicle, 27 Mar. 2014

Did you know?

Grok may be the only English word that derives from Martian. Yes, we do mean the language of the planet Mars. No, we're not getting spacey; we've just ventured into the realm of science fiction. Grok was introduced in Robert A. Heinlein's 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land. The book's main character, Valentine Michael Smith, is a Martian-raised human who comes to earth as an adult, bringing with him words from his native tongue and a unique perspective on the strange ways of earthlings. Grok was quickly adopted by the youth culture of America and has since peppered the vernacular of those who grok it.



supposititious  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 11, 2017 is:

supposititious • \suh-pah-zuh-TISH-us\  • adjective

1 a : fraudulently substituted : spurious

b : (of a child) falsely presented as a genuine heir : illegitimate

2 a : imaginary

b : of the nature of or based on a supposition : hypothetical

Examples:

"… James II's queen, Mary of Modena, gave birth to a son and heir, the future Old Pretender, whom William's supporters tried to discredit as a supposititious child, smuggled in via a warming-pan." — Keith Thomas, The Guardian, 5 Apr. 2008

"I sat looking at Peggotty for some time, in a reverie on this supposititious case: whether, if she were employed to lose me like the boy in the fairy tale, I should be able to track my way home again by the buttons she would shed." — Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, 1850

Did you know?

The Latin verb supponere, meaning "substitute," has several legitimate heirs in English, including supposititious (which dates from the early 17th century) and supposition (a 15th-century addition). The "fraudulent" and "illegitimate" meanings of supposititious trace back to supponere in a fairly direct route, whereas the "imaginary" and "hypothetical" meanings were influenced by the meanings of supposition. In legal contexts, supposititious is primarily used in its earlier senses, as in "a supposititious (fraudulent) will" or "the child was supposititious (illegitimate)." When something hypothetical is being considered, the synonymous adjective suppositious is often preferred over supposititious.



supposititious  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 11, 2017 is:

supposititious • \suh-pah-zuh-TISH-us\  • adjective

1 a : fraudulently substituted : spurious

b : (of a child) falsely presented as a genuine heir : illegitimate

2 a : imaginary

b : of the nature of or based on a supposition : hypothetical

Examples:

"… James II's queen, Mary of Modena, gave birth to a son and heir, the future Old Pretender, whom William's supporters tried to discredit as a supposititious child, smuggled in via a warming-pan." — Keith Thomas, The Guardian, 5 Apr. 2008

"I sat looking at Peggotty for some time, in a reverie on this supposititious case: whether, if she were employed to lose me like the boy in the fairy tale, I should be able to track my way home again by the buttons she would shed." — Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, 1850

Did you know?

The Latin verb supponere, meaning "substitute," has several legitimate heirs in English, including supposititious (which dates from the early 17th century) and supposition (a 15th-century addition). The "fraudulent" and "illegitimate" meanings of supposititious trace back to supponere in a fairly direct route, whereas the "imaginary" and "hypothetical" meanings were influenced by the meanings of supposition. In legal contexts, supposititious is primarily used in its earlier senses, as in "a supposititious (fraudulent) will" or "the child was supposititious (illegitimate)." When something hypothetical is being considered, the synonymous adjective suppositious is often preferred over supposititious.



erstwhile  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 10, 2017 is:

erstwhile • \ERST-wile\  • adverb

: in the past : formerly

Examples:

What had erstwhile been acres of wetland was eventually developed into a thriving residential neighborhood.

"The participants proceeded with civility and purpose. Meetings that erstwhile had taken entire days were concluded with agreement in an hour or two." — Greg Behrman, The Most Noble Adventure, 2007

Did you know?

The adverb erstwhile has been part of English since at least the 16th century, but it is formed from two words that are much older. It comes from the Old English words aer, meaning "early," and hwil, which has the same meaning as the modern word while. (The English word ere, meaning "before," is also a descendant of aer.) These days erstwhile is more likely to be encountered as an adjective, as in "erstwhile enemies." That adjective use is a much more recent development, having joined the language about three centuries after the adverb.



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