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

whimsical  

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

whimsical • \WIM-zih-kul\  • adjective

1 : full of, actuated by, or exhibiting capricious or eccentric and often sudden ideas or turns of the mind : relating to whims

2 a : resulting from or characterized by whim or caprice; especially : lightly fanciful

b : subject to erratic behavior or unpredictable change

Examples:

"In 2008, she decided to pursue a Master's in Library Science. The whimsical decision to work part-time at the library had created a love for helping people." — Matthew Crane, Dubois County (Indiana) Free Press, 5 Dec. 2016

"There is an ice bar offering cocktails and champagne, whimsical ice sculptures, and designs from artists in nine countries." — Talia Avakian, Travel + Leisure, 7 Dec. 2016

Did you know?

Whimsical and the related nouns whim and whimsy all ultimately derive from whim-wham, a noun from the early 16th century that originally referred to an ornamental object or trinket. Later whim-wham, with its fun sound, came to refer to a fantastic notion or odd fancy. The word's origin isn't clear, but it's worth noting that the similar-sounding flimflam had, in its earliest use, a similar meaning referring to an odd or nonsensical idea or tale. Whim naturally came about as a shortened form of whim-wham, and whimsy and whimsical eventually followed. Whimsical now describes more than just decisions made impulsively, but things resulting from an unrestrained imagination, as in "whimsical children's book characters."



raiment  

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

raiment • \RAY-munt\  • noun

: clothing, garments

Examples:

"On their arrival the station was lively with straw-hatted young men, welcoming young girls who bore a remarkable family likeness to their welcomers, and who were dressed up in the brightest and lightest of raiment." — Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure, 1895

"A deepest navy cashmere dressing robe with every edge trimmed in the finest white cord…. I wear this raiment while working at my desk." — Tom Wolfe, Esquire, 9 Aug. 2016

Did you know?

If you seek a fancy word to describe the clothes on your back, you have no shortage of colorful options. There's apparel and attire, certainly, as well as garments. Habiliments and vestments suggest clothes of a particular profession (as in "a clergyman's vestments"), while garb is effective for describing clothes of a particular style (as in "traditional Scottish garb"). If slang is more your game, try duds, rags, or threads. Raiment tends to appear mostly in classical contexts, though it pops up from time to time in contemporary English from authors looking to add a touch of formality. Raiment derives from Middle English, where it was short for arrayment, from the verb arrayen ("to array").



abstemious  

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

abstemious • \ab-STEE-mee-us\  • adjective

: marked by restraint especially in the consumption of food or alcohol; also : reflecting such restraint

Examples:

Allie's midlife heart attack opened her eyes to the importance of taking care of her body and turned her to a more abstemious and healthful lifestyle.

"He is so abstemious that he once declared that to avoid temptation, he would never appear anywhere alcohol was served unless his wife was with him." — Michael Barbaro and Monica Davey, The New York Times, 16 July 2016

Did you know?

Abstemious and abstain look alike, and both have meanings involving self-restraint or self-denial. So they must both come from the same root, right? Yes and no. Both get their start from the Latin prefix abs-, meaning "from" or "away." But abstain traces to the Latin abstinēre, a combination of abs- and the Latin verb tenēre ("to hold"), while abstemious comes from the Latin abstēmius, which combines abs- with tēm- (a stem found in the Latin tēmētum, "intoxicating beverage," and tēmulentus, "drunken") and the adjectival suffix -ius ("full of, abounding in, having, possessing the qualities of").



paladin  

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

paladin • \PAL-uh-din\  • noun

1 : a trusted military leader (as for a medieval prince)

2 : a leading champion of a cause

Examples:

The prince summoned the paladin to commend him for his actions in battle.

"This collection of stories by one of England's best novelists is both playful and serious in the manner of Laurence Sterne, the 18th-century author of 'Tristram Shandy'…. Sterne was the master of the marginal, the random, the inconsequential. In our own day, David Foster Wallace, Geoff Dyer and Ali Smith have become the paladins of this goofy manner." — Edmund White, The New York Times, 2 Dec. 2016

Did you know?

In ancient Rome, the emperor's palace was located on the Palatine Hill, known as Palatium in Latin. Since the site was the seat of imperial power, the word palatium came to mean "imperial" and later "imperial official." Different forms of the word passed through Latin, Italian, and French, picking up various meanings along the way, and eventually some of those forms made their way into English. Paladin is one of the etymological heirs of palatium; another descendant is the word palace.



cantankerous  

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

cantankerous • \kan-TANK-uh-rus\  • adjective

: difficult or irritating to deal with

Examples:

"[Kenneth] Lonergan's brow was furrowed, and he was speaking, as he often does, in a low, growling mumble.… Among his theatre and movie-industry peers, he is famous for being famously cantankerous." — Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, 7 Nov. 2016

"Far from being cantankerous, she says [Roald] Dahl was endlessly ingenious in his desire to amuse, even when mortally ill, and only grumpy when finishing a book." — Elizabeth Gricehow, The Daily Telegraph (London), 12 Nov. 2016

Did you know?

It's irritating, but we're not absolutely sure where cantankerous comes from. Etymologists think it probably derived from the Middle English word contack (or contek), which meant "contention" or "strife." Their idea is that cantankerous may have started out as contackerous but was later modified as a result of association or confusion with rancorous (meaning "spiteful") and cankerous (which describes something that spreads corruption of the mind or spirit). Considering that a cantankerous person generally has the spite associated with contack and rancor, and the noxious and sometimes painful effects of a canker, that theory seems plausible. What we can say with conviction is that cantankerous has been used in English since at least the 1730s.



neologism  

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

neologism • \nee-AH-luh-jiz-um\  • noun

1 : a new word, usage, or expression

2 : (psychology) a new word that is coined especially by a person affected with schizophrenia and is meaningless except to the coiner

Examples:

The novelist's latest book is peppered with numerous slang words and neologisms that might not be familiar to some readers.

"Borrowing a friend's neologism, [the British writer Simon] Parkin uses the term 'chronoslip' to describe the way video games affect one's sense of time, numbing one to its passing." — Christopher Byrd, The Washington Post, 31 July 2016

Did you know?

The English language is constantly picking up neologisms. In recent decades, for example, computer technology has added a number of new terms to the language. Webinar, malware, netroots, and blogosphere are just a few examples of modern-day neologisms that have been integrated into American English. The word neologism was itself a brand-new coinage in the latter half of the 18th century, when English speakers borrowed the French term néologisme. The word's roots are quite old, ultimately tracing back to ancient Greek neos, meaning "new," and logos, meaning "word."



effrontery  

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

effrontery • \ih-FRUN-tuh-ree\  • noun

: shameless boldness : insolence

Examples:

Holly could not believe the effrontery of the student who asked that her grade be changed even though she had completed little of the coursework.

"'I [Amanda Seyfried] once made a pecan pie for a guy I was dating, and we had a nice meal … with friends, and then that night, when we were alone, he said, "Did you really make that pie?"' She pauses to let the injustice, the sheer effrontery, of the question settle in. 'I mean, who says that?'" — David Denicolo, Allure, November 2016

Did you know?

To the Romans, the shameless were "without forehead," at least figuratively. Effrontery derives from Latin effrons, a word that combines the prefix ex- (meaning "out" or "without") and frons (meaning "forehead" or "brow"). The Romans never used effrons literally to mean "without forehead," and theorists aren't in full agreement about the connection between the modern meaning of effrontery and the literal senses of its roots. Some explain that frons can also refer to the capacity for blushing, so a person without frons would be "unblushing" or "shameless." Others theorize that since the Romans believed that the brow was the seat of a person's modesty, being without a brow meant being "immodest" or, again, "shameless."



lachrymose  

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

lachrymose • \LAK-ruh-mohss\  • adjective

1 : given to tears or weeping : tearful

2 : tending to cause tears : mournful

Examples:

"… [Art] Garfunkel has always been partial to lachrymose sentiment. Listen, for instance, to his 1979 hit Bright Eyes, a song that targets the tear duct … and here summed up the tone of the evening." — Patrick Smith, The Daily Telegraph (London), 24 June 2016

"'Hallelujah' found a natural home in the hospital shows of the late-2000s, and it was frequently called upon to lend extra gravitas to a patient's dramatic death. On a particularly lachrymose episode of 'General Hospital,' the staff sings 'Hallelujah' as they bus into the mountains for a ski trip. The song then returns after their bus crashes in the snow." — Nick Murray, The New York Times, 21 Sept. 2016

Did you know?

The adjective lachrymose comes from Latin lacrimosus (from the noun lacrima, meaning "tear"). Lachrymose didn't appear in English until around 1727, but another closely related adjective can be traced back to the 15th century. This earlier cousin, lachrymal (sometimes spelled lacrimal, particularly in its scientific applications), has a scientific flavor and is defined as "of, relating to, or being glands that produce tears" or "of, relating to, or marked by tears." In contrast, lachrymose typically applies to someone who is moved to tears because of strong emotions or to something that stimulates such feelings.



gambol  

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

gambol • \GAM-bul\  • verb

: to skip about in play : frisk, frolic

Examples:

From her cabana, Candace watched her three children gambol in the ocean waves.

"… Canandaigua has now joined the list of communities … where jittery citizens have reported the appearance of scary clowns. A few instances have involved real people gamboling in public in clown suits for reasons only they understand, though many of the 'sightings' have turned out to be hoaxes or exaggerations…." — Steve Orr, Rochester (New York) Democrat and Chronicle, 4 Oct. 2016

Did you know?

In Middle French, the noun gambade referred to the frisky spring of a jumping horse. In the early 1500s, English speakers adopted the word as gambol as both a verb and a noun. (The noun means "a skipping or leaping about in play.") The English word is not restricted to horses, but rather can be used of any frolicsome creature. It is a word that suggests levity and spontaneity, and it tends to be used especially of the lively activity of children or animals engaged in active play.



jitney  

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

jitney • \JIT-nee\  • noun

1 : a small bus that carries passengers over a regular route on a flexible schedule

2 : an unlicensed taxicab

Examples:

After doing some shopping along the boardwalk, we boarded a jitney whose route took us back to our hotel.

"Another option, especially if you're staying along Cable Beach or areas west, is to hop a ride on the jitneys into and out of Downtown Nassau, a great way to chat with locals who are doing the same thing (each ride is about $1.50)." — Kaeli Conforti, BudgetTravel.com, 14 Nov. 2016

Did you know?

Jitneys weren't worth a dime—just a nickel. In the early 1900s, jitney was slang for "nickel," but it wasn't long before the term was applied to a new mode of public transportation that only cost a nickel. When they were introduced in American cities at the beginning of the century, vehicular jitneys could be any automobiles that carried passengers over a set route for a cheap fare, but eventually the term was applied specifically to small buses—and, nowadays, to the motor shuttles used by airlines and hotels). In the mid-1900s, the word jitney was combined with jeep to create a new coinage: jeepney, meaning "a Philippine jitney bus converted from a jeep."



immutable  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 9, 2017 is:

immutable • \ih-MYOO-tuh-bul\  • adjective

: not capable of or susceptible to change

Examples:

"There's an immutable attraction between fingers and potato chips, making resistance, as the saying goes, futile." — Michele Henry, The Toronto Star, 30 Nov. 2016

"Like much of the American heartland, the summertime landscape in Iowa's Webster County is dominated by several immutable features: hot sun and lots of it; a ruler-straight grid of byways …; shining grain silos towering above the plains; and farmhouses…." — Michelle Donahue, PCMag.com, 8 Nov. 2016

Did you know?

Immutable comes to us through Middle English from Latin immutabilis, meaning "unable to change." Immutabilis was formed by combining the negative prefix in- with mutabilis, which comes from the Latin verb mutare and means "to change." Some other English words that can be traced back to mutare are commute (the earliest sense of which is simply "to change or alter"), mutate ("to undergo significant and basic alteration"), permute ("to change the order or arrangement of"), and transmute ("to change or alter in form, appearance, or nature"). There's also the antonym of immutable—mutable—which of course can mean "prone to change" and "capable of change or of being changed."



haberdasher  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 8, 2017 is:

haberdasher • \HAB-er-dash-er\  • noun

1 : (British) a dealer in notions (such as needles, thread, buttons, etc.)

2 : a dealer in men's clothing and accessories

Examples:

Mr. Watson planned to visit the haberdasher during the week to buy some new shirts for his wardrobe.

"There was a time when downtown St. Louis was known for its clothing and shoe companies, haberdashers and other apparel businesses." — Julia M. Johnson, St. Louis Business Journal, 27 Oct. 2016

Did you know?

At various times throughout its history, the term haberdasher has referred to a dealer of hats or caps, a seller of notions (sewing supplies, such as needles and thimbles), and apparently (perhaps somewhat coyly) to a person who sells liquor. Nowadays, with hats not being as fashionable as they once were, the word mostly is applied generally as a clothing outfitter for men, with haberdashery referring to the establishment or the goods sold there. Haberdasher derives via Middle English from hapertas, an Anglo-French word for a kind of cloth, as does the obsolete noun haberdash, which once meant petty merchandise or small wares.



beguile  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 7, 2017 is:

beguile • \bih-GHYLE\  • verb

1 : to lead by deception

2 : to deceive by cunning means

3 : to draw notice or interest by wiles or charm

4 : to cause (as time) to pass in a pleasant manner

Examples:

The carnival barker beguiled Ricky into buying a chance at the target-shooting game, even though it was all but impossible to win.

"The elusive and suddenly quite prolific Terrence Malick is fascinated, and beguiled, by nothing less than the legacy of all existence in his long-gestating, avant-nature doc Voyage of Time…." — Sam C. Mac, Slant Magazine, 21 Nov. 2016

Did you know?

Deceive, mislead, delude, and beguile all mean "to lead astray" or "to frustrate," usually by underhandedness. Deceive implies imposing a false idea or belief that causes ignorance, bewilderment, or helplessness (as in "they tried to deceive me about the cost"). Mislead implies a leading astray that may or may not be intentional (as in "I was misled by the confusing sign"). Delude implies deceiving so thoroughly as to obscure the truth (as in "we were deluded into thinking we were safe"). Beguile stresses the use of charm and persuasion in deceiving (as in "they were beguiled by false promises"), and more generally describes the use of that charm to capture another's attention.



factitious  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 6, 2017 is:

factitious • \fak-TISH-us\  • adjective

1 : produced by humans rather than by natural forces

2 a : formed by or adapted to an artificial or conventional standard

b : produced by special effort : sham

Examples:

"For all the factitious factoids about state education spending, the reality from the federal government and even the nation's largest teachers union is that Pennsylvania far outspends most states—and by a comfortable margin." — The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 24 June 2016

"Brucie's worsening situation, like many events in Sweat's early scenes, is a harbinger of bad economic times that ultimately afflict all the characters. Nottage takes her time, piling up the details carefully and compassionately; Kate Whoriskey's direction keeps the action taut without any factitious pressuring." — Michael Feingold, The Village Voice, 9 Nov. 2016

Did you know?

Like the common words fact and factual, factitious ultimately comes from the Latin verb facere, meaning "to do" or "to make." But in current use, factitious has little to do with things factual and true—in fact, factitious often implies the opposite. The most immediate ancestor of factitious is the Latin adjective facticius, meaning "made by art" or "artificial." When English speakers first adopted the word as factitious in the 17th century, it meant "produced by human effort or skill" (rather than arising from nature). This meaning gave rise to such meanings as "artificial" and "false" or "feigned."



maelstrom  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 5, 2017 is:

maelstrom • \MAIL-strum\  • noun

1 : a powerful often violent whirlpool sucking in objects within a given radius

2 : something resembling a maelstrom in turbulence

Examples:

The mayor has been swept up in the media maelstrom surrounding the laundering of thousands of dollars in state funds by city officials.

"The dark eye of Saturn's northern polar storm dominates the top left portion of the image, while smaller storms can be seen embedded in the surrounding maelstrom of the hexagon-shaped jet stream." — Anthony Wood, New Atlas (newatlas.com), 7 Dec. 2016

Did you know?

Maelstrom comes from an early Dutch proper noun that is a combination of the verb malen ("to grind") and the noun stroom ("stream"). The original Maelstrom, now known as the Moskstraumen, is a channel located off the northwest coast of Norway that has dangerous tidal currents and has been popularized among English speakers by writers such as Edgar Allan Poe and Jules Verne (whose writing was widely translated from French) in stories exaggerating the Maelstrom's tempestuousness and transforming it into a whirling vortex. Maelstrom entered English in the 16th century and was soon applied more generally in reference to any powerful whirlpool. By the mid-19th century, it was being applied figuratively to things or situations resembling such maelstroms in turbulence or confusion.



deem  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 4, 2017 is:

deem • \DEEM\  • verb

1 : to come to think or judge : consider

2 : to have an opinion : believe

Examples:

The covered bridge was closed to automobile traffic for the winter because town officials deemed it a hazard to motorists.

"Being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is something I never could have imagined or seen coming. From an early age, I've been familiar with and reading and absorbing the works of those who were deemed worthy of such a distinction: Kipling, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, Albert Camus, Hemingway. These giants of literature … have always made a deep impression." — Bob Dylan, speech, 10 Dec. 2016

Did you know?

In the Middle Ages, demen was a fateful word. Closely related to doom, this precursor of deem meant "to act as a judge" or "to sentence, condemn, or decree." These meanings passed to deem itself, but we haven't used deem to mean "to legally condemn" since the early 17th century. Though deem is still frequently used in contexts pertaining to the law, today it means "to judge" only in a broader sense of "to decide (something specified) after inquiry and deliberation," as in "the act was deemed unlawful" or "the defendant is deemed to have agreed to the contract." Outside of the law, deem usually means simply "to consider." Some usage commentators consider deem pretentious, but its use is well established in both literary and journalistic contexts. We deem it perfectly acceptable.



oligopsony  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 3, 2017 is:

oligopsony • \ah-luh-GAHP-suh-nee\  • noun

: a market situation in which each of a few buyers exerts a disproportionate influence on the market

Examples:

The small number of supermarkets in the region has created an oligopsony in which the stores can dictate the price they pay to farmers for meat and fresh produce.

"Under the crude oil export ban, domestic refineries were granted an oligopsony. Now oil companies will have more pricing power, which stands to boost their profits even if it doesn't lead to one extra drop of oil coming out of the ground." — Ben Adler, Grist, 31 Dec. 2015

Did you know?

You're probably familiar with the word monopoly, but you may not recognize its conceptual and linguistic relative, the much rarer oligopsony. Both monopoly and oligopsony are ultimately from Greek, although monopoly passed through Latin before being adopted into English. Monopoly comes from the Greek prefix mono-, which means "one," and pōlein, "to sell." Oligopsony derives from the combining form olig-, meaning "few," and the Greek noun opsōnia—"the purchase of victuals"—which is ultimately from the combination of opson, "food," and ōneisthai, "to buy." It makes sense, then, that oligopsony refers to a monopsony, used for a more extreme oligopsony in which there is only a single buyer.



baleful  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 2, 2017 is:

baleful • \BAIL-ful\  • adjective

1 : deadly or pernicious in influence

2 : foreboding or threatening evil

Examples:

"His face might have been chiselled out of marble, so hard and set was its expression, while its eyes glowed with a baleful light." — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet, 1887

"Out of nowhere, a huge fad sweeps the country. It dominates social media and leads to a blizzard of think pieces, which are followed almost immediately by a backlash, as critics warn of the fad’s baleful consequences." — James Surowiecki, The New Yorker, July 25, 2016

Did you know?

The bale of baleful comes from Old English bealu ("evil"), and the bane of the similar-looking baneful comes from Old English bana ("slayer" or "murderer"). Baleful and baneful are alike in meaning as well as appearance, and they are sometimes used in quite similar contexts—but they usually differ in emphasis. Baleful typically describes what threatens or portends evil (e.g., "a baleful look," "baleful predictions"). Baneful applies typically to what causes evil or destruction (e.g., "a baneful secret," "the baneful bite of the serpent"). Both words are used to modify terms like influence, effect, and result, and in such uses there is little that distinguishes them.



rejuvenate  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 1, 2017 is:

rejuvenate • \rih-JOO-vuh-nayt\  • verb

1 : to make young or youthful again : give new vigor to

2 : to restore to an original or new state

Examples:

The new arts complex and adjacent businesses have rejuvenated the city and turned downtown into a destination for visitors.

"I was drained. When I started thinking about doing another album, I had all this self-doubt. I didn't think the songs would be any good. But I pushed through, and when 'Slipstream' was so well-received, it rejuvenated me." — Bonnie Raitt, quoted in The Chicago Tribune, 18 Mar. 2016

Did you know?

Rejuvenate originated as a combination of the prefix re-, which means "again," with a Latin term that also gave us the words juvenile and junior—juvenis, meaning "young." Rejuvenate literally means "to make young again" and can imply a restoration of physical or mental strength or a return to a more youthful, healthy condition, as when you try to rejuvenate your skin with moisturizer. You can also rejuvenate things that are timeworn. For instance, a lackluster brand can be rejuvenated by a new marketing campaign.



zeitgeist  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 31, 2016 is:

zeitgeist • \TSYTE-gyste\  • noun

: (often capitalized Zeitgeist) the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era

Examples:

The movie does an excellent job of capturing the zeitgeist of the dot-com boom.

"The people making the product are the same demographic as the people using the product. They don't have to rely on research and data to inform product decisions—they're just making things that they themselves want to use based on the zeitgeist of their generation." — Rachel Pasqua, quoted in Adweek, 3 Nov. 2016

Did you know?

Scholars have long maintained that each era has a unique spirit, a nature or climate that sets it apart from all other epochs. In German, such a spirit is known as Zeitgeist, from the German words Zeit, meaning "time," and Geist, meaning "spirit" or "ghost." Some writers and artists assert that the true zeitgeist of an era cannot be known until it is over, and several have declared that only artists or philosophers can adequately explain it. We don't know if that's true, but we do know that zeitgeist has been a useful addition to the English language since at least 1835.



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