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

fester  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 27, 2017 is:

fester • \FESS-ter\  • verb

1 : to generate pus

2 : putrefy, rot

3 a : to cause increasing poisoning, irritation, or bitterness : rankle 

b : to undergo or exist in a state of progressive deterioration

Examples:

"For more than a generation, instead of forging a path to reconciliation, we have allowed the wounds the war inflicted on our nation, our politics and our families to fester." — Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, The New York Times, 29 May 2017

"Tunisians have made tremendous progress. Yet their experiment is teetering on the brink. The economy is stuck in the doldrums. Poverty and corruption fester." — Christian Caryl, The Washington Post, 26 May 2017

Did you know?

Fester entered English in the 14th century. It was used as we now use the word fistula for an abnormal passage leading from an abscess or hollow organ and permitting passage of fluids or secretions. It was also applied as a word for a sore that discharges pus. The connection between fester and fistula is no accident—both descend from Latin fistula, which has the same meaning as the English word but can also mean "pipe" or "tube" or "a kind of ulcer." Fester made the trip from Latin to English by way of Anglo-French. The word's use as a verb meaning "to generate pus" has also developed extended senses implying a worsening state.



akimbo  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 26, 2017 is:

akimbo • \uh-KIM-boh\  • adjective or adverb

1 : having the hand on the hip and the elbow turned outward

2 : set in a bent position

Examples:

The model, arms akimbo, struck a pose at the end of the runway.

"Off the kitchen, the metal skeleton of what is supposed to be a human-size dinosaur puppet sits akimbo." — Kayla Epstein, The Washington Post, 30 Apr. 2017

Did you know?

It's akimbo nowadays, but in Middle English, the adverbial phrase in kenebowe was used for the bent, hand-on-hip arm (or later, for any bent position). Originally, the term was fairly neutral, but now saying that a person is standing with "arms akimbo" implies a posture that communicates defiance, confidence, aggressiveness, or arrogance. In her novel Little Women, Louisa May Alcott took the word one step further, extending it into the figurative realm when she explained that tomboyish Jo had not been invited to participate in an elegant event with the other young ladies of the neighborhood because "her elbows were decidedly akimbo at this period of her life."



wreak  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 25, 2017 is:

wreak • \REEK\  • verb

1 : to cause the infliction of (vengeance or punishment)

2 : to give free play or course to (malevolent feeling)

3 : bring about, cause

Examples:

"A cheeky peacock has wreaked havoc inside a California liquor store, smashing over $500 worth of expensive wine and champagne." — Heat Street, 7 June 2017

"Don't be fooled by Mike Brown's big smile and happy-go-lucky demeanor. The Golden State Warriors' acting head coach is probably salivating over his chance to wreak brutal vengeance against the Cleveland Cavaliers—the team that fired him twice." — Chuck Barney, The Mercury News (San Jose, California), 7 June 2017

Did you know?

Wreak is a venerable word that first appeared in Old English as wrecan, meaning "to drive, drive out, punish, or avenge." Wrecan is related to a number of similar words in the Germanic languages, including Middle Dutch wreken ("to punish, avenge"), Old High German rehhan ("to avenge"), Old Norse reka ("to drive, push, or avenge"), and Gothic wrikan ("to persecute"). It may also be related to Latin urgēre ("to drive on, urge"), the source of the English verb urge. In modern English, vengeance is a common object of the verb wreak, reflecting one of its earlier uses in the sense "to take vengeance for"—as when Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus proclaims "We will solicit heaven, and move the gods / To send down Justice for to wreak our wrongs."



haphazard  

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 24, 2017 is:

haphazard • \hap-HAZZ-erd\  • adjective

: marked by lack of plan, order, or direction

Examples:

"… his intense work ethic has made such a feat of releasing back-to-back projects appear effortless, conscious and polished, as opposed to what could have been … a haphazard effort scrapping together 34 assorted tracks from his never-ending archive." — Billboard.com, 24 Feb. 2017

"Once the taxidermy is set up and artists escorted out, the doors to the exhibit hall are closed.… The hall is large and chilly, the scene is otherworldly, a haphazard zoo suspended in time, bald eagles perched beside African lions reclining beside wild turkeys standing beside trunkfish swimming alongside cape buffalo and snow leopards." — Christopher Borrelli, The Chicago Tribune, 28 May 2017

Did you know?

The hap in haphazard comes from an English word that means "happening," as well as "chance or fortune," and that derives from the Old Norse word happ, meaning "good luck." Perhaps it's no accident that hazard also has its own connotations of luck: while it now refers commonly to something that presents danger, at one time it referred to a dice game similar to craps. (The name ultimately derives from the Arabic al-zahr, meaning "the die.") Haphazard first entered English as a noun (again meaning "chance") in the 16th century, and soon afterward was being used as an adjective to describe things with no apparent logic or order.



advise  

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

advise • \ud-VYZE\  • verb

1 a : to give a recommendation about what should be done : to give advice to

b : caution, warn

c : recommend

2 : to give information or notice to : inform

3 : to talk with someone in order to decide what should be done : consult

Examples:

Betty's doctor advised her to exercise more carefully if she hoped to avoid re-injuring her sprained ankle.

"Many travelers underestimate the costs of meals, snacks and tips, says guidebook author James Kaiser. He advises bringing your own food or buying it at a store when you arrive at your destination to save money." — Devon Delfino, The Cherokee County (Kansas) News-Advocate, 23 May 2017

Did you know?

Today's word was borrowed into Middle English in the 14th century as avise (spelling variants with the d found in the Modern English advise began showing up in the 15th century). The word is derived from the Anglo-French aviser, itself from avis, meaning "opinion." That avis is not to be confused with the Latin word avis, meaning "bird" (an ancestor of such English words as avian and aviation). Instead, it results from the Old French phrase ce m'est a vis ("that appears to me"), a partial translation of Latin mihi visum est, "it seemed so to me" or "I decided." We advise you to remember that the verb advise is spelled with an s, whereas the related noun advice includes a stealthy c.



tare  

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

tare • \TAIR\  • noun

1 : a deduction from the gross weight of a substance and its container made in allowance for the weight of the container; also : the weight of the container

2 : counterweight

Examples:

Factoring in a tare of 10,000 pounds for the trailer, the transportation officer determined that the truck's cargo load still exceeded the legal limit.

"I hooked my scale to the net, grabbing a tare weight that required me to double-check: '12 lb 3 oz' read the digital display. Subtracting the '1 lb 15 oz' reading of my net by itself, my eyes widened at the realization that this 10.25-pound fish was my heaviest to-date." — Luke Ovgard, The Herald & News (Klamath Falls, Oregon), 19 May 2017

Did you know?

Tare came to English by way of Middle French from the Old Italian term tara, which is itself from the Arabic word ṭarḥa, meaning "that which is removed." One of the first known written records of the word tare in English is found in the naval inventories of Britain's King Henry VII. The record shows two barrels of gunpowder weighing, "besides the tare," 500 pounds. When used of vehicles, tare weight refers to a vehicle's weight exclusive of any load. The term tare is closely tied to net weight, which is defined as "weight excluding all tare."



gauche  

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

gauche • \GOHSH\  • adjective

1 : lacking social experience or grace; also : not tactful : crude

2 : crudely made or done

Examples:

"We were described by our parents as classless and free, but instructed that chewing gum was gauche." — Kira von Eichel-Butler, Vogue, October 2016

"The second thing I did was request soy sauce, which wasn't on the table. The waiter managed to remain calm and respectful while dryly informing me that all necessary condiments are already infused into the dishes in the appropriate combinations. My request had apparently been quite gauche…." — Gene Weingarten, The Key West (Florida) Citizen, 21 May 2017

Did you know?

Gauche is one of several words that come from old suspicions or negative associations surrounding the left side and use of the left hand. In French, gauche literally means "left," and it has the extended meanings "awkward" and "clumsy." These meanings may have come about because left-handed people could appear awkward trying to manage in a right-handed world, or perhaps they came about because right-handed people appear awkward when they try to use their left hand. In fact, awkward comes from the Middle English awke, meaning "turned the wrong way" or "left-handed." On the other hand, adroit and dexterity have their roots in words meaning "right" or "on the right side."



crucible  

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

crucible • \KROO-suh-bul\  • noun

1 : a vessel in which metals or other substances are heated to a very high temperature or melted

2 : a severe test

3 : a place or situation in which concentrated forces interact to cause or influence change or development

Examples:

Living in the crucible that was Paris in the spring of 1968, Remi got to witness firsthand the angry confrontations between workers, students, and government.

"They each also possess, in their own way, a startling self-awareness and self-possession forged by the crucibles they and their families endured." — John Nagy, The Pilot (Southern Pines, North Carolina), 6 May 2017

Did you know?

Crucible looks like it should be closely related to the Latin combining form cruc- ("cross"), but it isn't. It was forged from the Medieval Latin crucibulum, a noun for an earthen pot used to melt metals, and in English it first referred to a vessel made of a very heat-resistant material (such as porcelain) used for melting a substance that requires a high degree of heat. But the resemblance between cruc- and crucible probably encouraged people to start using crucible to mean "a severe trial." That sense is synonymous with one meaning of cross, a word that is related to cruc-. The newest sense of crucible ("a situation in which great changes take place"—as in "forged in the crucible of war") recalls the fire and heat that would be encountered in the original heat-resistant pot.



edacious  

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

edacious • \ih-DAY-shus\  • adjective

1 : having a huge appetite : ravenous

2 : excessively eager : insatiable

Examples:

Living with three edacious teenagers, Marilyn and Roger were dismayed by how much they had to spend on groceries week after week.

"... Stone's narrative prowess had been such as to infect me ... with his Weltschmerz. In fairness, Stone alone was not to blame. For too many years my edacious reading habits had been leading me into one unappealing corner after another...." — Tom Robbins, Harper's, September 2004

Did you know?

Tempus edax rerum. That wise Latin line by the Roman poet Ovid translates as "Time, the devourer of all things." Ovid's correlation between rapaciousness and time is appropriate to a discussion of edacious. That English word is a descendant of Latin edax, which is a derivative of the verb edere, meaning "to eat." In its earliest known English uses, edacious meant "of or relating to eating." It later came to be used generally as a synonym of voracious, and it has often been used specifically in contexts referring to time. That's how Scottish essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle used it when he referred to events "swallowed in the depths of edacious Time."



vindicate  

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

vindicate • \VIN-duh-kayt\  • verb

1 : avenge

2 a : to free from allegation or blame

b : confirm, substantiate 

c : to provide justification or defense for : justify

d : to protect from attack or encroachment : defend

3 : to maintain a right to

Examples:

The defendant's lawyer feels his client will be completely vindicated by the witness' testimonies.

"For us comic book fans back in that dark age of aesthetic awareness, the 'Batman' show meant significantly more. Its unexpected popularity briefly vindicated our obsession with what was considered inappropriate reading for anybody over the age of 9 (I was 11 when it hit the air)." — Bob Strauss, The Daily News of Los Angeles, 11 June 2017

Did you know?

It's not surprising that the two earliest senses of vindicate are "to set free" (a sense that is now obsolete) and "to avenge." Vindicate, which has been used in English since at least the mid-16th century, derives from Latin vindicatus, the past participle of the verb vindicare, meaning "to set free, avenge, or lay claim to." Vindicare, in turn, derives from vindex, a noun meaning "claimant" or "avenger." Other descendants of vindicare in English include such vengeful words as avenge itself, revenge, vengeance, vendetta, and vindictive. Closer cousins of vindicate are vindicable ("capable of being vindicated") and the archaic word vindicative ("punitive").



steadfast  

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

steadfast • \STED-fast\  • adjective

1 a : firmly fixed in place : immovable

b : not subject to change

2 : firm in belief, determination, or adherence : loyal

Examples:

Maureen knew she could count on the steadfast support of her best friend even in the hardest of times.

"He advised the graduating class to approach each day with steadfast determination and grit and to remember to be humble and appreciative." — Austin Ramsey, The Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Kentucky), 20 May 2017

Did you know?

Steadfast has held its ground in English for many centuries. Its Old English predecessor, stedefæst, combined stede (meaning "place" or "stead") and fæst (meaning "firmly fixed"). An Old English text of the late 10th century, called The Battle of Maldon, contains our earliest record of the word, which was first used in battle contexts to describe warriors who stood their ground. Soon, it was also being used with the broad meaning "immovable," and as early as the 13th century it was applied to those unswerving in loyalty, faith, or friendship. Centuries later, all of these meanings endure.



yawp  

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

yawp • \YAWP\  • verb

1 : to make a raucous noise : squawk

2 : clamor, complain

Examples:

"They yawped and cheered when they heard honks from passing cars, including a Toledo police vehicle that briefly sounded its alarm." — Andrew Koenig, The Toledo (Ohio) Blade, 7 Aug. 2015

"It's a place where teenagers yawp and chuckle over mounds of fried rice in styrofoam containers; where a couple on a budget shares sips from a fountain soda and a foot-long sub." — Calum Marsh, The National Post (Ontario, Canada), 9 May 2017

Did you know?

Yawp first appeared sometime in the 15th century. This verb comes from Middle English yolpen, most likely itself derived from the past participle of yelpen, meaning "to boast, call out, or yelp." Interestingly, yawp retains much of the meaning of yelpen, in that it implies a type of complaining which often has a yelping or squawking quality. An element of foolishness, in addition to the noisiness, is often implied as well. Yawp can also be a noun meaning "a raucous noise" or "squawk." The noun yawp arrived on the scene more than 400 years after the verb. It was greatly popularized by "Song of Myself," a poem by Walt Whitman containing the line "I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."



copacetic  

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

copacetic • \koh-puh-SET-ik\  • adjective

: very satisfactory

Examples:

"... if you're going to be traveling with us it just wouldn't look too copacetic for you to be carrying that ratty old bag." — Christopher Paul Curtis, Bud, Not Buddy, 1999

"In terms of living standards we're now back to where we started which while not making us entirely copacetic is at least better than not having recovered as yet." — Tim Worstall, Forbes, 8 Aug. 2016

Did you know?

Theories about the origin of copacetic abound, but the facts about the word’s history are scant: it appears to have arisen in African-American slang in the southern U.S., possibly as early as the 1880s, with earliest known evidence of it in print dating only to 1919. Beyond that, we have only speculation. One theory is that the term is descended from Hebrew kol be sedher (or kol b’seder or chol b’seder), meaning “everything is in order.” That theory is problematic for a number of reasons, among them that in order for a Hebrew expression to have been adopted into English at that time it would have passed through Yiddish, and there is no evidence of the phrase in Yiddish dictionaries. Other theories trace copacetic to Creole coupèstique (“able to be coped with”), Italian cappo sotto (literally “head under,” figuratively “okay”), or Chinook jargon copacete (“everything’s all right”), but no evidence to substantiate any of these has been found. Another theory credits the coining of the word to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who used the word frequently and believed himself to be the coiner. Anecdotal recollections of the word’s use, however, predate his lifetime.



savant  

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

savant • \sa-VAHNT\  • noun

1 : a person of learning; especially : one with detailed knowledge in some specialized field (as of science or literature)

2 : a person affected with a mental disability (such as autism) who exhibits exceptional skill or brilliance in some limited field (such as mathematics or music); especially : autistic savant

Examples:

"His conversation, I remember, was about the Bertillon system of measurements, and he expressed his enthusiastic admiration of the French savant." — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, 1893

"It's romantic to imagine that every artist is a brilliant lone wolf savant who sends his pages by carrier pigeon to an awestruck editor who sends them out into the world as is, but that's really not how it works…." — Dana Schwartz, The New York Observer, 1 May 2017

Did you know?

Savant comes from Latin sapere ("to be wise") by way of Middle French, where savant is the present participle of savoir, meaning "to know." Savant shares roots with the English words sapient ("possessing great wisdom") and sage ("having or showing wisdom through reflection and experience"). The term is sometimes used in common parlance to refer to a person who demonstrates extraordinary knowledge in a particular subject, or an extraordinary ability to perform a particular task (such as complex arithmetic), but who has much more limited capacities in other areas.



meme  

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

meme • \MEEM\  • noun

1 : an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture

2 : an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media

Examples:

"Graffiti have been the elemental memes of political speech ... in all the oppressed countries of this world." — Claude I. Salem, The New York Times Magazine, 17 Apr. 2011

"Memes are often harmless images—think of the photos of the scowling 'Grumpy Cat'—with humorous text over it, like 'the worst part of my Monday is hearing you complain about yours.'" — Michael Levenson, The Boston Globe, 6 June 2017

Did you know?

In his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, British scientist Richard Dawkins defended his newly coined word meme, which he defined as "a unit of cultural transmission." Having first considered, then rejected, mimeme, he wrote: "Mimeme comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like gene." (The suitable Greek root was mim-, meaning "mime" or "mimic." The English suffix -eme indicates a distinctive unit of language structure, as in grapheme, lexeme, and phoneme.) Like any good meme, meme caught on and evolved, eventually developing the meaning known to anyone who spends time online, where it's most often used to refer to any one of those silly captioned photos that the Internet can't seem to get enough of.



onerous  

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

onerous • \AH-nuh-rus\  • adjective

1 : involving, imposing, or constituting a burden : troublesome

2 : having legal obligations that outweigh the advantages

Examples:

"Payroll is a complex set of data and tasks. It requires as much simplicity in terms of user interface and navigation as developers can manage..... Every payroll service I've reviewed this year does a good job of simplifying this onerous process." — David Harsanyi, The Times Record News (Wichita Falls, Texas), 12 Mar. 2016

"Seems to me that, to be a superfood, a food's got to deliver more than nutrients. It has to be cheap, versatile, good-tasting, not too onerous to prepare and not so perishable that you end up tossing it." — Tamar Haspel, The Oregonian, 7 June 2017

Did you know?

Onerous, which traces back to the Latin onus, meaning "burden," has several synonyms. Like onerous, burdensome, oppressive, and exacting all refer to something which imposes a hardship of some kind. Onerous stresses a sense of laboriousness and heaviness, especially because something is distasteful ("the onerous task of cleaning up the mess"). Burdensome suggests something which causes mental as well as physical strain ("the burdensome responsibilities of being a supervisor"). Oppressive implies extreme harshness or severity in what is imposed ("the oppressive tyranny of a police state"). Exacting suggests rigor or sternness rather than tyranny or injustice in the demands made or in the one demanding ("an exacting employer who requires great attention to detail").



repudiate  

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

repudiate • \rih-PYOO-dee-ayt\  • verb

1 : to divorce or separate formally from (a woman)

2 : to refuse to have anything to do with : disown

3 a : to refuse to accept; especially : to reject as unauthorized or as having no binding force

b : to reject as untrue or unjust

4 : to refuse to acknowledge or pay

Examples:

"He immediately proceeded to repudiate his wife, and to contract a new marriage with the princess of Trebizond…." — Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 6, 1788

"Our cover girl, Gigi Hadid, … might not seem at first glance to define bravery, but when she sternly repudiated the vicious online sniping about her body last year she stood up not only for herself but for the many, many young women who don't live up to some people's ridiculous and extremely narrow—literally—ideal of a fashionable physique." — Anna Wintour, Vogue, August 2016

Did you know?

In Latin, the noun repudium refers to the rejection of a spouse or prospective spouse, and the related verb repudiare means "to divorce" or "to reject." In the 16th century, English speakers borrowed repudiare to create the English verb repudiate, which they used as a synonym of divorce when in reference to a wife and as a synonym of disown when in reference to a member of one's family. They also used the word more generally in the sense of "to reject or cast off." By the 18th century repudiate had also come to be used for the rejection of things that one does not accept as true or just, ranging from opinions and accusations to contracts and debts.



assay  

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

assay • \a-SAY\  • verb

1 a : to analyze (something, such as an ore) for one or more specific components

b : to judge the worth of : estimate

2 : try, attempt

3 : to prove to be of a particular nature by means of analysis

Examples:

"Each burger will be assayed by visitors and a panel of judges, including local chefs Jen Knox, Gina Sansonia, Judith Able, Bret Hauser, Camilo Cuartas and Peter Farrand." — Phillip Valys, SouthFlorida.com, 19 May 2017

"He bounced from job to job, working on a shrimp boat and later for Pan American Laboratories assaying chemicals coming in from Mexico." — Steve Clark, The Brownsville (Texas) Herald, 21 Apr. 2017

Did you know?

Usage experts warn against confusing the verbs assay and essay. Some confusion shouldn't be surprising, since the two words look alike and derive from the same root, the Middle French essai, meaning "test" or "effort" (a root that, in turn, comes from the Late Latin exagium, meaning "act of weighing"). At one time, the two terms were synonyms, sharing the meaning "try" or "attempt," but many modern usage commentators recommend that you differentiate the two words, using essay when you mean "to try or attempt" (as in "he will essay a dramatic role for the first time") and assay to mean "to test or evaluate" (as in "the blood was assayed to detect the presence of the antibody").



bosky  

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

bosky • \BAH-skee\  • adjective

1 : having abundant trees or shrubs

2 : of or relating to a woods

Examples:

The deer sensed our presence and fled to the bosky areas surrounding the meadow.

"A national park since 1993, it's a tranquil region patched with pine forest, where beavers swim in lazy streams and mushrooms proliferate along bosky walking trails." — Henry Wismayer, The New York Times, 20 Nov. 2016

Did you know?

Bosk, busk, bush—in Middle English these were all variant spellings of a word meaning "shrub." Although bush and busk survived into modern English (busk only barely; its use is limited to occurrences in some dialects of northern Britain), bosk disappeared from the written language for a while. It wasn't gone entirely, though: in the early 17th century it provided the root for the woodsy adjective bosky. Since its formation, bosky has been firmly rooted in our language, and its widespread popularity seems to have resurrected its parental form. By the early 19th century, bosk (also spelled bosque) had reappeared in writing, but this time with the meaning "a small wooded area."



turpitude  

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

turpitude • \TER-puh-tood\  • noun

: inherent baseness : depravity; also : a base act

Examples:

Many consumers have raised objections to the company's latest ad campaign, in which various forms of moral turpitude are depicted as fashion statements.

"As a lawyer, a conviction for this type of conduct is likely to be considered a crime of 'moral turpitude' because it involves a significant breach of the duty of a lawyer to maintain the confidentiality of a client's information." — Peter J. Henning, The New York Times, 14 Feb. 2017

Did you know?

Turpitude came to English from Latin turpitudo by way of Middle French. Turpitudo comes from turpis, which means "vile" or "base." Turpitude is often found in the phrase "moral turpitude," an expression used in law to designate an act or behavior that gravely violates the moral sentiment or accepted moral standards of the community. A criminal offense that involves moral turpitude is one that is considered wrong or evil by moral standards, in addition to being the violation of a statute.



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