Episodes

  • Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 17, 2022 is:

    wreak • \REEK\  • verb

    Wreak means "to bring about or cause (something that is harmful or damaging)." It is often used in the phrase "wreak havoc."

    // The trip involved crossing several time zones, which wreaked havoc on my sleep routine for a few days.

    See the entry >

    Examples:

    "[Rats] rustle around in trash cans and take up residence in sewers, which feeds the false impression that they are fundamentally dirty creatures. Worse still, they invade homes and other indoor spaces. Squirrels do this too—given the opportunity, they'll wreak havoc in your attic—but not as frequently." — Jacob Stern, The Atlantic, 8 July 2022

    Did you know?

    In its early days, wreak was synonymous with avenge, a meaning exemplified when Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus proclaims "We will solicit heaven, and move the gods / To send down Justice for to wreak our wrongs." This sense is now archaic, but the association hasn't been lost: although wreak is today most often paired with havoc, it is also still sometimes paired with vengeance. We humbly suggest you avoid wreaking either, no matter how badly you may crave your just deserts.



  • Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 16, 2022 is:

    litany • \LIT-uh-nee\  • noun

    Litany refers to a usually lengthy recitation or enumeration of something, such as a set of complaints, names, or questions. It can also be used to refer to a sizeable series or set, which may or may not be spoken aloud, as when a drug has "a litany of possible side effects."

    // Among the television critic’s litany of complaints about the new series is the anachronistic costume design.

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    Examples:

    “As soon as Mahershala Ali, the previous year’s supporting-actor winner for 'Green Book,' escorted her behind the curtain, [Laura] Dern made a straight line to the thank-you cam to rattle off a litany of names.” — Anthony Breznican, Vanity Fair, 23 Apr. 2021

    Did you know?

    How do we love the word litany? Let us count the ways. We love its original 13th century meaning, still in use today, referring to a call-and-response prayer in which a series of lines are spoken alternately by a leader and a congregation. We love how litany has developed in the intervening centuries three figurative senses, and we love each of these as well: first, a sense meaning “repetitive chant”; next, the “lengthy recitation” sense owing to the repetitious—and sometimes interminable—nature of the original litany; and finally, an even broader sense referring to any sizeable series or set. Though litanies of this third sort tend to be unpleasant, we choose today to think of the loveliness found in the idea of “a litany of sonnets by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.”



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  • Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 15, 2022 is:

    dilatory • \DILL-uh-tor-ee\  • adjective

    Dilatory means "tending or intended to cause delay." It can also mean "tending to procrastinate or be late."

    // The councilor's seemingly endless motions to adjourn were clearly dilatory.

    // She tends to be dilatory in answering letters.

    See the entry >

    Examples:

    "Members of Congress from both parties are raising tough questions about this dilatory pace." — William A. Galston, The Wall Street Journal, 24 May 2022

    Did you know?

    “Slow down, you move too fast / You got to make the morning last / Just kicking down the cobblestones / Looking for fun and feelin'…” dilatory? We can’t say Paul Simon was wrong to choose groovy to end that verse of “The 59th Street Bridge Song” but dilatory would have also made sense. You see, if procrastination is your style, dilatory is the word for you. It’s been describing things that cause delay since at least the 15th century, and its ancestors were hanging around with similar meanings long before that. The word's source is dilatus, a form of the multifaceted Latin verb differre, meaning "to carry away in varying directions, spread abroad, postpone, delay, be unlike or distinct." That verb is also an ancestor of the words different, differ, and defer—a fact we think is pretty groovy.



  • Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 14, 2022 is:

    shard • \SHAHRD\  • noun

    Shard refers to "a small piece or part" of something, and is often used as a synonym of scrap.

    // A single shard of sunlight pierced the dense forest canopy, illuminating the entrance to the ancient ruin.

    See the entry >

    Examples:

    “The hunter struck his weapon to sharpen its edge in anticipation. In that moment, two glassy flakes splintered away from the point of impact and fell to his feet. They would be buried there for nearly 10,000 years. In 2013 those two shards of obsidian, a natural volcanic glass, would be recovered from a sample of earth, roughly the volume of a quart of milk, that was pulled from the bottom of Lake Huron, under 100 feet of water.” — Aaron Martin, Scientific American, 1 June 2021

    Did you know?

    Shard dates back to Old English (where it was spelled sceard) and is related to Old English scieran, meaning "to cut." English speakers have adopted the modernized shard spelling for most uses, but archaeologists prefer to spell the word sherd when referring to the ancient fragments of pottery (sometimes referred to specifically as potsherds) they unearth. While shard initially referred to exactly such items, today the word is also used more broadly to encompass slivers of intangible concepts. A baseless accusation may be made "without a shard of evidence," and fans of the losing team may "cling to a shard of hope" until the final score. The utility of shard is its, ahem, point.



  • Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 13, 2022 is:

    carceral • \KAHR-suh-rul\  • adjective

    Carceral means "of, relating to, or suggesting a jail or prison."

    // The room was eerily quiet and had a carceral aesthetic.

    // Her article stressed the importance of rehabilitative measures in carceral institutions, such as career preparation and mental health support.

    See the entry >

    Examples:

    "Coordinate care inside and outside carceral settings." — Bill Frist, Forbes, 15 June 2022

    Did you know?

    Carceral is a member of a small but imposing family: like its close relations incarcerate (meaning "to imprison") and incarceration (meaning "confinement in a jail or prison"), its ultimate source is the Latin word for "prison," carcer. All three words have been in use since the 16th century, and all three are more common today than they were a century ago. Carceral has always been the rarest of the group, but its use has increased significantly since the turn of the current century, most often within academic or legal contexts.



  • Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 12, 2022 is:

    melancholia • \mel-un-KOH-lee-uh\  • noun

    Melancholia refers to a feeling of sadness or depression. It is also used to refer to a sad tone or quality that one perceives in something, such as a work of art or literature.

    // He confessed to a bit of melancholia after the final performance—although he was proud of the successful Broadway run, he would miss his fellow cast members dearly.

    See the entry >

    Examples:

    “His last single, 2020’s 'Finding Rest In a Weary World,' was impressive but relatively subdued, tinged with ambient melancholia even as the beat hit its stride.” — Sue Park, Pitchfork, 18 Mar. 2022

    Did you know?

    When is a word full of humor yet far from humorous? Melancholia traces back to Greek melan- ("black, dark") and cholē ("bile"). Medical practitioners once adhered to the system of humors—bodily fluids that included black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm. An imbalance of these humors was thought to lead to disorders of the mind and body. One suffering from an excess of black bile (believed to be secreted by the kidneys or spleen) could become sullen, unsociable, and liable to depression. Today, doctors no longer ascribe physical and mental disorders to disruptions of the four humors, but the word melancholia is still used in psychiatry as a general term for despondency.



  • Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 11, 2022 is:

    alleviate • \uh-LEE-vee-ayt\  • verb

    Alleviate means "to make something less painful, difficult, or severe" or "to partially remove or correct."

    // Mom's suggestions for ways to alleviate some of my cold symptoms included her special tea and plenty of sleep.

    // The new tunnel should alleviate traffic on the bridge.

    See the entry >

    Examples:

    "People have tried to alleviate their climate anxiety in many ways." — Antonia Mufarech, Smithsonian Magazine, 18 May 2022

    Did you know?

    Now for a bit of light reading. Alleviate comes from Latin levis, meaning "having little weight." (Levis also gave rise to the English adjective light, as in "not heavy.") In its early days, alleviate could mean "to cause (something) to have less weight" or "to make (something) more tolerable." The literal "make lighter" sense is no longer used, and today only the "relieve" sense remains. Incidentally, not only is alleviate a synonym of relieve, it's also a cousin; relieve comes from levare ("to raise"), which in turn comes from levis.



  • Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 10, 2022 is:

    trivial • \TRIV-ee-ul\  • adjective

    Trivial means “of little worth or importance.”

    // Although her parents dismissed her love of pop music as trivial, she relied on the inspirational messages of many songs to help her through difficult times.

    See the entry >

    Examples:

    “Urged on by co-founders Jim VandeHei and John Harris to ‘win the morning,’ Politico’s reporters and editors covered Washington high and low, devoting space in their influential email newsletters to presidential campaigns and more trivial details like birthdays of prominent local figures.” — Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson, The New York Times, 3 May 2022

    Did you know?

    When English speakers adopted the word trivial from Latin trivialis in the 16th century, they used it to mean just what its Latin ancestor meant: "found everywhere, commonplace." But the source of trivialis is about something more specific: trivium, from tri- (three) and via (way), means "crossroads; place where three roads meet." The link between the two presumably has to do with the commonplace sorts of things a person is likely to encounter at a busy crossroads. Today, the English word typically describes something barely worth mentioning. Such judgments are, of course, subjective; feel free to mention this bit of trivia to anyone and everyone who crosses your path.



  • Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 9, 2022 is:

    riposte • \rih-POHST\  • noun

    A riposte is a clever retort or retaliatory measure. In fencing, it refers specifically to a quick return thrust immediately following a successful defensive action.

    // She's known for having a brilliant riposte to nearly any insult.

    See the entry >

    Examples:

    "As a riposte to the status quo, the studio has created Pendler, a conceptual urban e-bike pitched at commuters, meticulously designed and carefully shaped to be safer, more practical, and better performing than its rivals." — Jonathan Bell, Wallpaper (wallpaper.com), 21 July 2022

    Did you know?

    In the sport of fencing, a riposte is a counterattack made after successfully fending off one's opponent. English speakers borrowed the name for this particular maneuver from French in the early 1700s, but the French had simply modified the Italian word risposta, which literally means "answer." Ultimately these words come from the Latin verb respondēre, meaning "to respond." It seems fitting that riposte has since come full circle to now refer to a quick and witty response performed as a form of retaliation.



  • Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 8, 2022 is:

    crepuscular • \krih-PUHSS-kyuh-ler\  • adjective

    Crepuscular means "of, relating to, or resembling twilight." It is also used in zoological contexts to describe creatures that are active during twilight, or to the activities of such creatures.

    // As evening came on, fireflies began to appear in the crepuscular gloaming.

    See the entry >

    Examples:

    "Cardinals, a crepuscular species, follow their own schedule, eating an early breakfast and a stylishly late dinner. They will break that schedule on very cold days." — Jim Williams, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 16 Feb. 2022

    Did you know?

    The early Romans had two words for the twilight. Crepusculum was favored by Roman writers for the half-light of evening, just after the sun sets; diluculum was reserved for morning twilight, just before the sun rises—it is related to lucidus, meaning "bright." We didn't embrace either of these Latin nouns as substitutes for our word twilight, but we did form the adjective crepuscular in the 17th century. The word's zoological sense, relating to animals that are most active at twilight, developed in the 19th century.