Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 25, 2017 is:
anathematize \uh-NATH-uh-muh-tyze\ verb
"A great deal has happened in a very short time.… Feminist reforms in the home and workplace … have gained renewed momentum. Youth culture has anathematized bullying and accorded pride of place to nerd culture." — Jonathan Chait, The New York Magazine, 29 June 2015
"Its reception of [George] Orwell serves as a fascinating case study of Commonweal's history and editorial culture. The magazine's editors and contributors neither anathematized Orwell nor sprinkled him with holy water. Instead they simply gave him the respect they thought he deserved…." — John Rodden and John Rossi, Commonweal, 23 Sept. 2016
Did you know?
When 16th-century English speakers needed a verb meaning "to condemn by anathema" (that is, by an official curse from church authority), anathematize proved to be just the right word. But anathematize didn't originate in English as a combination of the noun anathema and the suffix -ize. Rather, our verb is based on forebears in Late Latin (anathematizare) and Greek (anathematizein). Anathematize can still indicate solemn, formal condemnation, but today it can also have milder applications. The same is true of anathema, which now often means simply "a vigorous denunciation," or more frequently, "something or someone intensely disliked or loathed."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 24, 2017 is:
legerity \luh-JAIR-uh-tee\ noun
: alert facile quickness of mind or body
The novel's less than compelling plot is counterbalanced by the narrator's wit and legerity.
"There are brand new vehicles, brand new tracks and brand new ways to get gamers to exercise the kind of hand-digit legerity that other games don't like to employ because it might make the casual audience actually have to work for a victory." — William Usher, CinemaBlend.com, 16 May 2014
Did you know?
When legerity first appeared in English in the 1500s, it drew significantly upon the concept of being "light on one's feet," and appropriately so. It is derived from the Middle and Old French legereté ("lightness"), which was formed from the Old French adjective leger ("light in weight"). Leger comes from an assumed Vulgar Latin adjective, leviarius, a descendent of the older Latin levis ("having little weight"). These days, legerity can describe a nimbleness of mind as well as of the feet. A cousin of legerity in English is legerdemain, meaning "sleight of hand" or "a display of skill or adroitness." Legerdemain comes from the French phrase leger de main, meaning "light of hand."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 23, 2017 is:
toothsome \TOOTH-sum\ adjective
2 : of palatable flavor and pleasing texture : delicious
"Next came toothsome slices of bread with three spreads: an herbaceous carrot top pesto, creamy local butter and Cheeky Monkey, a garlicky tomato oil made in Syracuse." — Tracy Schuhmacher, The Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), 16 Aug. 2017
"But the fall brings its own set of toothsome exhibitions that encompass a range of mediums, from the always-solid shows at Bullseye Projects that demonstrate the creative limits of glass to textile art, prints, photography, drawings and, oh yes, lots of painting." — Briana Miller, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), 30 May 2017
Did you know?
One meaning of tooth is "a fondness or taste for something specified." Toothsome comes from this definition of tooth plus the suffix -some, meaning "characterized by." Although toothsome was at first used to describe general attractiveness, it quickly developed a second sense that was specific to the sense of taste (perhaps because from as far back as Chaucer's time, tooth could also refer specifically to eating and the sense of taste). In addition, toothsome is now showing signs of acquiring a third sense, "toothy" (as in "a toothsome grin"), but this sense is not yet established enough to qualify for dictionary entry.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 22, 2017 is:
yeasty \YEE-stee\ adjective
1 : of, relating to, or resembling yeast
b : marked by change
c : full of vitality
d : frivolous
"[A]ll this yeasty mingling of dimly understood facts with vague but deep impressions … had been disturbing her during the weeks of her engagement." — George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, 1876
"'O.K., I'm ready,' Ms. Boym said, addressing this reporter's microphone and letting loose a warm, yeasty laugh." — William L. Hamilton, The New York Times, 28 Nov. 2002
Did you know?
The word yeast has existed in English for as long as the language has existed. Spellings have varied over time—in Middle English it was yest and in Old English gist or giest—but the word's meaning has remained basically the same for centuries. In its first documented English uses in the 1500s, the adjective yeasty described people or things with a yellowish or frothy appearance similar to the froth that forms on the top of fermented beverages (such as beers or ales). Since then, a number of extended figurative senses of yeasty have surfaced, all of which play in some way or another on the excitable, chemical nature of fermentation, such as by connoting unsettled activity or significant change.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 21, 2017 is:
shofar \SHOH-far\ noun
: the horn of an animal (usually a ram) blown as a trumpet by the ancient Hebrews in battle and during religious observances and used in modern Judaism especially during Rosh Hashanah and at the end of Yom Kippur
"A collection of local artists will be selling their artwork, crafts, jewelry and Judaica, and gift booths will offer T-shirts, books and traditional Jewish and Israeli items, from mezuzahs to shofars." — Jennifer Nixon, The Arkansas (Little Rock) Democrat-Gazette, 27 Apr. 2017
"So I sat as still as possible, letting the melodic intonations of Hebrew roll through me, letting the haunting sound of the shofar fill my chest." — Robyn K. Schneider, Silent Running, 2015
Did you know?
One of the shofar's original uses was to proclaim the Jubilee year (a year of emancipation of Hebrew slaves and restoration of alienated lands to their former owners). Today, it is mainly used in synagogues during the High Holy Days. It is blown daily, except on Shabbat, during the month of Elul (the 12th month of the civil year or the 6th month of the ecclesiastical year in the Jewish calendar), and is sounded a number of times during the Rosh Hashanah services, and again at the end of the last service (known as neilah) on Yom Kippur. The custom is to sound the shofar in several series that alternate shorter notes resembling sobbing and wailing with longer unbroken blasts.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 20, 2017 is:
holus-bolus \hoh-lus-BOH-lus\ adverb
: all at once
If you shout your questions at me holus-bolus, instead of asking them one at a time, then I won't be able to hear any of them.
"Grasses are a conundrum. If you plant too many, you end up with a hayfield—not a great look in a garden…. Lazy landscapers shove them in holus-bolus because they will survive just about anything." — Marjorie Harris, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), 30 May 2017
Did you know?
The story of holus-bolus is not a hard one to swallow. Holus-bolus originated in English dialect in the mid-19th century and is believed to be a waggish reduplication of the word bolus. Bolus is from the Greek word bōlos, meaning "lump," and has retained that Greek meaning. In English, bolus has additionally come to mean "a large pill," "a mass of chewed food," or "a dose of a drug given intravenously." Considering this "lumpish" history, it's not hard to see how holus-bolus, a word meaning "all at once" or "all in a lump," came about.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 19, 2017 is:
glabrous \GLAY-brus\ adjective
: smooth; especially : having a surface without hairs or projections
Unlike the fuzzy peach, the nectarine has a glabrous skin.
"[T]o augment the body's own ability to shed heat …, Roy Kornbluh and his colleagues … are focusing on the body's glabrous, or hairless, areas. In mammals, these parts act like a car radiator, helping heat escape from the surface. In humans, the palms of the hands and soles of the feet are vital." — Hal Hodson, New Scientist, 30 Jan. 2016
Did you know?
"Before them an old man, / wearing a fringe of long white hair, bareheaded, / his glabrous skull reflecting the sun's / light…." No question about it—the bald crown of an old man's head (as described here in William Carlos Williams's poem "Sunday in the Park") is a surface without hairs. Williams's use isn't typical, though. More often glabrous appears in scientific contexts, such as the following description of wheat: "The white glumes are glabrous, with narrow acuminate beaks." And although Latin glaber, our word's source, can mean simply "bald," when glabrous refers to skin with no hair in scientific English, it usually means skin that never had hair (such as the palms of the hands).
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 18, 2017 is:
amanuensis \uh-man-yuh-WEN-sis\ noun
"He then proceeded in his investigation, dictating, as he went on, the import of the questions and answers to the amanuensis, by whom it was written down." — Sir Walter Scott, Waverley, 1814
"In this version of the myth, Holmes is a real-world character whose exploits were rendered in print by his sidekick and amanuensis Dr. Watson, who's long since dead." — Marc Mohan, The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 17 July 2015
Did you know?
In Latin, the phrase servus a manu translates loosely as "slave with secretarial duties." (The noun manu, meaning "hand," gave us words such as manuscript, which originally referred to a document written or typed by hand.) In the 17th century the second part of this phrase was borrowed into English to create amanuensis, a word for a person who is employed (willingly) to do the important but sometimes menial work of transcribing the words of another. While other quaint words, such as scribe or scrivener, might have similarly described the functions of such a person in the past, these days we're likely to call him or her a secretary or an administrative assistant.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 17, 2017 is:
portentous \por-TEN-tuss\ adjective
1 : of, relating to, or constituting a portent
2 : eliciting amazement or wonder : prodigious
3 a : being a grave or serious matter
b : self-consciously solemn or important : pompous
c : ponderously excessive
Our host had a habit of making portentous proclamations about the state of modern art, which was a bit of a turnoff for us as two art majors.
"[Glen Campbell] briefly joined the instrumental rock group the Champs, who'd had some success, in 1958, with 'Tequila,' still one of the best encapsulations of the portentous elation brought on by ice-cold margaritas." — Amanda Petrusich, The New Yorker, 9 Aug. 2017
Did you know?
At the heart of portentous is portent, a word for an omen or sign, which comes to us from the Latin noun portentum of the same meaning. And indeed, the first uses of portentous did refer to omens. The second sense of portentous, describing that which is extremely impressive, developed in the 16th century. A third definition—"grave, solemn, significant"—was then added to the second edition of Webster's New International Dictionary in 1934. The word's connotations, however, have since moved into less estimable territory. It now frequently describes both the pompous and the excessive.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 16, 2017 is:
travesty \TRAV-uh-stee\ noun
1 : a burlesque translation or literary or artistic imitation usually grotesquely incongruous in style, treatment, or subject matter
2 : a debased, distorted, or grossly inferior imitation
"What petty whims of a few higher-ups trampling the nation under their boots, ramming back down their throats the people's cries for truth and justice, with the travesty of state security as a pretext." — Émile Zola, letter, 13 Jan. 1898
"Fans of anime are ferociously purist and loyal, and for them, I suspect, the very notion of converting [Mamoru] Oshii's masterpiece (as it is deemed to be) into a live-action Hollywood remake smells of both travesty and sellout." — Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, 10 Apr. 2017
Did you know?
The noun travesty, which current evidence dates to the 17th century, comes from the French verb travestir, meaning "to disguise." The word's roots, however, wind back through Italian to the Latin verb vestire, meaning "to clothe" or "to dress." Travesty is not the only English descendent of vestire. Others include vestment, divest, and investiture. Travesty, incidentally, can also be a verb meaning "to make a travesty of" or "to parody."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 15, 2017 is:
inoculate \ih-NAHK-yuh-layt\ verb
1 a : to introduce a microorganism into
b : to introduce (something, such as a microorganism) into a suitable situation for growth
2 : to introduce something into the mind of
3 : to protect as if by inoculation
In 1796, the English physician Edward Jenner discovered that inoculating people with cowpox could provide immunity against smallpox.
"Typically, ambrosia beetles have a symbiotic relationship with a fungus the beetles carry as spores on their bodies. When the beetles bore into the sapwood of the host tree, the galleries formed from the beetle boring are inoculated with the fungal spores." — Les Harrison, The Wakulla News (Crawfordville, Florida), 12 July 2017
Did you know?
If you think you see a connection between inoculate and ocular ("of or relating to the eye"), you are not mistaken—both words look back to oculus, the Latin word for "eye." But what does the eye have to do with inoculation? Our answer lies in the original use of inoculate in Middle English: "to insert a bud in a plant for propagation." Latin oculus was sometimes applied to things that were seen to resemble eyes, and one such thing was the bud of a plant. Inoculate was later applied to other forms of engrafting or implanting, including the introduction of vaccines as a preventative against disease.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 14, 2017 is:
marginalia \mahr-juh-NAY-lee-uh\ noun
1 : marginal notes or embellishments (such as in a book)
2 : nonessential items
"Over the next nine days, [John Hughes] completed the first draft of Home Alone, capped by an eight-hour, 44-page dash to the finale. Before finishing, he'd expressed concerns in the marginalia of his journal that he was working too slowly." — James Hughes, The Chicago Magazine, 10 Nov. 2015
"In Arderne's texts the marginalia has a clear purpose, but in other manuscripts the meaning of the drawings can be indecipherable. There are countless examples of unusual marginalia—monkeys playing the bagpipes, centaurs, knights in combat with snails, naked bishops, and strange human-animal hybrids that seem to defy categorization." — Anika Burgess, Atlas Obscura, 9 May 2017
Did you know?
We don't consider a word's etymology to be marginalia, so we'll start off by telling you the etymology of this one. Marginalia is a New Latin word that borrows from the Medieval Latin adjective marginalis ("marginal") and ultimately from the noun margo, meaning "border." Marginalia is a relatively new word; it dates from the 19th century despite describing something—notes in the margin of a text—that had existed as far back as the 11th century. An older word, apostille (or apostil) once referred to a single annotation made in a margin, but that word is rare today.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 13, 2017 is:
precocious \prih-KOH-shus\ adjective
1 : exceptionally early in development or occurrence
2 : exhibiting mature qualities at an unusually early age
"They explained to me that we were going to watch people audition…. I ended up jumping onstage and singing something…. They thought I was precocious enough to be put in the chorus of the production. I was the only kid." — Johnny Galecki, quoted in The Las Cruces (New Mexico) Sun-News, 8 Mar. 2017
"Apricots, almonds, and other fruit trees are notoriously vulnerable to frost damage of buds or precocious flowers…." — Michael Bone et al., Steppes: The Plants and Ecology of the World's Semi-arid Regions, 2015
Did you know?
Precocious got started in Latin when the prefix prae-, meaning "ahead of," was combined with the verb coquere, meaning "to cook" or "to ripen," to form the adjective praecox, which means "early ripening" or "premature." By the mid-1600s, English speakers had turned praecox into precocious and were using it especially of plants that produced blossoms before their leaves came out. By the 1670s, precocious was also being used to describe humans who developed skills or talents before others typically did.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 12, 2017 is:
scour \SKOW-er\ verb
1 : to move about quickly especially in search
2 : to go through or range over in or as if in a search
The dog scoured the terrain in search of the tennis ball I had thrown.
"The rescue team scoured the ground and a New Hampshire National Guard Black Hawk helicopter also searched the area." — Emily Sweeney, The Boston Globe, 18 July 2017
Did you know?
There are two distinct homographs of the verb scour in English. One means to clean something by rubbing it hard with a rough object; that scour, which goes back to at least the early 14th century, probably derives—via Middle Dutch and Old French—from a Late Latin verb, excurare, meaning "to clean off." Today's word, however, which appears in the 13th century, is believed to derive from the Old Norse skūr, meaning "shower." (Skūr is also distantly related to the Old English scūr, the ancestor of our English word shower.) Many disparate things can be scoured. For example, one can scour an area (as in "scoured the woods in search of the lost dog") or publications (as in "scouring magazine and newspaper articles").
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 11, 2017 is:
bibelot \BEE-buh-loh\ noun
: a small household ornament or decorative object : trinket
"Moonlight furbished the brown cylindrical floor vase and its gnarled branch, as well as an aquarium bibelot in the shape of a ruined arch on his bedside table." — Nicholson Baker, The New Yorker, 27 June - 4 July 1994
"The sitting room is inviting, with its smart soft furnishings and bibelots, many of them from Samantha's mother, Lady Astor's, furnishing business, OKA—a sort of one-stop-tasteful decorating shop for the well-heeled." — Debora Robertson, The Telegraph (UK), 4 Aug. 2017
Did you know?
Can you think of a six-letter synonym of bibelot that starts with the letter "g"? No? How about an eight-letter one? Crossword puzzle whizzes might guess that the words we are thinking of are gewgaw and gimcrack. Like these, bibelot, which English speakers borrowed from French, has uses beyond wordplay. In addition to its general use as a synonym of trinket, it can refer specifically to a miniature book of elegant design (such as those made by Tiffany and Faberge). It also appears regularly in the names of things as diverse as restaurants and show dogs.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 10, 2017 is:
conversant \kun-VER-sunt\ adjective
: having knowledge or experience
The ideal candidate for the sommelier position will have expert knowledge of the various wine varieties served in the restaurant and be conversant in the rich vocabulary of viniculture.
"My sister is a cognitive scientist at M.I.T., more conversant than most people in the mental processes involved in tracking and misplacing objects." — Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker, 13 Feb. 2017
Did you know?
The adjectives conversant and conversational are related; both are descendants of Latin conversari, meaning "to associate with." Conversant dates to the Middle Ages, and an early meaning of the word was simply "having familiar association." One way to associate with others is to have a conversation with them—in other words, to talk. For a short time in the 19th century conversant could mean "relating to or suggesting conversation," but for the most part that meaning stayed with conversational while conversant went in a different direction. Today, conversant is sometimes used, especially in the United States, with the meaning "able to talk in a foreign language," as in "she is conversant in several languages," but it is more often associated with knowledge or familiarity, as in "conversant with the issues."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 9, 2017 is:
disport \dih-SPORT\ verb
2 : display
3 : to amuse oneself in light or lively fashion : frolic
"At a very early hour in the morning, twice or thrice a week, Miss Briggs used to betake herself to a bathing-machine, and disport in the water in a flannel gown and an oilskin cap." — William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair, 1848
"More stunts follow in Act II: Les Incredibles, an enormous Russian man who flings his tiny Canadian wife through the air; a stunning aerialist known as Lucky Moon; a family of three, Los Lopez, disporting themselves on the high-wire." — Margaret Gray, The Los Angeles Times, 21 Feb. 2017
Did you know?
Geoffrey Chaucer was one of the earliest writers to amuse the reading public with the verb disport. Chaucer and his contemporaries carried the word into English from Anglo-French, adapting it from desporter, meaning "to carry away, comfort, or entertain." The word can ultimately be traced back to the Latin verb portare, meaning "to carry." Deport, portable, and transport are among the members of the portare family.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 8, 2017 is:
extemporaneous \ek-stem-puh-RAY-nee-us\ adjective
1 : composed, performed, or uttered on the spur of the moment : impromptu
Everyone was surprised to hear my normally taciturn brother give a heartfelt, extemporaneous speech at our parents' 50th anniversary party.
"At the last Japanese performance—in Fukui, some 200 miles to the west of Tokyo—audiences were so exuberant that Slatkin and solo pianist Makoto Ozone indulged in an extemporaneous duet." — Michael H. Hodges, The Detroit News, 26 July 2017
Did you know?
Extemporaneous, which comes from Latin ex tempore ("out of the time"), joined the English language sometime in the mid-17th century. The word impromptu was improvised soon after that. In general usage, extemporaneous and impromptu are used interchangeably to describe off-the-cuff remarks or speeches, but this is not the case when they are used in reference to the learned art of public speaking. Teachers of speech will tell you that an extemporaneous speech is one that has been thoroughly prepared and planned but not memorized, whereas an impromptu speech is one for which absolutely no preparations have been made.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 7, 2017 is:
propagate \PRAH-puh-gayt\ verb
1 : to reproduce or cause to reproduce biologically : multiply
2 : to cause to spread out and affect a greater number or greater area : extend
3 : to pass along to offspring
4 : to foster growing knowledge of, familiarity with, or acceptance of (such as an idea or belief) : publicize
"It is always observable that silence propagates itself, and that the longer talk has been suspended, the more difficult it is to find any thing to say." — Samuel Johnson, The Adventurer, 25 Aug. 1753
"… Jonathan Anderson … wonders if he could propagate a honeysuckle-scented yellow azalea that is blooming around an early Georgian garden temple…." — Hamish Bowles, Vogue, August 2017
Did you know?
The origins of propagate are firmly rooted in the field of horticulture. The word was borrowed into English in the 16th century from Latin propagatus, the past participle of the verb propagare, which means "to set (onto a plant) a small shoot or twig cut for planting or grafting." Propagare, in turn, derives from propages, meaning "layer (of a plant), slip, offspring." It makes sense, therefore, that the earliest uses of propagate referred to facilitating reproduction of a plant or animal. Nowadays, however, the meaning of propagate extends to the "reproduction" of something intangible, such as an idea or belief. Incidentally, propaganda also comes to us from propagare, although it took a somewhat different route into English.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 6, 2017 is:
robot \ROH-baht\ noun
1 a : a machine that looks like a human being and performs various complex acts (such as walking or talking) of a human being; also : a similar but fictional machine whose lack of capacity for human emotions is often emphasized
b : an efficient insensitive person who functions automatically
2 : a device that automatically performs complicated often repetitive tasks
3 : a mechanism guided by automatic controls
Isaac Asimov is famous for writing science-fiction stories about robots which were governed by specific laws of behavior.
"The six-girl team and their chaperone completed their journey just after midnight from their hometown of Herat, Afghanistan, to enter their ball-sorting robot in the three-day high school competition starting Sunday in the U.S. capital." — Josh Lederman, The St. Louis (Missouri) Post-Dispatch, 17 July 2017
Did you know?
In 1920, Czech writer Karel Čapek published a play titled R.U.R. Those initials stood for "Rossum's Universal Robots," which was the name of a fictional company that manufactured human-like machines designed to perform hard, dull, dangerous work for people. The machines in the play eventually grew to resent their jobs and rebelled—with disastrous results for humans. During the writing of his play, Čapek consulted with his brother, the painter and writer Josef Čapek, who suggested the name robot for these machines, from the Czech word robota, which means "forced labor." Robot made its way into our language in 1922 when R.U.R. was translated into English.