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Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Thu, 07/19/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 19, 2018 is:

halcyon • \HAL-see-un\  • adjective

1 : calm, peaceful

2 : happy, golden

3 : prosperous, affluent


"Today, California is in the black and has even banked an emergency fund of eight billion dollars. Unemployment is less than five per cent. Still, there is nothing halcyon about Brown's vision of the future. At a press conference in January, he unveiled his valedictory budget proposal … and made clear that this was no cause for celebration." — Connie Bruck, The New Yorker, 26 Mar. 2018

"There was a time when the gates opened at Molson Stadium and fans flocked in to watch the Alouettes play. And mostly, win. Until those halcyon days return, the organization realizes something must change." — Herb Zurkowsky, The Gazette (Montreal), 31 May 2018

Did you know?

According to Greek mythology, Alkyone, the daughter of the god of the winds, became so distraught when she learned that her husband had been killed in a shipwreck that she threw herself into the sea and was changed into a kingfisher. As a result, ancient Greeks called such birds alkyōn or halkyōn. The legend also says that such birds built floating nests on the sea, where they so charmed the wind god that he created a period of unusual calm that lasted until the birds' eggs hatched. This legend prompted people to use halcyon both as a noun naming a genus of kingfisher and as an adjective meaning either "of or relating to the kingfisher or its nesting period" or "calm."


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 18, 2018 is:

salvo • \SAL-voh\  • noun

1 a : a simultaneous discharge of two or more guns in military action or as a salute

b : the release all at one time of a rack of bombs or rockets (as from an airplane)

c : a series of shots by an artillery battery with each gun firing one round in turn after a prescribed interval

d : the bombs or projectiles released in a salvo

2 a : a sudden burst

b : a spirited attack


The newspaper article was intended as a salvo against the mayor's policies.

"Soda industry fires salvo at Harvard researchers over sugary drink study warnings" — headline, The Boston Globe, 19 June 2018

Did you know?

Salvo derives via Italian and French from the Latin adjective salvus, meaning "healthy." Salve, another form of the word, means "hail!" in Latin and was used as a greeting by ancient Romans. (Incidentally, the English salve, referring to a medicinal substance, is no relation.) In English, salvo originally referred to a simultaneous discharge of two or more firearms performed as a salute—which is appropriate, since salute is another descendant of salvus. With time salvo came to refer to such a discharge performed as an act of war. Nowadays a salvo is most often an act of figurative war—such as a critical remark aimed at a debate opponent, or a business decision in a highly competitive industry.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Tue, 07/17/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 17, 2018 is:

vouchsafe • \vowch-SAYF\  • verb

1 a : to grant or furnish often in a gracious or condescending manner

b : to give by way of reply

2 : to grant as a privilege or special favor


"Juan Carlos, who announced on Monday that he is abdicating the throne, was long revered for his role in vouchsafing Spain's transition to democracy following the death, in 1975, of the country's geriatric Fascist leader, Generalissimo Francisco Franco." — Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, 2 June 2014

"By the end of 'This Flat Earth,' Julie comes to seem like a latter-day variation on Emily, the heroine of Wilder's 'Our Town,' who is vouchsafed a glimpse of small human lives within a cosmic framework." — Ben Brantley, The New York Times, 9 Apr. 2018

Did you know?

Shakespeare fans are well acquainted with vouchsafe, which in its Middle English form vouchen sauf meant "to grant, consent, or deign." The word, which was borrowed with its present meaning from Anglo-French in the 14th century, pops up fairly frequently in the Bard's work—60 times, to be exact. "Vouchsafe me yet your picture for my love," beseeches Proteus of Silvia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. "Vouchsafe me raiment, bed, and food," King Lear begs his daughter Regan. But you needn't turn to Shakespeare to find vouchsafe. As illustrated by our examples, today's writers also find it to be a perfectly useful word.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Mon, 07/16/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 16, 2018 is:

declivity • \dih-KLIV-uh-tee\  • noun

1 : downward inclination

2 : a descending slope


"Early afternoon finds me off-trail by mistake among fog banks, using both hands and feet to scramble sideways and skyward along a perilously steep, grassy declivity toward the pass of Les Mattes." — Jeffrey Tayler, The National Geographic Traveler, 1 June 2017

"We make straight for the swimming pool, set in a warm declivity and surrounded by orange-trees." — Alex Preston, Harper's, October 2016

Did you know?

Three different English words descend from clivus, the Latin word for "slope" or "hill"—with the help of three Latin prefixes. Declivity combines clivus with the prefix de-, meaning "down" or "away." Acclivity uses ad- (which changes its second letter depending on the root word), meaning "to" or "toward." Hence, an acclivity is an upward slope. The third word has a figurative meaning in English: proclivity makes use of the prefix pro-, meaning "forward," and this word refers to a personal inclination, predisposition, or "leaning."


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Sun, 07/15/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 15, 2018 is:

mercurial • \mer-KYUR-ee-ul\  • adjective

1 : of, relating to, or born under the planet Mercury

2 : having the qualities of eloquence, ingenuity, or thievishness attributed to the god Mercury or to the influence of the planet Mercury

3 : characterized by rapid and unpredictable changeableness of mood

4 : of, relating to, containing, or caused by mercury


"Uncle Chris felt a touch of embarrassment. It occurred to him that he had been betrayed by his mercurial temperament into an attitude which, considering the circumstances, was perhaps a trifle too jubilant." — P. G. Wodehouse, Jill the Reckless, 1921

"The result is a stylish, and at times mind-bending, re-imagining of the characters, with Batman trying to find a way back to his own time period while dealing with such foes as The Joker, Harley Quinn, Gorilla Grodd and Two-Face who run amok in increasingly outlandish ways, as well as the mercurial Catwoman." — Tim Clodfelter, The Winston-Salem (North Carolina) Journal, 10 May 2018

Did you know?

The Roman god Mercury (Mercurius in Latin) was the messenger and herald of the gods and also the god of merchants and thieves (his counterpart in Greek mythology is Hermes). He was noted for his eloquence, swiftness, and cunning, and the Romans named what appeared to them to be the fastest-moving planet in his honor. The Latin adjective derived from his name, mercurialis, meaning "of or relating to Mercury," was borrowed into English in the 14th century as mercurial. Although the adjective initially meant "born under the planet Mercury," it came to mean "having qualities attributed to the god Mercury or the influence of the planet Mercury," and then "unpredictably changeable."


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Sat, 07/14/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 14, 2018 is:

obviate • \AHB-vee-ayt\  • verb

: to anticipate and prevent (something, such as a situation) or make (an action) unnecessary


"Many tech experts wouldn't expect the online advertising and data powerhouse to be interested in blockchain—a technology that, in many ways, obviates the need for the cloud and enables users to wrest control of their data from big tech companies." — Ben Dickson, PC Magazine, 27 Apr. 2018

"But for those of us who relish the familiarity of the status quo and perhaps cannot afford the $50,000 a year or more that assisted living would cost, our current homes may require some adjustments to postpone—and perhaps obviate—any need to move to safer if not more pleasurable dwellings." — Jane E. Brody, The New York Times, 21 May 2018

Did you know?

Obviate derives from the Late Latin obviare (meaning "to meet or withstand") and the Latin obviam (meaning "in the way") and is also an ancestor of our adjective obvious. Obviate has a number of synonyms in English, including prevent, preclude, and avert; all of these words can mean "to hinder or stop something." When you prevent or preclude something, you put up an insurmountable obstacle. In addition, preclude often implies that a degree of chance was involved in stopping an event. Obviate generally suggests the use of intelligence or forethought to ward off trouble. Avert always implies that a bad situation has been anticipated and prevented or deflected by the application of immediate and effective means.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Fri, 07/13/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 13, 2018 is:

gumption • \GUMP-shun\  • noun

1 chiefly dialectal : common sense, horse sense

2 : enterprise, initiative


"When fatigue began to take over his body and his legs started to quake, LaDonna had the gumption to throw his best fastball of the day." — Gregg Sarra, Newsday (New York), 29 May 2018

"Negotiating salary increases requires finesse, timing and being informed. It also requires a certain measure of gumption." — The Laramie (Wyoming) Boomerang, 10 June 2018

Did you know?

English speakers have had gumption (the word, that is) since the early 1700s. The term's exact origins aren't known, but its earliest known uses are found in British and especially Scottish dialects (which also include the forms rumblegumption and rumgumption). In its earliest uses, gumption referred to common sense. American English speakers adopted the word and took it in a new direction, using it refer to the kind of courage or get-up-and-go that makes undertaking difficult things possible. Artists may know the word with another application: it's also used to refer to the art of preparing painters' colors.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Thu, 07/12/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 12, 2018 is:

cerebrate • \SAIR-uh-brayt\  • verb

: to use the mind : think


"You can't cerebrate over what you can't see, which therefore becomes an object of loathing and mistrust." — Howard Portnoy, Examiner.com, 25 June 2012

"I can never decide if Derek is incredibly shallow or so deep that he's cerebrating on two levels at once and I'm privy only to the superficial one." — Susan B. Johnson, Spirit Willing, 2006

Did you know?

When you think of the human brain, you might think of the cerebrum, the large, fissured upper portion of the brain that is recognized as the neural control center for thought and sensory perception. In 1853, Dr. William Carpenter thought of the cerebrum when he coined "unconscious cerebration," a term describing the mental process by which people seem to do the right thing or come up with the right answer without conscious effort. People thought enough of Carpenter's coinage to use it as the basis of cerebrate, though the verb refers to active thinking rather than subconscious processing. Cerebrate, cerebrum, and the related adjective cerebral all derive from the Latin word for "brain," which is cerebrum.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Wed, 07/11/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 11, 2018 is:

nimiety • \nih-MYE-uh-tee\  • noun

: excess, redundancy


As she organized the potluck lunch, Julie offered suggestions for dishes that were still needed so that we wouldn't end up with a dearth of salads or a nimiety of desserts.

"Like all good haunted houses, it hovers atop a hill surrounded by large gnarled oak trees. There are broken windows with little fragments in the jambs, like transparent teeth. There is an iron fence; a graveyard in the back; and a nimiety of ghosts." — Richard Bangs, The Huffington Post, 6 Dec. 2017

Did you know?

There's no scarcity of English words for too much of a good thing—words like overkill, plethora, superfluity, surfeit, surplus, and preponderance, to name a few. In fact, you might just feel that nimiety itself is a bit superfluous. And it's true—English speakers have never found much need for it, though it has been part of our language for over 450 years. For reasons long forgot, we borrowed it from Late Latin nimietas, a noun taken, in turn, from the Latin adjective nimius, meaning "excessive." If nimiety appeals to you but you'd like it in adjective form look no further than its only English relative: nimious, also from nimius, means "excessive, extravagant," and is even rarer than nimiety.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Tue, 07/10/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 10, 2018 is:

benevolent • \buh-NEV-uh-lunt\  • adjective

1 a : marked by or disposed to doing good

b : organized for the purpose of doing good

2 : marked by or suggestive of goodwill


"The sky above was blue, the whole scene lit by a bright benevolent sun on that crisp winter day." — Arnold Thomas Fanning, The Irish Times, 2 June 2018

"At the center is a boy who is poor but honest, brave and hard-working—attributes that eventually attract the attention of an older, well-off and benevolent stranger who, accustomed to greedy jerks, is moved by the strength of his character and helps to lift him from indigence." — Ginia Bellafante, The New York Times, 3 June 2018

Did you know?

Someone who is benevolent genuinely wishes other people well, which is not surprising if you know the word's history. Benevolent can be traced back to Latin bene, meaning "good," and velle, meaning "to wish." Other descendants of velle in English include volition ("the act or power of making one's choices or decisions"), voluntary, and the rare word velleity (meaning either "the lowest degree of volition" or "a slight wish or tendency"). There is also one more familiar velle descendant: malevolent is the antonym of benevolent, and describes one who is disposed to doing ill instead of good.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Mon, 07/09/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 9, 2018 is:

transmogrify • \transs-MAH-gruh-fye\  • verb

: to change or alter greatly and often with grotesque or humorous effect


"It hadn't been cleaned in more than two years and the captured leaves had transmogrified into a wonderfully fecund compost." — Frank Mulligan, The Leader (Corning, New York), 8 Aug. 2014

"He was present in 1917 when communists shot their way to power and Imperial Russia transmogrified into the Soviet Union." — Colin Nickerson, The Boston Globe, 30 Apr. 2017

Did you know?

We know that the prefix trans- means "across" or "beyond" and appears in many words that evoke change, such as transform and transpire, but we don't know the exact origins of transmogrify. The 17th-century dramatist, novelist, and poet Aphra Behn, who is regarded as England's first female professional writer, was an early adopter of the word. In her 1671 comic play The Amorous Prince, Behn wrote, "I wou'd Love would transmogriphy me to a maid now." A century later, Scottish poet Robert Burns plied the word again in verse, aptly capturing the grotesque and sometimes humorous effect of transmogrification: "See Social life and Glee sit down, All joyous and unthinking, Till, quite transmugrify'd, they're grown Debauchery and Drinking…."


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 8, 2018 is:

lucubration • \loo-kyuh-BRAY-shun\  • noun

: laborious or intensive study; also : the product of such study — usually used in plural


The book is a collection of lucubrations on the effect advancements in computer science have on economic policy.

"Surely when we talk about our mental lives we're simply thinking of everything that makes human beings special, different—our thoughts, our language-based lucubration." — Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books, 21 Nov. 2016

Did you know?

Imagine someone studying through the night by the light of a dim candle or lamp. That image demonstrates perfectly the most literal sense of lucubration. Our English word derives from the Latin verb lucubrare, meaning "to work by lamplight." (That Latin root is related to lux, the Latin word for "light.") In its earliest known English uses, lucubration named both nocturnal study itself and a written product thereof. By the 1800s, however, the term had been broadened to refer to any intensive study (day or night), or a composition, especially a weighty one, generated as a result of such study. Nowadays, lucubration is most often used in its plural form and implies pompous or stuffy scholarly writing.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Sat, 07/07/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 7, 2018 is:

eccentric • \ik-SEN-trik\  • adjective

1 a : deviating from conventional or accepted usage or conduct especially in odd or whimsical ways

b : deviating from an established or usual pattern or style

2 a : deviating from a circular path; especially : elliptical

b : located elsewhere than at the geometric center; also : having the axis or support so located


"Nothing is more eccentric in our egocentric world than generosity." — Filip Noterdaeme, quoted in The New York Times, 7 June 2018

"Charlie has the eccentric habit of making a clucking sound that signifies everything and nothing. It's part of the film's unsettling sound design, which composer Colin Stetson ratchets up to full creep mode with a soundtrack that freezes the heart." — Peter Howell, The Toronto Star, 8 June 2018

Did you know?

Eccentric comes to us through Middle English from the Medieval Latin word eccentricus, but it is ultimately derived from a combination of the Greek words ex, meaning "out of," and kentron, meaning "center." The original meaning of eccentric in English was "not having the same center" (as in "eccentric spheres"). In this sense, it contrasts with concentric, meaning "having a common center" (as in "concentric circles," one within another). But since the 17th century, English speakers have also used eccentric to describe those who are figuratively off-center. It can also be used to describe something that doesn't follow a truly circular path, as in "an eccentric orbit."


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Fri, 07/06/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 6, 2018 is:

sophistry • \SAH-fuh-stree\  • noun

1 : subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation

2 : an argument apparently correct in form but actually invalid; especially : such an argument used to deceive


The newspaper editorial warned readers to beware politicians who use sophistry to convince voters to support policies not in their own best interests.

"Drama, the art in which perspectives are brought into collision, is a powerful antidote to the sophistry and sensationalism nullifying our capacity for intelligent debate." — Charles McNulty, The Los Angeles Times, 31 Dec. 2017

Did you know?

The original Sophists were ancient Greek teachers of rhetoric and philosophy prominent in the 5th century B.C.E. In their heyday, these philosophers were considered adroit in their reasoning, but later philosophers (particularly Plato) described them as sham philosophers, out for money and willing to say anything to win an argument. Thus, sophist—which can be traced back, via the Greek sophistēs ("wise man" or "expert") and sophizesthai ("to become wise"), to sophos, meaning "clever" or wise"—earned a negative connotation as "a captious or fallacious reasoner."


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Thu, 07/05/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 5, 2018 is:

asseverate • \uh-SEV-uh-rayt\  • verb

: to affirm or declare positively or earnestly


"One can asseverate that a thesaurus is a treasury of words," Felix said ruefully, "but I presume that my own utilization of such costs me some intelligibility."

"A survey conducted by Pacific Community Resources (2003) asseverates drug use among teens is higher than ever today." — Sheila Cordry & Janell D. Wilson, Education, Fall 2004

Did you know?

In a 2001 essay in The New York Times, novelist Elmore Leonard warned writers against using any verb other than "said" to carry dialogue, describing how an encounter with asseverated once compelled him to stop reading in order to consult a dictionary. We don't think that interruption for dictionary consultation is a bad thing, but we do acknowledge that asseverate is little more than a fancy word meaning "to assert or declare." It was formed in Latin from the prefix ad- ("to, toward") and the verb severare, a relative of the adjective severus, meaning "serious or severe," and has been used in English since the 17th century. Nowadays, asseverate is found mostly in the works of authors long dead. It's also occasionally employed by those who like to show off their vocabularies.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Wed, 07/04/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 4, 2018 is:

pyrotechnics • \pye-ruh-TEK-niks\  • noun

1 singular or plural in construction : the art of making or the manufacture and use of fireworks

2 a : a display of fireworks

b : a spectacular display (as of extreme virtuosity)


The town's much-anticipated Independence Day pyrotechnics will be launched from the usual place: a tower on a mountain ridge along its eastern border.

"His talent as a writer and caricaturist was evident from the start in his verbal pyrotechnics and perfect mimicry of speech patterns, his meticulous reporting, and his creative use of pop language and explosive punctuation." — Deirdre Carmody and William Grimes, The New York Times, 15 May 2018

Did you know?

The use of military fireworks in elaborate celebrations of war and peace is an ancient Chinese custom, but our term for the making and launching of fireworks is a product of the 17th and 18th centuries. Pyrotechnics and the earlier adjective pyrotechnic derive via French from the Greek nouns pyr ("fire") and techne ("art"). In pyr one can see such fiery relatives as pyromania, the term for an irresistible impulse to start fires, as well as pyrite, the mineral also known as fool's gold. (That word also has an obsolete meaning, in the form pyrites, referring to a stone used for striking fire.) Like fireworks, pyrotechnics also has an extended figurative usage, referring to any kind of dazzling display or performance.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Tue, 07/03/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 3, 2018 is:

regardless • \rih-GAHRD-lus\  • adverb

: despite everything


Heavy rain is expected this weekend, but the county fair will go on regardless.

"'Don't drown, turn around' is a clever phrase created to warn motorists about traversing flooded roadways. It should be heeded by all motorists, regardless of the height of your vehicle and whether it has all-wheel drive." — Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia), 4 June 2018

Did you know?

Regardless is rather simply derived from the noun regard (meaning "attention" or "concern") plus -less—nothing too shocking about that. But poor regardless became embroiled in a usage scandal through no fault of its own when people began using irregardless as its synonym (probably blending irrespective and regardless). Irregardless originated in dialectal American speech in the early 20th century, and usage commentators have been decrying it since the 1920s, often declaring "there is no such word." Irregardless does exist, of course, but it tends to be used primarily in speech and it is still considered nonstandard. Regardless is preferred.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Mon, 07/02/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 2, 2018 is:

canicular • \kuh-NIK-yuh-ler\  • adjective

: of or relating to the period between early July and early September when hot weather occurs in the northern hemisphere


On weekend days in the canicular season, the wait at the town's only ice cream shop was often 20 people deep.

"Maggie had from her window, seen her stepmother leave the house—at so unlikely an hour, three o'clock of a canicular August…. It was the hottest day of the season…." — Henry James, The Golden Bowl, 1904

Did you know?

The Latin word canicula, meaning "small dog," is the diminutive form of canis, source of the English word canine. Canicula was also the name for Sirius, the star that represents the hound of the hunter Orion in the constellation named for that Roman mythological figure. Because the first visible rising of Sirius occurs during the summer, the hot sultry days that occur from early July to early September came to be called dies caniculares, or as we know them in English, "the dog days."


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Sun, 07/01/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 1, 2018 is:

métier • \MET-yay\  • noun

1 : vocation, trade

2 : an area of activity in which one excels : forte


"Instinctively, Winnie Mandela found her métier as a born politician, appearing in any troubled area to assure the populace that liberation was nigh." — The Daily Telegraph (London), 3 Apr. 2018

"'We're going to react to them and improvise,' says [Zeena] Parkins, a classically trained pianist from Detroit who found her métier in Manhattan's Lower East Side experimental music scene in the 1980s, when she electrified her harp to be heard amid the din of guitars and drums and other instruments." — Jesse Hamlin, The San Francisco Chronicle, 26 Apr. 2018

Did you know?

The words métier, employment, occupation, and calling all perform similar functions in English, though each word gets the job done in its own way. These hardworking synonyms can all refer to a specific sustained activity, especially an activity engaged in to earn a living, but these words also have slightly different shades of meaning. Employment implies simply that one was hired and is being paid by an employer, whereas occupation usually suggests special training, and calling generally applies to an occupation viewed as a vocation or profession. Métier, a French borrowing acquired by English speakers in the 18th century, typically implies a calling for which one feels especially fitted.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Sat, 06/30/2018 - 01:00

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 30, 2018 is:

lambaste • \lam-BAYST\  • verb

1 : to assault violently : beat, whip

2 : to attack verbally : censure


The coach loudly lambasted Danny in front of the whole team for showing up late yet again.

"The governor of Latvia's central bank, a pillar of Europe's financial system for years and a zealous champion of austerity, has long been lambasted by his critics as a heartless enforcer of economic dogma." — Andrew Higgins, The New York Times, 30 Apr. 2018

Did you know?

The origins of lambaste are somewhat uncertain, but the word was most likely formed by combining the verbs lam and baste, both of which mean "to beat severely." (The baste functioning here is unrelated to either the sewing or cooking one.) (Incidentally, lambaste can also be spelled lambast, despite the modern spelling of the verb baste.) Some other synonyms of lambaste include pummel, thrash, and pound. Pummel suggests beating with one's fists ("the boxer ruthlessly pummeled his opponent"). Pound also suggests heavy blows, though perhaps not quite so much as pummel, and may imply a continuous rain of blows ("she pounded on the door"). Thrash means to strike repeatedly and thoroughly as if with a whip and is often used figuratively to mean "to defeat decisively or severely" ("the team thrashed their opponent 44-0").