Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day podcast

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

Free daily dose of word power from Merriam-Webster's experts

Free daily dose of word power from Merriam-Webster's experts

 

#10

otiose

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 17, 2024 is: otiose • \OH-shee-ohss\ • adjective Otiose is a formal word typically used to describe either something that serves no useful purpose, or something that has no use or effect. // I enjoyed the storyline, but was bothered by the otiose punctuation. // The new zoning regulations rendered their proposal for the empty lot otiose. [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/otiose) Examples: "Christian Tetzlaff has only begun to play the concerto recently, but it was a masterly performance. The concentrated tension, always the hallmark of Tetzlaff’s playing, never flagged.... In other hands, an encore might have been otiose after all that. But Tetzlaff’s playing of the [andante] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/andante) from Bach’s A minor solo sonata proved just as magical, and seemed to draw the entire hall into its hushed meditations." — Martin Kettle, The Guardian (London), 25 Aug. 2023 Did you know? In this life, some pursuits seem destined to [set the world on fire] (https://bit.ly/3zhbkSR) while others simply aren’t [worth the candle] (https://bit.ly/4bfQT5Z) . That’s where otiose comes in. The adjective traces back to the Latin noun otium meaning “leisure.” When otiose was first used in the late-18th century it described things that, like leisure (at least according to some), are pointless or otherwise produce no useful result, as in “it would be otiose to ask you about the book since you haven’t read it yet.” By the mid-19th century it was also being used to describe people who indulge a bit too much in leisure and idleness—your [loafers] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/loafer) , [layabouts] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/layabout) , and [lazybones] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lazybones) —and thus need a [fire lit under them] (https://bit.ly/45DEkAc) . Both otiose and the noun [otiosity] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/otiosity) (which predates the adjective by several centuries) are usually found in formal writing, but should you have a burning desire to do so, feel free to drop either into casual contexts at your leisure. ... Read more

21 hrs Ago

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02:14

21 hrs Ago


#9

harry

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 16, 2024 is: harry • \HAIR-ee\ • verb To harry someone or something is to harass or torment them by or as if by constant attack. // The visiting team harried the home team relentlessly during the first quarter. [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/harry) Examples: “His side played like a team who understood the magnitude of a fixture laced with bitterness. They hassled and harried their opponents from the first minute and were rewarded with the biggest margin of victory in this fixture since 1956.” — Henry Clark, The Mail on Sunday (London, UK), 4 Feb. 2024 Did you know? Harry has been a part of English for as long as there has been anything that could be called English. It took the form hergian (“to make predatory raids, ravage, wage war”) in Old English and harien (“to plunder, ravage, torment, pursue, drag”) in Middle English, passing through numerous variations before finally settling into its modern spelling. While its oldest senses were violent indeed (and harry can still be used today to mean “to make a pillaging or destructive raid upon”) one is just as likely today to encounter the word in less [martial] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/martial) , though still [fraught] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fraught) , contexts that involve someone or something being troubled or worried. Holiday travelers may be harried, for example, by numerous stresses (traffic, flight delays, lost baggage, etc.), while sports teams are often said to harry one another while vying for control of the ball, puck, or what-have-you. ... Read more

Yesterday

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01:57

Yesterday


#8

limpid

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 15, 2024 is: limpid • \LIM-pid\ • adjective Limpid describes things that are perfectly transparent or clear, or that are simple in style. // Though the stream was deep, flecks and shimmers in the sand shone up through its limpid water. // The author is known for her limpid, [exacting] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/exacting) prose. [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/limpid) Examples: "The movie’s opulent sets and Giuseppe Rotunno’s limpid cinematography transmit a palpable yearning for the gilded palaces and gala balls of a bygone era." — Mark Olsen, The Los Angeles Times, 7 June 2024 Did you know? Let's clarify a few things about limpid. Since the early 1600s, this word has been used in English to describe things that have the soft clearness of pure water. The aquatic connection is not incidental; language scholars believe that limpid probably traces to lympha, a Latin word meaning "water." (That same Latin root is also the source of the English word [lymph] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lymph) , the term for the pale liquid that helps maintain the body's fluid balance and that removes bacteria from tissues.) While limpid was used originally to describe liquids free of visible, cloudy material, it didn't take long for the word to gain its figurative sense of "clear and simple in style." And despite its similarity to the unrelated adjective [limp] (https://bit.ly/3z25RiD) —which can be used to describe writing, for example, that lacks spirit or oomph—limpid carries no such negative connotations. ... Read more

15 Jul 2024

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01:53

15 Jul 2024


#7

coterie

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 14, 2024 is: coterie • \KOH-tuh-ree\ • noun Coterie refers to an intimate and often exclusive group of people with a unifying common interest or purpose. // The mayor arrived at the meeting with a coterie of advisors. [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/coterie) Examples: "By day I was exposed to third-wave-feminist texts—lots of talk about claiming my power and rejecting gender roles. But on evenings and weekends, the small coterie of Latino students enrolled in my predominantly white college would gather and dance. The chasm between the bodily autonomy I was being empowered to have intellectually and the physical pliability to a partner’s will that salsa required was simply too wide for my teenage brain to bridge." — Xochitl Gonzalez, The Atlantic, 15 Jan. 2024 Did you know? A coterie today is, in essence, a [clique] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/clique) —that is, a tight-knit group sharing interests in common. Historically, however, coteries hung around agricultural fields, not garden parties. In medieval France, coterie referred to a group of [feudal] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/feudal) peasants who together held a parcel of land (that coterie comes from the Old French word for a single peasant, cotier). Such associations of country people inspired later French speakers to use coterie more broadly and apply it to other kinds of clubs and societies. By the time the word began appearing in English texts in the early 1700s, its meaning had been extended to refer to any circle of people who spent a great deal of time together, who shared the same basic attitudes, and who held a passion for some particular topic. Coterie mostly appears now in formal speech and writing, and tends also to imply a bit of [exclusivity] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/exclusivity) —if you’re thinking of joining your local coterie, you may need to learn the secret handshake, or perhaps [bone up] (https://bit.ly/44LhPJ5) on the latest techniques for harvesting barley. ... Read more

14 Jul 2024

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02:21

14 Jul 2024


#6

eclectic

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 13, 2024 is: eclectic • \ih-KLEK-tik\ • adjective Something described as eclectic, such as a collection or a person's tastes, includes things taken from many different sources. // The collection includes an eclectic mix of historical artifacts. [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/eclectic) Examples: “Known for its eclectic, international flavor and its status as a [bar crawl] (https://bit.ly/3RsFJUh) destination, this neighborhood has landed some of the city’s most respected restaurants in recent years. Go to Keren for Eritrean breakfast, Lucky Buns for top-notch burgers, Lapis for refined Afghan dishes, the Game for Filipino bar food, Green Zone for Middle Eastern-flavored cocktails, and Tail Up Goat for Mediterranean toasts and fresh pasta.” — Eater.com (Washington, D.C.), 21 Mar. 2024 Did you know? Eclectic comes from the Greek adjective eklektikos, meaning “picking out, selecting what appears to be best,” which in turn comes from the verb eklegein, meaning “to select.” Eclectic was originally applied to ancient philosophers who were not committed to any single system of philosophy but instead selected whichever doctrines pleased them from every school of thought. Later, the word’s use broadened to cover other selective natures, as well as the use of elements drawn from different sources. For instance, a museum with an eclectic collection may showcase pieces from a variety of styles and periods and in different media. Similarly, a person may be said to have eclectic tastes if they enjoy a broad range, rather than a single genre, of film, music, literature, etc. ... Read more

13 Jul 2024

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02:06

13 Jul 2024


#5

bilk

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 12, 2024 is: bilk • \BILK\ • verb Bilk is typically applied in contexts relating to fraud and deceit. It can mean "to cheat out of something valuable," or "to evade payment of or to," or "to obtain something by defrauding someone." // Prosecutors contend that the defendant bilked hundreds of investors out of their life savings. // Some vendors accuse the company of bilking its creditors. // The organization's treasurer had bilked thousands of dollars from the nonprofit over the course of one year. [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bilk) Examples: "In a scheme revealed in February, [Arlington] (https://www.britannica.com/place/Arlington-Massachusetts) was bilked out of nearly a half-million dollars by international hackers impersonating a vendor working to rebuild the community's high school." — John Hilliard, The Boston Globe, 11 June 2024 Did you know? Initially, bilking wasn't considered cheating—just good strategy for cribbage players. Language historians aren't sure where bilk originated, but they have noticed that its earliest uses occur in contexts relating to the game of [cribbage] (https://www.britannica.com/topic/cribbage) . Part of the scoring in cribbage involves each player adding cards from their hand to a pile of discards called the " [crib] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/crib) ." At the end of a hand, the dealer gets any points in the crib. Strategically, then, it's wisest for the dealer's opponents to discard the cards most likely to "balk," or put a check on, the dealer's score (or in other words, the ones least likely to contribute to point-making combinations). Etymologists theorize that bilk may have originated as an alteration of that card-game [balk] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/balk) . ... Read more

12 Jul 2024

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01:54

12 Jul 2024


#4

fountainhead

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 11, 2024 is: fountainhead • \FOUN-tun-hed\ • noun Fountainhead is a word usually encountered in literary contexts that refers to the origin or source of something. // [Ragtime] (https://www.britannica.com/art/ragtime) , popularized by such performers as [Scott Joplin] (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Scott-Joplin) and [Eubie Blake] (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Eubie-Blake) , is considered one of the musical fountainheads of jazz. [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fountainhead) Examples: “In [Marbury] (https://www.britannica.com/event/Marbury-v-Madison) , in 1803, Chief Justice John Marshall proclaimed, ‘It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.’ There, the Supreme Court, for the first time, declared an act of Congress unconstitutional and ‘entirely void.’ Because the Court implied that its own authority to interpret the Constitution is superior to that of the other branches, the case is the fountainhead of judicial supremacy.” — Jeannie Suk Gersen, The New Yorker, 5 Jan. 2023 Did you know? In [Walden] (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Walden) , widely considered [Henry David Thoreau’s] (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Henry-David-Thoreau) masterwork, the poet-philosopher [extolled] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/extol) one major—nay, [transcendent] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/transcendent) —perk of being an [early bird] (https://bit.ly/3UMm2rE) : “Morning air! If men will not drink of this at the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some and sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their subscription ticket to morning time in this world.” Thoreau was using fountainhead in its figurative sense—referring to morning as the “origin” of the day to follow—while also paying homage to its literal meaning, “the source of a stream” (the earliest sense of [fountain] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fountain) being “a natural spring”). As someone who spent two years living, writing, and meditating in a cabin, Thoreau was nothing, after all, if not thorough. ... Read more

11 Jul 2024

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02:05

11 Jul 2024


#3

ungainly

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 10, 2024 is: ungainly • \un-GAYN-lee\ • adjective Ungainly usually describes someone or something moving in an awkward or clumsy way, or the awkward, clumsy movements themselves. It can also describe an object that is difficult to handle (especially because of being large or heavy), or someone or something that has an awkward appearance. // While seals are ungainly on land, they are beautifully agile swimmers. // Getting the ungainly couch up the stairs was a real chore. // The creature is large and ungainly. [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ungainly) Examples: "[Composer, Gioachino] Rossini, who was just 25 at the time, and his [librettist] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/librettist) Jacopo Feretti turned this 'Cinderella' into a comedy. It contains all kinds of farcical elements, including hidden identities and the wonderfully exaggerated stepsisters, who are delightfully mean, self-involved and ungainly." — Kyle MacMillan, The Chicago Sun Times, 22 Jan. 2024 Did you know? What do you have to gain by knowing the root of ungainly? Plenty. The gain in ungainly is an obsolete English adjective meaning "direct" that ultimately comes from the Old Norse preposition gegn, meaning "against." (It is unrelated to the noun in "economic [gains] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gain) " or the verb in " [gain] (https://bit.ly/3Xmxo8p) an advantage"; those came to English by way of Anglo-French.) Ungainly can describe someone who is clumsy, as in "a tall, ungainly man"; or something that causes you to feel clumsy when you try to handle it, as in "a car with ungainly controls"; or something that simply looks awkward and out of place, as in "an ungainly strip mall." ... Read more

10 Jul 2024

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02:05

10 Jul 2024


#2

respite

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 9, 2024 is: respite • \RESS-pit\ • noun Respite refers to a short period of time when someone is able to stop doing something that is difficult or unpleasant, or when something difficult or unpleasant stops or is delayed. // The long weekend provided a nice respite from the pressures of her job. // The station's meteorologist had predicted that the bad weather would continue through the week without respite. [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/respite) Examples: "Shaded spots are necessary for a respite from the North Texas sun. If your deck or patio isn't covered, add a stylish umbrella to the mix." — Ryan Conner and Mary Grace Granados, The Dallas Morning News, 13 Mar. 2023 Did you know? Everyone needs a little [R & R] (https://bit.ly/45anEjF) from time to time. That's where respite comes in handy: this word was first used in the 14th century to refer to a delay or extension asked for or granted for a specific reason, such as to give someone time to deliberate on a proposal. This kind of respite offered an opportunity for the kind of consideration inherent in this word's etymology: respite traces from the Latin term respectus (also the source of English's [respect] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/respect) ), which comes from respicere, a verb with both concrete and abstract meanings: "to turn around to look at" or "to regard." Within a few decades of its earliest known use, English speakers had granted respite the sense we use most often today—"a welcome break." ... Read more

09 Jul 2024

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01:50

09 Jul 2024


#1

dicker

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 8, 2024 is: dicker • \DIK-er\ • verb To dicker is to talk or argue with someone about the conditions of a purchase, agreement, or contract. // My favorite thing about flea markets is dickering over prices. [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dicker) Examples: “They haggled and dickered and bargained through a good number of dealerships.” — Terry Woster, Tri-State Neighbor (Sioux Falls, South Dakota), 7 Dec. 2023 Did you know? The origins of the verb dicker likely lie in an older dicker, the noun referring to a quantity of ten animal hides or skins. The idea is that the verb arose from the bartering of, and haggling over, animal hides on the [American frontier] (https://www.britannica.com/topic/American-frontier) . The noun dicker comes from decuria, the Latin word for a bundle of ten hides, and ultimately from the Latin word decem, meaning "ten." The word entered Middle English as dyker and by the 14th century had evolved to dicker. ... Read more

08 Jul 2024

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01:23

08 Jul 2024