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

furlong

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 14, 2024 is: furlong • \FER-lawng\ • noun A furlong is a unit of distance equal to 220 yards (about 201 meters), and is used chiefly in horse racing. // To win the [Kentucky Derby] (https://www.britannica.com/sports/Kentucky-Derby) , a [Thoroughbred] (https://bit.ly/3wks5uF) must run 10 furlongs, or one and 1/4 miles. [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/furlong) Examples: “My battle with this monster began a decade ago when a wayward seedling popped up in my perennial bed. It subsequently flowered so gloriously that, like a common dolt, I left it there. What I didn’t realize is that every bloom drops lots of seeds. Even worse, after the plant’s foliage withers in summer, spreading roots grow by the furlong in every direction. A pink primrose tsunami swept over my garden the following spring, choking the phlox and drowning the daylilies.” — Steve Bender, Southern Living, 26 Sept. 2023 Did you know? Furlong is an English original that can be traced back to Old English furlang, a combination of the noun furh (“ [furrow] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/furrow) ”) and the adjective lang (“long”). Though now standardized as a length of 220 yards (or 1/8th of a mile), the furlong was originally defined less precisely as the length of a furrow—a trench in the earth made by a plow—in a cultivated field. This length was equal to the long side of an [acre] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/acre) —an area originally defined as the amount of arable land that could be plowed by a yoke of oxen in a day, but later standardized as an area measuring 220 yards (one furlong) by 22 yards, and now defined as any area measuring 4,840 square yards. In contemporary usage, furlong is often encountered in references to horse racing. ... Read more

19 hrs Ago

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19 hrs Ago


#9

brusque

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 13, 2024 is: brusque • \BRUSK\ • adjective A person may be described as brusque when they are talking or behaving in a very direct, brief, and unfriendly way. Brusque can also describe speech that is noticeably short and abrupt. // We knew something was wrong when our normally easygoing professor was brusque and impatient with our class. // She asked for a cup of coffee and received a brusque reply: “We don't have any.” [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/brusque) Examples: “Archaeologists look down on him because of his working-class background, and his brusque manner hasn't won him many friends. He doesn't argue with those he disagrees with; he just walks away.” — Dan Lybarger, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 19 Feb. 2021 Did you know? If you’ve ever felt [swept aside] (https://bit.ly/3v2UeX8) by someone with a brusque manner, that makes a certain amount of etymological sense. Brusque, you see, comes ultimately from bruscus, the Medieval Latin name for [butcher’s broom] (https://www.britannica.com/plant/butchers-broom) , a shrub whose bristly, leaf-like twigs have long been used for making brooms. Bruscus was modified to the adjective brusco in Italian, where it meant “sour” or “tart.” French, in turn, changed brusco to brusque, and the word in that form entered English in the 1600s. English speakers initially applied brusque to tartness in wine, but the word soon came to describe a harsh and stiff manner, which is just what you might expect of a word bristling with associations to stiff, scratchy brooms. ... Read more

Yesterday

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01:52

Yesterday


#8

surfeit

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 12, 2024 is: surfeit • \SER-fut\ • noun Surfeit is a formal word that refers to an amount or supply that is too much or more than you need. It is synonymous with the word [excess] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/excess) . // The organization ended up with a surfeit of volunteers who simply got in each other's way. [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/surfeit) Examples: "Pet owners can have a tougher time finding apartments because of the surfeit of landlords who don't allow dogs, cats or other animals in their buildings." — Andrew J. Campa, The Los Angeles Times, 22 Feb. 2024 Did you know? There is an abundance—you could almost say a surfeit—of English words that come from the Latin verb facere, meaning "to do." The connection to facere is fairly obvious for words spelled with "fic," "fac," or "fec," such as [sacrifice] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sacrifice) , [fact] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fact) , and [infect] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/infect) . For words like [stupefy] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stupefy) (a modification of the Latin word stupefacere) and [hacienda] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hacienda) (originally, in Old Spanish and Latin, facienda) the facere relation is not so apparent. As for surfeit, a "c" was dropped along the path that led from Latin through Anglo-French, where facere became faire ("to do") and sur- was added to make the verb surfaire, meaning "to overdo." It is the Anglo-French noun surfet ("excess"), however, that Middle English borrowed, eventually settling on the spelling surfeit. ... Read more

12 Apr 2024

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12 Apr 2024


#7

discomfit

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 11, 2024 is: discomfit • \diss-KUM-fit\ • verb To discomfit someone is to make them confused or upset. Discomfit is a formal synonym of the also formal (but slightly less so) [disconcert] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/disconcert) . // Jacob was discomfited by the new employee’s forward, probing questions. [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discomfit) Examples: “Bosley Crowther, chief film critic for The New York Times, didn’t quite know what to make of [Dr. Strangelove] (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Dr-Strangelove-or-How-I-Learned-to-Stop-Worrying-and-Love-the-Bomb) at the time of its release in January 1964. … What exactly was Kubrick’s point? ‘…I want to know what this picture proves.’ We may find it odd for an influential critic to expect a movie to ‘prove’ anything. Kubrick’s aim was manifestly not to prove, but to subvert and discomfit.” — Andrew J. Bacevich, The Nation, 23 Mar. 2023 Did you know? Disconcerted by discomfit and [discomfort] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discomfort) ? While the two look similar and share some [semantic] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/semantic) territory, they’re etymologically unrelated. Unlike discomfort, discomfit has no connection to comfort, which comes ultimately from the Latin adjective fortis, meaning “strong.” Instead, discomfit was borrowed from Anglo-French in the 13th century with the meaning “to defeat in battle.” Within a couple centuries, discomfit had expanded beyond the battlefield to mean “to thwart,” a meaning that eventually softened into the now-common “to disconcert or confuse” use—one quite close to the uneasiness and annoyance communicated by discomfort. For a time, usage commentators were keen to keep a greater distance between discomfit and discomfort; they recommended that discomfit be limited to its original “to defeat” meaning, but they’ve largely given up now, and the “disconcert or confuse” meaning is fully established. There is one major difference between discomfit and discomfort, though: discomfit is used almost exclusively as a verb, while discomfort is much more commonly used as a noun than a verb. ... Read more

11 Apr 2024

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11 Apr 2024


#6

vicarious

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 10, 2024 is: vicarious • \vye-KAIR-ee-us\ • adjective A vicarious emotion or experience is one felt by watching, hearing about, or reading about someone else rather than by doing something yourself. // He felt a vicarious thrill as his daughter crossed the stage to accept her diploma. [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vicarious) Examples: “That [Jagger] (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Mick-Jagger) can still sing and dance up a storm, at 80, is a triumph for him and should provide a vicarious thrill for anyone who attends a concert by the Rolling Stones next year.” — George Varga, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 10 Dec. 2023 Did you know? If you love to read adventure tales from the comfort of home, you’re already a pro at living vicariously, so throw on those [readers] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/readers) and let us paint a picture. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to study language and share what you’ve learned with the world. You wake up and pour yourself a strong cup of coffee, and then the work begins. Today, you are tasked with understanding the history of vicarious. Your research confirms that this word originally described something having the function of a substitute—that is, something that serves instead of another thing—and that it comes from the Latin noun vicis, which means “change” or “stead.” What’s more, you learn that vicis is also the source of the English prefix [vice-] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vice) (as in “vice president”), meaning “one that takes the place of.” Keeping in mind the most common meaning of vicarious (“experienced through imaginative or sympathetic participation”), you write it all down so others can share in your experience. Mission accomplished! ... Read more

10 Apr 2024

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10 Apr 2024


#5

aegis

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 9, 2024 is: aegis • \EE-jus\ • noun Aegis is a formal word that refers to the power to protect, control, or support something or someone. It is often used in the phrase under the aegis of. // The issue will be decided under the aegis of an international organization. [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/aegis) Examples: “French President Emmanuel Macron visited Notre Dame Cathedral on Friday, one year before its scheduled reopening in 2024. … During his visit, Macron paid homage to Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin, who oversaw the reconstruction and died in August. Wearing a hardhat, Macron was given a tool to assist as Georgelin’s name was inscribed in the wood of the spire under the aegis of an artisan, memorializing the general’s contribution to the cathedral.” — Thomas Adamson and Sylvie Corbet, The Associated Press, 8 Dec. 2023 Did you know? English borrowed aegis from Latin, but the word ultimately comes from the Greek noun aigís, meaning “goatskin.” In ancient Greek mythology, an aegis was something that offered physical protection. It has been depicted in various ways, including as a magical protective cloak made from the skin of the goat that suckled [Zeus] (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Zeus) as an infant, and as a shield fashioned by [Hephaestus] (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hephaestus) that bore the severed head of the [Gorgon] (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Gorgon) [Medusa] (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Medusa-Greek-mythology) . The word first entered English in the 15th century as a noun referring to the shield or [breastplate] (https://bit.ly/48J8Loy) associated with Zeus or Athena. It later took on a more general sense of “protection” and, by the late-19th century, it had acquired the extended senses of “ [auspices] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/auspices) ” and “sponsorship.” ... Read more

09 Apr 2024

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02:06

09 Apr 2024


#4

fatuous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 8, 2024 is: fatuous • \FATCH-oo-us\ • adjective To describe something, such as an idea or remark, as fatuous is to say that it is foolish or silly rather than sensible or logical. // Our hopes for an apology and a reasonable explanation for the error were met with fatuous platitudes. [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fatuous) Examples: "... when I was first admitted to the emergency room at Swedish's hospital in Edmonds, a doctor asked me whether I was right- or left-handed, and when I said left, he said, 'That's lucky'—a remark I took to be verging on the fatuous. But since then I've read that a considerable portion of left-handed people ... have their verbal and cognitive facilities located in the right hemisphere of the brain, which would explain my relative ease in talking, thinking, and remembering, despite my [hemiplegia] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hemiplegia) ..." — Jonathan Raban, Father and Son: A Memoir, 2023 Did you know? "I am two fools, I know, / For loving, and for saying so / In whining Poetry," wrote [John Donne] (https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Donne) , simultaneously confessing to both infatuation and fatuousness. As any love-struck fool can attest, infatuation can make buffoons of the best of us, and so it is reasonable that the words fatuous and [infatuation] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/infatuation) share the same Latin root, fatuus, meaning "foolish." Both terms have been part of English since the 17th century, though infatuation followed the earlier verb [infatuate] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/infatuate) , a fatuus descendant that once meant "to make foolish" but that now usually means "to inspire with a foolish love or admiration." ... Read more

08 Apr 2024

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08 Apr 2024


#3

conjecture

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 7, 2024 is: conjecture • \kun-JEK-cher\ • verb Conjecture is a formal synonym of the verb [guess] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/guess) that means “to form an opinion or idea without proof or sufficient evidence.” // Some scientists have conjectured that Jupiter’s moon Europa could sustain life. [See the entry >] (https://bit.ly/49uH2J1) Examples: “In the week since the news of the thefts broke, the case has been the subject of heated speculation in the British news media, with daily articles conjecturing over how many artifacts had been lost, and who was responsible.” — Alex Marshall, The New York Times, 22 Aug. 2023 Did you know? Conjecturing—forming an idea or opinion with some amount of guesswork—usually involves more than simply throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks, but that’s the [gist] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gist) , and with good etymological reason: conjecture comes ultimately from the Latin verb conicere, which means, literally, “to throw together.” To conjecture is to make an educated guess rather than [a stab in the dark] (https://bit.ly/48OxhEG) ; it involves piecing together bits of information to come to a plausible conclusion, as in “scientists conjecturing about the cause of the disease.” As such, conjecture tends to show up in formal contexts rather than informal ones, though we reckon one could conjecture if their spaghetti is perfectly cooked based on the amount of time it has been boiling, and on what has worked in the past. ( [Nota bene] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nota%20bene) : throwing it at the wall doesn’t work!) ... Read more

07 Apr 2024

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01:57

07 Apr 2024


#2

redoubt

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 6, 2024 is: redoubt • \rih-DOUT\ • noun Redoubt can refer specifically to a small building or area that provides soldiers with protection from attack, or more broadly to any safe or protected place, whether literal or figurative. // A massive stone redoubt at the entrance of the bay guarded the city. // The refugees gathered in a hilly redoubt several miles from the outskirts of town. [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/redoubt) Examples: "Pittsburgh has spent decades building itself as a world mecca for robotics technology and applications. The key to Pittsburgh's development into a robotics center has been the presence of Carnegie-Mellon University, a historic redoubt of technology that continues to evolve successfully; among its current distinctives is that it offers the nation's No. 1 graduate-degree program in artificial intelligence, according to [Joel] Reed [president of the Pittsburgh Robotics Network]." — Dale Buss, Forbes 28 Apr. 2023 Did you know? Based on its spelling, you might think that redoubt shares its origin with words such as [doubt] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/doubt) and [redoubtable] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/redoubtable) , both of which come from the Latin verb dubitare, meaning "to be in doubt." But that's not the case. Redoubt actually comes to us (via the French word redoute and the Italian word ridotto) from a different Latin verb—reducere, meaning "to lead back," the same root that gives us [reduce] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reduce) . How that b ended up in redoubt is a lingering question, but some etymologists have [posited] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/posit) that the word might have been conflated with another redoubt—a now-archaic verb meaning "to regard with awe, dismay, or dread" which, unlike its twin, does [indubitably] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/indubitably) come from dubitare. ... Read more

06 Apr 2024

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06 Apr 2024


#1

meticulous

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 5, 2024 is: meticulous • \muh-TIK-yuh-lus\ • adjective Something or someone described as meticulous shows extreme or excessive care in the consideration or treatment of details. // He is meticulous about keeping accurate records. [See the entry >] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meticulous) Examples: "In a press release, the company touts its meticulous approach to the sandwich's creation—testing pickles with eight variations of thickness and more than 10 bun recipes with six different bakeries." — Alicia Kelso, Forbes, 7 Jan. 2021 Did you know? We're afraid we have some strange etymological news: meticulous comes from the Latin word for "fearful"—metīculōsus—and ultimately from the Latin noun metus, meaning "fear." Although meticulous currently has no "fearful" meanings, it was originally used as a synonym of "frightened" and "timid." This sense had fallen into disuse by 1700, and in the 1800s meticulous acquired a new meaning of "overly and timidly careful" (possibly due to the influence of the French word méticuleux). This meaning in turn led to the current one of "painstakingly careful," with no connotations of fear at all. The newest use was controversial for a time, but it is now by far the most common meaning; even the most meticulous (or [persnickety] (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/persnickety) , depending on your view) among us consider it perfectly acceptable. ... Read more

05 Apr 2024

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01:57

05 Apr 2024