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Preview: Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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

Last Build Date: Sun, 23 Oct 2016 01:00:01 -0400

Copyright: Copyright 2016


Sun, 23 Oct 2016 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 23, 2016 is:

glaucous • \GLAW-kus\  • adjective

1 a : of a pale yellow-green color

b : of a light bluish-gray or bluish-white color

2 : having a powdery or waxy coating that gives a frosted appearance and tends to rub off


"Her eyes, a clear, glaucous gray, express unambiguous yearning." — Amanda Petrusich, The New Yorker, 26 May 2016

"Waxy, hard, hairy and glaucous leaves help prevent water loss." — Patrice Hanlon, The Mercury News (California), 10 Aug. 2016

Did you know?

Glaucous came to English—by way of Latin glaucus—from Greek glaukos, meaning "gleaming" or "gray," and has been used to describe a range of pale colors from a yellow-green to a bluish-gray. The word is often found in horticultural writing describing the pale color of the leaves of various plants as well as the powdery bloom that can be found on some fruits and leaves. The stem glauc- appears in some other English words, the most familiar of which is glaucoma, referring to a disease of the eye that can result in gradual loss of vision. Glauc- also appears in the not-so-familiar glaucope, a word used to describe someone with fair hair and blue eyes (and a companion to cyanope, the term for someone with fair hair and brown eyes).

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Sat, 22 Oct 2016 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 22, 2016 is:

frieze • \FREEZ\  • noun

1 : the part of an entablature between the architrave and the cornice

2 : a sculptured or richly ornamented band (as on a building or piece of furniture)

3 : a band, line, or series suggesting a frieze


"The house commands a hilltop and is forbidding, imposing, but softened with a frieze of beautiful American elms." — Lady Bird Johnson, A White House Diary, 1970

"But many of the iconic features of the old ballpark, such as the curved frieze atop the three-tiered grandstand, have been preserved." — Kevin Baxter, The Los Angeles Times, 17 Aug. 2016

Did you know?

Today's word is not the only frieze in English. The other frieze refers to a kind of heavy wool fabric. Both of the frieze homographs derive from French, but each entered that language through a different channel. The woolen homograph is from the Middle Dutch word vriese, which also refers to coarse wool. The frieze that we are featuring as our word today is from the Latin word frisium, meaning "embroidered cloth." That word evolved from phrygium and Phrygia, the name of an ancient country of Asia Minor whose people excelled in metalwork, wood carving, and (unsurprisingly) embroidery. That embroidery lineage influenced the use of frieze for the middle division of an entablature, which commonly has a decorated surface resembling embroidered cloth.

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Fri, 21 Oct 2016 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 21, 2016 is:

evanescent • \ev-uh-NESS-unt\  • adjective

: tending to vanish like vapor


"As stunning as his dishes could be, in the end, the maestro understood its evanescent nature. Furstenberg remembers Richard telling him, 'It's supposed to be food.'" — Tom Sietsema, The Washington Post, 15 Aug. 2016

"I think because we are young, issues we encounter with mental health are often excused as evanescent, and therefore not something to be taken seriously." — Morgan Hughes, The Marquette Tribune (Marquette University), 6 Sept. 2016

Did you know?

The fragile, airy quality of things evanescent reflects the etymology of the word evanescent itself. It derives from a form of the Latin verb evanescere, which means "to evaporate" or "to vanish." Given the similarity in spelling between the two words, you might expect evaporate to come from the same Latin root, but it actually grew out of another steamy Latin root, evaporare. Evanescere did give us vanish, however, by way of Anglo-French and Vulgar Latin.

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Thu, 20 Oct 2016 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 20, 2016 is:

hoick • \HOIK\  • verb

: to move or pull abruptly : yank


"Occasionally he hoicks up the waistband of his trousers when he thinks no one is looking." — Elizabeth Day, The Observer, 24 Feb. 2015

"The flutist … looks forward, unfolding a retinue of futuristic techniques—sounds that purr like a cat, pop like a cork or hoick like a spitball—on the way to a final improvisation…." — David Allen, The New York Times, 29 Mar. 2016

Did you know?

Etymologists suspect that hoick is an alteration of the verb hike, which is itself akin to hitch. According to the evidence, hike entered the language during the first decade of the 19th century, whereas hoick appeared near that century's close. The word hoick can be used for any type of abrupt pulling movement but is commonly used for the sudden pulling back on the joystick of an airplane; a rough, jerky movement when rowing; and a jerky, elevated shot in cricket. In fox hunting, the word hoicks is used to call attention to a hound that has picked up the scent and to bring the pack together.

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Wed, 19 Oct 2016 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 19, 2016 is:

colubrine • \KAHL-yuh-bryne\  • adjective

1 : of, relating to, or resembling a snake

2 : of or relating to a large cosmopolitan family (Colubridae) of chiefly nonvenomous snakes


The trellis's latticework was covered with colubrine ivy.

"Most of the colubrine snakes are entirely harmless, and are the common snakes that we meet everywhere." — Theodore Roosevelt, Through the Brazilian Wilderness, 1914

Did you know?

Colubrine may be less common than other animal words—such as canine, feline, and bovine—but it has been around for a good long while. Ultimately derived from the Latin colubra ("snake"), it slithered into the English language in the 16th century. (Cobra, by the way, comes from the same Latin word, but it entered English through Portuguese.) Some other words for "snakelike" are serpentine (a more common alternative) and ophidian (from the Greek word for snake: ophis).

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Tue, 18 Oct 2016 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 18, 2016 is:

jacquerie • \zhah-kuh-REE\  • noun

: (often capitalized Jacquerie) a peasants' revolt


"There were no bloodthirsty sansculottes preparing to erect guillotines; nor were farmers, however angry about government excise taxes and other matters—as Shays's Rebellion suggested—ready to burn down the manorial estates of their feudal overlords in some version of an American jacquerie." — Steve Fraser, Wall Street: America's Dream Palace, 2008

"The thicker the masonry, the more likely the fortress would withstand the anticipated Jacquerie." — Michael Knox Beran, National Review, 7 Sept. 2009

Did you know?

The first jacquerie was an insurrection of peasants against the nobility in northeastern France in 1358, so-named from the nobles' habit of referring contemptuously to any peasant as "Jacques," or "Jacques Bonhomme" (in French bonhomme means "fellow"). It took some time—150 years—for the name of the first jacquerie to become a generalized term for other revolts. The term is also occasionally used to refer to the peasant class, as when Madame Defarge in Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities tells her husband to "consider the faces of all the world that we know, consider the rage and discontent to which the Jacquerie addresses itself with more and more of certainty every hour."

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ab initio

Mon, 17 Oct 2016 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 17, 2016 is:

ab initio • \ab-ih-NISH-ee-oh\  • adverb

: from the beginning


"Like many of contemporary architecture's most celebrated figures, [Zaha] Hadid is often presented as an artist who conceives her buildings entirely ab initio." — Ellis Woodman, The Daily Telegraph (London), 3 Sept. 2012

"Two months ago, the Supreme Court ruled that Federal Court judges are not eligible to represent Quebec on its bench. Justice Nadon's nomination was therefore void ab initio." — André Pratte, The Globe and Mail (Canada), 29 May 2014

Did you know?

We'll tell you right from the beginning where ab initio comes from. This adverb was adopted at the beginning of the 17th century directly from Latin, where it translates as "from the beginning." (Initio is a form of the noun initium, meaning "beginning," which gave rise to such English words as initial, initiate, and initiative.) Ab initio most frequently appears in legal contexts, but it is not surprising to find it used outside of the courtroom. The phrase is also used as an adjective meaning "starting from or based on first principles" (as in "predicted from ab initio calculations").

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Sun, 16 Oct 2016 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 16, 2016 is:

lavation • \lay-VAY-shun\  • noun

: the act or an instance of washing or cleansing


"… we cannot keep the skin healthy without frequent lavations of the whole body in pure water. It is impossible to calculate the benefits of this simple practice." — Walt Whitman, "Bathing, Cleanliness, Personal Beauty," June 1846

"In Maycomb County, it was easy to tell when someone bathed regularly, as opposed to yearly lavations…." — Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960

Did you know?

It sounds logical that you would perform a lavation in a lavatory, doesn't it? And it is logical: both words come from Latin lavare, meaning, appropriately, "to wash." English picked up a few other words from this root as well. In medicine, the therapeutic washing out of an organ is lavage. There is also lavabo (in Latin, literally, "I shall wash"), which in English can refer to a ceremony at Mass in which the celebrant washes his hands, to the basin used in this religious ceremony, or to other kinds of basins. Even the word lavish, via a Middle French word for a downpour of rain, comes to us from lavare.

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Sat, 15 Oct 2016 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 15, 2016 is:

waggish • \WAG-ish\  • adjective

1 : resembling or characteristic of a wag : displaying good-humored mischief

2 : done or made for sport : humorous


"A warm person who enjoys banter with often-waggish reporters, [Elizabeth] Brenner joked that her next move would be to take a newspaper-carrier route in Pewaukee. 'No, that's not what I'm going to do,' she quickly added. 'Can't get up that early.'" — Rick Romell, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 17 May 2016

"The waggish reaction to Guaranteed Rate's name and arrow logo is like the feedback Energy Solutions received when its name replaced that of Delta Air Lines on the Utah Jazz's arena a decade ago. Energy Solutions' business—disposing of low-level nuclear waste in the Utah desert—led to people calling the arena the Dump, the Isotope and Radium Stadium." — Richard Sandomir, The New York Times, 25 Aug. 2016

Did you know?

One who is waggish acts like a wag. What, then, is a wag? Etymologists think wag probably came from waghalter, a word that was once used for a gallows bird (that is, a person who was going to be, or deserved to be, hanged). Waghalter was apparently shortened to wag and used jokingly or affectionately for mischievous pranksters or youths. Hence a wag is a joker, and waggery is merriment or practical joking. Waggish can describe the prank itself as well as the prankster type; the class clown might be said to have a "waggish disposition" or be prone to "waggish antics."

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Fri, 14 Oct 2016 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 14, 2016 is:

nemesis • \NEM-uh-siss\  • noun

1 a : one that inflicts retribution or vengeance

b : a formidable and usually victorious rival or opponent

2 a : an act or effect of retribution

b : a source of harm or ruin : curse


"My nemesis was a young woman who, at the end of the film, had the honour of sending me to my doom at the bottom of a well. Her name meant nothing to me then: Jennifer Aniston." — Warwick Davis,, 10 Apr. 2010

"The leaves were pale … and, upon closer inspection, the stems had small nibble marks on them. I immediately suspected slugs since they've been my nemesis in the past so I sprang into action." — Susan Mulvihill, The Spokesman Review (Spokane, Washington), 21 Aug. 2016

Did you know?

Nemesis was the Greek goddess of vengeance, a deity who doled out rewards for noble acts and punishment for evil ones. The Greeks believed that Nemesis didn't always punish an offender immediately but might wait generations to avenge a crime. In English, nemesis originally referred to someone who brought a just retribution, but nowadays people are more likely to see animosity than justice in the actions of a nemesis.

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