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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: Thu, 29 Sep 2016 01:00:01 -0400

Copyright: Copyright 2016


Thu, 29 Sep 2016 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 29, 2016 is:

cabal • \kuh-BAHL\  • noun

1 : the artifices and intrigues of a group of persons secretly united in a plot (as to overturn a government); also : a group engaged in such artifices and intrigues

2 : club, group


"A 'cabal' of wealthy conservatives has begun using New York State's campaign finance laws to sway local elections…." — Michael Gormley, Newsday (New York), 24 Aug. 2016      

"Looking back, it didn't take a vast conspiracy to replace truth with lies: only a greedy, shameless ghostwriter; another lazy biographer; and a couple of filmmakers who embraced shoddy reporting for its sensationalizing value. That small, self-serving cabal managed to misinform generations of Americans with malicious myths that misshaped history." — Dana D. Kelley, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 19 Aug. 2016

Did you know?

In A Child's History of England, Charles Dickens associates the word cabal with a group of five ministers in the government of England's King Charles II. The initial letters of the names or titles of those men (Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley, and Lauderdale) spell cabal, and Dickens dubbed them the "Cabal Ministry." These five men were widely regarded as invidious, secretive plotters and their activities may have encouraged English speakers to associate cabal with high-level government intrigue. But their names are not the source of the word cabal, which was in use decades before Charles II ascended the throne. The term can be traced back through French to cabbala, the Medieval Latin name for the Kabbalah, a traditional system of esoteric Jewish mysticism.

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Wed, 28 Sep 2016 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 28, 2016 is:

vamoose • \vuh-MOOSS\  • verb

: to depart quickly


With the sheriff and his posse hot on their tails, the bank robbers knew they had better vamoose.

"Five minutes later the police arrived, and of course there was no sign of illegal activity. The crooks monitored the police radio and knew when to vamoose." — The Rockford (Illinois) Register Star, 14 July 2016

Did you know?

In the 1820s and '30s, the American Southwest was rough-and-tumble territory—the true Wild West. English-speaking cowboys, Texas Rangers, and gold prospectors regularly rubbed elbows with Spanish-speaking vaqueros in the local saloons, and a certain amount of linguistic intermixing was inevitable. One Spanish term that caught on with English speakers was vamos, which means "let's go." Cowpokes and dudes alike adopted the word, at first using a range of spellings and pronunciations that varied considerably in their proximity to the original Spanish form. But when the dust settled, the version most American English speakers were using was vamoose.

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Tue, 27 Sep 2016 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 27, 2016 is:

peculiar • \pih-KYOOL-yer\  • adjective

1 : characteristic of only one person, group, or thing : distinctive

2 : special, particular

3 : odd, curious

4 : eccentric


"'I'm not like you. … I'm common, just like my grandfather.' Emma shook her head. 'Is that really what you think?' 'If I could do something spectacular like you, don't you think I would've noticed by now? … There's nothing peculiar about me. I'm the most average person you'll ever meet.'" — Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, 2011

"It's not hard to spot players of the most popular smartphone game of all time. They have a peculiar way of carrying their devices in front of them with one hand, says John Hanke, the technology whiz behind Pokémon Go…." — Ryan Mac, Forbes, 23 Aug. 2016

Did you know?

Peculiar comes from Latin peculiaris, an adjective meaning "privately owned" or "special" that is derived from the word for "property," peculium. Those words are cognate with pecu, a word for "cattle" that is also etymologically linked to a few English words related to money. Among these are pecuniary ("of or relating to money"), peculate ("to embezzle"), and impecunious ("having very little or no money"). Peculiar borrowed the Latin meanings of peculiaris, but it eventually came to refer to qualities possessed only by a particular individual, group, or thing. That sense is commonly followed by the preposition to, as in "a custom peculiar to America." In time, peculiar was being used specifically for unusual qualities, as well as the individuals that possessed them, which led to the word's "odd," "curious," and "eccentric" senses.

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Mon, 26 Sep 2016 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 26, 2016 is:

tantivy • \tan-TIV-ee\  • adverb

: at a gallop


The horse rushed tantivy over the dirt roads that wound through the fields and pastures.

"Thus it came about that Denby and his man, riding tantivy to the rescue, met the raiders two miles down the trail…." — Francis Lynde, The Helpers, 1899

Did you know?

Tantivy is an adverb as well as a noun that refers to a rapid gallop. Although its precise origin isn't known, one theory has it that tantivy represents the sound of a galloping horse’s hooves. The noun does double duty as a word meaning "the blare of a trumpet or horn." This is probably due to confusion with tantara, a word for the sound of a trumpet that came about as an imitation of that sound. Both tantivy and tantara were used during foxhunts; in the heat of the chase, people may have jumbled the two.

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Sun, 25 Sep 2016 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 25, 2016 is:

iota • \eye-OH-tuh\  • noun

1 : the 9th letter of the Greek alphabet

2 : an infinitesimal amount : jot


"The rooms were impeccably decorated, with not an iota of clutter." — Judy DiForte,, 21 Mar. 2011

"The 'my way or the highway' representatives couldn't care one iota about those who do not share their specific values and goals." — Diane W. Mufson, The Herald-Dispatch (Huntington, West Virginia), 21 July 2016

Did you know?

The words iota and jot share a lot more than just a common meaning—both ultimately derive from the same word. When Latin scholars transcribed the Greek name of the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet, they spelled it as either iota or jota (the letters i and j were simply variants of each other), and these spellings eventually passed into English as iota and jot. Since the Greek letter iota is the smallest letter of its alphabet, both words eventually came to be used in reference to very small things.

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Sat, 24 Sep 2016 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 24, 2016 is:

reconcile • \REK-un-syle\  • verb

1 a : to restore to friendship or harmony

b : to settle or resolve (differences)

2 : to make consistent or congruous   

3 : to cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant

4 : to check (a financial account) against another for accuracy


"The trailer shows his earliest struggles to reconcile his religious convictions with his duty to his country, as he gently explains to his Army higher-ups that he can't, and won't, touch a gun." —, 28 July 2016

"The Korean War veteran—who once made a trip to Pyongyang, North Korea, with a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea to reconcile with his old adversaries—is now penning fundraising emails for Democrats trying to win the U.S. Senate." — Javier Panzar, The Los Angeles Times, 20 Aug. 2016

Did you know?

Adapt, adjust, accommodate, conform, and reconcile all mean to bring one thing into agreement with another. Adapt implies a modification according to changing circumstances ("they adapted to the warmer climate"). Adjust suggests bringing something into a close and exact correspondence or harmony ("we adjusted the budget to allow for inflation"). Accommodate may suggest yielding or compromising to form an agreement ("he accommodated his political beliefs in order to win"). Conform suggests coming into accordance with a pattern, example, or principle ("she refused to conform to society's values"). Reconcile implies the demonstration of the underlying compatibility of things that seem to be incompatible ("I tried to reconcile what he said with what I knew").

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Fri, 23 Sep 2016 01:00:01 -0400

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

mettle • \MET-ul\  • noun

1 a : vigor and strength of spirit or temperament

b : staying quality : stamina

2 : quality of temperament or disposition


"People aren't trying to hide their prosthetics like they once did. There is a sense of community, being proud of who you are and showing off your mettle." — Rebekah Spielman, quoted in The San Diego Union Tribune, 21 Aug. 2016

"In the dozen years since Fantasia Barrino claimed victory on 'American Idol,' the singer has more than proved her mettle. She has sold millions of records, released a New York Times best-selling memoir, won a Grammy, anchored a hit reality series and become a Broadway star." — Gerrick D. Kennedy, The Los Angeles Times, 17 Aug. 2016

Did you know?

Originally, mettle was simply a variant spelling of the word metal (which dates to at least the 13th century), and it was used in all of the same senses as its metallic relative. Over time, however, mettle came to be used mainly in figurative senses referring to the quality of someone's character. It eventually became a distinct English word in its own right, losing its literal sense altogether. Metal remained a term primarily used for those hard, shiny substances such as steel or iron, but it also acquired a figurative use. Today, both words can mean "vigor and strength of spirit or temperament," but only metal is used of metallic substances.

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Thu, 22 Sep 2016 01:00:01 -0400

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

palpable • \PAL-puh-bul\  • adjective

1 : capable of being touched or felt : tangible

2 : easily perceptible : noticeable

3 : easily perceptible by the mind : manifest


The tension in the courtroom was palpable as the jury foreman stood to announce the verdict.

"The beautifully shot, meditative film takes on a palpable sense of urgency after Maria makes a fateful move, leaving both the young woman and her family in a quandary that forces them to deal with the outside world, including a harrowing trip to a hospital where no one understands their language." — David Lewis, The San Francisco Chronicle, 26 Aug. 2016

Did you know?

The word palpable has been used in English since the 14th century. It derives from the Latin word palpare, meaning "to stroke" or "to caress"—the same root that gives us the word palpitation. The Latin verb is also a linguistic ancestor of the verb feel. Palpable can be used to describe things that can be felt through the skin, such as a person's pulse, but even more frequently it is used in reference to things that cannot be touched but are still so easy to perceive that it is as though they could be touched—such as "a palpable tension in the air."

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Wed, 21 Sep 2016 01:00:01 -0400

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

consigliere • \kohn-sil-YEH-reh\  • noun

: counselor, adviser


"Luisi’s goal was to create his own family in Boston, with Guarente as his underboss and Gentile as his consigliere." — Stephen Kurkjian and Shelley Murphy, The Boston Globe, 26 July 2016

"In any event, it appears that Shari has turned her attention to removing the other impediments to absolute control. She booted Dauman from the Viacom board but kept his consigliere Tom Dooley, Viacom’s chief operating officer, in place." — William D. Cohan, Vanity Fair, 20 June 2016

Did you know?

If you're a fan of The Godfather series of movies, the character Tom Hagen may have already come to mind. Hagen, the Corleones' family lawyer, is famously dismissed by the Don's successor and son Michael Corleone because he is not a "wartime consigliere." The word consigliere comes from Italian and has been a part our language since the 17th century; it was originally used of someone who served on a council in Italy. Currently, it is most commonly used to designate advisers to the Mafia—a use that first appeared in English in a document from a 1963 session of the U.S. Senate. It is also often used generally of a political or financial adviser, or any other trusted adviser for that matter.

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Tue, 20 Sep 2016 01:00:01 -0400

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

nefarious • \nih-FAIR-ee-us\  • adjective

: flagrantly wicked or impious : evil


"The company will not call you to ask for your Social Security or account number, but nefarious scammers might." — Ellen Marks, The Albuquerque Journal, 31 July 2016

"Mention the word 'drugs,' and most people think of nefarious, evil substances bought in the dead of night from shadowy figures who carry guns and feed off of the weaknesses of addicts who seek out their poison with shaking, trembling hands." — Steve Wildsmith, The Daily Times (Maryville, Tennessee), 25 July 2016

Did you know?

Vicious and villainous are two wicked synonyms of nefarious, and, like nefarious, both mean "highly reprehensible or offensive in character, nature, or conduct." But these synonyms are not used in exactly the same way in all situations. Vicious may imply moral depravity or it may connote malignancy, cruelty, or destructive violence. Villainous applies to any evil, depraved, or vile conduct or characteristic, while nefarious (which derives from the Latin noun nefas, meaning "crime") suggests flagrant breaching of time-honored laws and traditions of conduct.

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