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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: Sat, 29 Apr 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Copyright: Copyright 2017


Sat, 29 Apr 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 29, 2017 is:

lethargic • \luh-THAHR-jik\  • adjective

1 : of, relating to, or characterized by laziness or lack of energy : feeling or affected by lethargy : sluggish

2 : indifferent, apathetic


After eating a large plate of spaghetti and meatballs I often feel lethargic and sleepy.

"The cold water temperatures slow down the metabolism of the fish, and they become very lethargic." — Jim Hutchinson, Asbury Park (New Jersey) Press, 9 Mar. 2017

Did you know?

In Greek mythology, Lethe was the name of a river in the underworld that was also called "the River of Unmindfulness" or "the River of Forgetfulness." Legend held that when someone died, he or she was given a drink of water from the river Lethe to forget all about his or her past life. Eventually this act of forgetting came to be associated with feelings of sluggishness, inactivity, or indifference. The name of the river and the word lethargic, as well as the related noun lethargy, all derive from lēthē, Greek for "forgetfulness."

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Fri, 28 Apr 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 28, 2017 is:

slough • \SLUFF\  • verb

1 : to cast off or become cast off

2 : to crumble slowly and fall away

3 : to get rid of or discard as irksome, objectionable, or disadvantageous


"The glue [that affixes the tiling to the hull] is exposed to a wide variety of environmental conditions, including big temperature swings as well as the pressures of operating at 1,000 feet beneath the surface. The friction of moving underwater tugs at the coating, and running into objects contributes to it gradually sloughing off." — Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, 7 Mar. 2017

"After Monday’s [landslide], the Department of Public Works cut down two trees on the hillside, removed a loose mass of dirt that was unstable and reopened the road. But a significant chunk of the hillside sloughed off in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, with a valley resident alerting people that it had closed as early as 12:30 a.m." — Samantha Kimmey, Point Reyes Light (Marin County, California), 9 Mar. 2017

Did you know?

There are two verbs spelled slough in English, as well as two nouns, and both sets have different pronunciations. The first noun, referring to a swamp or a discouraged state of mind, is pronounced to rhyme with either blue or cow; it derives from Old English slōh, which is akin to a Middle High German slouche, meaning "ditch." Its related verb, which can mean "to plod through mud," has the same pronunciation. The second noun, pronounced to rhyme with cuff, refers to the shed skin of a snake (as well as anything else that has been cast off). Its related verb describes the action of shedding or eliminating something, just like a snake sheds its skin. This slough derives from Middle English slughe and is distantly related to slūch, a Middle High German word meaning "snakeskin."

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Thu, 27 Apr 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 27, 2017 is:

junket • \JUNK-ut\  • noun

1 : a dessert of sweetened flavored milk set with rennet

2 a : a festive social affair

b : trip, journey: such as (1) : a trip made by an official at public expense (2) : a promotional trip made at another's expense


The senator is under fire for going on a weeklong lavish junket.

"When I was young, … our family often made junkets after church on Sunday, to Cook's, a massive arrangement of barns and sheds near New London. Purveyors of everything from household items to car parts, it … had such buyer appeal that it seemed to be swarming with shoppers every time we stopped in." — The Litchfield (Minnesota) Independent Review, 9 Feb. 2017

Did you know?

The road junket has traveled has been a long one, with frequent stops for food along the way. Since at least the 15th century, the word has named various comestibles, ranging from curds and cream to sweet confections. By the 16th century, junket had also come to mean "banquet." Apparently, traveling must have been involved to reach some junkets because eventually the term was also applied to pleasure outings or trips (whether or not food was the focus). Today, the word usually refers either to a trip made by a government official and paid for by the public, or to a free trip by a member of the press to a place where something, such as a new movie, is being promoted.

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Wed, 26 Apr 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 26, 2017 is:

upbraid • \up-BRAYD\  • verb

1 : to criticize severely : find fault with

2 : to reproach severely : scold vehemently


"A helpful neighbor was able to contact the owner in Dorset and upbraided her for having her house stand empty while a young couple could find no place to live." — Kitty Ferguson, Stephen Hawking: An Unfettered Mind, 2012

"There was a steady stream of customers, mostly for takeout, and the experience was marred only by a guy we took to be the proprietor upbraiding one of his employees in front of the customers. Bad form, sir." — Heidi Knapp Rinella, The Las Vegas Review-Journal, 1 Apr. 2016

Did you know?

Upbraid, scold, and berate all mean to reproach angrily, but with slight differences in emphasis. Scold usually implies rebuking in irritation or ill temper, either justly or unjustly. Upbraid tends to suggest censuring on definite and usually justifiable grounds, while berate implies scolding that is prolonged and even abusive. If you're looking for a more colorful term for telling someone off, try tongue-lash, bawl out, chew out, or wig—all of which are fairly close synonyms of berate. Among these synonyms, upbraid is the senior member in English, being older than the others by at least 100 years. Upbraid derives via Middle English from the Old English ūpbregdan, believed to be formed from a prefix meaning "up" and the verb bregdan, meaning "to snatch" or "to move suddenly."

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Tue, 25 Apr 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 25, 2017 is:

hummock • \HUM-uk\  • noun

1 : a rounded knoll or hillock

2 : a ridge of ice

3 : a fertile area in the southern United States and especially Florida that is usually higher than its surroundings and that is characterized by hardwood vegetation and deep humus-rich soil


"Ah! I have penetrated to those meadows on the morning of many a first spring day, jumping from hummock to hummock, from willow root to willow root, when the wild river valley and the woods were bathed in so pure and bright a light as would have waked the dead, if they had been slumbering in their graves, as some suppose." — Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854

"Relying on a surveying device … Reeder set about measuring minute elevation changes across the land, searching for subtle gradations and anomalies. He zeroed in on a hummock that looked like the earthen side of a bunker, long since overgrown with moss and foliage, and roughly 100 feet away, a telltale dip in the earth." — Matthew Shaer, Smithsonian Magazine, March 2017

Did you know?

Hummock first appeared in English in the mid-1500s as an alteration of hammock, another word which can be used for a small hill. This hammock is not related to the hammock we use to refer to a swinging bed made of netting or canvas. That hammock comes from the Spanish hamaca, and ultimately from Taino, a language spoken by the original inhabitants of the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas. The origins of the other hammock and the related hummock are still obscure, though we know they share an ancestor with Middle Low German hummel ("small height") and hump ("bump"). The latter of those is also a cousin of the English word hump, another word which can refer to a small hill or hummock.

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Mon, 24 Apr 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 24, 2017 is:

ambiguous • \am-BIG-yuh-wus\  • adjective

1 a : doubtful or uncertain especially from obscurity or indistinctness

b : incapable of being explained, interpreted, or accounted for : inexplicable

2 : capable of being understood in two or more possible senses or ways


"In the app, numbers and symbols are included by default, and ambiguous characters like the digit 0 and capital O are suppressed." — Neil J. Rubenking,, 24 Feb. 2017

"The setting for this story is ambiguous—a girl and her mother leave one country for another to escape an unspecified conflict. The only clue given to the location is the vast ocean separating the two countries, which the refugees must travel by boat." — Anna Fitzpatrick, The Globe and Mail (Canada), 4 Mar. 2017

Did you know?

Ambiguous, obscure, vague, equivocal, and cryptic are used to describe writing or speech that is not clearly understandable. Ambiguous applies to language capable of more than one interpretation ("an ambiguous suggestion") and derives from the Latin verb ambigere, meaning "to be undecided." Obscure suggests a hiding or veiling of meaning through some inadequacy of expression or withholding of full knowledge ("obscure poems"). Vague, on the other hand, describes a lack of clear formulation due to inadequate conception or consideration ("a vague sense of obligation"). Equivocal is the best choice for language that creates a wrong or false impression, allowing for uncertainty or promoting mistaken interpretations ("the politician gave an equivocal answer"), and when there is a deliberate attempt to confuse, cryptic can be used ("cryptic clues about the location of the buried treasure").

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Sun, 23 Apr 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 23, 2017 is:

factoid • \FAK-toyd\  • noun

1 : an invented fact believed to be true because of its appearance in print

2 : a briefly stated and usually trivial fact


Printed on the back of each baseball card is a chart showing the player's statistics along with one or two interesting factoids about his career.

"Diana, the manager, took us through the intricacies of coffee roasting, providing us with interesting factoids such as that lava from the volcanoes results in excellent soil for coffee growing, and the darker the coffee bean, the less caffeine it has." — Patti Nickell, The Lexington (Kentucky) Herald Leader, 17 Feb. 2017

Did you know?

We can thank Norman Mailer for the word factoid; he coined the term in his 1973 book Marilyn, about Marilyn Monroe. In the book, Mailer explains that factoids are "facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper, creations which are not so much lies as a product to manipulate emotion in the Silent Majority." Mailer's use of the -oid suffix (which traces back to the ancient Greek word eidos, meaning "appearance" or "form") follows in the pattern of humanoid: just as a humanoid appears to be human but is not, so a factoid appears to be factual but is not. Mailer likely did not appreciate the word's evolution. As current evidence demonstrates, it now most often refers to things that decidedly are facts, just not ones we tend to pay much attention to.

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Sat, 22 Apr 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 22, 2017 is:

cartographer • \kahr-TAH-gruh-fer\  • noun

: one that makes maps


A cartographer was brought in to create new graphical representations of the shoreline that had been reshaped by erosion.

"A multi-media interactive website that celebrates the life and times of 16th-century cartographer Martin Waldseemüller—who created the 1507 World Map … —has been unveiled by the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., and the Galileo Museum, Florence, Italy." — USA Today, 1 Jan. 2017

Did you know?

Up until the 18th century, maps were often decorated with fanciful beasts and monsters, at the expense of accurate details about places. French mapmakers of the 1700s and 1800s encouraged the use of more scientific methods in the art they called cartographie. The French word cartographie (the science of making maps), from which we get our English word cartography, was created from carte, meaning "map," and -graphie, meaning "representation by." Around the same time we adopted cartography in the mid-19th century, we also created our word for a mapmaker, cartographer.

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Fri, 21 Apr 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 21, 2017 is:

bucolic • \byoo-KAH-lik\  • adjective

1 : of or relating to shepherds or herdsmen : pastoral

2 a : relating to or typical of rural life

b : pleasing or picturesque in natural simplicity : idyllic


"My husband, Toby, and I … live on a remote sheep farm in the Cotswold Hills.… Our house perches on the edge of a bucolic valley, its pastures divided by ancient dry-stone walls and hawthorn hedges." — Plum Sykes, Vogue, November 2016

"With acres of tree-shaded paths, outdoor cafés, a lake with rowboats, and several exhibition spaces, the city's grandest park offers a bucolic escape." — Andrew Ferren, Traveler, November 2016

Did you know?

We get bucolic from the Latin word bucolicus, which is ultimately from the Greek word boukolos, meaning "cowherd." When bucolic was first used in English as an adjective in the early 17th century, it meant "pastoral" in a narrow sense—that is, it referred to things related to shepherds or herdsmen and in particular to pastoral poetry. Later in the 19th century, it was applied more broadly to things rural or rustic. Bucolic has also been occasionally used as a noun meaning "a pastoral poem" or "a bucolic person."

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Thu, 20 Apr 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 20, 2017 is:

eighty-six • \ay-tee-SIKS\  • verb

: (slang) to refuse to serve (a customer); also : to get rid of : throw out


The bar's policy is that bartenders have both the authority and responsibility to eighty-six customers who disrupt other patrons.

"He eighty-sixed the last reform once he was safely re-elected, saying he wanted to give municipalities more time to get ready for the change." — Brian O'Neill, The Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Post-Gazette, 14 June 2007

Did you know?

If you work in a restaurant or bar, you might eighty-six (or "eliminate") a menu item when you run out of it, or you might eighty-six (or "cut off") a customer who should no longer be served. Eighty-six is still used in this specific context, but it has also entered the general language. These days, you don't have to be a worker in a restaurant or bar to eighty-six something—you just have to be someone with something to get rid of or discard. There are many popular but unsubstantiated theories about the origin of eighty-six. The explanation judged most probable by Merriam-Webster etymologists is that the word was created as a rhyming slang word for nix, which means "to veto" or "to reject."

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