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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: Wed, 20 Sep 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Copyright: Copyright 2017
 



holus-bolus

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 01:00:01 -0400

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

holus-bolus • \hoh-lus-BOH-lus\  • adverb

: all at once

Examples:

If you shout your questions at me holus-bolus, instead of asking them one at a time, then I won't be able to hear any of them.

"Grasses are a conundrum. If you plant too many, you end up with a hayfield—not a great look in a garden…. Lazy landscapers shove them in holus-bolus because they will survive just about anything." — Marjorie Harris, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), 30 May 2017

Did you know?

The story of holus-bolus is not a hard one to swallow. Holus-bolus originated in English dialect in the mid-19th century and is believed to be a waggish reduplication of the word bolus. Bolus is from the Greek word bōlos, meaning "lump," and has retained that Greek meaning. In English, bolus has additionally come to mean "a large pill," "a mass of chewed food," or "a dose of a drug given intravenously." Considering this "lumpish" history, it's not hard to see how holus-bolus, a word meaning "all at once" or "all in a lump," came about.




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glabrous

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 19, 2017 is:

glabrous • \GLAY-brus\  • adjective

: smooth; especially : having a surface without hairs or projections

Examples:

Unlike the fuzzy peach, the nectarine has a glabrous skin.

"[T]o augment the body's own ability to shed heat …, Roy Kornbluh and his colleagues … are focusing on the body's glabrous, or hairless, areas. In mammals, these parts act like a car radiator, helping heat escape from the surface. In humans, the palms of the hands and soles of the feet are vital." — Hal Hodson, New Scientist, 30 Jan. 2016

Did you know?

"Before them an old man, / wearing a fringe of long white hair, bareheaded, / his glabrous skull reflecting the sun's / light…." No question about it—the bald crown of an old man's head (as described here in William Carlos Williams's poem "Sunday in the Park") is a surface without hairs. Williams's use isn't typical, though. More often glabrous appears in scientific contexts, such as the following description of wheat: "The white glumes are glabrous, with narrow acuminate beaks." And although Latin glaber, our word's source, can mean simply "bald," when glabrous refers to skin with no hair in scientific English, it usually means skin that never had hair (such as the palms of the hands).




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amanuensis

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 18, 2017 is:

amanuensis • \uh-man-yuh-WEN-sis\  • noun

: one employed to write from dictation or to copy manuscript

Examples:

"He then proceeded in his investigation, dictating, as he went on, the import of the questions and answers to the amanuensis, by whom it was written down." — Sir Walter Scott, Waverley, 1814

"In this version of the myth, Holmes is a real-world character whose exploits were rendered in print by his sidekick and amanuensis Dr. Watson, who's long since dead." — Marc Mohan, The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 17 July 2015

Did you know?

In Latin, the phrase servus a manu translates loosely as "slave with secretarial duties." (The noun manu, meaning "hand," gave us words such as manuscript, which originally referred to a document written or typed by hand.) In the 17th century the second part of this phrase was borrowed into English to create amanuensis, a word for a person who is employed (willingly) to do the important but sometimes menial work of transcribing the words of another. While other quaint words, such as scribe or scrivener, might have similarly described the functions of such a person in the past, these days we're likely to call him or her a secretary or an administrative assistant.




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portentous

Sun, 17 Sep 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 17, 2017 is:

portentous • \por-TEN-tuss\  • adjective

1 : of, relating to, or constituting a portent

2 : eliciting amazement or wonder : prodigious

3 a : being a grave or serious matter 

b : self-consciously solemn or important : pompous

c : ponderously excessive

Examples:

Our host had a habit of making portentous proclamations about the state of modern art, which was a bit of a turnoff for us as two art majors.

"[Glen Campbell] briefly joined the instrumental rock group the Champs, who'd had some success, in 1958, with 'Tequila,' still one of the best encapsulations of the portentous elation brought on by ice-cold margaritas." — Amanda Petrusich, The New Yorker, 9 Aug. 2017

Did you know?

At the heart of portentous is portent, a word for an omen or sign, which comes to us from the Latin noun portentum of the same meaning. And indeed, the first uses of portentous did refer to omens. The second sense of portentous, describing that which is extremely impressive, developed in the 16th century. A third definition—"grave, solemn, significant"—was then added to the second edition of Webster's New International Dictionary in 1934. The word's connotations, however, have since moved into less estimable territory. It now frequently describes both the pompous and the excessive.




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travesty

Sat, 16 Sep 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 16, 2017 is:

travesty • \TRAV-uh-stee\  • noun

1 : a burlesque translation or literary or artistic imitation usually grotesquely incongruous in style, treatment, or subject matter

2 : a debased, distorted, or grossly inferior imitation

Examples:

"What petty whims of a few higher-ups trampling the nation under their boots, ramming back down their throats the people's cries for truth and justice, with the travesty of state security as a pretext." — Émile Zola, letter, 13 Jan. 1898

"Fans of anime are ferociously purist and loyal, and for them, I suspect, the very notion of converting [Mamoru] Oshii's masterpiece (as it is deemed to be) into a live-action Hollywood remake smells of both travesty and sellout." — Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, 10 Apr. 2017

Did you know?

The noun travesty, which current evidence dates to the 17th century, comes from the French verb travestir, meaning "to disguise." The word's roots, however, wind back through Italian to the Latin verb vestire, meaning "to clothe" or "to dress." Travesty is not the only English descendent of vestire. Others include vestment, divest, and investiture. Travesty, incidentally, can also be a verb meaning "to make a travesty of" or "to parody."




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inoculate

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 15, 2017 is:

inoculate • \ih-NAHK-yuh-layt\  • verb

1 a : to introduce a microorganism into

b : to introduce (something, such as a microorganism) into a suitable situation for growth

c : to introduce immunologically active material (such as an antibody or antigen) into especially in order to treat or prevent a disease

2 : to introduce something into the mind of

3 : to protect as if by inoculation

Examples:

In 1796, the English physician Edward Jenner discovered that inoculating people with cowpox could provide immunity against smallpox.

"Typically, ambrosia beetles have a symbiotic relationship with a fungus the beetles carry as spores on their bodies. When the beetles bore into the sapwood of the host tree, the galleries formed from the beetle boring are inoculated with the fungal spores." — Les Harrison, The Wakulla News (Crawfordville, Florida), 12 July 2017

Did you know?

If you think you see a connection between inoculate and ocular ("of or relating to the eye"), you are not mistaken—both words look back to oculus, the Latin word for "eye." But what does the eye have to do with inoculation? Our answer lies in the original use of inoculate in Middle English: "to insert a bud in a plant for propagation." Latin oculus was sometimes applied to things that were seen to resemble eyes, and one such thing was the bud of a plant. Inoculate was later applied to other forms of engrafting or implanting, including the introduction of vaccines as a preventative against disease.




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marginalia

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 14, 2017 is:

marginalia • \mahr-juh-NAY-lee-uh\  • noun

1 : marginal notes or embellishments (such as in a book)

2 : nonessential items

Examples:

"Over the next nine days, [John Hughes] completed the first draft of Home Alone, capped by an eight-hour, 44-page dash to the finale. Before finishing, he'd expressed concerns in the marginalia of his journal that he was working too slowly." — James Hughes, The Chicago Magazine, 10 Nov. 2015

"In Arderne's texts the marginalia has a clear purpose, but in other manuscripts the meaning of the drawings can be indecipherable. There are countless examples of unusual marginalia—monkeys playing the bagpipes, centaurs, knights in combat with snails, naked bishops, and strange human-animal hybrids that seem to defy categorization." — Anika Burgess, Atlas Obscura, 9 May 2017

Did you know?

We don't consider a word's etymology to be marginalia, so we'll start off by telling you the etymology of this one. Marginalia is a New Latin word that borrows from the Medieval Latin adjective marginalis ("marginal") and ultimately from the noun  margo, meaning "border." Marginalia is a relatively new word; it dates from the 19th century despite describing something—notes in the margin of a text—that had existed as far back as the 11th century. An older word, apostille (or apostil) once referred to a single annotation made in a margin, but that word is rare today.




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precocious

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 13, 2017 is:

precocious • \prih-KOH-shus\  • adjective

1 : exceptionally early in development or occurrence

2 : exhibiting mature qualities at an unusually early age

Examples:

"They explained to me that we were going to watch people audition…. I ended up jumping onstage and singing something…. They thought I was precocious enough to be put in the chorus of the production. I was the only kid." — Johnny Galecki, quoted in The Las Cruces (New Mexico) Sun-News, 8 Mar. 2017

"Apricots, almonds, and other fruit trees are notoriously vulnerable to frost damage of buds or precocious flowers…." — Michael Bone et al., Steppes: The Plants and Ecology of the World's Semi-arid Regions, 2015

Did you know?

Precocious got started in Latin when the prefix prae-, meaning "ahead of," was combined with the verb coquere, meaning "to cook" or "to ripen," to form the adjective praecox, which means "early ripening" or "premature." By the mid-1600s, English speakers had turned praecox into precocious and were using it especially of plants that produced blossoms before their leaves came out. By the 1670s, precocious was also being used to describe humans who developed skills or talents before others typically did.




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scour

Tue, 12 Sep 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 12, 2017 is:

scour • \SKOW-er\  • verb

1 : to move about quickly especially in search

2 : to go through or range over in or as if in a search

Examples:

The dog scoured the terrain in search of the tennis ball I had thrown.

"The rescue team scoured the ground and a New Hampshire National Guard Black Hawk helicopter also searched the area." — Emily Sweeney, The Boston Globe, 18 July 2017

Did you know?

There are two distinct homographs of the verb scour in English. One means to clean something by rubbing it hard with a rough object; that scour, which goes back to at least the early 14th century, probably derives—via Middle Dutch and Old French—from a Late Latin verb, excurare, meaning "to clean off." Today's word, however, which appears in the 13th century, is believed to derive from the Old Norse skūr, meaning "shower." (Skūr is also distantly related to the Old English scūr, the ancestor of our English word shower.) Many disparate things can be scoured. For example, one can scour an area (as in "scoured the woods in search of the lost dog") or publications (as in "scouring magazine and newspaper articles").




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bibelot

Mon, 11 Sep 2017 01:00:01 -0400

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 11, 2017 is:

bibelot • \BEE-buh-loh\  • noun

: a small household ornament or decorative object : trinket

Examples:

"Moonlight furbished the brown cylindrical floor vase and its gnarled branch, as well as an aquarium bibelot in the shape of a ruined arch on his bedside table." — Nicholson Baker, The New Yorker, 27 June - 4 July 1994

"The sitting room is inviting, with its smart soft furnishings and bibelots, many of them from Samantha's mother, Lady Astor's, furnishing business, OKA—a sort of one-stop-tasteful decorating shop for the well-heeled." — Debora Robertson, The Telegraph (UK), 4 Aug. 2017

Did you know?

Can you think of a six-letter synonym of bibelot that starts with the letter "g"? No? How about an eight-letter one? Crossword puzzle whizzes might guess that the words we are thinking of are gewgaw and gimcrack. Like these, bibelot, which English speakers borrowed from French, has uses beyond wordplay. In addition to its general use as a synonym of trinket, it can refer specifically to a miniature book of elegant design (such as those made by Tiffany and Faberge). It also appears regularly in the names of things as diverse as restaurants and show dogs.




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