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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, 19 Jan 2017 00:00:01 -0500

Copyright: Copyright 2017


Thu, 19 Jan 2017 00:00:01 -0500

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

whimsical • \WIM-zih-kul\  • adjective

1 : full of, actuated by, or exhibiting capricious or eccentric and often sudden ideas or turns of the mind : relating to whims

2 a : resulting from or characterized by whim or caprice; especially : lightly fanciful

b : subject to erratic behavior or unpredictable change


"In 2008, she decided to pursue a Master's in Library Science. The whimsical decision to work part-time at the library had created a love for helping people." — Matthew Crane, Dubois County (Indiana) Free Press, 5 Dec. 2016

"There is an ice bar offering cocktails and champagne, whimsical ice sculptures, and designs from artists in nine countries." — Talia Avakian, Travel + Leisure, 7 Dec. 2016

Did you know?

Whimsical and the related nouns whim and whimsy all ultimately derive from whim-wham, a noun from the early 16th century that originally referred to an ornamental object or trinket. Later whim-wham, with its fun sound, came to refer to a fantastic notion or odd fancy. The word's origin isn't clear, but it's worth noting that the similar-sounding flimflam had, in its earliest use, a similar meaning referring to an odd or nonsensical idea or tale. Whim naturally came about as a shortened form of whim-wham, and whimsy and whimsical eventually followed. Whimsical now describes more than just decisions made impulsively, but things resulting from an unrestrained imagination, as in "whimsical children's book characters."

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Wed, 18 Jan 2017 00:00:01 -0500

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

raiment • \RAY-munt\  • noun

: clothing, garments


"On their arrival the station was lively with straw-hatted young men, welcoming young girls who bore a remarkable family likeness to their welcomers, and who were dressed up in the brightest and lightest of raiment." — Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure, 1895

"A deepest navy cashmere dressing robe with every edge trimmed in the finest white cord…. I wear this raiment while working at my desk." — Tom Wolfe, Esquire, 9 Aug. 2016

Did you know?

If you seek a fancy word to describe the clothes on your back, you have no shortage of colorful options. There's apparel and attire, certainly, as well as garments. Habiliments and vestments suggest clothes of a particular profession (as in "a clergyman's vestments"), while garb is effective for describing clothes of a particular style (as in "traditional Scottish garb"). If slang is more your game, try duds, rags, or threads. Raiment tends to appear mostly in classical contexts, though it pops up from time to time in contemporary English from authors looking to add a touch of formality. Raiment derives from Middle English, where it was short for arrayment, from the verb arrayen ("to array").

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Tue, 17 Jan 2017 00:00:01 -0500

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

abstemious • \ab-STEE-mee-us\  • adjective

: marked by restraint especially in the consumption of food or alcohol; also : reflecting such restraint


Allie's midlife heart attack opened her eyes to the importance of taking care of her body and turned her to a more abstemious and healthful lifestyle.

"He is so abstemious that he once declared that to avoid temptation, he would never appear anywhere alcohol was served unless his wife was with him." — Michael Barbaro and Monica Davey, The New York Times, 16 July 2016

Did you know?

Abstemious and abstain look alike, and both have meanings involving self-restraint or self-denial. So they must both come from the same root, right? Yes and no. Both get their start from the Latin prefix abs-, meaning "from" or "away." But abstain traces to the Latin abstinēre, a combination of abs- and the Latin verb tenēre ("to hold"), while abstemious comes from the Latin abstēmius, which combines abs- with tēm- (a stem found in the Latin tēmētum, "intoxicating beverage," and tēmulentus, "drunken") and the adjectival suffix -ius ("full of, abounding in, having, possessing the qualities of").

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Mon, 16 Jan 2017 00:00:01 -0500

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

paladin • \PAL-uh-din\  • noun

1 : a trusted military leader (as for a medieval prince)

2 : a leading champion of a cause


The prince summoned the paladin to commend him for his actions in battle.

"This collection of stories by one of England's best novelists is both playful and serious in the manner of Laurence Sterne, the 18th-century author of 'Tristram Shandy'…. Sterne was the master of the marginal, the random, the inconsequential. In our own day, David Foster Wallace, Geoff Dyer and Ali Smith have become the paladins of this goofy manner." — Edmund White, The New York Times, 2 Dec. 2016

Did you know?

In ancient Rome, the emperor's palace was located on the Palatine Hill, known as Palatium in Latin. Since the site was the seat of imperial power, the word palatium came to mean "imperial" and later "imperial official." Different forms of the word passed through Latin, Italian, and French, picking up various meanings along the way, and eventually some of those forms made their way into English. Paladin is one of the etymological heirs of palatium; another descendant is the word palace.

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Sun, 15 Jan 2017 00:00:01 -0500

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

cantankerous • \kan-TANK-uh-rus\  • adjective

: difficult or irritating to deal with


"[Kenneth] Lonergan's brow was furrowed, and he was speaking, as he often does, in a low, growling mumble.… Among his theatre and movie-industry peers, he is famous for being famously cantankerous." — Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, 7 Nov. 2016

"Far from being cantankerous, she says [Roald] Dahl was endlessly ingenious in his desire to amuse, even when mortally ill, and only grumpy when finishing a book." — Elizabeth Gricehow, The Daily Telegraph (London), 12 Nov. 2016

Did you know?

It's irritating, but we're not absolutely sure where cantankerous comes from. Etymologists think it probably derived from the Middle English word contack (or contek), which meant "contention" or "strife." Their idea is that cantankerous may have started out as contackerous but was later modified as a result of association or confusion with rancorous (meaning "spiteful") and cankerous (which describes something that spreads corruption of the mind or spirit). Considering that a cantankerous person generally has the spite associated with contack and rancor, and the noxious and sometimes painful effects of a canker, that theory seems plausible. What we can say with conviction is that cantankerous has been used in English since at least the 1730s.

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Sat, 14 Jan 2017 00:00:01 -0500

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

neologism • \nee-AH-luh-jiz-um\  • noun

1 : a new word, usage, or expression

2 : (psychology) a new word that is coined especially by a person affected with schizophrenia and is meaningless except to the coiner


The novelist's latest book is peppered with numerous slang words and neologisms that might not be familiar to some readers.

"Borrowing a friend's neologism, [the British writer Simon] Parkin uses the term 'chronoslip' to describe the way video games affect one's sense of time, numbing one to its passing." — Christopher Byrd, The Washington Post, 31 July 2016

Did you know?

The English language is constantly picking up neologisms. In recent decades, for example, computer technology has added a number of new terms to the language. Webinar, malware, netroots, and blogosphere are just a few examples of modern-day neologisms that have been integrated into American English. The word neologism was itself a brand-new coinage in the latter half of the 18th century, when English speakers borrowed the French term néologisme. The word's roots are quite old, ultimately tracing back to ancient Greek neos, meaning "new," and logos, meaning "word."

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Fri, 13 Jan 2017 00:00:01 -0500

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

effrontery • \ih-FRUN-tuh-ree\  • noun

: shameless boldness : insolence


Holly could not believe the effrontery of the student who asked that her grade be changed even though she had completed little of the coursework.

"'I [Amanda Seyfried] once made a pecan pie for a guy I was dating, and we had a nice meal … with friends, and then that night, when we were alone, he said, "Did you really make that pie?"' She pauses to let the injustice, the sheer effrontery, of the question settle in. 'I mean, who says that?'" — David Denicolo, Allure, November 2016

Did you know?

To the Romans, the shameless were "without forehead," at least figuratively. Effrontery derives from Latin effrons, a word that combines the prefix ex- (meaning "out" or "without") and frons (meaning "forehead" or "brow"). The Romans never used effrons literally to mean "without forehead," and theorists aren't in full agreement about the connection between the modern meaning of effrontery and the literal senses of its roots. Some explain that frons can also refer to the capacity for blushing, so a person without frons would be "unblushing" or "shameless." Others theorize that since the Romans believed that the brow was the seat of a person's modesty, being without a brow meant being "immodest" or, again, "shameless."

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Thu, 12 Jan 2017 00:00:01 -0500

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

lachrymose • \LAK-ruh-mohss\  • adjective

1 : given to tears or weeping : tearful

2 : tending to cause tears : mournful


"… [Art] Garfunkel has always been partial to lachrymose sentiment. Listen, for instance, to his 1979 hit Bright Eyes, a song that targets the tear duct … and here summed up the tone of the evening." — Patrick Smith, The Daily Telegraph (London), 24 June 2016

"'Hallelujah' found a natural home in the hospital shows of the late-2000s, and it was frequently called upon to lend extra gravitas to a patient's dramatic death. On a particularly lachrymose episode of 'General Hospital,' the staff sings 'Hallelujah' as they bus into the mountains for a ski trip. The song then returns after their bus crashes in the snow." — Nick Murray, The New York Times, 21 Sept. 2016

Did you know?

The adjective lachrymose comes from Latin lacrimosus (from the noun lacrima, meaning "tear"). Lachrymose didn't appear in English until around 1727, but another closely related adjective can be traced back to the 15th century. This earlier cousin, lachrymal (sometimes spelled lacrimal, particularly in its scientific applications), has a scientific flavor and is defined as "of, relating to, or being glands that produce tears" or "of, relating to, or marked by tears." In contrast, lachrymose typically applies to someone who is moved to tears because of strong emotions or to something that stimulates such feelings.

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Wed, 11 Jan 2017 00:00:01 -0500

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

gambol • \GAM-bul\  • verb

: to skip about in play : frisk, frolic


From her cabana, Candace watched her three children gambol in the ocean waves.

"… Canandaigua has now joined the list of communities … where jittery citizens have reported the appearance of scary clowns. A few instances have involved real people gamboling in public in clown suits for reasons only they understand, though many of the 'sightings' have turned out to be hoaxes or exaggerations…." — Steve Orr, Rochester (New York) Democrat and Chronicle, 4 Oct. 2016

Did you know?

In Middle French, the noun gambade referred to the frisky spring of a jumping horse. In the early 1500s, English speakers adopted the word as gambol as both a verb and a noun. (The noun means "a skipping or leaping about in play.") The English word is not restricted to horses, but rather can be used of any frolicsome creature. It is a word that suggests levity and spontaneity, and it tends to be used especially of the lively activity of children or animals engaged in active play.

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Tue, 10 Jan 2017 00:00:01 -0500

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 10, 2017 is:

jitney • \JIT-nee\  • noun

1 : a small bus that carries passengers over a regular route on a flexible schedule

2 : an unlicensed taxicab


After doing some shopping along the boardwalk, we boarded a jitney whose route took us back to our hotel.

"Another option, especially if you're staying along Cable Beach or areas west, is to hop a ride on the jitneys into and out of Downtown Nassau, a great way to chat with locals who are doing the same thing (each ride is about $1.50)." — Kaeli Conforti,, 14 Nov. 2016

Did you know?

Jitneys weren't worth a dime—just a nickel. In the early 1900s, jitney was slang for "nickel," but it wasn't long before the term was applied to a new mode of public transportation that only cost a nickel. When they were introduced in American cities at the beginning of the century, vehicular jitneys could be any automobiles that carried passengers over a set route for a cheap fare, but eventually the term was applied specifically to small buses—and, nowadays, to the motor shuttles used by airlines and hotels). In the mid-1900s, the word jitney was combined with jeep to create a new coinage: jeepney, meaning "a Philippine jitney bus converted from a jeep."

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