Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 23, 2017 is:
burke \BERK\ verb
1 : to suppress quietly or indirectly
The mob boss dropped a few well-timed bribes to prosecutors in an effort to burke any investigation into possible wrongdoing.
"There is, however, a respectable and reasonable ethical argument against clinical trials of correctional treatment methods which must not be burked in our enthusiasm for the acquisition of knowledge." — Norval Morris, "Should Research Design and Scientific Merits Be Evaluated?," in Experimentation with Human Beings, 1972
Did you know?
When an elderly pensioner died at the Edinburgh boarding house of William Hare in 1827, the proprietor and his friend William Burke decided to sell the body to a local anatomy school. The sale was so lucrative that they decided to make sure they could repeat it. They began luring nameless wanderers (who were not likely to be missed) into the house, getting them drunk, then smothering or strangling them and selling the bodies. The two disposed of at least 15 victims before murdering a local woman whose disappearance led to their arrest. At Burke's execution (by hanging), irate crowds shouted "Burke him!" As a result of the case, the word burke became a byword first for death by suffocation or strangulation and eventually for any cover-up.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 22, 2017 is:
nuncupative \NUN-kyoo-pay-tiv\ adjective
: spoken rather than written : oral
"He left me a small Legacy in a nuncupative Will, as a Token of his Kindness for me, and he left me once more to the wide World." — Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, 1791
"He did leave a will in which he bequeathed everything to Rebecca; but it turns out that John's will was not a written will. It was a nuncupative will, which means on his deathbed, John verbally told persons how he wanted his estate divided or dispensed." — Sharon Tate Moody, The Tampa (Florida) Tribune, 27 Dec. 2015
Did you know?
Nuncupative (from Latin nuncupare, meaning "to name") has been part of the English language since at least the 15th century, most typically appearing in legal contexts as a modifier of the noun will. The nuncupative will originated in Roman law, where it consisted of an oral declaration made in the presence of seven witnesses and later presented before a magistrate. Currently, nuncupative wills are allowed in some U.S. states in extreme circumstances, such as imminent peril of death from a terminal illness or from military or maritime service. Such wills are dictated orally but are usually required to be set down in writing within a statutorily specified time period, such as 30 days. Witnesses are required, though the number seven is no longer specified.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 21, 2017 is:
adversity \ad-VER-suh-tee\ noun
: a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune
The movie is about a group of determined mountain climbers who triumph in the face of adversity.
"In this way, [the movie] 'It' was meant to reflect how our childhood experiences and fears influence the people we become, and how our adult selves use that to deal with adversity." — Maria Sciullo, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 17 Sept. 2017
Did you know?
Adversity, mishap, misfortune, and mischance all suggest difficulty of one sort or another. Adversity particularly applies to a state of grave or persistent misfortune (as in "a childhood marked by great adversity"). Mishap suggests an often trivial instance of bad luck (as in "the usual mishaps of a family vacation"). Misfortune is the most common and the most general of the terms, often functioning as a simple synonym of "bad luck" (as in "having the misfortune to get a flat tire on the way to their wedding"). Mischance applies especially to a situation involving no more than slight inconvenience or minor annoyance (as in "a small mischance that befell us").
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 20, 2017 is:
knee-jerk \NEE-jerk\ adjective
: readily predictable : automatic; also : reacting in a readily predictable way
The letter to the editor asserted that the proposed institution of a curfew was a knee-jerk reaction to the problem of an uptick of nighttime crime in the city.
"The habitual or knee-jerk apologist runs a great risk of losing herself through all her apologies. She sees so many of the things she does as offenses or wrongs and takes responsibility for things that are not properly hers." — Peg O'Connor, Psychology Today, 23 June 2017
Did you know?
Around 1876, the sudden involuntary extension of the leg in response to a light blow just below the knee, which is also known as the patellar reflex, was given the refreshingly simple designation knee jerk. In the 1950s, knee-jerk became an adjective with a figurative sense that doesn't require any actual twitching. "As a salesman, I'm getting a bit weary of the knee-jerk association of a con artist with my professional calling," a correspondent once wrote to The New York Times Magazine. Knee-jerk often has a negative connotation. It usually denotes a too-hasty, impulsive, perhaps even irrational response that is often based on preconceived notions.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 19, 2017 is:
hew \HYOO\ verb
1 : to cut or fell with blows (as of an ax)
2 : to give form or shape to with or as if with an ax
"He is best known stateside for the … productions of 'Twelfth Night' and 'Richard III' that he brought to Broadway in 2013, which hewed as closely as possible to the staging choices made at the turn of the 17th century." — Eric Grode, The New York Times, 5 Sept. 2017
"Although the novel hews to the broad outlines of the Drumgold investigation, Lehr takes major liberties with the story, inventing plot twists, scenes, and characters…." — Malcolm Gay, The Boston Globe, 7 Sept. 2017
Did you know?
Hew is a strong, simple word of Anglo-Saxon descent. It can suggest actual ax-wielding, or it can be figurative: "If … our ambition hews and shapes [our] new relations, their virtue escapes, as strawberries lose their flavor in garden-beds" (Ralph Waldo Emerson). It's easy to see how the figurative "shape" sense of hew developed from the literal "hacking" sense, but what does chopping have to do with adhering and conforming? That sense first appeared in the late 1800s in the phrase "hew to the line." The "hew line" is a line marked along the length of a log indicating where to chop in order to shape a beam. "Hewing to the line," literally, is cutting along the mark—adhering to it—until the side of the log is squared.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 18, 2017 is:
malign \muh-LYNE\ verb
: to utter injuriously misleading or false reports about : speak evil of
The tech guru recalls how as a high schooler he was often maligned or simply ignored by the popular kids in his school.
"I am a contrarian on the Apple Watch, which I believe has been unfairly maligned by tech pundits. I love mine, and I get pretty frustrated by a lot of Apple products." — Nick Wingfield, The New York Times, 14 Sept. 2017
Did you know?
When a word's got mal- in it, it's no good. That prefix traces to the Latin word malus (which means "bad"), and it puts the negative vibes in both the verb and adjective forms of malign (from the Latin malignus, meaning "evil in nature") and a host of other English words. You can see it in malpractice (bad medical practice) and malady (a bad condition, such as a disease or illness, of the body or mind). A malefactor is someone guilty of bad deeds, and malice is a desire to cause injury, pain, or distress to another person. Other mal- formed words include malaise, malcontent, maladroit, malodorous, and malnourished.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 17, 2017 is:
euphony \YOO-fuh-nee\ noun
1 : pleasing or sweet sound; especially : the acoustic effect produced by words so formed or combined as to please the ear
2 : a harmonious succession of words having a pleasing sound
He awakened on a warm morning to the euphony of birdsong outside his window.
"After the war, 'A Shropshire Lad' travelled in the breast pockets of the generation who had taken up rambling and rediscovering the English countryside, even though—aside from a few place names, like Bredon Hill and Wenlock Edge, evidently chosen more for euphony than for anything else—it's not much of a geographic guide." — Charles McGrath, The New Yorker, 26 June 2017
Did you know?
Euphony was borrowed from French at the beginning of the 17th century; the French word (euphonie) derives from the Late Latin euphonia, which in turn traces back to the Greek adjective euphōnos, meaning "sweet-voiced" or "musical." Euphōnos was formed by combining the prefix eu- ("good") and phōnē ("voice"). In addition to its more commonly recognized senses, euphony also has a more specific meaning in the field of linguistics, where it can refer to the preference for words that are easy to pronounce. This preference may be the cause of an observed trend of people altering the pronunciation of certain words—apparently in favor of sound combinations that are more fluid and simpler to say out loud.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 16, 2017 is:
chary \CHAIR-ee\ adjective
1 : hesitant and vigilant about dangers and risks
2 : slow to grant, accept, or expend
"Alexander Graham Bell didn't expect his telephone to be widely used for prank calls. And Steve Jobs was chary of children using his iThings." — Hayley Krischer, The New York Times, 7 Sept. 2017
"An A-1 writer but also chary with spoken words, he told me: 'I don't own a computer. I write longhand. In notebooks. It's then typed up. Retyped until I feel I've got it.'" — Cindy Adams, The New York Post, 2 Aug. 2017
Did you know?
It was sorrow that bred the caution of chary. In Middle English chary meant "sorrowful," a sense that harks back to the word's Old English ancestor caru (an early form of care, and another term that originally meant "sorrow" or "grief"). In a sense switch that demonstrates that love can be both bitter and sweet, chary later came to mean "dear" or "cherished." That's how 16th-century English dramatist George Peele used it: "the chariest and the choicest queen, That ever did delight my royal eyes." Both sorrow and affection have largely faded from chary, however, and in Modern English the word is most often used as a synonym of either careful or sparing.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 15, 2017 is:
razzmatazz \raz-muh-TAZ\ noun
1 : a confusing or colorful often gaudy action or display : razzle-dazzle
2 : inflated, involved, and often deliberately ambiguous language : double-talk
We were disappointed by the candidate's speech, which offered plenty of razzmatazz but little substance.
"The fireworks, the razzmatazz, the artifice do not add to the sense of occasion. Instead of augmenting the competition's charm, they detract from it." — Rory Smith, The New York Times, 28 May 2017
Did you know?
English speakers are fond of forming new words through reduplication of a base word, usually with just a slight change of sound. Think of okeydoke, fuddy-duddy, super-duper, roly-poly, fiddle-faddle, and dillydally. Another word is razzle-dazzle, formed by the reduplication of dazzle (itself a frequentative of daze). In the late-19th century, the spirit that prompted razzle-dazzle (one early meaning of which is "a state of confusion or hilarity") seems to have also inspired razzmatazz. The coiners of razzmatazz may also have had jazz in mind. Some of the earliest turn-of-the century uses of razzmatazz refer to rag-time or early jazz styles. By the mid-20th century, we'd come round to the "razzle-dazzle" sense, though we still haven't completely settled on the spelling. You might, for example, see razzamatazz.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 14, 2017 is:
palliate \PAL-ee-ayt\ verb
1 : to reduce the violence of (a disease); also : to ease (symptoms) without curing the underlying disease
2 : to cover by excuses and apologies
3 : to moderate the intensity of
"He had an ability to describe and champion technological innovation and global integration in a rhetoric that palliated fears of change." — Matthew Continetti, Commentary, 16 Nov. 2016
"I have held onto generations of them not just for the headaches I inherited but for bellyaches, cramps, the cold, a cold, the side effects of antimalarial pills, tennis elbow. I've found that a hot-water bottle excels at palliating less-specific aches, ones that don't answer to 'Where does it hurt?'" — Chantel Tattoli, The New York Times Magazine, 19 Jan. 2017
Did you know?
Long ago, the ancient Romans had a name for the cloak-like garb that was worn by the Greeks (distinguishing it from their own toga); the name was pallium. In the 15th century, English speakers modified the Late Latin word palliatus, which derives from pallium, to form palliate. Our term, used initially as both an adjective and a verb, never had the literal Latin sense referring to the cloak you wear, but it took on the figurative "cloak" of protection. Specifically, the verb palliate meant (as it still can mean) "to lessen the intensity of a disease." The related adjective palliative describes medical care that focuses on relieving pain or discomfort rather than administering a cure.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 13, 2017 is:
lagniappe \LAN-yap\ noun
: a small gift given a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase; broadly : something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure
Our meal began with a lagniappe of pickled vegetables.
"Lagniappe—the unexpected surprises, the extras—are one of the reasons I love New Orleans.… I live, and travel, for the unexpected surprise. I may get lost, but there's usually an unexpected treat in that unplanned detour." — Jill Schensul, The Record (Bergen County, New Jersey), 19 Mar. 2017
Did you know?
"We picked up one excellent word," wrote Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi (1883), "a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word—'lagniappe'.... It is Spanish—so they said." Twain encapsulates the history of lagniappe quite nicely. English speakers learned the word from French-speaking Louisianians, but they in turn had adapted it from the American Spanish word la ñapa. (What Twain didn't know is that the Spanish word is from Quechua, from the word yapa, meaning "something added.") Twain went on to describe how New Orleanians completed shop transactions by saying "Give me something for lagniappe," to which the shopkeeper would respond with "a bit of liquorice-root, … a cheap cigar or a spool of thread." It took a while for lagniappe to catch on throughout the country, but in time, New Yorkers and New Orleanians alike were familiar with this "excellent word."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 12, 2017 is:
interdigitate \in-ter-DIJ-uh-tayt\ verb
: to become interlocked like the fingers of folded hands
A finger joint is formed when the "fingers" on the ends of two boards interdigitate for a secure fit.
"Forest and savanna interdigitate over a great front thousands of miles long and a half million square miles in area—half the size of the entire central African forest." — David Western, Discover, October 1986
Did you know?
It probably won't surprise you to learn that interdigitate comes from the prefix inter-, as in interlock, and the Latin word digitus, meaning "finger." Digitus also gave us digit, which is used in English today to refer to (among other things) the finger or toe of any animal. Interdigitate usually suggests an interlocking of things with fingerlike projections, such as muscle fibers or the teeth of an old-fashioned bear trap. The word can also be used figuratively to imply a smooth interweaving of disparate things, such as the blending of two cultures within a shared region.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 11, 2017 is:
tendentious \ten-DEN-shus\ adjective
: marked by a tendency in favor of a particular point of view : biased
The book proved to be a tendentious account of the town's history, written to rescue the reputation of one of its less scrupulous founders.
"The French satirical publication … has a record of ruffling feathers with tendentious headlines." — Daniel J. Solomon, The Forward (forward.com), 29 Aug. 2017
Did you know?
Tendentious is one of several words English speakers can choose when they want to suggest that someone has made up his or her mind in advance. You may be partial to predisposed or prone to favor partisan, but whatever your leanings, we're inclined to think you'll benefit from adding tendentious to your repertoire. A derivative of the Medieval Latin word tendentia, meaning "tendency," plus the English suffix -ious, tendentious has been used in English as an adjective for biased attitudes since at least the end of the 19th century.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 10, 2017 is:
gregarious \grih-GAIR-ee-us\ adjective
1 a : tending to associate with others of one's kind : social
b : marked by or indicating a liking for companionship : sociable
c : of or relating to a social group
2 a : (of a plant) growing in a cluster or a colony
b : living in contiguous nests but not forming a true colony — used especially of wasps and bees
The documentary is filmed inside the burrows of the gregarious prairie dogs using high-tech equipment.
"Young players … don't feel close to him like they do an older player like Phil Mickelson, who has been a much more gregarious mentor." — Brian Wacker, Golf Digest, August 2017
Did you know?
When you're one of the herd, it's tough to avoid being social. The etymology of gregarious reflects the social nature of the flock; in fact, the word grew out of the Latin noun grex, meaning "herd" or "flock." When it first began appearing in English texts in the 17th century, gregarious was applied mainly to animals, but by the 18th century it was being used for social human beings as well. By the way, grex gave English a whole flock of other words too, including egregious, aggregate, congregate, and segregate.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 9, 2017 is:
denegation \den-ih-GAY-shun\ noun
"I sought to interrupt him with some not very truthful denegation; but he waved me down, and pursued his speech." — Robert Louis Stevenson, The Master of Ballantrae, 1889
"I see Horton say emphatically No…. His denegation is plausible; Gray believes it and accepts it…." — Henry James, The Ivory Tower, 1917
Did you know?
Even if we didn't provide you with a definition, you might guess the meaning of denegation from the negation part. Both words are ultimately derived from the Latin verb negare, meaning "to deny" or "to say no," and both first arrived in English in the 15th century. Negare is also the source of our abnegation ("self-denial"), negate ("to deny the truth of"), and renegade (which originally referred to someone who leaves, and therefore denies, a religious faith). Even deny and denial are negare descendants. Like denegation, they came to us from negare by way of the Latin denegare, which also means "to deny."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 8, 2017 is:
slake \SLAYK\ verb
2 : to cause (a substance, such as lime) to heat and crumble by treatment with water : hydrate
"Food trucks offering tacos, barbecue and wood-fired pizza will be available to slake any ale-induced cravings, and live bluegrass music from Turnip Truck and Red Barn Hayloft will serenade the event." — EmmaJean Holly, Valley News (West Lebanon, New Hampshire), 16 Aug. 2017
"In eighth grade she traveled with adults in her church group to Juarez, Mexico to spend a week helping out at an orphanage. As a sophomore in high school, she participated in a three-week exchange in Denmark. But short visits didn't fully slake Fisher's desire to live in and explore other cultures." — Rick Foster, The Foxboro (Massachusetts) Reporter, 24 Aug. 2017
Did you know?
There is no lack of obsolete and archaic meanings when it comes to slake. Shakespearean scholars may know that in the Bard's day slake meant "to subside or abate" ("No flood by raining slaketh ...." — The Rape of Lucrece) or "to lessen the force of" ("It could not slake mine ire, nor ease my heart." — Henry VI, Part 3). The most erudite word enthusiasts may also be aware of earlier meanings of slake, such as "to slacken one's efforts" or "to cause to be relaxed or loose." These early meanings recall the word's Old English ancestor sleac, which not only meant "slack" but is also the source of that modern term.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 7, 2017 is:
prehension \pree-HEN-shun\ noun
1 : the act of taking hold, seizing, or grasping
2 : mental understanding : comprehension
3 : apprehension by the senses
"The CMC [carpometacarpal] joint of the thumb … performs a variety of movements necessary to perform prehension or grasping." — Mark McDonald, The South Platte Sentinel, 2 Aug. 2017
"The tongue is not, properly speaking, in man, an organ for the prehension of solid food, that office being performed by the hand, for which the opponent arrangement of thumb and fingers eminently fits it…." — Robert Bentley Todd, The Cyclopaedia of Anatomy and Physiology, 1852
Did you know?
It's easy to grasp the origins of prehension—it descends from the Latin verb prehendere, which means "to seize" or "to grasp." Other descendants of prehendere in English include apprehend ("arrest, seize"), comprehend ("to grasp the nature or significance of"), prehensile ("adapted for seizing or grasping"), prison, reprise ("a repeated performance"), and reprisal ("a retaliatory act"). Even the English word get comes to us from the same ancient root that led to the Latin prehendere.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 6, 2017 is:
bombard \bahm-BARD\ verb
1 : to attack especially with artillery or bombers
2 : to assail vigorously or persistently (as with questions)
3 : to subject to the impact of rapidly moving particles (as electrons)
After running an editorial supporting the town's controversial plan, the newspaper was bombarded with letters and email from residents wishing to voice their opposition.
"Hundreds of willing—and unwilling—participants will line up on either side of the lot and bombard each other with tomatoes." — Jimmy Fisher, The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), 17 Aug. 2017
Did you know?
In the late Middle Ages, a bombard was a cannon used to hurl large stones at enemy fortifications. Its name, which first appeared in English in the 15th century, comes from the Middle French bombarde, which in turn was probably a combination of the onomatopoeic bomb- and the suffix -arde (equivalent to the English -ard). The verb bombard blasted onto the scene in English in the 17th century, with an original meaning of "to attack especially with artillery"; as weapons technology improved throughout the centuries, such artillery came to include things like automatic rifles and bomber aircraft. Nowadays one can be bombarded figuratively in any number of ways, such as by omnipresent advertising messages or persistent phone calls.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 5, 2017 is:
vituperate \vye-TOO-puh-rayt\ verb
1 : to criticize or censure severely or abusively
2 : to use harsh condemnatory language
"Hang on, let me tell you a story: Years ago, I had a co-worker who knew I enjoyed golf and who decided that he would vituperate golf. 'It's so boring, it's such a waste of time. Who in his right mind would want to play golf?'" — Jay Nordlinger, The National Review, 17 Apr. 2017
"Lenin on the Train … is the latest entry in a vast literature dedicated to answering the question of just how was it that this pointy-bearded intellectual, who spent much of his life in libraries, and whose primary pastime was vituperating against fellow socialists in obscure journals, achieved so much—and at such a drastic human cost." — Daniel Kalder, The Dallas Morning News, 16 Apr. 2017
Did you know?
Vituperate has several close synonyms, including berate and revile. Berate usually refers to scolding that is drawn out and abusive. Revile means to attack or criticize in a way prompted by anger or hatred. Vituperate can be used as a transitive or intransitive verb and adds to the meaning of revile by stressing an attack that is particularly harsh or unrelenting. It first appeared in English in the mid-16th century and can be traced back to two Latin words: the noun vitium, meaning "fault," and the verb parare, meaning "to make or prepare."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 4, 2017 is:
agita \AJ-uh-tuh\ noun
: a feeling of agitation or anxiety
"Home-sharing through websites has meant more lodging choices for visitors to Massachusetts. But it's also become a source of considerable agita on Beacon Hill: How to tax and regulate this sudden behemoth?" — The Boston Globe, 18 June 2017
"According to an American Psychological Association (APA) report, 43 percent of women say they're more stressed out than they were five years…. Women under age 33 report the highest levels of agita of any generation, with those 33 to 46 close behind." — Shaun Dreisbach, Glamour, April 2016
Did you know?
Judging by its spelling and meaning, you might think that agita is simply a shortened version of agitation, but that's not the case. Both agitation and the verb it comes form, agitate, derive from Latin agere, meaning "to drive." Agita, which first appeared in American English in the mid-late 20th century, comes from a dialectical pronunciation of the Italian word acido, meaning "heartburn" or "acid," from Latin acidus. (Agita is also occasionally used in English with the meaning "heartburn.") For a while the word's usage was limited to New York City and surrounding regions, but the word became more widespread in the mid-1990s.
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