Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 22, 2018 is:
leonine \LEE-uh-nyne\ adjective
: of, relating to, suggestive of, or resembling a lion
"Jamie has a leonine aspect, with a high clear brow and soft curls eddying over his ears and along his collar." — Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Harper's, March 2009
"You're a kid; you want to escape. Maybe to Edwardian England, maybe to an island of dancing lemurs, maybe through the rear of a magical wardrobe into a land of snow and ice waiting for a leonine king to bring back the sun." — Lawrence Toppman, The Charlotte Observer, 9 Mar. 2017
Did you know?
Leonine derives from Latin leo, meaning "lion," which in turn comes from Greek leōn. Leōn gave us an interesting range of words: leopard (which derives from leōn combined with pardos, a Greek word for a panther-like animal); dandelion (which came by way of the Anglo-French phrase dent de lion—literally, "lion's tooth"); and chameleon (which combines leōn with the Greek chamai, meaning "on the ground"); as well as the names Leo, Leon, and Leonard. But the dancer's and gymnast's leotard is not named for its wearer's cat-like movements. Rather, it was simply named after its inventor, Jules Leotard, a 19th-century French aerial gymnast.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 21, 2018 is:
extenuate \ik-STEN-yuh-wayt\ verb
1 : to lessen or to try to lessen the seriousness or extent of by making partial excuses : mitigate
2 : to lessen the strength or effect of
Ryan's tardiness to work that morning was extenuated by the fact that his first meeting of the day was cancelled.
"If I did any wrong, as I may have done much, I did it in mistaken love, and in my want of wisdom. I write the exact truth. It would avail me nothing to extenuate it now." — Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, 1850
Did you know?
You have probably encountered the phrase "extenuating circumstances," which is one of the more common ways that this word turns up in modern times. Extenuate was borrowed into English in the late Middle Ages from Latin extenuatus, the past participle of the verb extenuare, which was itself formed by combining ex- and the verb tenuare, meaning "to make thin." In addition to the surviving senses, extenuate once meant "to make light of" and "to make thin or emaciated"; although those senses are now obsolete, the connection to tenuare can be traced somewhat more clearly through them. Extenuate is today mostly at home in technical and legal contexts, but it occasionally appears in general writing with what may be a developing meaning: "to prolong, worsen, or exaggerate." This meaning, which is likely due to a conflation with extend or accentuate (or both), is not yet fully established.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 20, 2018 is:
bespoke \bih-SPOHK\ adjective
1 : custom-made
2 : dealing in or producing custom-made articles
"Matt, a lifelong collector of vintage and bespoke men's suiting, takes dressing for an occasion very seriously: black tie the first evening; blue jackets the second." — Pilar Guzman, Traveler, December 2017
"Customers stepped up for body scans inside the showroom and then worked with an employee to design their own bespoke pullovers." — Anna Wiener, Wired, December 2017
Did you know?
In the English language of yore, the verb bespeak had various meanings, including "to speak," "to accuse," and "to complain." In the 16th century, bespeak acquired another meaning—"to order or arrange in advance." It is from that sense that we get the adjective bespoke, referring to clothes and other things that are ordered before they are made. You are most likely to encounter this adjective in British contexts, such as the 2008 Reuters news story about a young pig in Northern England who was fitted with "bespoke miniature footwear" (custom-made Wellington boots) to help it overcome a phobia of mud.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 19, 2018 is:
trammel \TRAM-ul\ noun
1 : something impeding activity, progress, or freedom : restraint — usually used in plural
2 : a net for catching birds or fish; especially : trammel net
4 : a shackle used for making a horse amble
5 a : ellipsograph
b : beam compass
In her memoir, the singer asserts that her musicianship was ultimately hampered by the trammels of fame.
"We learn a good deal about [Doc] Holliday: his grief at the passing of his mother when he was a teenager, his early career as an Ivy League-trained dentist, his quickness on the draw, his self-reinvention as an adventurer-wanderer, his yearning to shed the trammels of the conventional life." — Richard Bernstein, The New York Times, 22 Aug. 2001
Did you know?
A trammel net traditionally has three layers, with the middle one finer-meshed and slack so that fish passing through the first net carry some of the center net through the coarser third net and are trapped. Appropriately, trammel traces back through the Middle English tramayle and the Old French tramail to the Late Latin tremaculum, which comes from Latin tres, meaning "three," and macula, meaning "mesh." Today, the plural trammels is synonymous with restraints, and trammel is also used as a verb meaning "to confine" or "to enmesh." You may also run across the adjective untrammeled, meaning "not confined or limited."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 18, 2018 is:
homiletic \hah-muh-LET-ik\ adjective
1 : of, relating to, or resembling a homily
2 : of or relating to the art of preaching; also : preachy
"The first part is full of homiletic insight, the second replete with postmodern angst, the third quite beautiful in its claim to faith—even the somewhat attenuated faith of our present age." — Paul Lakeland, Commonweal, 23 Apr. 2010
"Holbein was wonderfully fresh, but the concept stemmed from a 1280 poem, Le Dit des trois morts et les trois vifs, by Baudoin de Condé. Condé’s concept of a homiletic interchange between feckless living and ghastly dead transmuted swiftly into other languages and pictorial art across Europe." — Derek Turner, The New York Times, 5 Dec. 2017
Did you know?
Homiletic came to us by way of Latin from Greek homilētikos, meaning "affable" or "social." Homilētikos came from homilein, meaning "to talk with," "to address," or "to make a speech," which in turn came from homilos, the Greek word for "crowd" or "assembly." Homilos and homilein also gave English, by way of Latin homilia and French omelie, the word homily, which is used for a short sermon, a lecture on a moral theme, and an inspirational catchphrase or platitude. Like homily, homiletic focuses on the morally instructive nature of a discourse. Homiletic can also be used derogatorily in the sense of "preachy."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 17, 2018 is:
famish \FAM-ish\ verb
1 : to cause to suffer severely from hunger
2 : to suffer for lack of something necessary
"At first Bartleby did an extraordinary quantity of writing. As if long famishing for something to copy, he seemed to gorge himself on my documents. There was no pause for digestion." — Herman Melville, "Bartleby the Scrivener," 1853
"Eating healthy regularly is more important than famishing to shed a few pounds." — Emily Long, The Daily Vidette: Illinois State University, 23 Aug. 2017
Did you know?
Famish likely developed as an alteration of Middle English famen, meaning "to starve." The Middle English word was borrowed from the Anglo-French verb afamer, which etymologists believe came from Vulgar Latin affamare. We say "believe" because, while no written evidence has yet been found for the Vulgar Latin word affamare, it would be the expected source for the Anglo-French verb based on the combination of the Latin prefix ad- ("to" or "toward") and the root noun fames ("hunger"). In contemporary English, the verb famish is still used on occasion, but it is considerably less common than the related adjective famished, which usually means "hungry" or "starving" but can also mean "needy" or "being in want."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 16, 2018 is:
adapt \uh-DAPT\ verb
: to make or become fit (as for a new use) often by modification
It took Rachel a while to adapt to her new school, but she is settling in well now.
"Hydroponics and aeroponics require vigilant monitoring of nutrient solution. While this can be time consuming, Tiger Corner Farms has fully automated this process by adapting warehouse management software to adjust nutrient levels, pH and other environmental parameters." — Tony Bertauski, The Post & Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 29 Nov. 2017
Did you know?
Rooted in the origins of adapt is the idea of becoming specifically fit for something. English speakers adapted adapt in the 15th century from the Middle French adapter, which was borrowed, in turn, from the Latin adaptāre,a combination of the Latin prefix ad- ("to, toward") and the verb aptāre, meaning "to put into position, bring to bear, make ready." Aptāre is a verbal derivative of aptus, meaning "fit" or "apt." Other descendants of aptus in English include aptitude, inept, and of course apt itself, as well as unapt and inapt.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 15, 2018 is:
intrepid \in-TREP-id\ adjective
: characterized by resolute fearlessness, fortitude, and endurance
"An intrepid engineer is on the edge of fulfilling his dream of conquering the world's toughest mountaineering challenge. Peter Sunnucks, 35, will be joined by his wife Elizabeth Wood when he heads to Antarctica in two weeks' time to try to scale the last of seven of the earth's highest peaks." — Russell Blackstock, The Sunday Post (Dundee, Scotland), 14 Nov. 2017
"A series of disappearances echoes events from 33 years before, and an intrepid teenager, Jonas (Louis Hofmann, steady at the center of the large cast), sets off into the caverns under the plant to solve the mystery." — Mike Hale, The New York Times, 5 Dec. 2017
Did you know?
You need not be afraid to find out the origins of today's word, although its history does include fear. Intrepid derives from the Latin word intrepidus, itself formed by the combination of the prefix in- (meaning "not") and trepidus, meaning "alarmed." Other relatives of trepidus in English include trepidation and trepidatious, as well as trepid (which actually predates intrepid and means "fearful"). Synonyms for intrepid include courageous, valiant, fearless, valorous, and simply brave. Intrepid aptly describes anyone—from explorers to reporters—who ventures bravely into unknown territory, though often you'll see the word loaded with irony, as in "an intrepid volunteer sampled the entries at the pie bake-off."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 14, 2018 is:
demiurge \DEM-ee-erj\ noun
: one that is an autonomous creative force or decisive power
"But it is difficult to create a world, even a tiny one, and some authors are more successful than others at playing demiurge…." — Sergio Ruzzier, The New York Times, 9 Oct. 2016
"Gladstone, a formidable chancellor though an indifferent prime minister, was certainly an intellectual. Like Churchill, however, he was unclassifiable. Such demiurges transcend categories." — Bruce Anderson, The Daily Telegraph (London), 8 May 2014
Did you know?
In the Platonic school of philosophy, the Demiurge is a deity who fashions the physical world in the light of eternal ideas. In the Timaeus, Plato credits the Demiurge with taking preexisting materials of chaos and arranging them in accordance with the models of eternal forms. Nowadays, the word demiurge can refer to the individual or group chiefly responsible for a creative idea, as in "the demiurge behind the new hit TV show." Demiurge derives, via Late Latin, from Greek dēmiourgos, meaning "artisan," or "one with special skill." The demi- part of the word comes from the Greek noun dēmos, meaning "people"; the second part comes from the word for worker, ergon. Despite its appearance, it is unrelated to the word urge.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 13, 2018 is:
stanch \STAUNCH\ verb
1 : to check or stop the flowing of; also : to stop the flow of blood from (a wound)
2 a : to stop or check in its course
b : to make watertight : stop up
The company's CEO gave the keynote address at the convention, stanching rumors that he was not recovering well from his surgery.
"Firefighters watched the smoke and assessed wind patterns, raking dead leaves and branches away from the blaze in hopes of stanching its charge once again." — Alissa Greenberg, The Washington Post, 13 Oct. 2017
Did you know?
The verb stanch has a lot in common with the adjective staunch, meaning "steadfast." Not only do both words derive from the Anglo-French word estancher (which has the same meaning as stanch), but the spelling "s-t-a-n-c-h" is sometimes used for the adjective, and the spelling "s-t-a-u-n-c-h" is sometimes used for the verb. Although both spelling variants have been in reputable use for centuries and both are perfectly standard for either the verb or adjective, stanch is the form used most often for the verb and staunch is the most common variant for the adjective.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 12, 2018 is:
reprehensible \rep-rih-HEN-suh-bul\ adjective
The newspaper's most recent editorial calls for the mayor's resignation, citing the recent accusations of bribery as both plausible and reprehensible.
"As a practical matter, successful hostile environment lawsuits involve two distinct components. Harassment is only the first. The second is the company's failure to respond effectively after learning about it, which is what turns reprehensible on-the-job behavior into job discrimination." — Joel Jacobsen, The Albuquerque Journal, 11 Dec. 2017
Did you know?
Reprehensible, blameworthy, blamable, guilty, and culpable mean deserving reproach or punishment. Reprehensible is a strong word describing behavior that should evoke severe criticism. Blameworthy and blamable apply to any kind of act, practice, or condition considered to be wrong in any degree ("conduct adjudged blameworthy"; "an accident for which no one is blamable"). Guilty implies responsibility for or consciousness of crime, sin, or, at the least, grave error or misdoing ("guilty of a breach of etiquette"). Culpable is weaker than guilty and is likely to connote malfeasance or errors of ignorance, omission, or negligence ("culpable neglect").
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 11, 2018 is:
placate \PLAY-kayt\ verb
: to soothe or mollify especially by concessions : appease
"Laughlin can placate even the most skittish of horses, coaxing them into his trailer with sugar cubes…." — Lizzie Johnson, The San Francisco Chronicle, 7 Dec. 2017
"While reviews from riders have been generally positive, there have been complaints about boats running late and being so full that they leave people behind. City officials said they hope to placate riders by next summer with a bigger fleet." — Patrick McGeehan, The New York Times, 29 Nov. 2017
Did you know?
The earliest documented uses of the verb placate in English date from the late 17th century. The word is derived from Latin placatus, the past participle of placare, and placate still carries the basic meaning of its Latin ancestor: "to soothe" or "to appease." Other placare descendants in English are implacable (meaning "not easily soothed or satisfied") and placation ("the act of soothing or appeasing"). Even please itself, derived from Latin placēre ("to please"), is a distant relative of placate.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 10, 2018 is:
cohort \KOH-hort\ noun
b : a group of individuals having a statistical factor (such as age or class membership) in common in a demographic study
c : one of 10 divisions of an ancient Roman legion
d : a group of warriors or soldiers
"A cohort of chambermaids would descend twice daily with mops, brooms, and fresh towels in tow." — Doone Beale, Gourmet, April 1989
"But among those aged 65 to 74 years old, more than three-quarters had registered and 70 percent voted—a proportion that dropped only slightly in older cohorts." — Paula Span, The New York Times, 28 Nov. 2017
Did you know?
In ancient times, a cohort was a military unit, one of ten divisions in a Roman legion. The term passed into English in the 15th century, when it was used in translations and writings about Roman history. Once cohort became established in our language, its meaning was extended, first to refer to any body of troops, then to any group of individuals with something in common, and later to a single companion. Some usage commentators have objected to this last sense because it can be hard to tell whether the plural refers to different individuals or different groups. The "companion" sense is well established in standard use, however, and its meaning is clear enough in such sentences as "her cohorts came along with her to the game."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 9, 2018 is:
officinal \uh-FISS-uh-nul\ adjective
: tending or used to cure disease or relieve pain : medicinal
The plant turned out to have officinal properties and could be used to make an anti-itch ointment.
"Europe's mania for rhubarb in the second half of the eighteenth century energized the drive to find the plant in its native habitat. Was this plant … the very same one that for so long had provided the officinal root for European pharmacies? — Clifford M. Foust, Rhubarb: The Wondrous Drug, 1992
Did you know?
Officinal is a word applied in medicine to plants and herbs that are used in medicinal preparations. For most of the 19th century, it was the standard word used by the United States Pharmacopeia to refer to the drugs, chemicals, and medicinal preparations that they recognized, but by the 1870s it was replaced by official in this context. Despite this supersession, you still can find a healthy dose of officinal in the pharmaceutical field, where it is used today as a word describing preparations that are regularly kept in stock at pharmacies. Officinal was derived from the Medieval Latin noun officina, a word for the storeroom of a monastery in which provisions and medicines were kept. In Latin, officina means "workshop."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 8, 2018 is:
mutatis mutandis \myoo-TAH-tis-myoo-TAHN-dis\ adverb
1 : with the necessary changes having been made
2 : with the respective differences having been considered
"I know nothing more contemptible in a writer than the character of a plagiary; which he here fixes at a venture, and this not for a passage but a whole discourse taken out from another book, only mutatis mutandis." — Jonathan Swift, The Tale of a Tub, 1704
"And Knausgaard's abandonment of literary conceit is itself a literary conceit…. A given sentence may or may not shine, but in its riverine accumulations, 'My Struggle' is as purposefully shaped, as beautifully patterned and, yes, as artfully compressed as any novel in recent memory. The same is true, mutatis mutandis, of 'Autumn.'" — Garth Risk Hallberg, The New York Times, 1 Oct. 2017
Did you know?
Unlike most English terms with Latin parentage, mutatis mutandis (which translates literally as "things having been changed that have to be changed") maintains its Latinate aspect entirely. It doesn't look like an English phrase, which is perhaps why it remains rather uncommon despite having functioned in English since the 16th century. Although the phrase is used in the specialized fields of law, philosophy, and economics when analogous situations are discussed, it appears in other contexts, too, where analogy occurs, as this quote from Henry James' The American demonstrates: "Roderick made an admirable bust of her at the beginning of the winter, and a dozen women came rushing to him to be done, mutatis mutandis, in the same style."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 7, 2018 is:
gainsay \gayn-SAY\ verb
1 : to declare to be untrue or invalid
There is no doubt that their work makes a useful contribution, but it does not provide enough evidence to gainsay the conclusions of earlier scholars.
"There is no gainsaying the fact that we have an obesity problem in the United States." — Amitrajeet A. Batabyal, The Buffalo News, 9 Dec. 2015
Did you know?
You might have trouble figuring out gainsay if you're thinking of our modern gain plus say. It should help to know that the gain- part is actually related to against—specifically the Old English prefix gēan- ("against, in opposition to"). From that came Middle English gain-, which was joined with sayen ("to say") to form gainsayen, the Middle English predecessor of gainsay. So when you see gainsay, think "to say against"—that is, "to deny" or "to contradict."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 6, 2018 is:
vapid \VAP-id\ adjective
Finn liked to watch the game in silence, with the TV on mute, rather than listen to the vapid chatter of the play-by-play announcer.
"The vapid, upbeat bubblegum tone of the song never wavers, even as the women … run down a truly horrifying-in-its-ordinariness list of all the things women have to put up with every … day." — Dennis Perkins, The A.V. Club, 3 Dec. 2017
Did you know?
"Then away goes the brisk and pleasant Spirits and leave a vapid or sour Drink." So wrote John Mortimer—an early 18th-century expert on agriculture, orchards, and cider-making—in his book on husbandry. His use was typical for his day, when vapid was often used specifically in reference to liquor. The term comes from Latin vapidus, meaning "flat-tasting," a possible relative of vapor. That use still occurs today; you might, for example, hear an uninspiring wine described as vapid. More likely you'll hear vapid, along with the synonyms insipid, flat, and inane, describe people and things that lack spirit and character.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 5, 2018 is:
bindle stiff \BIN-dul-stiff\ noun
: hobo; especially : one who carries his clothes or bedding in a bundle
"A bindle stiff smoked in the partly open doorway of a Rock Island boxcar, nothing supernatural about him." — John Farris, Phantom Nights, 2005
"Like Alamosa, Durango and Chama, the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad created Salida, a sooty town complete with coal dust, tired railroad workers and the occasional bindle stiff or hobo who walked down the tracks looking for handouts." — Andrew Gulliford, The Durango (Colorado) Herald, 12 Apr. 2015
Did you know?
In the argot of tramps and hoboes, a roll of clothes and bedding was called a bindle, a word that probably originated as an alteration of the more familiar bundle. Stiff itself can mean "hobo" or "migrant worker," meanings it took on in the late 19th century. About the same time, any tramp or hobo who habitually carried such a pack was known as a bindle stiff. In Australia, a pack-carrying hobo might be called a swagman.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 4, 2018 is:
hornswoggle \HORN-swah-gul\ verb
"Grass-fed is an unregulated term with no standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This can add to the confusion for home cooks already trying to avoid getting hornswoggled by advertising claims (look what happened to the heavily abused word 'natural')." — Jennifer Rude Klett, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 19 Apr. 2017
"An unsuccessful indie actress … tries to hornswoggle a celebrity into appearing in the film she's making as a last-ditch attempt to rescue her career." — Dave Kehr, The New York Times, 5 May 2013
Did you know?
Hornswoggle is a slang word of some considerable mystery, at least where its etymology is concerned. The word appears to have originated in the southern United States in the early 19th century. The earliest known written record comes from an 1829 issue of The Virginia Literary Magazine in its glossary of Americanisms. The magazine states that hornswoggle came from Kentucky, and its oddness matches nicely with other 19th-century Americanisms, such as sockdolager, absquatulate, callithump, slumgullion, and skedaddle. While the exact point at which hornswoggle entered our language, and the way in which it was formed, may remain unknown, it is a charming addition to our language, joining bamboozle and honeyfuggle as colorful ways to say "to deceive."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 3, 2018 is:
sacerdotal \sass-er-DOH-tul\ adjective
1 : of or relating to priests or a priesthood : priestly
2 : of, relating to, or suggesting religious belief emphasizing the powers of priests as essential mediators between God and humankind
The priest gives a homily after reciting the Gospel as part of his sacerdotal duties.
"… as they approached, the priest, dressed in his sacerdotal garments, made his appearance…." — Sir Walter Scott, Quentin Durward, 1823
Did you know?
Sacerdotal is one of a host of English words derived from the Latin adjective sacer, meaning "sacred." Other words derived from sacer include desecrate, sacrifice, sacrilege, consecrate, sacrament, and even execrable (developed from the Latin word exsecrari, meaning "to put under a curse"). One surprising sacer descendant is sacrum, referring to the series of five vertebrae in the lower back connected to the pelvis. In Latin this bone was called the os sacrum, or "holy bone," a translation of the Greek hieron osteon.
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