Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

By Merriam-Webster

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Reviews: 5

 Jan 17, 2020

 Jan 17, 2019
Always something to learn, even if I generally knew the word.

 Nov 25, 2018

Franz Lang
 Nov 6, 2018
Very concise and includes interesting info like etymology or historical references.

 Jul 11, 2018
a word a day is often interesting but would prefer more advanced words


Free daily dose of word power from Merriam-Webster's experts

Episode Date

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 30, 2020 is:

laissez-faire • \less-ay-FAIR\  • noun

1 : a doctrine opposing governmental interference in economic affairs beyond the minimum necessary for the maintenance of peace and property rights

2 : a philosophy or practice characterized by a usually deliberate abstention from direction or interference especially with individual freedom of choice and action


"Though often viewed as an age of laissez-faire, the Victorian period saw ambitious lawmaking. Much of this involved revising existing legislation: one result was the expansion of the middle-class bureaucracy…." — Henry Hitchings, The Language Wars: A History of Proper English, 2011

"In the late nineteenth century, a new generation of economists, who had returned from training in Germany to challenge the laissez-faire orthodoxy of the American Gilded Age, gradually rose to prominence at Wharton. They argued that the government should intervene to address widening inequality of industrial capitalism." — David Sessions, The New Republic, March 2020

Did you know?

The French phrase laissez faire literally means "allow to do," with the idea being "let people do as they choose." The origins of laissez-faire are associated with the Physiocrats, a group of 18th-century French economists who believed that government policy should not interfere with the operation of natural economic laws. The actual coiner of the phrase may have been French economist Vincent de Gournay, or it may have been François Quesnay, who is considered the group's founder and leader. The original phrase was laissez faire, laissez passer, with the second part meaning "let (things) pass." Laissez-faire, which first showed up in an English context in the first half of the 19th century, can still mean "a doctrine opposing governmental interference in economic affairs," but it is also used in broader contexts in which a "hands-off" or "anything-goes" policy or attitude is adopted. It is frequently used attributively before another noun.

Mar 30, 2020

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 29, 2020 is:

quixotic • \kwik-SAH-tik\  • adjective

1 : foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals; especially : marked by rash lofty romantic ideas or extravagantly chivalrous action

2 : capricious, unpredictable


"'Amazon' covers nearly a quarter-century of business history, from [Jeff] Bezos' rise at a data-obsessed Wall Street hedge fund to his seemingly quixotic attempt to crash into the book business." — The New Jersey Herald, 18 Feb. 2020

"Gary Garrels, SFMoMA's senior curator of painting and sculpture, needed about ten years to put it together, in part because Celmins, who turns eighty-one in October, is so quixotic about how, and when, her work is seen."— Calvin Tomkins, The New Yorker, 26 Aug. 2019

Did you know?

If you guessed that quixotic has something to do with Don Quixote, you're absolutely right. The hero of Miguel de Cervantes' 17th-century Spanish novel El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha (in English "The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha")  didn't change the world by tilting at windmills, but he did leave a linguistic legacy in English. The adjective quixotic is based on his name and has been used to describe unrealistic idealists since at least the early 18th century. The novel has given English other words as well. Dulcinea, the name of Quixote's beloved, has come to mean "mistress" or "sweetheart," and rosinante, which is sometimes used to refer to an old, broken-down horse, comes from the name of the hero's less-than-gallant steed, Rocinante.

Mar 29, 2020

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 28, 2020 is:

derogate • \DAIR-uh-gayt\  • verb

1 : to cause to seem inferior : disparage

2 : to take away a part so as to impair : detract

3 : to act beneath one's position or character


"While one could argue that the phrase ['OK Boomer'] in itself derogates the very term used to describe an older age bracket of generational Baby Boomers (those born between the 1940s and 1960s), it would be more useful to examine how and when people use such a new phrase." — Kameryn Griesser, The Battalion (Texas A & M University), 19 Nov. 2019

"All jobs require us at some point to deliver bad news—whether it be a minor revelation such as a recruiter telling a prospective employee that there's no wiggle-room in salary, or something major, like when a manager must fire an employee.… Our research shows that people are prone to derogating those who tell them things they don't want to hear—we shoot the messenger." — Leslie K. John et al., The Harvard Business Review, 16 Apr. 2019

Did you know?

Most of us encounter derogatory, the adjective meaning "expressing a low opinion," more frequently than we do derogate, its less common verb relation, but the verb is older; it first appeared in English in the 15th century, while derogatory wasn't adopted until the early 16th. Both words can be traced back to the Late Latin word derogatus, which is the past participle of the verb derogare, meaning "to detract" or "to annul (a law)." Derogare, in turn, derives from the Latin word for "ask," rogāre. Other derogate relatives include derogative, derogation, and derogatorily.

Mar 28, 2020

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 27, 2020 is:

cordial • \KOR-jul\  • adjective

1 a : showing or marked by warm and often hearty friendliness, favor, or approval : politely pleasant and friendly

b : sincerely or deeply felt

2 : tending to revive, cheer, or invigorate


Even though we disagree with one another on many points, we have long maintained a cordial relationship.

"Last Wednesday, three members of the Taste Test team had lunch at All City Grille…. The experience was wholly pleasant. The dining room is modern and clean, the student servers were cordial and efficient, and the food was well-prepared and well-priced." — Dan Kane, The Repository (Canton, Ohio), 12 Feb. 2020

Did you know?

Cordial shares the Latin root cor with concord (meaning "harmony") and discord (meaning "conflict"). Cor means "heart," and each of these cor descendants has something to do with the heart, at least figuratively. Concord, which comes from con- (meaning "together" or "with") plus cor, suggests that one heart is with another. Discord combines the prefix dis- (meaning "apart") with cor, and it implies that hearts are apart. When cordial was first used in the 14th century, it literally meant "of or relating to the heart," but this sense has not been in use since the 17th century. Today anything that is cordial, be it a friendly welcome, a compliment, or an agreement, comes from the heart in a figurative sense.

Mar 27, 2020

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 26, 2020 is:

ninja • \NIN-juh\  • noun

: a person trained in ancient Japanese martial arts and employed especially for espionage and assassinations


"Mando's one-man raid on the client's compound is lit darkly to better convey that our gunslinger can also operate like a ninja, but in the process it made the action there a bit harder to make out than some of the fight scenes from the two previous weeks." — Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone, 22 Nov. 2019

"Clyde was on the fire escape. As he ambled back and forth, preening, Boicourt grabbed a purple bath towel. She threw it over the bird and pulled him into her apartment. 'I felt like a ninja,' she said. The creature bit her, hard, on the pinkie." — Katia Bachko, The New Yorker, 23 Dec. 2019

Did you know?

Ninjas may seem mysterious, but the origin of their name is not. The word ninja derives from the Japanese characters nin and ja. Nin initially meant "persevere," but over time it developed the extended meanings "conceal" and "move stealthily." In Japanese, ja is the combining form of sha, meaning "person." Ninjas originated in the mountains of ancient Japan as practitioners of ninjutsu, a martial art sometimes called "the art of stealth" or "the art of invisibility." They often served as military spies and were trained in disguise, concealment, geography, meteorology, medicine, and also the arts of combat and self-defense we associate with modern martial arts. Popular legends still identify them with espionage and assassinations, but modern ninjas are most likely to study ninjutsu to improve their physical fitness and self-defense skills.

Mar 26, 2020

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 25, 2020 is:

gibe • \JYBE\  • verb

1 : to utter taunting words

2 : to deride or tease with taunting words


"My PR firm introduced Tom and me, and I came ready to impress. I had read every piece he had written in the last five years. I playfully gibed him about obscure predictions he had made years ago in other articles, and was prepared to thoughtfully discuss his most recent column." — Keith Ferrazzi, Never Eat Alone, 2005

"'Anybody who complains about the microphone,' she gibed, is not having a good night.'" — Mark Z. Barabak et al., The Los Angeles Times, 27 Sept. 2016

Did you know?

Confused about jibe and gibe? The distinction actually isn't as clear-cut as some commentators would like it to be. Jibe is used both for the verb meaning "to be in accord" or "agree" (as in "the results do not jibe with those from other studies") and for the nautical verb and noun referring to the act of shifting a sail from one side to the other ("jibe the mainsail," "a risky jibe in heavy seas"). Gibe is used as a verb and noun for derisive teasing or taunting. But jibe is also a recognized variant of gibe, so it too has teasing or taunting uses. Gibe has been used occasionally as a variant of jibe, but the use is not common enough to warrant dictionary entry, and is widely considered an error.

Mar 25, 2020

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 24, 2020 is:

timorous • \TIM-uh-rus\  • adjective

1 : of a timid disposition : fearful

2 : expressing or suggesting timidity


The study suggests that timorous people suffer from stress more frequently than their bolder peers.

"Perhaps most disappointing was the 1935 'Mosaic Quartet'…, a collection of five short movements that the performers can play and repeat in whatever order they choose. It's the kind of innovation that sounds intriguing in theory, but … they felt mild and even timorous in comparison with Cage's much wilder spirit." — Joshua Kosman, The San Francisco Chronicle, 20 Jan. 2020

Did you know?

Timid and timorous don't just have similar spellings and meanings; they are etymologically related as well. Both words ultimately derive from the Latin verb timēre, meaning "to fear." The immediate ancestor of timid is Latin timidus (with the same meaning as timid), whereas timorous traveled to Middle English by way of the Latin noun timor ("fear") and the Medieval Latin adjective timorosus. Timid may be the more common of the two words, but timorous is older. It first appeared in English in the mid-15th century; timid came on the scene a century later. Both words can mean "easily frightened" (as in "a timid mouse" or "a timorous child") as well as "indicating or characterized by fear" (as in "he gave a timid smile" or "she took a timorous step forward").

Mar 24, 2020

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 23, 2020 is:

welkin • \WEL-kin\  • noun

1 a : the vault of the sky : firmament

b : the celestial abode of God or the gods : heaven

2 : the upper atmosphere


"If you stand in the trees you might see … owls, vibrant red cardinals and goldfinches lift into the welkin." — Emily Clark, The Carver Reporter (Plymouth, Massachusetts), 25 June 2018

"The night was dim, but not dark; no moon shone, but the stars, wan though frequent, gleamed pale, as from the farthest deeps of the heaven; clouds grey and fleecy rolled slowly across the welkin, veiling and disclosing, by turns, the melancholy orbs." — Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Harold, the Last of the Saxon Kings, 1848

Did you know?

When it comes to welkin, the sky's the limit. This heavenly word has been used in English to refer to the vault of the sky for centuries, and it derives from an Old English word meaning "cloud." In current English, welkin is still flying high, and it is often teamed with the verb ring to suggest a loud noise or an exuberant expression of emotion, as in "the welkin rang with the sound of the orchestra" or "her hearty laugh made the welkin ring." These contemporary phrases echo an older use—the original words of a carol that once began "Hark, how all the welkin ring," which we now know as "Hark! The herald angels sing."

Mar 23, 2020

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 22, 2020 is:

lampoon • \lam-POON\  • verb

: to make the subject of a satire : ridicule


"From 'Seinfeld' to 'Veep,' I think [Julia] Louis-Dreyfus' greatness lies in her ability to savagely skewer the ridiculousness of the men around her while simultaneously lampooning herself." — Jake Coyle, The Washington Post, 12 Feb. 2020

"Ultimately, Craig, a struggling mystery writer, comes up with what he thinks is the perfect crime, but not quite with the results he expected. That's the premise behind Nick Hall's Dead Wrong…. As a playwright, Hall isn't afraid to lampoon the most hallowed gimmicks and creates a clever mystery about a man living off his wife's fortune, a man who plans the perfect murder." — Richard Hutton, The Fort Erie Post (Ontario, Canada), 12 Feb. 2020

Did you know?

Lampoon can be a noun or a verb. The noun lampoon (meaning "satire" or, specifically, "a harsh satire usually directed against an individual") was first used in English in the 17th century and is still found in use, especially in the names of humor publications such as The Harvard Lampoon. Both the noun and the verb come from the French lampon, which probably originated from lampons, the first person plural imperative of the verb lamper, meaning "to guzzle." So what is the connection? Lampons! (meaning "Let us guzzle!") was a frequent refrain in 17th-century French satirical poems.

Mar 22, 2020

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 21, 2020 is:

incommunicado • \in-kuh-myoo-nuh-KAH-doh\  • adverb or adjective

: without means of communication : in a situation or state not allowing communication


Their government has agreed to give the Red Cross access to the prisoners who are being held incommunicado.

"[Tommy Lee] Jones' character is his father, a world-renowned hero astronaut who has been incommunicado for 16 years after venturing to Neptune on a mission to find signs of intelligent life in the great beyond." — Soren Andersen, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Washington), 18 Sept. 2019

Did you know?

Incommunicado ultimately comes from Latin but made its way into English via the Spanish incomunicado. We borrowed the word (with a slightly modified spelling) from the past participle of the Spanish verb incomunicar, meaning "to deprive of communication." The Spanish word, in turn, derives from the Latin prefix in- and the verb communicare, meaning "to communicate."

Mar 21, 2020