Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

By Merriam-Webster

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Reviews: 5

 Jun 8, 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Very concise and includes interesting info like etymology or historical references.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 November 30, 2020 is:

ambient • \AM-bee-unt\  • adjective

1 : existing or present on all sides : encompassing

2 of electronic music : quiet and relaxing with melodies that repeat many times


"These sophisticated spaces are stocked with elements to lure homeowners outdoors: water and fire features; … ambient lighting to set the mood." — Rachel Hutton, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 21 Oct. 2020

"The fear might go away after a couple of scenes, or even right after a first entrance. 'Sort of like in movies when all ambient noise fades away and everything goes out of focus but the path ahead,' says Leontyne Mbele-Mbong." — Lily Janiak, The San Francisco Chronicle, 22 Oct. 2020

Did you know?

Biologists explore the effects of ambient light on plants; acoustics experts try to control ambient sound; and meteorologists study ambient pressure, air, or temperature. All this can make ambient seem like a technical term, but when it first saw light of day, that all-encompassing adjective was as likely to be used in poetry as in science. John Milton used it in Paradise Lost, and Alexander Pope wrote of a mountain "whose tow'ring summit ambient clouds conceal'd." Both poets and scientists who use ambient owe a debt to the Latin verb ambire, meaning "to go around," the grandparent of our English word.

Nov 30, 2020

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

hinterland • \HIN-ter-land\  • noun

1 : a region lying inland from a coast

2 a : a region remote from cities

b : a region lying beyond major metropolitan or cultural centers


"All the same, the large turnout, particularly unusual in Russia's quiescent hinterland, posed a bold challenge to the Kremlin, exposing deep wells of public anger as Russia struggles with the economic damage left by the coronavirus pandemic and growing fatigue with political stagnation." — Andrew Higgins, The New York Times, 18 July 2020

"Edmund, summoned from the hinterland of the house to give his opinion why only one of Mike's shoes was to be found, had no views on the subject." — P. G. Wodehouse, Mike and Psmith, 1909

Did you know?

When you're dealing with geography, it helps to know your hinterland from your umland. In the late 19th century, geographer George Chisholm took note of the German word Hinterland (literally "land in back of") and applied it specifically to the region just inland from a port or coastal settlement. (Chisholm spelled the word hinderland, but English speakers eventually settled on hinterland.) Early in the 20th century, another geographer adopted the German Umland ("land around") to refer to the territory around an inland town. What hinterland and umland have in common is a reference to a region economically tied to a nearby city. Nowadays, hinterland has a less technical use as well—it can be used for land that is simply out in the sticks. It can also be applied figuratively.

Nov 29, 2020

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

capitulate • \kuh-PIH-chuh-layt\  • verb

1 a : to surrender often after negotiation of terms

b : to cease resisting : acquiesce

2 archaic : parley, negotiate


"Real estate experts say retailers are increasingly looking to pay rent as a percentage of sales, making it a variable expense on their balance sheets rather than a fixed one.… While there could be some hesitation to strike a deal like this, landlords could end up capitulating to keep a space occupied." — Lauren Thomas,, 24 Sept. 2020

"And remember, Rivera didn't draft Haskins last year. His predecessor, Jay Gruden, didn't want to, either, but capitulated to owner Daniel Snyder." — Steve DeShazo, The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Virginia), 8 Oct. 2020

Did you know?

Capitulate and its synonyms yield, submit, and succumb all mean to give way to someone or something, but have a few slight differences in emphasis. Yield may apply to any sort or degree of bowing to force, debate, or pleading ("yields too easily in any argument"). Submit suggests surrender, after resistance, to the will or control of another ("the soldiers submitted to their captors"). Succumb imputes weakness and helplessness to the person giving in, or an overwhelming power to the opposition ("succumbing to temptation"). Capitulate stresses the termination of all resistance and may imply either a coming to terms, as with an adversary, or hopelessness before an irresistible opposing force ("team owners capitulated to the demands of the players' union").

Nov 28, 2020

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

ulterior • \ul-TEER-ee-er\  • adjective

1 : going beyond what is openly said or shown and especially what is proper

2 a : further, future

b : more distant

c : situated on the farther side


"People need someone in office that they can trust, that they know has no ulterior motives or is beholden to any entities other than the city." — Mark Rockeymoore, quoted in The San Marcos (Texas) Daily Record, 20 Oct. 2020

"Dreyer describes Seuss's personal collection of paintings and sculptures as 'secret art.' Geisel literally kept them in the closet … and his widow, Audrey Geisel, has never sold an original Seuss. She authorized high-quality lithograph prints so the public can see the ulterior side of her late husband." — The Alexandria (Virginia) Times, 6 Dec. 2011

Did you know?

Although now usually hitched to the front of the noun motive to refer to a hidden need or desire that inspires action, ulterior began its career as an adjective in the 17th century describing something occurring at a subsequent time, such as "ulterior measures" taken after a lawful request. It then started to be used to mean both "more distant" (literally and figuratively) and "situated on the farther side." The "hidden" sense, which is most familiar today, followed after those, with the word modifying nouns like purpose, design, and consequence. Ulterior comes directly from the Latin word for "farther" or "further," itself assumed to be from ulter, meaning "situated beyond."

Nov 27, 2020

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

victual • \VIT-ul\  • noun

1 : food usable by people

2 victuals plural : supplies of food : provisions


"One day, I will have a large and well-organized fruit and vegetable garden that will furnish far more of my victuals." — Adrian Higgins, The Washington Post, 12 Aug. 2020

"'Why, she's hungry, poor little lady,' said the younger woman. 'Give her some o' the cold victual. You've been walking a good way, I'll be bound, my dear. Where's your home?'" — George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, 1860

Did you know?

If you're hungry for the story behind victual, get ready to dig into a rich and fulfilling history. The word derives via the Middle English and Anglo-French vitaille from the Late Latin plural noun victualia ("provisions"), and ultimately (by way of victus, meaning "nourishment" or "way of living") the Latin verb vivere, meaning "to live." Vivere is the source of a whole smorgasbord of other English words, such as vital, vivid, and survive. It's also the root of viand, another English word referring to food. There's also vittles, a word that sounds like it might be an alteration of the plural victuals (both are pronounced /VIT-ulz/) but which is actually just an earlier development of the Middle English vitaille that was served before victual.

Nov 26, 2020

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

posthumous • \PAHSS-chuh-muss\  • adjective

1 : born after the death of the father

2 : published after the death of the author

3 : following or occurring after death


Published eleven years following his death in 1969, John Kennedy Toole's novel A Confederacy of Dunces earned the author posthumous fame as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

"Sharon Jones may no longer be with us, but her legacy continues to endure in the form of posthumous releases. Daptone Records released a new Dusty Springfield cover from the upcoming Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings album, Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Rendition Was In." — Emily Tan, Spin, 7 Oct. 2020

Did you know?

The etymology of the word posthumous tells a complex story. In Latin, posterus is an adjective meaning "coming after" (from post, meaning "after"). The comparative form of posterus is posterior, and its superlative form is postumus, which means, among other things, "last." Postumus had specific application in referring to the last of a man's children, which in some cases meant those born after he had died. Latin speakers incorrectly identified the -umus in this word with humus, meaning "dirt" or "earth" (suggesting the ground in which the unfortunate father now lay). The Latin spelling became posthumus, as if the word were formed from post and humus, and both the "h" and the suggestion of "after burial" or "after death" carried over into English.

Nov 25, 2020

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

mogul • \MOH-gul\  • noun

1 capitalized Mogul : an Indian Muslim of or descended from one of several conquering groups of Mongol, Turkish, and Persian origin; especially : Great Mogul

2 : a great personage : magnate


"The philanthropic foundation created by the hedge fund mogul Ray Dalio is donating $50 million to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital to address health social inequalities." — The New York Times, 14 Oct. 2020

"The Atlanta rap mogul is walking around Super Sound Studios, the recording haven he purchased last year, talking into the heel of his phone." — Melissa Ruggieri, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 25 Sept. 2020

Did you know?

Started by Bābur, a descendant of Genghis Khan, the Muslim Mogul dynasty ruled much of India from the early 16th century to the mid-18th century. The Moguls (whose name is also spelled Moghul or Mughal) were known for their talented and powerful rulers (called "Great Moguls"), so it's no surprise that in English the word mogul came to denote a powerful person, as in today's familiar references to "media moguls." Skiers might wonder if such power moguls have anything to do with the name they use for a bump in a ski run, but that hilly homonym has nothing to do with Asian Mogul dynasties. We picked up the skier's mogul from German dialect, from a word that is probably related to the Viennese mugl, meaning "small hill."

Nov 24, 2020

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

vaunted • \VAWN-tud\  • adjective

: highly or widely praised or boasted about


The team was able to overcome their opponents' vaunted defense and achieve an upset victory.

"She's been known to include works by vaunted artists in her videos, and with her husband Jay-Z, she's built up an important collection of Black art." — Alex Greenberger, Art News, 3 Aug. 2020

Did you know?

The verb vaunt has been used since the 15th century with the meaning "to make a vain display of one's own worth or attainments"—in other words, "to brag or boast." Over time, vaunt developed the meaning "to boast of (something)," as in "the promotional flier vaunts the natural beauty of the area," and gave rise to the adjectival form vaunted. The history of vaunt and vaunted leads back to the Latin word vānus, meaning "vain" or "empty." The word vain itself is also a descendant of vānus.

Nov 23, 2020

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

debouch • \dih-BOUTCH\  • verb

1 : to cause to emerge : discharge

2 : to march out into open ground : emerge, issue


"… Mr. Holcomb … was talking about a small room that debouched from a well-maintained weight room in the basement…." — Barry Stringfellow, The MV Times (Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts), 15 Mar. 2017

"… the Germans controlled the Marfée and the other ridges along the west bank, debouching on to the Bulson plateau beyond." — David Reynolds, The New Statesman, 20 May 2020

Did you know?

Debouch first appeared in English in the 18th century. It derives from a French verb formed from the prefix de- ("from") and the noun bouche ("mouth"), which itself derives ultimately from the Latin bucca ("cheek"). Debouch is often used in military contexts to refer to the action of troops proceeding from a closed space to an open one. It is also used frequently to refer to the emergence of anything from a mouth, such as water passing through the mouth of a river into an ocean. The word's ancestors have also given English the adjective buccal ("of or relating to the mouth") and the noun embouchure (the mouthpiece of a musical instrument or the position of the mouth when playing one).

Nov 22, 2020

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

grandiloquence • \gran-DIH-luh-kwunss\  • noun

: a lofty, extravagantly colorful, pompous, or bombastic style, manner, or quality especially in language


"The film finds its grounding in the closing scene when it strips away its grandiloquence and Beyoncé sings an a cappella version of 'Spirit' backed by a gospel choir…." — Aidin Vaziri, The San Francisco Chronicle, 2 Aug. 2020

"There will be plenty more rhetoric, pomposity and grandiloquence in the next few weeks as negotiations between the union and MLB get hot and heavy." — Bob Nightengale, USA Today, 13 May 2020

Did you know?

Grandiloquence, which debuted in English in the 16th century, is one of several English words pertaining to speech that derive from the Latin loqui, meaning "to speak." Other offspring of loqui include eloquent ("marked by fluent expression"), loquacious ("full of excessive talk"), and soliloquy ("a long, dramatic monologue"). Grandiloquence comes (probably via Middle French) from the Latin adjective grandiloquus, which combines loqui and the adjective grandis ("grand or great"). A word that is very similar in meaning to grandiloquence is magniloquence—and the similarity is not surprising. Magniloquence combines loqui with magnus, another Latin word meaning "great."

Nov 21, 2020