Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

By Merriam-Webster

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 Jan 29, 2021

 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Very concise and includes interesting info like etymology or historical references.


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

Episode Date

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 25, 2021 is:

slipshod • \SLIP-SHAHD\  • adjective

1 a : wearing loose shoes or slippers

b : down at the heel : shabby

2 : careless, slovenly


"'What's worse is the rules about misinformation on social media are confusing and inconsistent, and enforcement of those policies is slipshod at best,' says Bill Fitzgerald, a privacy and technology researcher in CR's Digital Lab." — Consumer Reports, 13 Aug. 2020

"But Ryan Day couldn't help but harp on a slipshod second half in which the Buckeyes were outscored by 10 points and outgained by 126 yards." — Kyle Rowland, The Toledo (Ohio) Blade, 9 Nov. 2020

Did you know?

The word shod is the past tense form of the verb shoe, meaning "to furnish with a shoe"; hence, we can speak of shoeing horses and horses that have been shod or shodden. When the word slipshod was first used in the late 1500s, it meant "wearing loose shoes or slippers"—such slippers were once called slip-shoes—and later it was used to describe shoes that were falling apart. By the early 1800s, slipshod was used more generally as a synonym for shabby—in 1818, Sir Walter Scott wrote about "the half-bound and slip-shod volumes of the circulating library." The association with shabbiness then shifted to an association with sloppiness, and the word was used to mean "careless" or "slovenly."

Feb 25, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 24, 2021 is:

fathom • \FA-thum\  • verb

1 : to make a searching exploratory investigation : probe

2 : to take soundings

3 : to measure by a sounding line

4 : to penetrate and come to understand


Even those close to him can't always fathom why he repeatedly risks his life to climb the world's tallest mountains.

"When the coronavirus pandemic struck, we expected the real estate business to hit a brick wall and never fathomed the possibility of 2020 becoming a record year for the Houston market." — Richard Miranda, quoted in The Houston Agent Magazine, 14 Jan. 2021

Did you know?

Fathom comes from Old English fæthm, meaning "outstretched arms." The noun fathom, which now commonly refers to a measure (especially of depth) of six feet, was originally used for the distance, fingertip to fingertip, created by stretching one's arms straight out from the sides of the body. In one of its earliest uses, the verb fathom was a synonym of our modern embrace: to fathom someone was to clasp the person in your arms. By the 1600s fathom had taken to the seas, as the verb was used to mean "to measure by a sounding line." At the same time, the verb also developed senses synonymous with probe or investigate, and it is now frequently used to refer to the act of getting to the bottom of something, figuratively speaking.

Feb 24, 2021
habeas corpus

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 23, 2021 is:

habeas corpus • \HAY-bee-us-KOR-pus\  • noun

1 : any of several common-law writs issued to bring a party before a court or judge; especially : a writ for inquiring into the lawfulness of the restraint of a person who is imprisoned or detained in another's custody

2 : the right of a citizen to obtain a writ of habeas corpus as a protection against illegal imprisonment


"Embraced by America's founders, the Great Writ, as [habeas corpus is] colloquially known, is enshrined in the Constitution, statutory law, and case law, where it guarantees certain rights to the detained. Habeas corpus entitles detainees convicted in state courts to appeal to federal courts if they believe their rights were violated at trial or during sentencing." — Elizabeth Bruenig, The New York Times, 18 Jan. 2021

"[Assistant to the Solicitor General Vivek] Suri … underscored the availability of habeas corpus relief under Zadvydas v. Davis, a 2001 decision in which the Supreme Court recognized an opportunity for those detained under Section 1231 to seek judicial review once it appeared that there was no significant likelihood of removal." — Gabriel Chin, SCOTUSblog, 12 Jan. 2021

Did you know?

The literal meaning of habeas corpus is "you should have the body"—that is, the judge or court should (and must) have any person who is being detained brought forward so that the legality of that person's detention can be assessed. In United States law, habeas corpus ad subjiciendum (the full name of what habeas corpus typically refers to) is also called "the Great Writ," and it is not about a person's guilt or innocence, but about whether custody of that person is lawful under the U.S. Constitution. Common grounds for relief under habeas corpus—"relief" in this case being a release from custody—include a conviction based on illegally obtained evidence; a denial of effective assistance of counsel; or a conviction by a jury that was improperly selected and impaneled.

Feb 23, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 22, 2021 is:

retarget • \\ree-TAHR-gut\\  • verb

: to direct (something) toward a different target


"The beauty of retargeting is that computers do all the work. They figure out who you need to retarget and serve them the ad. If a person viewed your webpage but left without buying your product, donating to your charity, signing up for your newsletter, or doing whatever it is you need them to do, retargeting ads are a great way to direct them back to your site so you can close the deal." — Entrepreneur, 4 June 2020

"NASA is retargeting launch of the next SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for November 14 amid ongoing reviews of recent engine problems with SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, the space agency announced Monday." — William Harwood, CBS News, 26 Oct. 2020

Did you know?

The verb retarget first appeared in 20th-century English with the basic meaning "to direct toward a different target." In digital advertising, retargeting has to do with directing people who have left your website back to the site by displaying ads that remind them of your site on other sites they subsequently visit. The base word target is from the early French noun targe, which was used for a light shield carried especially by footmen and archers. French targette, a diminutive form of targe, was taken into English as target in the early 15th century with its French sense. In the 18th century, the word acquired the extended sense of "a shieldlike object to shoot at for practice." In the following century, the figurative senses referring to a thing or person that is marked for attack (especially of ridicule or criticism) begin to develop. The sense of "a goal to be achieved" originated in the 20th century, often in connection with a quantity or date (as in "production targets" or "target dates").

Feb 22, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 21, 2021 is:

cognoscente • \kahn-yuh-SHEN-tee\  • noun

: a person who has expert knowledge in a subject : connoisseur


"Though he was recognized among certain cognoscenti during his most active years, [American photographer Todd] Webb … had plenty to distract him from the trifles of stardom—including time spent as a fire ranger for the U.S. Forestry Service, naval photographer in World War II, gold prospector in Panama, and resident of, in turn, Provence, France; Bath, England; and Portland, Maine." — David Foxley, Architectural Digest, 18 Apr. 2017

"Liz Goldwyn is, in fact, a film-world royal—her grandfather was the Hollywood kingpin Samuel Goldwyn—not to mention a fashion-world darling and an art-world cognoscente." — Peter Haldeman, The New York Times, 3 Jan. 2014

Did you know?

Cognoscente and connoisseur are more than synonyms; they're also linguistic cousins. Both terms descend from the Latin verb cognōscere, meaning "to know," and they're not alone. You might guess that cognizance and cognition are members of the cognōscere clan. Do you also recognize a family resemblance in recognize? Can you see through the disguise of incognito? Did you have a premonition that we would mention precognition? Cognoscente itself came to English by way of Italian and has been a part of the language since the late 1700s.

Feb 21, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 20, 2021 is:

perdure • \per-DUR\  • verb

: to continue to exist : last


"The making of a variety show—a nearly extinct genre that perdures as comedy fodder—is also the subject of David Cerda's 'The Rip Nelson Holiday Quarantine Special,' presented by the Chicago company Hell in a Handbag." — Elizabeth Vincentelli, The New York Times, 2 Dec. 2020

"For many in Europe, the rise of the politically engaged intellectual … occurred at the end of the 19th century when writers, artists and philosophers stood up for Alfred Dreyfus, a victim of pervasive French anti-Semitism. This tradition perdured in the 20th century with André Malraux who joined the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War and the fight between Jean-Paul Sartre …, and Albert Camus over the Algerian war for independence." — Jacques Hyzagi, The Observer, 1 May 2015

Did you know?

Perdure may be an unfamiliar word for many of our readers, but those who suspect they see hints of its ancestry in the more familiar synonym endure are correct. Perdure was borrowed into Middle English from Anglo-French and traces back to the Latin verb perdurare, meaning "to continue." Perdurare, in turn, was formed by combining the intensifying prefix per- with the verb durare, meaning "to last." Durare is also an ancestor of the English words enduredurable, indurate, and during, among others.

Feb 20, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 19, 2021 is:

anodyne • \AN-uh-dyne\  • adjective

1 : serving to alleviate pain

2 : not likely to offend or arouse tensions : innocuous


"Since much of TikTok is wordless and anodyne, Tik-Tok seems the perfect corporate antidote to more pointed and politicized commentary on Twitter or Facebook." — Elizabeth C. Tippett, Government Technology, 3 Dec. 2020

"He also voiced the donkey in the Shrek movies, talked to animals in the Dr. Dolittle movies, and goofed his way through an anodyne kiddie picture called Daddy Day Care. But this comeback, however well it served [Eddie] Murphy financially and spoke to his home life as a contented dad (of 10 children, as of now), was not the comic revival that his fans were rooting for." — David Kamp, The Atlantic, December 2020

Did you know?

Anodyne came to English via Latin from Greek anṓdynos (meaning "free from pain, causing no pain, harmless, allaying pain"), and it has been used as both an adjective and a noun ("something that soothes, calms, or comforts") since the 16th century. It has sometimes been used of things that dull or lull the senses and render painful experiences less so. British statesman Edmund Burke used it this way, for example, in 1790 when he referred to flattery as an "anodyne draft of oblivion" that renders one (in this particular case, the deposed King Louis XVI) forgetful of the flatterer's true feelings. Nowadays, in addition to describing things that dull pain, anodyne can also refer to that which doesn't cause discomfort in the first place.

Feb 19, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 18, 2021 is:

toady • \TOH-dee\  • noun

: one who flatters in the hope of gaining favors : sycophant


The editorial unfairly characterizes the appointee as one of the mayor's toadies, ignoring her long record of service to the community.

"The series' characters were borrowed from its British parent—the buffoonish boss, the over-the-top toady, the everyman prankster and the sweet receptionist—but the delightful journeys of Michael, Dwight, Jim and Pam belonged entirely to the talent and appeal of the American writers and actors behind them." — Kelly Lawler, USA Today, 24 Mar. 2020

Did you know?

We can thank old-time toadeaters for toady. In 17th-century Europe, a toadeater was a showman's assistant whose job was to make the boss look good. The toadeater would eat (or pretend to eat) what were supposed to be poisonous toads. The charlatan in charge would then "save" the toad-afflicted assistant by expelling the poison. It's little wonder that such assistants became symbolic of extreme subservience, and that toadeater became a word for any obsequious underling. By the early 1800s, it had been shortened and altered to toady, our current term for a servile self-seeker. By the mid-1800s, toady was also being used as a verb meaning "to engage in sycophancy."

Feb 18, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 17, 2021 is:

indissoluble • \in-dih-SAHL-yuh-bul\  • adjective

: not dissoluble; especially : incapable of being annulled, undone, or broken : permanent


"He was the only soul aboard with whom I could speak openly, in an absolute sense; for that matter, he to me the same. We were locked together in an indissoluble embrace, its nature the most simple and straightforward first principle: that no hurt should reach the men that we could prohibit." — William Brinkley, The Last Ship, 1988

"Pope Francis … has acknowledged the concerns of divorced Catholics. He has set in motion a high-level debate about whether and how the church could change its posture toward them without altering a doctrine that declares marriage to be permanent and indissoluble." — Michael Paulson, The New York Times, 24 Jan. 2015

Did you know?

Indissoluble and its antonym dissoluble ("capable of being dissolved or disintegrated") both date their first print appearances to the 16th century, and both owe a debt to Latin dissolubilis, which means "dissoluble; capable of being dissolved." While the word dissolve in that gloss may call to mind the chemical process by which something mixed with a liquid becomes part of the liquid (as when salt or sugar dissolve in water), indissoluble primarily relates to other meanings of dissolve: "destroy" and "disintegrate," "terminate" and "annul." Something indissoluble—such as a treaty, contract, or vow—is permanent. The English word dissolve, in all its meanings, is a cousin to indissoluble and dissoluble. Dissolubilis derives from Latin dissolvere (from dis- + solvere, "to loosen") the source of our word dissolve.

Feb 17, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 16, 2021 is:

underwhelm • \un-der-WELM\  • verb

: to fail to impress or stimulate


"Nesmith's short stints continue to underwhelm. During one four-minute stretch in the fourth quarter, he missed a 3-pointer by a wide margin and committed three fouls." — Adam Himmelsbach, The Boston Globe, 4 Jan. 2021

"He underwhelmed in 2019, leveling out after a dynamic start in Detroit, which earned him All-Star honors. But Greene bounced back in 2020, posting a 2.60 ERA with a 21:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 28 games." — Gabriel Burns, The Atlanta (Georgia) Journal-Constitution, 6 Jan. 2021

Did you know?

Overwhelm and its rare synonym whelm have both been around since the Middle Ages, but underwhelm is a 20th-century coinage. Both overwhelm and whelm are derived from the Middle English whelmen, which is perhaps an alteration of whelven ("to turn over" or "to cover up"). Underwhelm is a playful overturning of overwhelm well suited for describing the unimpressive. More than one person claims the distinction of having invented underwhelm; several sources attribute it to the playwright George S. Kaufman, but sports columnist Red Smith is quoted as believing he coined the word himself, and still other sources cite other potential creators. Chances are that the word was in fact coined by more than one inventive writer.

Feb 16, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 15, 2021 is:

durable • \DUR-uh-bul\  • adjective

: able to exist for a long time without significant deterioration; also : designed to be durable


The couch is covered in an eye-catching yet durable fabric that will last for years.

"And yet books about United States presidents—biographies, autobiographies, tell-alls … —have been among the most durable literary genres since the presidency of George Washington." — Christopher Borrelli, The Chicago Tribune, 12 Nov. 2020

Did you know?

Something durable lasts a long time, so it's no surprise that the word comes to us, via Anglo-French, from the Latin verb durare, meaning "to last." Other descendants of durare in English include during, endure, and durance (which now mostly turns up in the phrase "in durance vile," a fancy way of saying "in prison"). Durable even has a near synonym in the much rarer perdurable, which combines durare with the prefix per- (meaning "throughout") to create a word that can mean "lasting a very long time or indefinitely" or "eternal."

Feb 15, 2021