Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

By Merriam-Webster

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 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 August 15, 2018 is:

nonchalant • \nahn-shuh-LAHNT\  • adjective

: having an air of easy unconcern or indifference


"After the doors closed, the man … grabbed onto the train from the outside. And off he went, surfing through the subway tunnel while some commuters … rode unsuspecting inside, according to a video captured by another subway rider…. The video … shows the man holding on in a calm, nonchalant manner, even letting down one of his arms." — Samantha Schmidt, The Washington Post, 12 July 2018

"By the time of [Jennifer] Lawrence's arrival, the teenage girl sitting next to me—a Hunger Games obsessive—was completely starstruck, gawping and garbling. Obviously, I was the nonchalant journalist, unfazed by fame and all that nonsense." — The London Evening Standard, 20 Jan. 2014

Did you know?

Since nonchalant ultimately comes from words meaning "not" and "be warm," it's no surprise that the word is all about keeping one's cool. The French word nonchalant, which strolled into English in the 1700s, has essentially held the same meaning in English as in French. It was derived from the Old French verb nonchaloir ("to disregard") and can be traced back to Latin non ("not") and calēre," meaning "to be warm." Unconcerned is one synonym of nonchalant, along with casual, complacent, and insouciant.

Aug 15, 2018

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 14, 2018 is:

gaffer • \GAF-er\  • noun

1 : an old man — compare gammer

2 a British : foreman, overseer

b British : employer

3 : a head glassblower

4 : a lighting electrician on a motion-picture or television set


Before the first day of shooting, the gaffer spent several days setting up all the lights.

"There were no gaffers or best boys or Foley artists who called Wilmington home. Many folks didn't even know what all those words meant." — Amy Hotz, The Star-News (Wilmington, North Carolina), 11 May 2018

Did you know?

Though movie and cinema buffs associate gaffer with Hollywood, the word actually pre-dates motion pictures by about 300 years. The first recorded use of gaffer dates from the 16th century, when it was used as a title of respect for an older gentleman. Later it was used as a generic noun for any elderly man, and then it picked up the sense "foreman" (still used in British English), perhaps because the foreman was the most experienced and, most likely, the oldest person in a work crew. Today gaffer is usually applied to the head lighting electrician on a movie set. The gaffer's assistant is called the best boy.

Aug 14, 2018

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 13, 2018 is:

orgulous • \OR-gyuh-lus\  • adjective

: proud


The hotel manager tended to adopt an orgulous air with those guests who were not regular visitors and who might be unaware of the building's rich and storied history.

"He astutely recognized that intimate relations with the orgulous Kennedys could only heighten his influence. Indeed, apart from Robert Kennedy and Douglas Dillon, McNamara was the only member of Kennedy's Cabinet to enter the president's social life." — Jacob Heilbrunn, The New Republic, 22 Mar. 1993

Did you know?

"In Troy, there lies the scene. From Isles of Greece / The princes orgulous, their high blood chaf'd, / Have to the port of Athens sent their ships." Thus William Shakespeare begins the Trojan War tale Troilus and Cressida, employing orgulous, a colorful word first adopted in the 13th century from Anglo-French orguillus. After the Bard's day, orgulous dropped from sight for 200 years; there is no record of its use until it was rejuvenated by the pens of Robert Southey and Sir Walter Scott in the early 1800s. 20th-century authors (including James Joyce and W. H. Auden) continued its renaissance, and it remains an elegant (if infrequent) choice for today's writers.

Aug 13, 2018

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 12, 2018 is:

lapidary • \LAP-uh-dair-ee\  • noun

1 : a cutter, polisher, or engraver of precious stones usually other than diamonds

2 : the art of cutting gems


Lapidary is more of a science than an art: the cutter needs to be aware of the physical properties of the material before fashioning it.

"Even before it was acquired by Harry Winston in 2013, the 101.73-carat gem … was described by Christie's as 'the most perfect diamond ever offered for sale at auction.' It took two years for lapidaries to cut the flawless pear-shaped stone, which has since been named the Winston Legacy." — Town & Country, October 2017

Did you know?

The Latin word for "stone" is lapis; in that language, something "of or relating to stone" is described as lapidarius. Gem cutters obviously relate well to stone, and during the 14th century someone decided that lapidarius should be related to them. The spelling of the term was modified, and it was borrowed into English as a name for both gem cutters and their art. Since the 1700s, lapidary has also been used as an adjective describing things having the elegance and precision of inscriptions carved on stone monuments or things relating to the art of gem cutting.

Aug 12, 2018

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 11, 2018 is:

circuitous • \ser-KYOO-uh-tus\  • adjective

1 : having a circular or winding course

2 : not being forthright or direct in language or action


While either method will yield the correct answer, one is far less circuitous and therefore considered superior.

"The path has been circuitous and turbulent, but Andersen is back on a football field, back in those comfortable colors and trademark visor, and back at Utah." — Christopher Kamrani, The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah), 9 Mar. 2018

Did you know?

If you guessed that circuitous is related to circuit, you're right—both words come from Latin circuitus, the past participle of the verb circumire, meaning "to go around." Circumire is derived, in turn, from Latin circum, meaning "around," plus ire, which means "to go." Other circum descendants making the rounds in English include circumference ("the perimeter of a circle"), circumvent (one meaning of which is "to make a circuit around"), circumlocution ("the act of 'talking around' a subject"), and circumnavigate ("to go around"). There's also the prefix circum-, which means "around" or "about," and the familiar word circumstance, which describes a condition or event that "stands around" another.

Aug 11, 2018

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 10, 2018 is:

rash • \RASH\  • adjective

: marked by or proceeding from undue haste or lack of deliberation or caution


"I know you're upset about not getting a raise, but I think it would be rash to quit your job in protest," said Martha to her friend.

"We were at the mall, and two of my boys were bored and asked to ride the escalator up to the second floor while I checked out. We were in a department store where I could see the escalators from where I was standing and, being flustered and overwhelmed, I made a rash decision and said, 'Sure, one time.'" — Carmen Rasmusen Herbert, The Deseret News, 1 July 2018

Did you know?

The earliest known uses of rash (then spelled rasch) occur in a northern dialect of 15th-century Middle English. Its earlier origins are not known for sure, though it is clearly related to a number of similar words in the Germanic languages, including Old High German rasc ("fast, hurried, strong, clever"), Old Norse röskr ("brave, vigorous"), and Middle Dutch rasch ("quick, nimble, agile, vigorous"). It is not, however, related to the English noun rash ("an eruption on the body," as in a "skin rash"). The noun rash, which first appeared in English around 1700, comes by way of French and Vulgar Latin from Latin rasus, the past participle of radere ("to scrape" or "to shave").

Aug 10, 2018

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 9, 2018 is:

weald • \WEELD\  • noun

1 : a heavily wooded area : forest

2 : a wild or uncultivated usually upland region


"With food, terroir remains the best term to define how variations in landscape and climate in a place give a region a certain identity. This is aired strikingly, with Toby Glanville's photographs of the estuary and marshes, weald and orchards—a soothing greyness, an atmosphere of English Nordic to get you into the mood and cook Harris's recipes, mostly easy to make." — Rose Prince, The Spectator, 18 Nov. 2017

"Challenger's house was on the very edge of the hill, and from its southern face, in which was the study window, one looked across the vast stretch of the weald to where the gentle curves of the South Downs formed an undulating horizon." — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Poison Belt, 1913

Did you know?

If weald were a tree, it would have many annual rings. It has been in use as a general word for "forest" since the days of Old English, and it has also long been used, in its capitalized form, as a geographic name for a once-heavily forested region of southeast England. Weald is also often capitalized today when used to refer to wooded areas like the Weald of Kent and the Weald of Sussex in England. In time, the word branched out to designate any wild and uncultivated upland regions. A related word is wold, meaning "an upland plain or stretch of rolling land."

Aug 09, 2018

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 8, 2018 is:

debunk • \dee-BUNK\  • verb

: to expose the sham or falseness of


"Illusionists and comedians Penn and Teller have made a career out of pulling back the curtain, whether to reveal the methods magicians employ in their tricks or to debunk pseudoscientific claptrap on their former television series." — Marc Mohan, The Oregonian, 7 Mar. 2014

"The show tells great stories, but it's also devoted to helping you debunk fantastical ones. Its recurring 'Skeptic Check' feature deflates pseudoscientific claims and conspiracy theories." — Erin Blakemore, The Washington Post, 26 June 2018

Did you know?

If you guessed that debunk has something to do with bunk, meaning "nonsense," you're correct. We started using bunk around the turn of the 20th century. (It derived, via bunkum, from a remark made by a congressman from Buncombe County, North Carolina.) Within a couple of decades, debunk was first used in print for the act of taking the bunk out of something. There are plenty of synonyms for debunk, including disprove, rebut, refute, and the somewhat rarer confute. Even falsify can mean "to prove something false," in addition to "to make something false." Debunk itself often suggests that something is not merely untrue but also a sham; one can simply disprove a myth, but if it is debunked, the implication is that it was a grossly exaggerated or foolish claim.

Aug 08, 2018

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 7, 2018 is:

fungible • \FUN-juh-bul\  • adjective

1 : being of such a nature that one part or quantity may be replaced by another equal part or quantity in the satisfaction of an obligation

2 : interchangeable

3 : flexible


"The good news—in one way of looking at it—is that Sears had significant fungible assets of decent value to raise cash and a more than cozy relationship with a few willing buyers." — Steve Dennis,, 31 May 2018

"The more difficult assessment is that this bizarro environment is a product of our resistance to the idea that our relationships to art and artists can be alive and fungible, that they can change." — Stephen Kearse, Pitchfork, 25 June 2018

Did you know?

Fungible—which derives from the Latin verb fungi, meaning "to perform" (no relation to the noun fungus and its plural fungi)—is a word that often shows up in legal and political contexts. Something fungible can be exchanged for something else of the same kind. For example, when we say "oil is a fungible commodity," we mean that when a purchaser is expecting a delivery of oil, any oil of the stipulated quantity and quality will usually do. Another example of something fungible is cash. It doesn't matter what twenty dollar bill you get—it's still worth the same amount as any other twenty dollar bill. In contrast, something like a work of art isn't fungible; a purchaser would expect a specific, identifiable item to be delivered. In broader use, fungible can mean "interchangeable," or sometimes "readily changeable to adapt to new situations."

Aug 07, 2018

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 6, 2018 is:

mufti • \MUFF-tee\  • noun

: ordinary dress as distinguished from that denoting an occupation or station; especially : civilian clothes when worn by a person in the armed forces


"Norderval sings in a soaring, evocative line. Even in mufti, her performance, not as honed as it will be after another three weeks of rehearsals, is riveting." — Cynthia Robins, The San Francisco Chronicle, 17 June 2001

"'I'm Chief Inspector Barnaby. Can I help you?' 'Well…' She eyed him doubtfully. 'May I ask why you're in mufti?' 'In what? Oh'—he followed her stern gaze. 'I'm a detective. Plain clothes.'" — Caroline Graham, The Killings at Badger's Drift, 1987

Did you know?

In the Islamic tradition, a mufti is a professional jurist who interprets Muslim law. When religious muftis were portrayed on the English stage in the early 19th century, they typically wore costumes that included a dressing gown and a tasseled cap—an outfit that some felt resembled the clothing preferred by the off-duty military officers of the day. The clothing sense of mufti, which first appeared in English around that same time, is thought to have developed out of this association of stage costume and civilian clothing.

Aug 06, 2018