Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

By Merriam-Webster

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 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Very concise and includes interesting info like etymology or historical references.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 December 15, 2018 is:

nidus • \NYE-dus\  • noun

1 : a nest or breeding place; especially : a place or substance in an animal or plant where bacteria or other organisms lodge and multiply

2 : a place where something originates, develops, or is located


The neighborhood had long been a nidus of crime and vice, but community policing and other interventions have done much to reduce the crime rate in recent years.

"Ancient cities grew up along navigable rivers—think Cairo, Rome, Paris and London. In the 19th century, railroad stations were the nidus for Chicago, Denver, and Sacramento." — Alison Stuebe, The News & Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina), 20 Mar. 2017

Did you know?

Nidus literally means "nest" in Latin, and some of its relatives in English suggest this connection in a straightforward way. For example, we have nidification for the process of building a nest, and nidicolous, meaning "reared in a nest." But nidus itself, when used as an English word, is apt to refer to a place where bacteria lodge and multiply. Consequently, the extended use of nidus in English often has a negative connotation referring to a source of undesirable opinions or behaviors.

Dec 15, 2018

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

zibeline • \ZIB-uh-leen\  • noun

: a soft lustrous wool fabric with mohair, alpaca, or camel's hair


"It's a simple, elegant design: high-collar, buttons, long sleeves, with lace and a sheer bodice. Its fabric catches the light very delicately—Bridges found the thick zibeline in London." — Hunter Harris, Vulture, 5 Jan. 2018

"The second gown is a more structured design of either silk zibeline or silk taffeta, with hand-embroidered silk thread and Swarovski crystals in three different sizes." — Joyce Chen, The Knot, 7 May 2018

Did you know?

Though zibeline is woven from the hair of alpacas, camels, or Angora goats, its name actually traces back to a Slavic word for the sable, a small mammal related to the weasel. The Slavic term was adopted into Old Italian, and from there it passed to Middle French, then on to English in the late 1500s. English zibeline originally referred to the sable or its fur, but in the 19th century it developed a second sense, applying to a soft, smooth, slightly furry material woven from a mixture of animal hairs. It's especially suited to women's suits and coats, or, as a fashion columnist in the December 6, 1894 issue of Vogue observed, "Zibeline ... makes an exceedingly pretty, warm theatre cloak, not too fine to be crushed into the small one-chair space."

Dec 14, 2018

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

perennial • \puh-REN-ee-ul\  • adjective

1 : present at all seasons of the year

2 : persisting for several years usually with new herbaceous growth from a perennating part

3 a : persistent, enduring

b : continuing without interruption : constant, perpetual

c : regularly repeated or renewed : recurrent


"Kieran [Culkin] called Saines in 2016 after a two-year hiatus to say, 'You know, I think I want to act again. I want to do This Is Our Youth.' Written by Kenneth Lonergan, … the play has become a perennial showcase for young actors." — Sam Kashner, Vanity Fair, December 2018

"Making the kids think of school as important to their complicated, often tragic lives—while meeting the demands of the curriculum—was a perennial struggle." — Sarah Stodder, The Washingtonian, November 2018

Did you know?

Nowadays when we talk about "perennial plants," or simply "perennials" (perennial can be a noun, too), we mean plants that die back seasonally but produce new growth in the spring. But originally perennial was equivalent to evergreen, used for plants that remain with us all year. We took this "throughout the year" sense straight from the Romans, whose Latin perennis combined per- ("throughout") with a form of annus ("year"). The poet Ovid, writing around the beginning of the first millennium, used the Latin word to refer to a "perennial spring" (a water source), and the scholar Pliny used it of birds that don't migrate. Our perennial retains these same uses, for streams and occasionally for birds, but it has long had extended meanings, too.

Dec 13, 2018

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

lunette • \loo-NET\  • noun

1 a : something that has the shape of a crescent or half-moon

b : an opening in a vault especially for a window

c : the surface at the upper part of a wall that is partly surrounded by a vault which the wall intersects and that is often filled by windows or by mural painting

d : a low crescentic mound (as of sand) formed by the wind

2 : the figure or shape of a crescent moon


"All the windows and doors were topped with lunettes of small-paned glass." — Theodore Dreiser, The Financier, 1912

"But what people found most striking about the school was the elaborate lunette built on the exterior of the building over the front entrance. With the lunette's intricate sunburst design, Iddles School caught the attention of many passersby." — Becky Kark, The Herald-Palladium (St. Joseph, Michigan), 15 July 2018

Did you know?

Lunette, a word borrowed from French, looks like it should mean "little moon"—luna being Latin for "moon" and -ette being a diminutive suffix. There is indeed some 17th-century evidence of the word being used for a small celestial moon, but that meaning is now obsolete. Earlier, in the 16th century, lunette referred to a horseshoe having only the front semicircular part—a meaning that still exists but is quite rare. Other senses of lunette that are infrequently used nowadays include "a blinder especially for a vicious horse" and, in the plural form, "spectacles." (Lunettes is the usual term for eyeglasses in modern French.) The oldest meaning of lunette still in common use is "something shaped like a crescent or half-moon," which our evidence dates to the early 1600s.

Dec 12, 2018

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

immure • \ih-MYOOR\  • verb

1 a : to enclose within or as if within walls

b : imprison

2 : to build into a wall; especially : to entomb in a wall


"Agnes … is a suburban lifer, a mousy, resigned little woman whose life is immured by her home, her family, and her church." — Jonathan Richards, The Santa Fe New Mexican, 7 Sept. 2018

"In the croissants and their variations, the layers are as distinct as ribs, from slabs of cold butter immured in fold after fold of dough; the interior resembles a honeycomb of air, due to steam released during baking as the butter slowly melts." — Ligaya Mishan, The New York Times, 13 Mar. 2018

Did you know?

Like mural, immure comes from murus, a Latin noun that means "wall." Immurare, a Medieval Latin verb, was formed from murus and the prefix in- (meaning "in" or "within"). Immure, which first appeared in English in the late 16th century, literally means "to wall in" or "to enclose with a wall," but it has extended meanings as well. In addition to senses meaning "to imprison" and "to entomb," the word sometimes has broader applications, essentially meaning "to shut in" or "to confine." One might remark, for example, that a very studious acquaintance spends most of her time "immured in the library" or that a withdrawn teenager "immures himself in his bedroom every night."

Dec 11, 2018

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

repartee • \rep-er-TEE\  • noun

1 a : a quick and witty reply 

b : a succession or interchange of clever retorts : amusing and usually light sparring with words

2 : adroitness and cleverness in reply : skill in repartee


"One of my favorite parts of that scene was Kim's repartee with him, trying to show how smart she is, him pretending to forget the case and her knowing it—all just so he could test her." — Patrick Fabian, quoted in Variety, 11 Sept. 2018

"The joy of the romantic comedy lies less in its mise en scène, and more in its witty repartee and character chemistry…. The will-they-won't-they tension is enough for the movie to power through the silliest moments. — David Sims, The Atlantic, 21 June 2018

Did you know?

One person often noted for her repartee was Dorothy Parker, writer and legendary member of the Algonquin Round Table. Upon hearing that Calvin Coolidge had died, she replied, "How can they tell?" The taciturn Coolidge obviously didn't have a reputation for being the life of the party, but he himself came out with a particularly famous repartee on one occasion. When a dinner guest approached him and told him she had bet someone she could get him to say more than two words, he replied, "You lose." Repartee, our word for such a quick, sharp reply (and for skill with such replies) comes from the French repartie, of the same meaning. Repartie itself is formed from the French verb repartir, meaning "to retort."

Dec 10, 2018

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

galumph • \guh-LUMF\  • verb

: to move with a clumsy heavy tread


Mary's teenage son galumphed into the house and flung himself onto the couch, sighing heavily.

"Incredibly, a massive rhinoceros comes galumphing toward us as rapidly as something that weighs more than two tons and resembles a tank on four legs can move." — Barbara Marshall, The Palm Beach (Florida) Post, 27 Aug. 2017

Did you know?

Bump, thump, thud. There's no doubt about it—when someone or something galumphs onto the scene, ears take notice. Galumph first lumbered onto the English scene in 1872 when Lewis Carroll used the word to describe the actions of the vanquisher of the Jabberwock in Through the Looking Glass: "He left it dead, and with its head / He went galumphing back." Etymologists suspect Carroll created galumph by altering the word gallop, perhaps throwing in a pinch of triumphant for good measure (in its earliest uses, galumph did convey a sense of exultant bounding). Other 19th-century writers must have liked the sound of galumph, because they began plying it in their own prose, and it has been clumping around our language ever since.

Dec 09, 2018

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

approbation • \ap-ruh-BAY-shun\  • noun

1 : commendation, praise

2 : an act of approving formally or officially


"In 2001, I moved to Lima to study literature at a local university. I fell in with a group of art students—painters, illustrators, sculptors—and even after I'd quit attending classes I'd still visit them, spending long afternoons on the cement floor of a cramped studio that two of them shared. This group became my first real friends in Peru who were not family, and their approbation meant a lot to me." — Daniel Alarcón, The New Yorker, 22 Nov. 2017

"The role of a theater, she argued, was not to adjudicate political issues or get the approbation of minority groups, but, rather, to create a space between art and the public." — Dan Bilefsky, The New York Times, 12 July 2018

Did you know?

Approbation is similar in meaning to approval, and it is also very close to approval etymologically. Both words trace back to the Latin verb approbare, which means "to prove" or "to approve." Approbation meant "proof" when it first appeared in English in the 14th century, and by the early 1500s it had come to mean "formal or official approval," a sense it still retains in certain ecclesiastical contexts. Today, however, we mostly use approbation in the looser sense of "approval, admiration, or praise." The related verb approbate means "to approve or sanction," and the adjective approbatory means "expressing approval or commendation."

Dec 08, 2018

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

sandbag • \SAND-bag\  • verb

1 : to bank, stop up, or weight with sandbags

2 a : to hit or stun with or as if with a sandbag

b : to treat unfairly or harshly

c : to coerce by crude means

d : to conceal or misrepresent one's true position, potential, or intent especially in order to take advantage over : to hide the truth about oneself so as to gain an advantage over another


Management must have realized that reading employee survey responses aloud at the company-wide meeting would make employees feel sandbagged, but they chose to do it anyway.

"Lock's season began with Heisman Trophy dreams. It has detoured toward a familiar and unfortunate destination, the place where the quarterback's career numbers are sandbagged by his struggles when the spotlight shines." — Ben Frederickson, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 3 Nov. 2018

Did you know?

In the 19th century, the verb sandbag began to be used to describe the act of bludgeoning someone with a small, sand-filled bag—a tactic employed by ruffians, usually as a prelude to robbing their victims. The verb went on to develop metaphorical extensions, such as "to coerce by crude means." By the 1940s, it was being used of a strategy in which a poker player with a good hand bets weakly, in order to draw other players into holding on to their hands and raising the bet. The use of sandbag has since evolved to refer to a general strategy of playing down one's position in order to gain some sort of advantage.

Dec 07, 2018

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

dossier • \DOSS-yay\  • noun

: a file containing detailed records on a particular person or subject


The agency maintains extensive dossiers on all of its employees and contractors.

"The council overwhelmingly supported a resolution to set up an 'independent mechanism' that will collect and analyze evidence of the 'most serious international crimes' and prepare dossiers that will make it easier for prosecutors to bring cases to trial in national, regional or international courts." — Nick Cumming-Bruce, The New York Times, 28 Sept. 2018

Did you know?

Gather together various documents relating to the affairs of a certain individual, sort them into separate folders, label the spine of each folder, and arrange the folders in a box. Dossier, the French word for such a compendium of spine-labeled folders, was picked up by English speakers in the 19th century. It comes from dos, the French word for "back." The verb endorse (which originally meant "to write on the back of") and the rare adjective addorsed ("set or turned back to back," a term primarily used in heraldry) are also derived, via the Anglo-French endosser and French adosser respectively, from dos. The French dos has its origins in the Latin dorsum, a word which also gave English the adjective dorsal ("situated on the back"), as in "the dorsal fin of a whale."

Dec 06, 2018