Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

By Merriam-Webster

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Category: Literature

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Subscribers: 479
Reviews: 4

 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Very concise and includes interesting info like etymology or historical references.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 April 19, 2019 is:

ecstatic • \ek-STAT-ik\  • adjective

: of, relating to, or marked by ecstasy


Greta and Paul were ecstatic when their daughter called to tell them that they were soon going to be grandparents.

"Harold Pinter established himself as Britain's foremost dramatist by placing inscrutable characters in cryptic situations and he was bound to keep the production line in motion, knowing that his oblique scripts would be greeted by genuflecting reviewers, ecstatic professors of literature and shrewd thesps ululating with approval at every rehearsal." — Lloyd Evans, The Spectator, 24 Nov. 2018

Did you know?

Ecstatic has been used in our language since the late 16th century, and the noun ecstasy is even older, dating from the 1300s. Both derive from the Greek verb existanai ("to put out of place"), which was used in a Greek phrase meaning "to drive someone out of his or her mind." That seems an appropriate history for words that can describe someone who is nearly out of their mind with intense emotion. In early use, ecstatic was sometimes linked to mystic trances, out-of-body experiences, and temporary madness. Today, however, it typically implies a state of enthusiastic excitement or intense happiness.

Apr 19, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 18, 2019 is:

adversary • \AD-ver-sair-ee\  • noun

: one that contends with, opposes, or resists : an enemy or opponent


Despite the fact that they have been political adversaries for years, the two state senators worked together to rally bipartisan support for the bill.

"Try these strategies to engage your boss as a partner in your success rather than an adversary who's getting in your way." — Nate Regier, The Wichita Eagle, 7 Mar. 2019

Did you know?

If you've ever had someone turn on you and become your adversary, you've inadvertently lived out the etymology of adversary. The word is from the Latin adjective adverāsarius ("turned toward" or "antagonistic toward"), which in turn can be traced back to the verb advertere, meaning "to turn toward." Advertere itself derives from ad- and vertere ("to turn"), and vertere is the source of a number of English words. Along with obvious derivatives, like inadvertent and adverse, are some surprises, including anniversary, vertebra, and prose—the last of which traces back to the Latin prosus, a contraction of proversus, the past participle of provertere ("to turn forward").

Apr 18, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 17, 2019 is:

gullible • \GULL-uh-bul\  • adjective

: easily duped or cheated


"I'm not so gullible as to think I really won this cash sweepstakes," said Aunt Mary, though she went ahead and opened the envelope that told her she had won, just in case it wasn't a scam.

"The conclusion that some people are more gullible than others is the understanding in popular culture—but in the scientific world it's pitted against another widely believed paradigm, shaped by several counterintuitive studies that indicate we're all equally biased, irrational and likely to fall for propaganda, sales pitches and general nonsense." — Faye Flam, The Chicago Tribune, 4 Jan. 2019

Did you know?

Don't fall for anyone who tries to convince you that gullible isn't entered in the dictionary. It's right there, along with the run-on entries gullibility and gullibly. All three words descend from the verb gull, meaning "to deceive or take advantage of." The verb was borrowed into English from Anglo-French in the mid-16th century. Another relative is the noun gull, referring to a person who is easy to cheat—a word which is unrelated to the familiar word for a seabird, which is of Celtic origin.

Apr 17, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 16, 2019 is:

shanghai • \shang-HYE\  • verb

1 a : to put aboard a ship by force often with the help of liquor or a drug 

b : to put by force or threat of force into or as if into a place of detention

2 : to put by trickery into an undesirable position


Nate was shanghaied by his sister into helping her sell shirts at the lacrosse tournament after her friend bailed out.

"In time, the new novel, lurching around his psyche, dragged itself away and became real. How I loved to see him shanghaied like that, careening down the rum-soaked wharves of imagination…." — Diane Ackerman, Hundred Names for Love: A Memoir, 2011

Did you know?

In the 1800s, long sea voyages were very difficult and dangerous, so people were understandably hesitant to become sailors. But sea captains and shipping companies needed crews to sail their ships, so they gathered sailors any way they could—even if that meant resorting to kidnapping by physical force or with the help of liquor or drugs. The word shanghai comes from the name of the Chinese city of Shanghai. People started to use the city's name for that unscrupulous way of obtaining sailors because the East was often a destination of ships that had kidnapped men onboard as crew.

Apr 16, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 15, 2019 is:

katzenjammer • \KAT-sun-jam-er\  • noun

1 : hangover

2 : distress, depression, or confusion resembling that caused by a hangover

3 : a discordant clamor


"I drank too much that night and woke up submerged in a post-wine katzenjammer the next morning. My head was buzzing, and every fiber of my body slowly shriveled and wilted as the alcohol exited it." — Mac Lethal, Texts from Bennett, 2013

"The highest purpose of bar food, in all its cheesy, starchy, pinguid, deep-fried trashiness, is to sponge up as many bad decisions as possible before you wake up with a katzenjammer." — Mike Sula, Chicago Reader, 19 Oct. 2015

Did you know?

Have you ever heard a cat wailing and felt that you could relate? Apparently some hungover German speakers once did. Katzenjammer comes from German Katze (meaning "cat") and Jammer (meaning "distress" or "misery"). English speakers borrowed the word for their hangovers (and other distressful inner states) in the first half of the 19th century and eventually applied it to outer commotion as well. The word isn't as popular in English today as it was around the mid-20th century, but it's well-known to many because of The Katzenjammer Kids, a long-running comic strip featuring the incorrigibly mischievous twins Hans and Fritz.

Apr 15, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 14, 2019 is:

veritable • \VAIR-uh-tuh-bul\  • adjective

: being in fact the thing named and not false, unreal, or imaginary — often used to stress the aptness of a metaphor


"The availability of movies and TV shows on streaming services is a veritable merry-go-round these days, with so many titles coming and going that it's hard to keep things straight." — Bryan Bishop, The Verge, 29 July 2016

"Putting on shows at the amphitheater takes a large cohort of people, each with their own expertise, and I began to see that theatre was a veritable smorgasbord of options: lights, sound, props, costumes ... director, actor, stage manager, etc." — Casey Joiner, quoted in The Daily Toreador (Texas Tech University), 25 Feb. 2019

Did you know?

Veritable, like its close relative verity ("truth"), came to English through Anglo-French from Latin. It is ultimately derived from verus, the Latin word for "true," which also gave us verify, aver, and verdict. Veritable is often used as a synonym of genuine or authentic ("a veritable masterpiece"), but it is also frequently used to stress the aptness of a metaphor, often in a humorous tone ("a veritable swarm of lawyers"). In the past, usage commentators have objected to the latter use, but today it doesn't draw much criticism.

Apr 14, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 13, 2019 is:

cubit • \KYOO-bit\  • noun

: any of various ancient units of length based on the length of the forearm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger and usually equal to about 18 inches (46 centimeters)


The teacher explained that the ancient Egyptians did not measure things in feet and yards as we do but rather calculated measurements using the cubit.

"Noah's big boat, 300 cubits long by 50 cubits wide by 30 cubits high and jammed to its gunwales with wildlife, has been a favorite metaphor among books about biological diversity."
— David Quammen, The New York Times Book Review, 23 Apr. 1995

Did you know?

The cubit is an ancient unit of length that may have originated in Egypt close to 5,000 years ago. Cubit can refer to various units used in the ancient world, the actual length of which varied from time to time and place to place, but which was generally equivalent to the length of the human arm from elbow to fingertip—roughly about a foot and a half. (Appropriately, the word's source is a Latin word meaning "elbow.") Starting with the Wycliffe Bible in 1382, cubit has been used as the English translation for the measurement known in Biblical Hebrew as the "ammah" and in Koine as the "péchus."

Apr 13, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 12, 2019 is:

thole • \THOHL\  • verb

chiefly dialectal : endure


"There was now temptation to resist, as well as pain to thole." — Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped, 1886

"They view bad weather—whether it be a temperature of minus 14 or the northerly wind that comes howling down the loch—as a pleasurable challenge rather than something to be tholed." — Peter Ross, The Scotsman, 1 Oct. 2012

Did you know?

Thole has a long history in the English language. It existed in Middle English in its current form, and in Old English in the form tholian, but in these modern times, it tholes only in a few of England's northern dialects. It has, however, a linguistic cousin far more familiar to most English speakers: the word tolerate traces back to Latin tolerare, meaning "to endure, put up with," and tolerare and tholian share a kinship with the Greek verb tlēnai, meaning "to bear." Unrelated to our featured word thole, there is another (also very old) thole, which can be used as a synonym of peg or pin, or can refer to either of a pair of pins set in the gunwale of a boat to hold an oar in place.

Apr 12, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 11, 2019 is:

despot • \DESS-putt\  • noun

1 a : a ruler with absolute power and authority

b : one exercising power tyrannically : a person exercising absolute power in a brutal or oppressive way

2 a : a Byzantine emperor or prince

b Christianity : a bishop or patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church

c : an Italian hereditary prince or military leader during the Renaissance


"We like to think that, in a tyrannizing world, the best and the bravest thing is to beat the despots down. The worst thing, though, is that you become a tyrant yourself." — Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, 24 July 2017

"Throughout the world, despots are … probably monitoring Internet traffic, communications and behavior—in many cases using surveillance technology supplied by U.S. and other Western companies." — Robert Morgus and Justin Sherman, The Washington Post, 17 Jan. 2019

Did you know?

In his 1755 dictionary, Samuel Johnson said of despot, "the word is not in use, except as applied to some Dacian prince; as the despot of Servia." Indeed at that time, the word was mainly used to identify some very specific rulers or religious officials, and the title was an honorable one: it comes from a Greek word meaning "lord" or "master" and was originally applied to deities. That situation changed toward the end of the century, perhaps because French Revolutionists, who were said to have been "very liberal in conferring this title," considered all sovereigns to be tyrannical. When democracy became all the rage, despot came to be used most often for any ruler who wielded absolute and often contemptuous and oppressive power.

Apr 11, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 10, 2019 is:

Parthian • \PAR-thee-un\  • adjective

1 : of, relating to, or characteristic of ancient Parthia or its people

2 : relating to, being, or having the effect of a shot fired while in real or feigned retreat


After being fired, the coach gave a Parthian shot to the general manager informing him that he was a churlish miser.

"Although the exact origins of polo are unknown, it earned its reputation as 'the sport of kings' in the Parthian Empire in Persia and the Byzantine Empire…" — Town & Country, May 2018

Did you know?

The adjective Parthian, which often shows up in the phrase "Parthian shot," has its roots in the military strategies of the ancient Parthians. One of the fighting maneuvers of Parthian horsemen was to discharge arrows while in real or feigned retreat. The maneuver must have been memorable because "Parthian shot" continues to be used for a "parting shot," or a cutting remark made by a person who is leaving, many centuries after the dissolution of the Parthian empire.

Apr 10, 2019