Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

By Merriam-Webster

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Subscribers: 791
Reviews: 5

 Jan 17, 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Very concise and includes interesting info like etymology or historical references.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 January 18, 2020 is:

vicarious • \vye-KAIR-ee-us\  • adjective

1 : experienced or realized through imaginative or sympathetic participation in the experience of another

2 a : serving instead of someone or something else

b : that has been delegated

3 : performed or suffered by one person as a substitute for another or to the benefit or advantage of another : substitutionary

4 : occurring in an unexpected or abnormal part of the body instead of the usual one


"'Gravity' is a brilliantly realized, completely riveting, dread-drenched science fiction thriller about two astronauts stranded in orbit around Earth. And it turns out to be one amazing vicarious experience, simultaneously dream and nightmare, with a set of cinematic illusions that simply—well, maybe not so simply—astounds." — Bill Wine, The Chestnut Hill Local (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 15 Nov. 2019

"What kind of a play might Shakespeare have written if Lady Macbeth, rather than her husband, had been given the leading role? This is the premise of Kally Lloyd-Jones's bold and haunting new work, in which she tries to imagine the full story of a woman so deprived of purpose, so hell-bent on vicarious power, that she will goad her husband to commit regicide." — The Guardian (London), 9 Aug. 2017

Did you know?

If you act in someone's stead, you take his or her place, at least temporarily. The oldest meaning of vicarious, which dates to the first half of the 1600s, is "serving instead of someone or something else." The word vicarious derives from the Latin noun vicis, which means "change," "alternation," or "stead." Vicis is also the source of the English prefix vice- (as in "vice president"), meaning "one that takes the place of."

Jan 18, 2020

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 17, 2020 is:

tontine • \TAHN-teen\  • noun

: a joint financial arrangement whereby the participants usually contribute equally to a prize that is awarded entirely to the participant who survives all the others


"For denizens of the realm, tontines were a very popular twist on the annuity because they appealed to the gambling spirit. An annuity would pay you a steady trickle of money (boring). A tontine would pay you more and more as time went on because other people would be dying and you would be accumulating their shares." — Jeff Guo, The Washington Post, 28 Sept. 2015

"Lord Deverell wanted a loan from me based upon his contribution. Wanted out of the tontine entirely, rather, but without having to go to the trouble of dying." — Theresa Romain, Lady Notorious, 2019

Did you know?

Tontines were named after their creator, a Neapolitan banker named Lorenzo Tonti. In 1653, Tonti convinced investors to buy shares in a fund he had created. Each year, the investors earned dividends, and when one of them died, their share of the profits was redistributed among the survivors. When the last investor died, the capital reverted to the state. Louis XIV of France used tontines to save his ailing treasury and to fund municipal projects, and private tontines (where the last surviving investor—and subsequently their heirs—got the cash instead of the state) became popular throughout Europe and the U.S. Eventually, though, tontines were banned; there was just too much temptation for unscrupulous investors to bump off their fellow subscribers.

Jan 17, 2020

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 16, 2020 is:

hirsute • \HER-soot\  • adjective

1 : hairy

2 : covered with coarse stiff hairs


Turner wore a hirsute mask as part of his werewolf costume for the school play.

"Berry is a stocky, hirsute fellow, with a big, rich voice that immediately calls to mind the word 'thespian' and gives everything he says a sheen of (over)dramatic irony…." — Robert Lloyd, The Los Angeles Times, 3 Dec. 2019

Did you know?

Hirsute has nearly the same spelling and exactly the same meaning as its Latin parent, hirsutus. The word isn't quite one of a kind, though—it has four close relatives: hirsutism and hirsuties, synonymous nouns naming a medical condition involving excessive hair growth; hirsutal, an adjective meaning "of or relating to hair"; and hirsutulous, a mostly botanical term meaning "slightly hairy" (as in "hirsutulous stems"). The Latin hirsutus is also an etymological cousin to horrēre, meaning "to bristle." Horrēre gave rise to Latin horrōr-, horror, which has the various meanings of "standing stiffly," "bristling," "shivering," "dread," "consternation," and is the source, via Anglo-French, of our word horror. The word horripilation—a fancy word for goose bumps—is also a hirsute relation; its Latin source, horripilāre, means "to shudder," and was formed from horrēre and pilus ("hair").

Jan 16, 2020

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 15, 2020 is:

artifice • \AHR-tuh-fus\  • noun

1 a : clever or artful skill : ingenuity 

b : an ingenious device or expedient

2 a : an artful stratagem : trick 

b : false or insincere behavior


"A generation that's grown up with Snapchat-filtered selfies and pop feminism seems to have an innate understanding that artifice doesn't negate authenticity, or that a penchant for towering wigs and acrylic nails doesn't prevent someone from being a songwriting genius." — Lindsay Zoladz, The New York Times, 21 Nov. 2019

"It could all be rather enervating, but the sheer polish and panache of the cast's fluttering antics brings a smile to the lips—and Wilson introduced a soupçon of reality to offset the artifice. Having pretended to have a boyfriend, wealthy heiress Polly Browne … affects to be a humble secretary after she's instantly smitten with errant rich-kid Tony, who's slumming it as an errand boy." — Dominic Cavendish, The Daily Telegraph (London), 3 Dec. 2019

Did you know?

Do great actors display artifice or art? Sometimes a bit of both. Artifice stresses creative skill or intelligence, but it also implies a sense of falseness and trickery. Art generally rises above such falseness, suggesting instead an unanalyzable creative force. Actors may rely on some of each, but the personae they display in their roles are usually artificial creations. Therein lies a lexical connection between art and artifice. Artifice derives from artificium, Latin for "artifice." That root also gave English artificial. Artificium, in turn, developed from ars, the Latin root underlying the word art (and related terms such as artist and artisan).

Jan 15, 2020

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 14, 2020 is:

lily-livered • \LILL-ee-LIV-erd\  • adjective

: lacking courage : cowardly


"The deus ex machina aspect of Mando's comrades popping up to save him and Baby Yoda from certain death once he proved he wasn't a lily-livered Empire flunky kind of irked me, but I often have that complaint with sci-fi and superhero stories, both of which are prone to ending battles with an out-of-nowhere assist." — Katie Rife, The A.V. Club, 22 Nov. 2019

"I did see more salads than should be allowed in a place like this—something the tentacle-bearded sea captain would surely dismiss as lily-livered landlubber food. And when you're deep inside the belly of Helmsman Ale House, marvelling at the … original arched, wood-beam ceilings that make you feel as if you've been swallowed by the hull of an ancient schooner, salad seems a silly thing to eat, especially while you're chugging a pint." — Edwin Goei, OC Weekly (Costa Mesa, California), 25 Sept. 2019

Did you know?

The basis of the word lily-livered lies in an old belief. Years ago, people thought that health and temperament were the products of a balance or imbalance of four bodily fluids, or humors: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. It was believed that a deficiency of yellow bile, or choler, the humor that governed anger, spirit, and courage, would leave a person's liver colorless or white. Someone with this deficiency, and so white-livered, would be spiritless and a coward. Lily-livered and white-livered have been used synonymously since the 17th century, but lily-livered is now the more common expression, probably because of its alliteration.

Jan 14, 2020

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 13, 2020 is:

glom • \GLAHM\  • verb

1 : take, steal

2 : seize, catch


"It would not surprise me if the sampling 'Fleabag' receives from glomming an Emmy sets it up as a series that makes viewers eagerly await new seasons." — Neal Zoren, The Delaware County (Pennsylvania) Daily Times, 30 Sept. 2019

"The Captain is the alter ego of the kids' school principal, a real grump named Krupp … who can't stand laughter or those boys. A magic plastic hypno-ring glommed out of a cereal box puts him under the lads' spell and has him peeling down to his underpants and going forth to, well, mess things up." — Soren Andersen, The Seattle Times, 1 June 2017

Did you know?

It's a classic case of glomming: Americans seized on glaum (a term from Scots dialect that basically means "to grab") and appropriated it as their own, changing it to glom in the process. Glom first meant "to steal" (as in the purse-snatching, robber kind of stealing), but over time that meaning got stretched, resulting in figurative uses. Today we might say, for example, that a busy professional gloms a weekend getaway. Glom also appears frequently in the phrase "glom on to," which can mean "to appropriate for one's own use" ("glom on to another's idea"); "to grab hold of" ("glom on to the last cookie"); or "to latch on to" ("glom on to an opinion" or "glom on to an influential friend").

Jan 13, 2020

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 12, 2020 is:

weal • \WEEL\  • noun

: a sound, healthy, or prosperous state : well-being


Before presenting the bill to the legislature, the senator spoke of devotion to the general weal.

"All our life … is but a mass of habits,—practical, emotional, and intellectual,—systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be." — William James, Talks to Teachers on Psychology, 1899

Did you know?

Weal is most often used in contexts referring to the general good. One reads, for example, of the "public weal" or the "common weal." The latter of these led to the formation of the noun commonweal, a word that once referred to an organized political entity, such as a nation or state, but today usually means "the general welfare." The word commonwealth shares these meanings, but its situation is reversed; the "political entity" sense of commonwealth is still current whereas the "general welfare" sense has become archaic. At one time, weal and wealth were also synonyms; both meant "riches" ("all his worldly weal") and "well-being." Both words stem from wela, the Old English word for "well-being," and are closely related to the Old English word for "well."

Jan 12, 2020

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 11, 2020 is:

convoke • \kun-VOHK\  • verb

: to call together to a meeting


"The gloves were off now, and to mobilize every possible moral and military advantage, the pope convoked a general church Council in Rome for 1241." — Adrian House, Francis of Assisi, 2000

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently convoked a committee charged with proposing new standards for particle pollution, and two experts recommended a more careful look at exposure to harvest dust." — Garth Stapley, The Modesto (California) Bee, 10 Sept. 2016

Did you know?

The Latin noun vox ("voice") and verb vocare ("to call") have given rise to many English words,  including convoke. Other English descendants of those roots are usually spelled with voc and have to do with speaking or calling. Thus, a vocation is a special calling to a type of work; an evocative sight or smell calls forth memories and feelings; and a vocal ensemble is a singing group. Provoke, irrevocable, equivocate, and vociferous are a few of the other descendants of vox and vocare. The related noun convocation refers to a group of people who have been called together.

Jan 11, 2020

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 10, 2020 is:

elixir • \ih-LIK-ser\  • noun

1 a (1) : a substance held to be capable of changing base metals into gold

(2) : a substance held to be capable of prolonging life indefinitely

b (1) : cure-all

(2) : a medicinal concoction

2 : a sweetened liquid usually containing alcohol that is used in medication either for its medicinal ingredients or as a flavoring

3 : the essential principle


While the new sports complex is hardly an elixir for all of the city's economic woes, it should spur some much-needed job growth.

"Before turning in on a really cold night, a hot toddy really helps knock off the edge. My elixir of choice is a cup of hot apple cider mixed with a shot of 12 Point Bourbon." — Bryan Hendricks, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 14 Nov. 2019

Did you know?

Elixir has roots in the practice of alchemy; it was used in the Middle Ages as the word for a substance believed to be capable of changing base metals into gold. Its later use for a drug purported to prolong one's life led to its use in the names of medicines of mostly questionable effectiveness. Today, it is often used generally for anything thought capable of remedying all ills or difficulties, be they physical or otherwise. The word came to us via Middle English and Medieval Latin from Arabic al-iksīr; it probably ultimately derives from Greek xērion, meaning "desiccative powder."

Jan 10, 2020

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 9, 2020 is:

belated • \bih-LAY-tud\  • adjective

1 : delayed beyond the usual time

2 : existing or appearing past the normal or proper time


Olivia called her friend on his birthday to let him know that a belated gift from her was on its way.

"Although it airs in Hebrew and Yiddish with English subtitles, Shtisel … has become such an international favorite that its creators are contemplating a belated third season, while Friends and Grace and Frankie co-creator Marta Kauffman is working on an American version." — Joy Press, Vanity Fair, 29 Aug. 2019

Did you know?

Long ago, there was a verb belate, which meant "to make late." From the beginning, belate tended to mostly turn up in the form of its past participle, belated. Eventually, belate itself fell out of use, leaving behind belated as an adjective that preserved the original notion of delay. As you may have guessed, belate and its descendant belated derive from the adjective late; belate was formed by simply combining the prefix be- ("to cause to be") with late. Belated was also once used in the sense "overtaken by night," as in "belated travelers seeking lodging for the night." This sense was in fact the first meaning of the adjective, but it has since fallen into disuse.

Jan 09, 2020