Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

By Merriam-Webster

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Subscribers: 708
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Very concise and includes interesting info like etymology or historical references.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 November 22, 2019 is:

heterodox • \HET-uh-ruh-dahks\  • adjective

1 : contrary to or different from an acknowledged standard, a traditional form, or an established religion : unorthodox, unconventional

2 : holding unorthodox opinions or doctrines


"His heterodox moves have been the ones requiring most careful explanation on social media. He bucks his party in not voting for measures he supports … because he disagrees with the underlying legislative approach." — Isaac Stanley-Becker and Felicia Sonmez, The Washington Post, 20 May 2019

"Why, you're ashamed to buy my book, ashamed to read it: the only thing you're not ashamed of is to judge me for it without having read it; and even that only means that you're ashamed to have heterodox opinions." — George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, 1903

Did you know?

It's true: individuals often see other people's ideas as unconventional while regarding their own as beyond reproach. The antonyms orthodox and heterodox developed from the same root, Greek doxa, which means "opinion." Heterodox derives from doxa plus heter-, a combining form meaning "other" or "different"; orthodox pairs doxa with orth-, meaning "correct" or "straight."

Nov 22, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 21, 2019 is:

fortitude • \FOR-tuh-tood\  • noun

: strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage


"She showed fortitude in 2013, when the restaurant, known for its cheery pink exterior, had a major fire. The taqueria soon reopened with a new, brick exterior and the same great food, and Perez said business is better than ever." — Cassidy McDonald, The Wisconsin State Journal, 22 Sept. 2015

"… Captain Ahab stood erect, looking straight out beyond the ship's ever-pitching prow.  There was an infinity of firmest fortitude, a determinate unsurrenderable wilfulness, in the fixed and fearless, forward dedication of that glance." — Herman Melville, Moby Dick, 1851

Did you know?

Fortitude comes from the Latin word fortis, meaning "strong," and in English it has always been used primarily to describe strength of mind. For a time, the word was also used to mean "physical strength"; William Shakespeare used that sense in Henry VI, Part 1: "Coward of France! How much he wrongs his fame / Despairing of his own arm's fortitude." But despite use by the Bard, that second sense languished and is now considered obsolete.

Nov 21, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 20, 2019 is:

expedite • \EK-spuh-dyte\  • verb

1 : to accelerate the process or progress of : speed up

2 : to execute promptly

3 : issue, dispatch


To expedite the processing of your request, please include your account number on all documents.

"The task force stemmed from an executive order issued earlier this year by Gov. Ron DeSantis that said the state should expedite work on water quality problems across the Sunshine State over the next five years." — Chad Gillis, The News-Press (Fort Myers, Florida), 8 Oct. 2019

Did you know?

If you're really intent on expediting something, you jump in with both feet—or place a single foot where it will be most effective! And when you do, you're drawing on the etymology of expedite itself. The word comes from the Latin verb expedire ("to extricate, prepare, be useful"), a word that traces back to the root ped- or pes, meaning "foot." Expedite has been used in English since at least the 15th century.

Nov 20, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 19, 2019 is:

recondite • \REK-un-dyte\  • adjective

1 : difficult or impossible for one of ordinary understanding or knowledge to comprehend : deep

2 : of, relating to, or dealing with something little known or obscure

3 : hidden from sight : concealed


"Ocampo (1903-1993) is a legend of Argentinian literature, and this collection of her short stories brings some of her most recondite and mysterious works to the English-speaking world." — Publisher's Weekly Review, 25 June 2019

"Deforestation, desertification, and sea-level rise are topographic, horizontal crises of land-clearing, creeping dunes, and saltwater surges. The realm of rocks, by contrast, seems too motionless and too recondite to be shaped by unnatural shifts above." — Rebecca Giggs, The Atlantic, July 2019

Did you know?

While the adjective recondite may be used to describe something difficult to understand, there is nothing recondite about the word's history. It dates to the early 1600s, when it was coined from the synonymous Latin word reconditus. Recondite is one of those underused but useful words that's always a boon to one's vocabulary, but take off the re- and you get something very obscure: condite is an obsolete verb meaning both "to pickle or preserve" and "to embalm." If we add the prefix in- to condite we get incondite, which means "badly put together," as in "incondite prose." All three words have Latin condere at their root; that verb is translated variously as "to put or bring together," "to put up, store," and "to conceal."

Nov 19, 2019
mot juste

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

mot juste • \moh-ZHEWST\  • noun

: the exactly right word or phrasing


"At best, thesauruses are mere rest stops in the search for the mot juste. Your destination is the dictionary." — John McPhee, The New Yorker, 29 Apr. 2013

"My most potent talisman is the late Ted Hughes' impressive writing lectern … which I bought last year at auction. I used to fish with him, and I imagine he would have been amused to see me stand here at it, looking out over my Perthshire loch, biting a ballpoint and straining for the mot juste." — David Profumo, The Daily Telegraph (London), 8 June 2019

Did you know?

English was apparently unable to come up with its own mot juste to refer to a word or phrase that expresses exactly what the writer or speaker is trying to say, and so borrowed the French term instead. The borrowing was still very new when George Paston (the pen name of Emily Morse Symonds) described a character's wordsmithery in her 1899 novel A Writer's Life thusly: "She could launch her sentences into the air, knowing that they would fall upon their feet like cats, her brain was almost painlessly delivered of le mot juste…." As English speakers became more familiar with the term, they increasingly gave it the English article the instead of the French le.

Nov 18, 2019

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

carouse • \kuh-ROWZ ("OW" as in 'cow')\  • verb

1 : to drink liquor freely or excessively

2 : to take part in a drunken revel : engage in dissolute behavior


Each fall the campus newspaper runs an editorial urging students to recognize that studying and getting involved in official campus activities benefit them far more than carousing does.

"Maroon leather chairs still line the high-ceilinged reading room where once area businessmen in white shirts and ties repaired to enjoy a Scotch and a fine cigar. And a grand staircase still leads to the basement, where members caroused around a four-lane bowling alley." — Tom Mooney, The Providence (Rhode Island) Journal, 29 Sept. 2019

Did you know?

Sixteenth-century English revelers toasting each other's health sometimes drank a brimming mug of spirits straight to the bottom—drinking "all-out," they called it. German tipplers did the same and used the German expression for "all out"—gar aus. The French adopted the German term as carous, using the adverb in their expression boire carous ("to drink all out"), and that phrase, with its idiomatic sense of "to empty the cup," led to carrousse, a French noun meaning "a large draft of liquor." And that's where English speakers picked up carouse in the 1500s, first as a noun (which later took on the sense of a general "drunken revel"), and then as a verb meaning "to drink freely."

Nov 17, 2019

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

officious • \uh-FISH-us\  • adjective

1 : volunteering one's services where they are neither asked nor needed : meddlesome

2 : informal, unofficial


"There are too many yellow flags being thrown around the NFL. Whether it's too many rules or too many officious officials, it's gotten ridiculous." — Brent Musburger, The Las Vegas Review Journal, 21 Sept. 2019

"Instead we docked briefly at the Lionhead Campground before being chased off by an officious campground host because we'd overstayed the 15-minute loading and unloading limit." — Eli Francovich, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington), 16 Aug. 2019

Did you know?

Don't mistake officious for a rare synonym of official. Both words stem from the Latin noun officium (meaning "service" or "office"), but they have very different meanings. When the suffix -osus ("full of") was added to officium, Latin officiosus came into being, meaning "eager to serve, help, or perform a duty." When this adjective was borrowed into English as officious in the 15th century it described dutiful people and their actions. That use shifted a bit semantically to describe those eager to help or serve. By the late 16th century, however, officious was beginning to develop a negative sense describing a person who offers unwanted help. This pejorative sense has driven out the original "dutiful" and "eager to help" senses to become the predominant meaning of the word in modern English. Officious can also mean "of an informal or unauthorized nature," but that sense is not common.

Nov 16, 2019
white elephant

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

white elephant • \WYTE-EL-uh-funt\  • noun

1 : a property requiring much care and expense and yielding little profit

2 : an object no longer of value to its owner but of value to others

3 : something of little or no value


"The white elephant exchange—aka dirty Santa, aka Yankee swap—has many names and many, many rules.… Guests arrive with a wrapped gift, usually under a certain price point, and aim to leave with the 'best' gift in the room." — Becky Hughes, Parade, 10 Nov. 2018

"The foundation's application for tax credits is formal recognition that The Avalon plays a role in economic development. That's pretty good validation for a theater that has been criticized for being a white elephant." — editorial, The Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction, Colorado), 18 Sept. 2019

Did you know?

The real white elephant (the kind with a trunk) is a pale pachyderm that has long been an object of veneration in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Myanmar. Too revered to be a beast of burden, the white elephant earned a reputation as a burdensome beast—one that required constant care and feeding but never brought a single cent (or paisa or satang or pya) to its owner. One story has it that the kings of Siam (the old name for Thailand) gave white elephants as gifts to those they wished to ruin, hoping that the cost of maintaining the voracious but sacred mammal would drive its new owner to the poorhouse.

Nov 15, 2019

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

incongruous • \in-KAHN-gruh-wus\  • adjective

: lacking congruity: as

a : not harmonious : incompatible

b : not conforming : disagreeing

c : inconsistent within itself

d : lacking propriety : unsuitable


The sight of a horse and carriage amongst the cars on the road was a bit incongruous.

"The gunplay scene was so incongruous with the rest of the film that one wonders if [director Michael] Engler added the assassination storyline to simply beef up the movie's runtime." — John Vaaler, The Middlebury (Vermont) Campus, 3 Oct. 2019

Did you know?

Incongruous is a spin-off of its antonym, congruous, which means "in agreement, harmony, or correspondence." Etymologists are in agreement about the origin of both words: they trace to the Latin congruus, from the verb congruere, which means "to come together" or "to agree." The dates of these words' first uses in English match up pretty well, too. Both words are first known to have appeared in English in the early 1580s.

Nov 14, 2019

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

gambit • \GAM-bit\  • noun

1 : a chess opening in which a player risks one or more pawns or a minor piece to gain an advantage in position

2 a (1) : a remark intended to start a conversation or make a telling point  (2) : topic

b : a calculated move : stratagem


"The tournament, first held in 1934, was Roberts's gambit for attracting attention, members, and money. He persuaded Jones to come out of retirement to compete in it—an instant lure to fans and players alike—but at first Jones wouldn't agree to calling it the Masters, finding the word too grandiose." — Nick Paumgarten, The New Yorker, 24 June 2019

"Obviously, most suspense novels rely on keeping the reader in the dark about something. But a big, glaring omission in what is presented as first-person interior monologue—as if the person is redacting their own thoughts—is one of the least impressive gambits." — The Kirkus Reviews, 15 June 2019

Did you know?

In 1656, a chess handbook was published that was said to have almost a hundred illustrated gambetts. That early spelling of gambit is close to the Italian word gambetto, from which it is derived. Gambetto, which is from gamba, meaning "leg," was used for an act of tripping—especially one that gave an advantage, as in wrestling. The original chess gambit is an opening in which a bishop's pawn is sacrificed to gain some advantage, but the name is now applied to many other chess openings. After being pinned down to chess for years, gambit finally broke free of the hold and showed itself to be a legitimate contender in the English language by weighing in with other meanings.

Nov 13, 2019