Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

By Merriam-Webster

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 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Very concise and includes interesting info like etymology or historical references.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 February 18, 2019 is:

prestigious • \preh-STIH-juss\  • adjective

1 archaic : of, relating to, or marked by illusion, conjuring, or trickery

2 : having an illustrious name or reputation : esteemed in general opinion


Carla was overjoyed to receive an acceptance letter from the prestigious university.

"The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has announced 16 finalists for its closely watched SECA [Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art] Art Award for 2019. The awards are the region's most prestigious recognition for emerging artists." — Charles Desmarais, The San Francisco Chronicle, 14 Dec. 2018

Did you know?

You may be surprised to learn that prestigious had more to do with trickery than with respect when it was first used in the mid-16th century. The earliest (now archaic) meaning of the word was "of, relating to, or marked by illusion, conjuring, or trickery." Prestigious comes to us from the Latin word praestigiosis, meaning "full of tricks" or "deceitful." The words prestige and prestigious are related, of course, though not as directly as you might think; they share a Latin ancestor, but they entered English by different routes. Prestige, which was borrowed from French in the mid-17th century, initially meant "a conjurer's trick," but in the 19th century it developed an extended sense of "blinding or dazzling influence." That change, in turn, influenced prestigious, which now means simply "illustrious or esteemed."

Feb 18, 2019

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

disavow • \dis-uh-VOW\  • verb

1 : to deny responsibility for : repudiate

2 : to refuse to acknowledge or accept : disclaim


It seems the college's president is now trying to disavow her previous statements.

"Last week in Beijing, ['Crazy Rich Asians'] director Jon M. Chu essentially disavowed every word in the film's title. 'The film is a satire,' Chu told the state-affiliated Global Times. 'It's not about "crazy rich" or "Asians" actually—it's about the opposite of that. It's about how all those things mean nothing and it comes down to our own relationships and finding love and our own families.'" — Rebecca Davis, Variety, 29 Nov. 2018

Did you know?

If you trace the etymology of disavow back through Middle English to Anglo-French, you'll arrive eventually at the prefix des- and the verb avouer, meaning "to avow." The prefix des-, in turn, derives from the Latin prefix dis-, meaning "apart." That Latin prefix plays a significant role in many current English words, including disadvantage, disappoint, and disagree. Avouer is from Latin advocare, meaning "to summon," and is also the source of our word advocate.

Feb 17, 2019

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

gibbous • \JIB-us\  • adjective

1 a : marked by convexity or swelling

b of the moon or a planet : seen with more than half but not all of the apparent disk illuminated

2 : having a hump : humpbacked


The fresh layer of snow glistened under the light of the waxing gibbous moon.

"During the fourth lunar orbit, Anders was engaged in photographing the lunar surface when he noticed a slightly gibbous Earth rising above the surface as the spacecraft passed over from the moon's far side to its near side." — Alan Hale, The Alamogordo (New Mexico) Daily News, 23 Dec. 2018

Did you know?

The adjective gibbous has its origins in the Latin noun gibbus, meaning "hump," and in the Late Latin adjective gibbosus, meaning "humpbacked," which Middle English adopted in the 14th century as gibbous. Gibbous has been used to describe the rounded body parts of humans and animals (such as the back of a camel) or to describe the shape of certain flowers (such as snapdragons). The term is most often identified, however, with the study of astronomy. A gibbous moon is one that is more than a half-moon but less than full.

Feb 16, 2019

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

apotheosis • \uh-pah-thee-OH-sis\  • noun

1 a : the perfect form or example of something : quintessence

b : the highest or best part of something : peak

2 : elevation to divine status : deification


"Four decades after its box office debut, Grease remains a cultural phenomenon.… [Olivia] Newton-John is particularly stellar, with her charming persona and spotless soprano voice making the film the apotheosis of her '70s superstardom." —, 4 Oct. 2018

"In 2018, this adaptation [of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451] speaks to the apotheosis of social media, to the approach of authoritarianism, and to any other anxieties about the self-surveillance state that you might harbor." — Troy Patterson, The New Yorker, 18 May 2018

Did you know?

Among the ancient Greeks, it was sometimes thought fitting—or simply handy, say if you wanted a god somewhere in your bloodline—to grant someone or other "god" status. So they created the word apotheōsis, from the verb apotheoun, meaning "to deify." (The prefix apo- can mean "off," "from," or "away," and theos is the Greek word for "god.") There's not a lot of Greek-style apotheosizing in the 21st century, but there is hero-worship. Our extended use of apotheosis as "elevation to divine status" is the equivalent of "placement on a very high pedestal." Even more common these days is to use apotheosis in reference to a perfect example or ultimate form. For example, one might describe a movie as "the apotheosis of the sci-fi movie genre."

Feb 15, 2019

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

heartstring • \HAHRT-string\  • noun

: the deepest emotions or affections — usually used in plural


"While on Facebook, have you ever come across a posting that tugs at your heartstrings? Photos of adorable abandoned puppies, say, or a story about a cute little girl who didn't get any happy birthday wishes? You instinctively click the 'thumbs-up' or add a comment (Happy birthday!) and maybe even decide to share the posting." — Mary C. Hickey, Consumer Reports, June 2018

"There are two moments in 'Mary Poppins Returns' when the grown-ups watching really lose it: Dick Van Dyke's arrival and when Angela Lansbury starts singing. Those are playing on a lifetime of heartstrings." — Lin-Manuel Miranda, quoted in USA Today, 27 Dec. 2018

Did you know?

Before a song or movie or heart-shaped card accompanied by a box of chocolates could tug at your heartstrings, the job was more likely to be accomplished by a surgeon: the word heartstring used to refer to a nerve believed to sustain the heart. You might recognize the word's second syllable in the term hamstring, which refers to both a group of tendons at the back of the knee and to any of three muscles at the backs of the upper legs. It's also apparent in a rare dialect term for the Achilles' tendon: heel string. And in light of these terms, it's not surprising to know that string itself was at one time used independently to refer to cords like tendons and ligaments.

Feb 14, 2019

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

cacophony • \ka-KAH-fuh-nee\  • noun

1 : harsh or discordant sound : dissonance; specifically : harshness in the sound of words or phrases

2 : an incongruous or chaotic mixture : a striking combination


"But never in their most uneasy dreams did they expect the cacophony—a word which here means 'the sound of two metal pots being banged together by a nasty foreman standing in the doorway holding no breakfast at all'—that awoke them." — Lemony Snicket, The Miserable Mill, 2000

"Divided into groups of ten or so, the students came forward for an opportunity to play the instruments. The cacophony that resulted was matched only by the children's broad smiles as they blew tubas, banged on drums or drew bows across violins." — Steven Felschundneff, The Claremont (California) Courier, 29 Nov. 2018

Did you know?

Words that descend from the Greek word phōnē are making noise in English. Why? Because phōnē means "sound" or "voice." Cacophony comes from a joining of the Greek prefix kak- (from kakos,meaning "bad") with phōnē, so it essentially means "bad sound." Symphony, a word that indicates harmony or agreement in sound, traces to phōnē and the Greek prefix syn-, which means "together." Polyphony refers to a style of musical composition in which two or more independent melodies are juxtaposed in harmony, and it comes from a combination of phōnē and the Greek prefix poly-, meaning "many." And euphony, a word for a pleasing or sweet sound, combines phōnē with eu-, a prefix that means "good."

Feb 13, 2019

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

teem • \TEEM\  • verb

1 : to become filled to overflowing : abound

2 : to be present in large quantity


"On Friday, Tselikis stood in front of the Red's Best stall at Boston's Public Market, offering up tidbits about lobsters as they teemed inside a tank." — Gintautas Dumcius,, 10 June 2016

"But beneath the surface, some of the rigs are teeming with biological life. Dozens of fish species, thousands of different kinds of invertebrates, and sea lions all call the rigs home." — Erik Olsen, Quartz, 17 Nov. 2018

Did you know?

The verb teem and the noun team are not just homophones, they are also etymological kin. Teem is derived from Old English tīman or tæman, which originally meant "to bring forth offspring" or "to become pregnant." That word is related to the ancestor of team, the Old English noun tēam, meaning "offspring, lineage, or group of draft animals." Team can still be used to refer to a brood of young animals, especially pigs or ducks, but both teem and team have otherwise largely left their offspring-related senses behind.

Feb 12, 2019

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

bardolater • \bar-DAH-luh-ter\  • noun

: a person who idolizes Shakespeare


The song retells the story of "Othello," but in such subtle language that only bardolaters are likely to recognize it.

"[W]hether you're a bona fide Bardolater or someone who uses Shakespeare as an excuse to eat brie on a blanket under the summer stars, here's a brief round-up of where to satisfy your appetite for Shakespeare this summer." — Jenny Terpsichore Abeles, The Recorder (Greenfield, Massachusetts), 15 June 2017

Did you know?

George Bernard Shaw once described a William Shakespeare play as "stagy trash." Another time, Shaw said he'd like to dig Shakespeare from the grave and throw stones at him. Shaw could be equally scathing toward Shakespeare's adoring fans. He called them "foolish Bardolaters," wrote of "Bardolatrous" ignoramuses, and called blind Shakespeare worship "Bardolatry." Oddly enough, Shaw didn't despise Shakespeare or his work (on the contrary, he was, by his own admission, an admirer), but he disdained those who placed the man beyond reproach. The word bardolater, which Shaw coined by blending Shakespeare's epithet—"the Bard"—with an affix that calls to mind idolater, has stuck with us to this day, though it has lost some of its original critical sting.

Feb 11, 2019

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

finicky • \FIN-ih-kee\  • adjective

1 : extremely or excessively particular, exacting, or meticulous in taste or standards

2 : requiring much care, precision, or attentive effort


The young boy was a finicky eater, and his parents found it challenging to come up with ideas for healthy meals that he would enjoy.

"The 1970s, '80s, and '90s electronic components that are inside most pinball machines are aging and finicky, with a shrinking pool of techs able to decipher the machines' precise workings." — Zane Razzaq, The MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, Massachusetts), 27 Dec. 2018

Did you know?

You may be familiar with an advertising campaign featuring Morris, the finicky housecat who would only eat a certain brand of cat food. Morris's tastes in cuisine are not only very particular, but very fine as well, and that's appropriate given the origin of finicky. The word came about as an alteration of finicking, itself an alteration of another adjective, finical. It's believed that finical derives from the adjective fine. Finicking also gives us finick, a somewhat rare verb meaning "to put on airs" or "to dawdle about."

Feb 10, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 9, 2019 is:

prescind • \prih-SIND\  • verb

1 : to withdraw one's attention

2 : to detach for purposes of thought


"But to frame an abstract idea of happiness, prescinded from all particular pleasure, or of goodness, from everything that is good, this is what few can pretend to." — George Berkeley, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, 1710

"Nooyi prescinded from the share price-obsessed practices associated with most conglomerates—and instead said she was focused on making PepsiCo the kind of company that would deliver a 'lasting impact' to society." — Edmund Heaphy, Quartz, 6 Aug. 2018

Did you know?

Prescind derives from the Latin verb praescindere, which means "to cut off in front." Praescindere, in turn, was formed by combining prae- ("before") and scindere ("to cut" or "to split"). So it should come as no surprise that when prescind was first used during the 17th century, it referred to "cutting off" one's attention from a subject. An earlier (now archaic) sense was even clearer about the etymological origins of the word, with the meaning "to cut short, off, or away" or "to sever." Other descendants of scindere include rescind ("to take back or make void") and the rare scissile ("capable of being cut").

Feb 09, 2019