Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day
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Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
||fantod||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 13, 2014 is: fantod \FAN-tahd\ noun 1 a : a state of irritability and tension b : fidgets 2 : an emotional outburst : fit Examples: "The idea of such a sum$140,000!dropping into the lap of a 19-year-old gave me the fantods." From an article by Lucy Ferriss in The New York Times, June 28, 2009 "When you listen to the podcast, you'll also hear the glaring statistics that should give any sensible parent the howling fantods. For instance, he mentions that there's a 1-in-2 chance that a newborn will, at some point, be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes." From an article by Christopher Heimerman in the Daily Gazette (Sterling, Illinois), January 18, 2014 Did you know? "You have got strong symptoms of the fantods; your skin is so tight you can't shut your eyes without opening your mouth." Thus, American author Charles Frederick Briggs provides us with the oldest recorded use of "fantods" in 1839. Mark Twain used the word to refer to uneasiness or restlessness as shown by nervous movementsalso known as the "fidgets"in Huckleberry Finn: "They was all nice pictures, I reckon, but I didn't somehow seem to take to them, because they always give me the fantods." The exact origin of "fantod" remains a mystery, but it may have arisen from English dialectal "fantigue"a word (once used by Dickens) that refers to a state of great tension or excitement and may be a blend of "fantastic" and "fatigue."||12 3 14||Free||View In iTunes|
||artless||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 12, 2014 is: artless \AHRT-lus\ adjective 1 : lacking art, knowledge, or skill : uncultured 2 a : made without skill : crude b : free from artificiality : natural 3 : free from guile or craft : sincerely simple Examples: The senator's folksy demeanor and seemingly artless candor belie the man's shrewd and calculating political sensibilities. "'Pat and Dick' is in many ways a rather artless book, and its prose offers precious few pleasures, but it does open a crack wider the window into a marriage that has interested and puzzled this country for a long time and doubtless will continue to do so far longer." From a review by Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post, January 26, 2014 Did you know? "Artless," "ingenuous," and "naive" all refer to freedom from pretension or calculation, but there are subtle differences in their uses. "Ingenuous" implies an inability to disguise or conceal one's feelings, while "naive" suggests a credulous lack of worldly wisdom. "Artless" generally indicates an appearance of utter naturalness, one in which a person is (or seems to be) innocent of the effect of his or her speech or behavior on others.||11 3 14||Free||View In iTunes|
||jingoism||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 11, 2014 is: jingoism \JING-goh-iz-im\ noun : extreme chauvinism or nationalism marked especially by a belligerent foreign policy Examples: When the war began many people were caught up in a wave of jingoism. "Putting First World War icon Lord Kitchener on the £2 coin was attacked as 'jingoism' by Labour last night. The famous soldier and former Secretary of State for War will appear on the coin as part of 100th anniversary commemorations of the outbreak of the conflict." From an article by James Lyons at mirror.co.uk, January 14, 2014 Did you know? "Jingoism" originated during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, when many British citizens were hostile toward Russia and felt Britain should intervene in the conflict. Supporters of the cause expressed their sentiments in a music-hall ditty with this refrain: "We don't want to fight, yet by jingo if we do, We've got the ships, we've got the men, We've got the money, too!" Someone holding the attitude implied in the song became known as a "jingo" or "jingoist," and the attitude itself was dubbed "jingoism." The "jingo" in the tune is probably a euphemism for "Jesus."||10 3 14||Free||View In iTunes|
||gritty||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 10, 2014 is: gritty \GRIT-ee\ adjective 1 : containing or resembling grit 2 : courageously persistent : plucky 3 : having strong qualities of tough uncompromising realism Examples: I admire her gritty determination to succeed. "The first child of Johnny, Rosanne may not have her father's gritty charisma but she shares his sense of truth in music, with a sensuous, poised style all her own." From an article by Neil McCormick in the Daily Telegraph (London), February 8, 2014 Did you know? "Gritty" comes from "grit" ("small hard granules"), which in turn derives (via Middle English) from the Old English word for "sand" or "gravel." "Grit" has been around since before the 12th century, but the first appearance of "gritty" in print in English was near the end of the 16th century, when it was used in the sense of "resembling or containing small hard granules." "Grit" entered American slang in the early 19th century with the meaning "courage or persistence," and, within about 20 years, "gritty" followed suit with a corresponding "plucky" sense. By the 19th century's end, "gritty" was also being used to describe a literary style that was rough and coarse.||9 3 14||Free||View In iTunes|
||billingsgate||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 09, 2014 is: billingsgate \BIL-ingz-gayt\ noun : coarsely abusive language Examples: A steady stream of billingsgate could be heard coming from the basement after my father hit his thumb with his hammer. "Today, billingsgate rules the waves; the airwaves, that is, thanks to George Carlin and the other First Amendment activists who have followed him on stage." From an article by David Rossie in the Press & Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, New York), March 11, 2012 Did you know? From the time of the Roman occupation until the early 1980s, Billingsgate was a fish market in London, England, notorious for the crude language that resounded through its stalls. In fact, the fish merchants of Billingsgate were so famous for their swearing that their feats of vulgar language were recorded in British chronicler Raphael Holinshed's 1577 account of King Leir (which was probably Shakespeare's source for King Lear). In Holinshed's volume, a messenger's language is said to be "as bad a tongue as any oyster-wife at Billingsgate hath." By the middle of the 17th century, "billingsgate" had become a byword for foul language.||8 3 14||Free||View In iTunes|
||cleave||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 08, 2014 is: cleave \KLEEV\ verb 1 : to divide by or as if by a cutting blow : split 2 : to separate into distinct parts and especially into groups having divergent views 3 : to penetrate or pass through something by or as if by cutting Examples: The ship's bow cleaved through the water. "Of course, single-item restaurants are nothing new. .... But they don't usually serve something so divisive as polenta. You see, the slow-cooked dish of maize cleaves opinion like a Justin Bieber concert. You either love it or loathe itand ever has it been so." From an article by Samuel Muston in The Independent (London), January 31, 2014 Did you know? "Cleave" has two homographs. There is "cleave" meaning "to adhere firmly and closely or loyally and unwaveringly," as in "The family cleaves to tradition." That "cleave" comes from Old English "clifian" ("to adhere"). The second "cleave" (our featured word today) derives from Old English "cleōfan," meaning "to split." It inflects similarly to the verb "speak": "cleaved," "clove," "cloven," and "cleaving" (with the occasional past tense "cleft"). The other "cleave" inflects regularly, with the exception of "clove" or "clave" as options to denote the past.||7 3 14||Free||View In iTunes|
||froward||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 07, 2014 is: froward \FROH-erd\ adjective : habitually disposed to disobedience and opposition Examples: The nanny informed the parents that she would seek employment elsewhere if the froward child could not be compelled to be more obedient. "I first saw [the great-tailed grackles] during that amazing week in Texas three years ago and looked forward to renewing our acquaintance. By the end of the trip I was happy to be rid of thempushy, froward little party-crashing beasts that make rude, high-pitched squeals and constantly invite themselves to dinner, filching from unattended plates." From an article in the Lewiston Morning Tribune (Idaho), September 30, 2010 Did you know? Once upon a time, in the days of Middle English, "froward" and "toward" were opposites. "Froward" meant "moving or facing away from something or someone"; "toward" meant "moving or facing in the direction of something or someone." (The suffix "-ward" is from Old English "-weard," meaning "moving, tending, facing.") "Froward" also meant "difficult to deal with, perverse"; "toward" meant "willing, compliant, obliging." Each went its own way in the end: "froward" lost its "away from" sense as long ago as the 16th century and the "willing" sense of "toward" disappeared in the 18th century. A third relative, "untoward," developed in the 15th century as a synonym for "froward" in its "unruly or intractable sense, and later developed other meanings, including "improper or indecorous."||6 3 14||Free||View In iTunes|
||soothsayer||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 06, 2014 is: soothsayer \SOOTH-say-er\ noun : a person who predicts the future by magical, intuitive, or more rational means : prognosticator Examples: The host of the radio show jokingly introduced the pundit as "a soothsayer of the old-fashioned sort, possessed of a mystical ability to predict the winner of any election." "New York Fashion Week kicks off Thursday, which means hundreds of women will trot about the city in weather-inappropriate shoes, and fashion soothsayers will scrutinize every stitch on the catwalks to make their trend predictions." From an article by Christopher Muther in The Boston Globe, February 6, 2014 Did you know? The origins of today's word are straightforward: a "soothsayer" is someone who says sooth. You may, however, find that less than enlightening! "Sooth" is an archaic word meaning "truth" or "reality" that dates from Old English and was used until about the first half of the 17th century. (It is believed to share an ancestor with words suggesting truthfulness and reality in Old Norse, Greek, Old High German, Sanskrit, Latin, and Gothic languages.) "Soothsayer" itself has been documented in print as far back as the 14th century. Today, it is also a moniker of the insect the mantis, whose name means "prophet" in Greek.||5 3 14||Free||View In iTunes|
||disinterested||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 05, 2014 is: disinterested \diss-IN-truss-tud\ adjective 1 a : not having the mind or feelings engaged : not interested b : no longer interested 2 : free from selfish motive or interest : unbiased Examples: To avoid any conflicts of interest, the company hired disinterested consultants to determine how to reorganize the company most efficiently. "It received only four sparsely attended performances in Handel's lifetime because Protestant Londoners were disinterested in a heroine who was a Roman Catholic saint and they missed the uplifting choruses and jubilant interludes featured in earlier oratorios like 'Messiah.'" From a music review by Vivien Schweitzer in The New York Times, February 4, 2014 Did you know? "Disinterested" and "uninterested" have a tangled history. "Uninterested" originally meant "impartial," but this sense fell into disuse during the 18th century. About the same time, the sense of "disinterested" describing someone not having the mind or feelings engaged also disappeared, only to have "uninterested" take its place. The original sense of "uninterested" is still out of use, but the original ("not interested") sense of "disinterested" revived in the early 20th century. The revival has come under frequent attack as an illiteracy and a blurring or loss of a useful distinction. However, actual usage shows that writers and speakers use these words with intention. For instance, a writer may choose "disinterested" in preference to "uninterested" for emphasis, as in "a supremely disinterested child." Further, "disinterested" has developed a sense meaning "no longer interested," which is clearly distinguishable from "uninterested."||4 3 14||Free||View In iTunes|
||magnum opus||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 04, 2014 is: magnum opus \MAG-num-OH-pus\ noun : a great work; especially : the greatest achievement of an artist or writer Examples: Moby-Dick is widely regarded as Herman Melville's magnum opus. "The 'visual album' came to us intimately, a surprise delivered in the night without PR apparatuses or label hype machines, with a magical, delectable set of videos to match. That it's already been hailed by almost every critical body as a magnum opus is no wonder, considering both the delightful unexpectedness of its delivery and its stunning, detailed lushness." From a review by Devon Maloney in The Village Voice, January 15, 2014 Did you know? You probably recognize "magnum" ("great") as a Latin word that shows up in altered forms in several English words, and perhaps you can also come up with a few that are related to "opus" ("work"). "Magnitude," "magnanimous," "opulent," and "operate" are some obvious relations of the two. "Magnum opus," which entered English in the late 18th century, retains the original Latin spelling and the literal meaning "great work." Although the term most often refers to literary productions, it has been used to describe many kinds of great works, including paintings, movies, construction projects, and even surgical techniques.||3 3 14||Free||View In iTunes|
||decoct||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 03, 2014 is: decoct \dih-KAHKT\ verb 1 : to extract the flavor of by boiling 2 : boil down, concentrate Examples: The author has tried to decoct the positions the players in this complex situation have taken into two camps: those who are for the changes and those who are against them. "Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is far better known as a bottled astringent than a native shrub. Its medicinal uses date back to the Native Americans, who taught Europeans how to identify the plant and decoct its leaves and stems into the now-familiar tonic." From an article by David Taft in the New York Times, December 1, 2013 Did you know? "Decoct" boils down to a simple Latin origin: the word "decoquere," from "de-," meaning "down" or "away," and "coquere," meaning "to cook" or "to ripen." "Decoct" itself is quite rare. Its related noun "decoction," which refers to either an extract obtained by decocting or the act or process of decocting, is slightly more common but still much less recognizable than some other members of the "coquere" family, among them "biscuit," "biscotti," "cook," and "kitchen." Other "coquere" descendants include "concoct" ("to prepare by combining raw materials" or "to devise or fabricate"), "concoction" ("something concocted"), and "precocious" ("exceptionally early in development or occurrence" or "exhibiting mature qualities at an unusually early age").||2 3 14||Free||View In iTunes|