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.
||peccadillo||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 7, 2016 is: peccadillo \pek-uh-DIL-oh\ noun : a slight offense Examples: Mark's thank-you note to his hostess was sincere and touching; his only peccadillo was addressing her by her first name instead of "Mrs. Henderson." "[Tanyanne] Ball seemed to have mastered the form of affable confrontation: as soon as she saw someone perpetrating a civic peccadillo, she would stride up and calmly, grinningly ask, 'Are you aware that you have just committed a violation?'" — Tobi Haslett, NewYorker.com, 10 Nov. 2015 Did you know? "The world loves a spice of wickedness." That observation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow may explain why people are so willing to forgive peccadilloes as youthful foolishness or lapses of judgment. The willingness to overlook petty faults and minor offenses existed long before English speakers borrowed a modified version of the Spanish pecadillo at the end of the 16th century. Spanish speakers distinguished the pecadillo, or "little sin," from the more serious pecado, their term for a sin of magnitude. And these Spanish terms can be traced back still further, to the Latin verb peccare, meaning "to sin."||6 2 2016||Free||View In iTunes|
||rescript||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 6, 2016 is: rescript \REE-skript\ noun 1 : a written answer of a Roman emperor or of a pope to a legal inquiry or petition 2 : an official or authoritative order, decree, edict, or announcement 3 : an act or instance of rewriting Examples: The rescript declared that the lands surrounding the new palace would henceforth belong to the royal family. "It was noon on August 25 when Japan's Emperor finally broke the silence. His recorded voice was broadcast to the nation, reading the Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War." — Jamie Seidel, The Daily Telegraph (Australia), 15 Aug. 2015 Did you know? Rescript was first used in the 15th century for the written reply of a sovereign or pope to a question about some matter of law or state, and then for any type of authoritative declaration. Since the 19th century, however, it has also seen use as a synonym of rewrite. Charlotte Brontë, for one, used the word this way in her novel Villette. "I wrote [the letter] three times ... subduing the phrases at every rescript," her narrator confesses.||5 2 2016||Free||View In iTunes|
||challah||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 5, 2016 is: challah \KHAH-luh\ noun : egg-rich yeast-leavened bread that is usually braided or twisted before baking and is traditionally eaten by Jews on the Sabbath and holidays Examples: My father made a blessing over the challah before it was broken and passed around the Shabbat table. "The table was graced with the latkes and doughnuts that mark the Jewish holiday, but also featured brisket, challah and [tzimmes](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tzimmes)…." — Deanna Fox, The Times-Union (Albany, New York), 31 Dec. 2015 Did you know? When English speakers first borrowed challah from Yiddish, they couldn't quite settle on a single spelling, so the word showed up in several forms; challah, challa, hallah, and the plural forms challoth, challot, halloth, and hallot were all common enough to merit inclusion in Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged when it was released in 1961\. Today, challah and the anglicized plural challahs are the variants that are usually encountered by English speakers. The initial ch of challah is frequently pronounced as a [velar](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/velar) [fricative](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fricative), like the ch in the German Buch or the Scottish English loch.||4 2 2016||Free||View In iTunes|
||whilom||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 4, 2016 is: whilom \WYE-lum\ adjective : former Examples: I was pleased to find an interview with the whilom president of my alma mater in the local paper. "On the eastern side settlement and agriculture have all but obliterated the whilom tallgrass prairie, so that it is hardly visible to anyone who would not seek it out on hands and knees...." — William Least Heat-Moon, The Atlantic, September 1991 Did you know? Whilom shares an ancestor with the word while. Both trace back to the Old English word hwil, meaning "time" or "while." In Old English hwilum was an adverb meaning "at times." This use passed into Middle English (with a variety of spellings, one of which was whilom), and in the 12th century the word acquired the meaning "formerly." The adverb's usage dwindled toward the end of the 19th century, and it has since been labeled archaic. The adjective first appeared on the scene in the 15th century, with the now-obsolete meaning "deceased," and by the 19th century it was being used with the meaning "former." It's a relatively uncommon word, but it does see occasional use.||3 2 2016||Free||View In iTunes|
||reminisce||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 3, 2016 is: reminisce \rem-uh-NISS\ verb : to indulge in the process or practice of thinking or telling about past experiences Examples: Justin met up with some of his college buddies to reminisce about old times. "Most of us have a comfort food we eat when we are reminiscing, sad or depressed." — Marion Goldberg, The Poughkeepsie (New York) Journal, 16 Dec. 2015 Did you know? Reminisce and its relative reminiscence come from the mind—that is to say, they come from the Latin word for "mind," which is mens. A root related to mens teamed up with the prefix re- to create the Latin verb reminisci ("to remember"), an ancestor of both words. Reminisce is one of several English verbs starting with re- that mean "to bring an image or idea from the past into the mind." Others in this group include remember, recall, remind, and recollect. Reminisce distinguishes itself from the others by implying a casual recalling of experiences long past, often with a sense of nostalgia.||2 2 2016||Free||View In iTunes|
||foliage||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 2, 2016 is: foliage \FOH-lee-ij\ noun 1 : a representation of leaves, flowers, and branches for architectural ornamentation 2 : the aggregate of leaves of one or more plants 3 : a cluster of leaves, flowers, and branches Examples: A trip to the local conservatory was just the thing to beat my winter blues—the bright flowers against the backdrop of verdant foliage was rejuvenating. "The builders are charging up to $100 million for apartments that offer helicopter views of lush foliage, jagged skylines, soothing rivers and angelic clouds." — Max Frankel, The New York Times, 31 Dec. 2015 Did you know? The English language has its share of common but disputed usages. One such example is the pronunciation of foliage as FOH-lij or, even more irksome to some, FOY-lij. The first of these two pronunciations, though frequently disparaged, is consistent with the pronunciation of the -iage ending in marriage and carriage, as well the less common but widely accepted pronunciation of verbiage as VER-bij. The second of these is often more fiercely denounced, in part because of its association with the nonstandard spelling foilage. Oddly enough, foliage traces back to Middle French foille ("leaf"), which is also the source of the English word foil (as in "aluminum foil"). When adopted by Middle English speakers, foil originally meant "leaf."||1 2 2016||Free||View In iTunes|
||abject||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 1, 2016 is: abject \AB-jekt\ adjective 1 : sunk to or existing in a low state or condition 2 a : cast down in spirit : [servile](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/servile), spiritless b : showing hopelessness or [resignation](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/resignation) 3 : expressing or offered in a humble and often [ingratiating](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ingratiating) spirit Examples: The organization is dedicated to alleviating the suffering of those living in abject poverty. "Harvey, the comedian and TV-radio host, offered abject apologies after first saying Miss Colombia had won, then later Miss Philippines—to the world’s shock and amazement." — Ken Stone, MyNewsLA.com, 21 Dec. 2015 Did you know? Abject comes from abjectus, the past participle of the Latin verb abicere, meaning "to cast off." Its original meaning in English was "cast off" or "rejected," but it is now used to refer more broadly to things in a low state or condition. Abject shares with mean, ignoble, and sordid the sense of being below the normal standards of human decency and dignity. Abject may imply degradation, debasement, or servility ("abject poverty"). Mean suggests having such repellent characteristics as small-mindedness or ill temper ("mean and petty satire"). Ignoble suggests a loss or lack of some essential high quality of mind or spirit ("an ignoble scramble after material possessions"). Sordid is stronger than all of these in stressing physical or spiritual degradation and lowness ("a sordid story of murder and revenge").||31 1 2016||Free||View In iTunes|
||sumptuous||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 31, 2016 is: sumptuous \SUMP-shuh-wus\ adjective : extremely costly, rich, luxurious, or magnificent Examples: The hotel's most sumptuous suite overlooks the lush gardens and includes a palatial marble bathroom with a spa and a commodious, intricately tiled walk-in shower. "On Thanksgiving, guests dine at a sumptuous table of traditional foods, sweet potatoes, green salads, squash, corn, beans, wine and pumpkin pie. But here, the turkey sits at the head of the table, enjoying their own plate of food." — Paula Poundstone, speaking on NPR, 10 Oct. 2015 Did you know? The word sumptuous can be used to describe both lush surroundings and rich desserts, and it has an equally rich history. The word, which appeared in English in the 15th century, derives via Middle English from the Latin noun sumptus, meaning "expense." Sumptus is related to the Latin verb sumere, which means "to take" or "to spend" and from which we get a treasure trove of useful verbs: consume ("to use up or spend"), subsume ("to include or place in something larger"), resume ("to take up again"), presume ("to take to be true without proof"), and assume ("to take upon oneself"). Another sumere descendant is our adjective sumptuary, which commonly precedes law to describe legislation designed to regulate extravagant expenditures or habits.||30 1 2016||Free||View In iTunes|
||herald||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 30, 2016 is: herald \HAIR-uld\ verb 1 : to give notice of : [announce](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/announce) 2 a : to greet especially with enthusiasm : [hail](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hail) b : [publicize](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/publicize) 3 : to signal the approach of : [foreshadow](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/foreshadow) Examples: The first real snowfall heralded the arrival of skiing season. "… the transportation agency's initiative has been heralded as a new way to approach transportation planning because it will take factors such as neighborhood vitality and pedestrian connectivity into account." — Brandon Formby, The Dallas Morning News, 30 Dec. 2015 Did you know? The exact origin of herald is uncertain, but it is thought to derive from Germanic roots. Specifically, etymologists believe that herald developed from an assumed Frankish compound whose first component is akin to the Old High German heri-, meaning "army," and whose second component is akin to the Old High German word waltan, meaning "to rule." When herald first appeared on the scene in the 14th century, it referred to an official at a tournament of arms whose duties included the making of announcements. The verb forms, extending the "announcement" idea, soon followed.||29 1 2016||Free||View In iTunes|
||obstreperous||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 29, 2016 is: obstreperous \ub-STREP-uh-rus\ adjective 1 : marked by unruly or aggressive noisiness : clamorous 2 : stubbornly resistant to control : unruly Examples: After two months at sea with dwindling food supplies and declining confidence in the captain, the ship's crew became obstreperous and began to plot a mutiny. "It is Rob she calls for when crankily refusing to go to bed, and when Alan attempts to calm her she grows only more obstreperous." — Charles Isherwood, The New York Times, 9 Nov. 2015 Did you know? The handy Latin prefix ob-, meaning "in the way," "against," or "toward," occurs in many Latin and English words, often in alternate forms. Obstreperous comes from ob- plus strepere, a verb meaning "to make a noise," so someone who is obstreperous is literally making noise to rebel against something, much like a protesting crowd or an unruly child. The word has been used in English since around the beginning of the 17th century. Strepere has not played a role in the formation of any other notable English words, but ob- words abound; these include obese, obnoxious, occasion, offend, omit, oppress, and oust.||28 1 2016||Free||View In iTunes|