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.
||fictioneer||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 28, 2015 is: fictioneer \fik-shuh-NEER\ noun : someone who writes fiction especially in quantity and without high standards Examples: Dwight was a fictioneer who specialized in pulp novels, producing over 300 of them in his long career. "Is it right for such irresponsible fictioneers to be playing around unconscionably with such tragic subject matter?" Jeff Simon, Buffalo (New York) News, November 18, 2014 Did you know? In Latin, the verb fingere means "to shape, fashion, or feign." Fictioneers surely do shape stories and feign the truth, so you could say that the noun fictioneer is etymologically true to its ancestor. The word fiction had been around for more than 500 years by the time fictioneer appeared in English in 1923, bearing a suffix that harks back to such words as engineer and pamphleteer. The word is used generally to refer to any writer of fiction but often specifically to one who writes with little concern for literary quality. Fictioneer and fiction aren't the only English feigners and shapers born of fingere. The words effigy, feign, and figment are among others that trace back to that Latin verb.||27 5 2015||Free||View In iTunes|
||riot act||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 27, 2015 is: riot act \RYE-ut-AKT\ noun : a vigorous reprimand or warning used in the phrase read the riot act Examples: Celia's parents read her the riot act after she stayed out for almost an hour past her curfew. "[Angela Merkel] read Greece and other affected zone members the riot act: their borrowing and spending was out of control, and they'd have to rein it in, just as Germany had done." Paul Hockenos, The Nation, March 12, 2015 Did you know? Many people were displeased when George I became king of England in 1714, and his opponents were soon leading rebellions and protests against him. The British government, anxious to stop the protests, passed a law called the "Riot Act." It allowed public officials to break up gatherings of 12 or more people by reading aloud a proclamation, warning those who heard it that they must disperse within the hour or be guilty of a felony punishable by death. By 1819, riot act was also being used more generally for any stern warning or reprimand. Although the law long ago fell into disuse and was finally repealed in 1973, the term that it generated lives on today.||26 5 2015||Free||View In iTunes|
||sacrilegious||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 26, 2015 is: sacrilegious \sak-ruh-LIJ-us\ adjective 1 : committing or characterized by a technical and not necessarily intrinsically outrageous violation (such as improper reception of a sacrament) of what is sacred because consecrated to God 2 : grossly irreverent toward a hallowed person, place, or thing Examples: My great-grandfather was a die-hard New Dealer who considered any criticism of Franklin D. Roosevelt to be sacrilegious. "It had drawn conservative and religious protests over taxpayer financing of art that the work's opponents considered sacrilegious." Victoria Burnett, New York Times, February 25, 2015 Did you know? It may seem that sacrilegious should be spelled as sacreligious, since the word sometimes describes an irreverent treatment of religious objects or places. However, sacrilegious comes to us from sacrilege, which is ultimately derived from a combination of the Latin words sacer ("sacred") and legere ("to gather" or "to steal"). Its antecedent in Latin, sacrilegus, meant "one who steals sacred things." There is no direct relation to religious (which is derived from the Latin word religiosus, itself from religio, meaning "supernatural constraint or religious practice"). The apparent resemblance between sacrilegious and religious is just a coincidence.||25 5 2015||Free||View In iTunes|
||callithump||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 25, 2015 is: callithump \KAL-uh-thump\ noun : a noisy boisterous band or parade Examples: Anyone who wants to participate in the town's annual Memorial Day callithump should be at the elementary school by 10 a.m. "Almost wherever you are in the Los Angeles area Sunday, there's a parade coming your way. Yes, it's callithump time in and about the City of Angels, and whether you prefer the traditional, the eclectic or the absurd, you'll have your choice of pageants." Michael Welzenbach, Los Angeles Times, November 26, 1988 Did you know? Callithump and the related adjective callithumpian are Americanisms, but their roots stretch back to England. In the 19th century, the noun callithumpians was used in the U.S. of boisterous roisterers who had their own makeshift New Year's parade. Their band instruments consisted of crude noisemakers such as pots, tin horns, and cowbells. The antecedent of callithumpians is an 18th-century British dialect term for another noisy group, the "Gallithumpians," who made a rumpus on election days in southern England. Today, the words callithump and callithumpian see occasional use, especially in the names of specific bands and parades. The callithumpian bands and parades of today are more organized than those of the past, but they retain an association with noise and boisterous fun.||24 5 2015||Free||View In iTunes|
||erudite||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 24, 2015 is: erudite \AIR-uh-dyte\ adjective : having or showing knowledge that is gained by studying : possessing or displaying extensive knowledge acquired chiefly from books Examples: The university hosted an informative lecture given by an erudite scholar of Cold War history. "But because the stakes here feel so highthat is, because the Internet has not been the great equalizer we'd hoped it'd be but instead reinforces established winner-take-all systemsa serious, erudite appraisal of social media is exactly what we need right now." John Wilwol, San Francisco Chronicle, April 5, 2015 Did you know? Erudite derives via Middle English erudit from Latin eruditus, the past participle of the verb erudire, meaning "to instruct." A closer look at that verb shows that it is formed by combining the prefix e-, meaning "missing" or "absent," with the adjective rudis, which means "rude" or "ignorant" and is also the source of our word rude. We typically use the word rude to mean "discourteous" or "uncouth," but it can also mean "lacking refinement" or "uncivilized"; someone who is erudite, therefore, has been transformed from a roughened or uninformed state to a polished and knowledgeable one through a devotion to learning.||23 5 2015||Free||View In iTunes|
||debouch||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 23, 2015 is: debouch \dih-BOUTCH\ verb 1 : to cause to emerge : discharge 2 : to march out into open ground : emerge, issue Examples: "A mutual foe had appeared. From a passage on the left of the road there had debouched on to the field of action Albert himself and two of his band." P. G. Wodehouse, The White Feather, 1907 "Jeremy and I had trekked from the river bottom early that morning to a stream called Deer Creek . Deer Creek incises a mile of spectacular narrows in the 500-million-year-old Tapeats Sandstone before it debouches into the Colorado." Christopher Ketcham, Earth Island Journal, Spring 2015 Did you know? Debouch emerged in English in the 18th century. It derives from a French verb formed from the prefix dé- ("from") and the noun bouche ("mouth"), which itself derives ultimately from the Latin bucca ("cheek"). (It is not to be confused with debauch, which is from the Old French verb desbauchier, meaning "to scatter, disperse.") Debouch is often used in military contexts to refer to the action of troops proceeding from a closed space to an open one. It is also used frequently to refer to the emergence of anything from a mouth, such as water passing through the mouth of a river into an ocean. The word's ancestors have also given us the adjective buccal ("of or relating to the mouth") and the noun embouchure (the mouthpiece of a musical instrument or the position of the mouth when playing one).||22 5 2015||Free||View In iTunes|
||nepotism||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 22, 2015 is: nepotism \NEP-uh-tiz-um\ noun : favoritism (as in appointment to a job) based on kinship Examples: It was strongly believed that nepotism played a role in helping Jessica get the sales manager position at her cousin's store. "The Times investigation found that at least 7% of county firefighters on the payroll since 2012 were the sons of current or former employees of the department. Statistical experts consulted by The Times said the percentage of sons and other relatives on the job strongly indicated that nepotism was at play." Paul Pringle, Los Angeles Times, April 8, 2015 Did you know? During his papacy from 1471-1484, Sixtus IV granted many special favors to members of his family, in particular his nephews. This practice of papal favoritism was carried on by his successors, and in 1667 it was the subject of Gregorio Leti's book Il Nepotismo di Romatitled in the English translation, The History of the Popes' Nephews. Shortly after the book's appearance, nepotism began to be used in English for the showing of special favor or unfair preference to any relative by someone in any position of power, be it ecclesiastical or not. (The "nep-" spelling is from nepote, a 17th-century variant of Italian nipote, meaning "nephew.")||21 5 2015||Free||View In iTunes|
||umpteen||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 21, 2015 is: umpteen \UMP-teen\ adjective : very many : indefinitely numerous Examples: By midmorning, Ellie had already phoned her sister umpteen times. "It's the home chore that everybody hates most. I see that on the TV how-to shows, read it on umpteen do-it-yourself sites. Nobody likes removing wallpaper." Allen Norwood, Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer, January 22, 2015 Did you know? "I'll go to bed and I'll not get up for umpty-eleven months." You know the feeling. The speaker here is war-weary Bill, a character in Patrick MacGill's early 20th-century novel The Great Push. His umpty originated as military slang around 1905 and stood for an indefinite number, generally largish. (It was probably created by analogy to actual numbers such as twenty.) Soon, there followed umpteen, blending umpty and -teen. Umpteen usually describes an indefinite and large number or amount, while the related umpteenth is used for the latest or last in an indefinitely numerous series. We only occasionally use umpty these days (and even more rarely umptieth), but you're bound to hear or read umpteen and umpteenth any number of times.||20 5 2015||Free||View In iTunes|
||quisling||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 20, 2015 is: quisling \KWIZ-ling\ noun : one who commits treason : traitor, collaborator Examples: "This is a country that can force you to garden, where the parish or your neighbors can twist your arm, make you delve like Adam on behalf of the common neatness . Best-kept village competitions turn stockbroker dormitory towns into little Stalingrads, where baskets of lobelia and geranium hang from lampposts in symbolic place of deserters and quislings." A. A. Gill, The Angry Island, 2008 "Liu's works also serve as commentary on current events. For example, a central character in the trilogy sides with the aliens in their struggle against humanity. She becomes a 'terrestrial quisling' because Maoists persecuted her during the Cultural Revolution." Anthony Kuhn, KPBS.org, April 9, 2015 Did you know? Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian army officer who in 1933 founded Norway's fascist party. In December 1939, he met with Adolf Hitler and urged him to occupy Norway. Following the German invasion of April 1940, Quisling served as a figurehead in the puppet government set up by the German occupation forces, and his linguistic fate was sealed. Before the end of 1940, quisling was being used generically in English to refer to any traitor. Winston Churchill, George Orwell, and H. G. Wells used it in their wartime writings. Quisling lived to see his name thus immortalized, but not much longer. He was executed for treason soon after the liberation of Norway in 1945.||19 5 2015||Free||View In iTunes|
||prudent||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 19, 2015 is: prudent \PROO-dunt\ adjective 1 : marked by wisdom or judiciousness 2 : shrewd in the management of practical affairs 3 : cautious, discreet 4 : thrifty, frugal Examples: The couple's financial advisor helped them devise a prudent investment strategy. "As a group, they tend not to be water wasters. Wasting water costs them money in the form of pumping groundwater needlessly. Farmers are more prudent than that." Dennis L. Taylor, The Californian (Salinas, California), April 5, 2015 Did you know? Prudent arrived in Middle English around the 14th century and traces back, by way of Middle French, to the Latin verb providēre, meaning "to see ahead, foresee, provide (for)." One who is prudent literally has the foresight to make sound or shrewd decisions. Providēre combines pro-, meaning "before," and vidēre, meaning "to see," and it may look familiar to you; it is also the source of our words provide, provident, provision, and improvise. Vidēre also has many English offspring, including evident, supervise, video, and vision.||18 5 2015||Free||View In iTunes|
||whodunit||Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 18, 2015 is: whodunit \hoo-DUN-it\ noun : a detective story or mystery story Examples: Betsy packed several romance novels and whodunits to read at the beach. "'Miranda Writes,' a new play that combines the elements of a screwball comedy with a whodunit, will take center stage this month at Naperville's North Central College." Nancy Dunker, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, Illinois), April 8, 2015 Did you know? In 1930, Donald Gordon, a book reviewer for News of Books, needed to come up with something to say about a rather unremarkable mystery novel called Half-Mast Murder. "A satisfactory whodunit," he wrote. The coinage played fast and loose with spelling and grammar, but whodunit caught on anyway. Other writers tried respelling it who-done-it, and one even insisted on using whodidit, but those sanitized versions lacked the punch of the original and have fallen by the wayside. Whodunit became so popular that by 1939 at least one language pundit had declared it "already heavily overworked" and predicted it would "soon be dumped into the taboo bin." History has proven that prophecy false, and whodunit is still going strong.||17 5 2015||Free||View In iTunes|