Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

By Merriam-Webster

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Episode Date

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 20, 2018 is:

balmy • \BAH-mee\  • adjective

1 a : having the qualities of balm : soothing

b : mild, temperate

2 : crazy, foolish


"Men often don't moisturize their skin during the hotter months, but should. It's a misconception that oily skin doesn't get dehydrated. Use a lightweight moisturizer that isn't heavy or sticky in balmy weather." — Joane Amay, Ebony, June 2018

"He arose with the first peep of day, and sallied forth to enjoy the balmy breeze of morning...." — Thomas Love Peacock, Headlong Hall, 1816

Did you know?

It's no secret that balmy is derived from balm, an aromatic ointment or fragrance that heals or soothes. So when did it come to mean "foolish," you might wonder? Balmy goes back to the 15th century and was often used in contexts referring to weather, such as "a balmy breeze" or, as Mark Twain wrote in Tom Sawyer, "The balmy summer air, the restful quiet...." Around the middle of the 19th century, it developed a new sense suggesting a weak or unbalanced mind. It is uncertain if the soft quality or the soothing effect of balm influenced this use. But later in the century, balmy became altered to barmy in its "crazy" sense. This alteration may have come about from a mix-up with another barmy, meaning "full of froth or ferment." That barmy is from barm, a term for the yeast formed on fermenting malt liquors, which can indeed make one act balmy.

Jun 20, 2018

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 19, 2018 is:

quail • \KWAIL\  • verb

1 : to give way : falter

2 : to recoil in dread or terror : cower


"It wasn't so long ago that book publishers and bookstore owners were quailing about the coming of e-books, like movie theatre owners at the dawn of the television age." — Michael Hiltzik, The Gulf Times, 10 May 2017

"I've a Pooh in me, blundering about, trying to think large thoughts, making pronouncements I hope won't be challenged. And I'm sometimes a Piglet, quailing in front of imaginary dangers, or figuratively jumping up and down to squeak, 'I'm here! What about me?'" — Jim Atwell, The Cooperstown (New York) Crier, 15 June 2017

Did you know?

Flinch, recoil, and wince are all synonyms of quail, but each word has a slightly different use. When you flinch, you fail to endure pain or to face something dangerous or frightening with resolution ("she faced her accusers without flinching"). Recoil implies a start or movement away from something through shock, fear, or disgust ("he recoiled at the suggestion of stealing"). Wince usually suggests a slight involuntary physical reaction to something ("she winced as the bright light suddenly hit her eyes"). Quail implies shrinking and cowering in fear ("he quailed before the apparition").

Jun 19, 2018

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 18, 2018 is:

jabberwocky • \JAB-er-wah-kee\  • noun

: meaningless speech or writing


Amanda learned to ignore her critics, dismissing their attacks as the jabberwocky of minds with nothing more important to think of about.

"When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh stepped into the crowded room, fashionably late, jabberwocky ceased and the only sound you heard was the whir and click of cameras." — Greg Cote, The Miami Herald, 28 Sept. 2010

Did you know?

In a poem titled "Jabberwocky" in the book Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1872), Lewis Carroll warned his readers about a frightful beast:

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!

This nonsensical poem caught the public's fancy, and by 1908 jabberwocky was being used as a generic term for meaningless speech or writing. The word bandersnatch has also seen some use as a general noun, with the meaning "a wildly grotesque or bizarre individual." It's a much rarer word than jabberwocky, though, and is entered only in the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary.

Jun 18, 2018

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 17, 2018 is:

meritorious • \mair-uh-TOR-ee-us\  • adjective

: deserving of honor or esteem


"Markle received citations for meritorious conduct in the battle at Fort Erie." — Mike McCormick, The Terre Haute (Indiana) Tribune-Star, 15 Apr. 2018

"The Seven Seals award, signed by ESGR National Chair, Craig McKinley, is presented for meritorious leadership and initiative in support of the men and women who serve America in the National Guard and Reserve." — The Hattiesburg (Mississippi) American, 13 May 2018

Did you know?

People who demonstrate meritorious behavior certainly earn our respect, and you can use that fact to remember that meritorious ultimately traces to the Latin verb merēre, which means "to earn." Nowadays, the rewards earned for meritorious acts are likely to be of an immaterial nature: gratitude, admiration, praise, etc. But that wasn't always so. The history of meritorious recalls a reward more concrete in nature: money. The Latin word meritorius, an ancestor of the English meritorious, literally means "bringing in money."

Jun 17, 2018

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 16, 2018 is:

tantalize • \TAN-tuh-lyze\  • verb

: to tease or torment by or as if by presenting something desirable to the view but continually keeping it out of reach


"The scientist tantalized them with a radical theory about the foundation of the universe, which proposes that time and space fluctuate in a bubbly, unstable state known as 'quantum foam.'" — Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, 25 Sept. 2017

"Bearcubs incorporate electric harps and all manner of strange synthetic noise to tantalize your ear drums." — Kat Bein,, 15 June 2017

Did you know?

Pity poor King Tantalus of Lydia. The mythic monarch offended the ancient Greek gods. As punishment, according to Homer's Odyssey, he was plunged up to his chin in water in Hades, where he had to stand beneath overhanging boughs of a tree heavily laden with ripe, juicy fruit. But though he was always hungry and thirsty, Tantalus could neither drink the water nor eat the fruit. Anytime he moved to get them, they would retreat from his reach. Our word tantalize is taken from the name of the eternally tormented king.

Jun 16, 2018

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 15, 2018 is:

pugnacious • \pug-NAY-shus\  • adjective

: having a quarrelsome or combative nature : truculent


"In almost all the Orders, the males of some species, even of weak and delicate kinds, are known to be highly pugnacious; and some few are furnished with special weapons for fighting with their rivals." — Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man,1871

"[Coach Gregg] Popovich, whose interviews can be humorously pugnacious, wasn't in the mood to look back on the streak on Monday night, saying 'Awww, it's wonderful,' without further elaboration." — Victor Mather, The New York Times, 11 Apr. 2018

Did you know?

Pugnacious individuals are often looking for a fight. While unpleasant, at least their fists are packing an etymological punch. Pugnacious comes from the Latin verb pugnare (meaning "to fight"), which in turn comes from the Latin word for "fist," pugnus. Another Latin word related to pugnus is pugil, meaning "boxer." Pugil is the source of our word pugilist, which means "fighter" and is used especially of professional boxers. Pugnare has also given us impugn ("to assail by words or arguments"), oppugn ("to fight against"), and repugnant (which is now used primarily in the sense of "exciting distaste or aversion," but which has also meant "characterized by contradictory opposition" and "hostile").

Jun 15, 2018

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 14, 2018 is:

defenestration • \dee-fen-uh-STRAY-shun\  • noun

1 : a throwing of a person or thing out of a window

2 : a usually swift dismissal or expulsion (as from a political party or office)


Although defenestration may seem an appropriate response to an alarm clock set for too early an hour, the demise of the device does not change the hour of the day.

"It's possible that nobody in Hollywood works harder than Tom Cruise, who, in his latest turn as Ethan Hunt, once again finds himself in a race against time after a mission goes wrong. Expect defenestration, helicopter crashes, and exploding motorbikes." — Vogue (, 22 May 2018

Did you know?

These days defenestration is often used to describe the forceful removal of someone from public office or from some other advantageous position. History's most famous defenestration, however, was one in which the tossing out the window was quite literal. On May 23, 1618, two imperial regents were found guilty of violating certain guarantees of religious freedom. As punishment, they were thrown out the window of Prague Castle. The men survived the 50-foot tumble into the moat, but the incident, which became known as the Defenestration of Prague, marked the beginning of the Bohemian resistance to Hapsburg rule that eventually led to the Thirty Years' War.

Jun 14, 2018

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 13, 2018 is:

mantic • \MAN-tik\  • adjective

: of or relating to the faculty of divination : prophetic


The magician mesmerized the crowd with her sleight-of-hand tricks as well as her mantic predictions.

"Like everyone else, I was in awe of her mantic abilities, and I think she looked upon my storytelling endeavors with indulgence, having known both my father and my grandfather in their prime." — Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, The Storyteller of Marrakesh, 2011

Did you know?

The adjective mantic comes from the Greek word mantikos, which itself derives from mantis, meaning "prophet." The mantis insect got its name from this same source, supposedly because its posture—with the forelimbs extended as though in prayer—reminded folks of a prophet. Not surprisingly, the combining form -mancy, which means "divination in a (specified) manner" (as in necromancy and pyromancy), is a relative of mantic. A less expected, and more distant, relative is mania, meaning "excitement manifested by mental and physical hyperactivity, disorganized behavior, and elevated mood" or "excessive or unreasonable enthusiasm." Mania descends from Greek mainesthai ("to be mad"), a word akin to mantis and its offspring. And indeed, prophesying in ancient Greece was sometimes believed to be "inspired madness."

Jun 13, 2018

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 12, 2018 is:

epithet • \EP-uh-thet\  • noun

1 : a characterizing word or phrase accompanying or occurring in place of the name of a person or thing

2 : a disparaging or abusive word or phrase

3 : the part of a taxonomic name identifying a subordinate unit within a genus


The school's policy makes it clear that derogatory epithets will not be tolerated.

"Herbert Hoover, who could justifiably campaign as a progressive Republican, pigeonholed Smith as an advocate of state socialism (the same epithet that a spiteful Smith would hurl at Roosevelt in 1936)." — Sam Roberts, The New York Times, 22 Apr. 2018

Did you know?

Nowadays, epithet is usually used negatively, with the meaning "a derogatory word or phrase," but it wasn't always that way. Epithet comes to us via Latin from the Greek noun epitheton and ultimately derives from epitithenai, meaning "to put on" or "to add." In its oldest sense, an epithet is simply a descriptive word or phrase, especially one joined by fixed association to the name of someone or something (as in "Peter the Great" or the stock Homeric phrases "gray-eyed Athena" and "wine-dark sea"). Alternatively, epithets may be used in place of a name (as in "the Peacemaker" or "the Eternal"). These neutral meanings of epithet are still in use, but today the word is more often used in its negative "term of disparagement" sense.

Jun 12, 2018

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 11, 2018 is:

abrogate • \AB-ruh-gayt\  • verb

1 : to abolish by authoritative action : annul

2 : to treat as nonexistent


"U.S. deterrence in the Taiwan Strait used to resemble U.S. deterrence elsewhere: Washington had a formal alliance with the Republic of China and stationed troops in Taiwan. But the United States abrogated the alliance treaty when it broke official ties with the Republic of China in 1979." — Scott Kastner, The Washington Post, 30 Apr. 2018

"While we must not engage in partisan political acts such as endorsing candidates and parties, to remain silent on the pressing issues of our time is to abrogate our moral responsibility." — Rabbi Dan Fink, The Idaho Statesman, 21 Apr. 2018

Did you know?

If you can't simply wish something out of existence, the next best thing might be to "propose it away." That's more or less what abrogate lets you do—etymologically speaking, at least. Abrogate comes from the Latin root rogare, which means "to propose a law," and ab-, meaning "from" or "away." We won't propose that you try to get away from the fact that rogare is also an ancestor in the family tree of prerogative and interrogate. Abrogate first appeared in English as a verb in the 16th century; it was preceded by an adjective sense meaning "annulled" or "cancelled," which is now obsolete.

Jun 11, 2018