Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

By Merriam-Webster

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Episodes: 10

 Jun 23, 2021
Love the word of the day.

 Jan 29, 2021

 Jun 8, 2020

 Jan 17, 2019
Always something to learn, even if I generally knew the word.

 Nov 25, 2018


Free daily dose of word power from Merriam-Webster's experts

Episode Date

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 3, 2023 is:

meet-cute • \MEET-kyoot\  • noun

Meet-cute is a term that refers to a cute, charming, or amusing first encounter between romantic partners. A meet-cute can be such an encounter as shown in a movie or television show, or one that happens in real life.

// The elderly couple loved sharing the story of their hilarious meet-cute from 30 years ago.

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“The star of E!'s new original TV movie Why Can’t My Life Be a Rom-Com? recently revealed the ‘pretty cute’ way she met her current partner, and the story is just like a meet-cute out of one of your favorite films.” — Brett Malec, E! Online, 19 Feb. 2023

Did you know?

Isn’t it cute how two words can be introduced to each other and become an inseparable pair soon after? Well, that’s exactly what happened when meet and cute got together in 1952. The duo was spotted in The New York Times Book Review in 1952 in reference to an unexpected rendezvous: “This may well be, in magazine parlance, the neatest meet-cute of the week—the story of a ghost-writer who falls in love with a ghost.” Today the word is used often to refer to such encounters in films and television series (especially rom-coms and sitcoms). Writers of meet-cutes often develop plots by creating situations in which characters clash in personality, or by creating embarrassing situations in which two eventual romantic partners will meet, or by creating a misunderstanding between characters who will separate but become friends in the end.

Jun 03, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 2, 2023 is:

obstinate • \AHB-stuh-nut\  • adjective

Obstinate at its most basic means "stubborn." It describes people who refuse to change their behavior or ideas in spite of reason, arguments, or persuasion, and it describes things that are not easily fixed, removed, or dealt with.

// The project that had been the group's main focus for weeks was temporarily stymied by one obstinate member's refusal to compromise.

// The planning committee discussed ways to mitigate the obstinate problem of gentrification.

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"... [Louise Bates] Ames has an uncanny way of capturing the essence of children at different developmental stages, and when you understand that it is your child's work to behave this way, that the behavior is serving growth and maturity, you are less likely to try to squash it. For instance, when you've nicely asked your 2-year-old to stop jumping on the couch and they look you in the eyes and keep jumping? It's helpful to know that this obstinate behavior is normal and is not a reason to double-down or punish your child. Instead, speak less, redirect and provide other things for your child to jump on." — Meghan Leahy, The Washington Post, 3 Aug. 2022

Did you know?

English has no shortage of words to describe stubbornness, and obstinate is one you might want to latch onto. It suggests an unreasonable persistence and is often used negatively to describe someone who is unwilling to change course or to give up a belief or plan. Animals can be obstinate, too—for instance, say, a beloved pet cat that refuses to get out of your easy chair when you want to sit down. Such an example makes a lot of sense with regard to obstinate’s history, too: the word traces back to a combination of the Latin prefix ob-, meaning “in the way,” and a word related to stare, meaning "to stand." But if you’re adamant about describing Whiskers’ stubborn behavior in more faunal terms, allow us to suggest bullheaded, dogged, or mulish.

Jun 02, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 1, 2023 is:

gist • \JIST\  • noun

Gist, which almost always appears in the phrase “the gist,” refers to the general or basic meaning of something written or said—in other words, its essence.

// I didn’t catch every word, but I heard enough to get the gist of the conversation.

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“Thanks to a student project at a Kirkland high school, Washington lawmakers are considering the impact of a ‘pink tax.’ The gist: Products for women often cost more than similar products designed for men. Senate Bill 5171 would allow the office of the state attorney general to review complaints and hand out fines to companies that demonstrate gender bias in their pricing.” — The Columbian (Vancouver, Washington), 21 Jan. 2023

Did you know?

The main point, overarching theme, essence—that’s gist in a nutshell. The gist of gist, if you will. The gist of a conversation, argument, story, or what-have-you is what we rely on when the actual words and details are only imperfectly recalled, inessential, or too voluminous to recount in their entirety. Gist was borrowed from the Anglo-French legal phrase laccion gist (“the action lies/is based [on]”) in the 17th century, and it was originally used in law as a term referring to the foundation or grounds for a legal action without which the action would not be legally sustainable.

Jun 01, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 31, 2023 is:

enthrall • \in-THRAWL\  • verb

Enthrall means “to hold the attention of someone by being very exciting, interesting, or beautiful,” or in other words, “to charm.” It is often used in its past participle form, as in “I was enthralled by the beauty of the landscape.”

// A captivating take on the human experience, the movie has enthralled audiences across the country.

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“Judy Blume's books have captivated generations of readers. Anyone who has held one of her countless paperbacks will immediately recall her name. Blume's startling honesty has comforted and enthralled readers for decades ...” — Casey Abline, TAPinto (Elizabeth, New Jersey), 23 Apr. 2023

Did you know?

The history of enthrall appeals far less than the word as we use it today might suggest. In Middle English, enthrallen meant “to deprive of privileges; to put in bondage.” Thrall then, as now, referred to bondage or slavery. An early figurative use of enthrall appeared in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape.” But we rarely use even this sense of mental or moral control anymore. More often, the word simply suggests a state of being generally captivated or delighted by some particular thing. Enthrall is commonly found in its past participle form enthralled, which can mean “spellbound,” as in “we listened, enthralled, to the elder's oral history.”

May 31, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 30, 2023 is:

nemesis • \NEM-uh-siss\  • noun

A nemesis is a formidable foe—an opponent or enemy who is very difficult to defeat. As a proper noun, Nemesis refers to the Greek goddess of vengeance.

// She will be playing against her old nemesis for the championship.

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"2020’s original Enola Holmes proved to be a surprisingly enjoyable twist on the world’s most famous detective [Sherlock Holmes], focusing instead on his overlooked sister, Enola. No surprise, then, that this follow-up is just as exciting a romp through Victorian London. Despite proving her skills in the first film, Enola struggles to establish her own detective credentials until a missing-person report leads her to a case that’s stumped even Sherlock, and sees her crossing paths with his arch nemesis, Moriarty." — Matt Kamen, WIRED, 10 Feb. 2023

Did you know?

Nemesis was the Greek goddess of vengeance, a deity who doled out rewards for noble acts and punishment for evil ones. The Greeks believed that Nemesis didn't always punish an offender immediately but might wait generations to avenge a crime. In English, nemesis originally referred to someone who brought a just retribution, but nowadays people are more likely to see simple animosity rather than justice in the actions of a nemesis (consider the motivations of Batman’s perennial foe the Joker, for example).

May 30, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 29, 2023 is:

sacrosanct • \SAK-roh-sankt\  • adjective

Sacrosanct is a formal word that describes things too important and respected to be changed or criticized. It can also mean “most sacred or holy.”

// While the family's new matriarch aimed to maintain the familiar traditions of the holidays, she did not consider the details of their celebration to be sacrosanct.

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“It might not have reached the needlessly high bar of Sony’s marketing push … but Evil Dead checked all the boxes for a successful remake. The critical reception, however, was decidedly mixed, perhaps because Raimi’s trilogy was regarded as sacrosanct by horror obsessives.” — Miles Surrey, The Ringer, 5 Apr. 2023

Did you know?

Contrary to the beliefs of some, language is not sacrosanct; rather, it is subject to constant modification based on the needs, experiences, and even whims of those who use it. Take the word sacrosanct itself, which likely comes from the Latin phrase sacro sanctus meaning “made holy by a sacred rite.” There’s a definite semantic softening from that to the “too important and respected to be changed or criticized” meaning of sacrosanct. But holy moly, has sanctus led to a whole bunch of other English words with truly pious flavor, from saint and sanctimony to sanctify and sanctuary. Sacrum (“a sacred rite”), whence came the sacro in sacro sanctus, is no slouch either, living on in English anatomy as the name for our pelvic vertebrae—a shortening of os sacrum, which literally means “holy bone.”

May 29, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 28, 2023 is:

flavedo • \fluh-VEE-doh\  • noun

Flavedo refers to the colored outer layer of the rind of a citrus fruit.

// The lime's flavedo is full of essential oils that add a distinctive, earthy tang to desserts, drinks, and plenty of savory dishes, too.

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“Cut citrus should always be refrigerated to prevent microbial overgrowth that could make you sick. One study that investigated the risk of foodborne illness from lemon and lime wedges commonly served with beverages at restaurants found that salmonella can survive on the flavedo (i.e., the zesty part of the peel) of lemons and limes for 24 hours at room temperature. Conversely, storing the wedges on ice or in the fridge decreased bacterial growth.” — Matthew Zuras,, 7 Apr. 2023

Did you know?

Based on its definition, you’d be forgiven for thinking flavedo is a combination of flavor and bravado—if any category of food can be said to embody “blustering swaggering conduct,” it’s sharp, assertive citrus. But flavedo instead comes from the New Latin word flāvēdō, meaning “yellow color,” the word’s etymology pointing to the shiny yellow rinds of the lemons you see in the grocery store. A citrus fruit’s flavedo (that is, its peel or rind) clings to its albedo, albedo referring to the pith—the whitish, spongy inner part of the rind of a citrus fruit. (Latin albēdō means “whiteness, white color.”) While flavor may seem like a likely relation of flavedo, the two have distinct Latin sources: flavor traces back not to flāvēdō but to Latin flatus meaning “breath,” or “the act of blowing,” a word which we are obliged to inform you also gave us another (indirectly) food-related word: flatulent.

May 28, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 27, 2023 is:

interpolate • \in-TER-puh-layt\  • verb

Interpolate is a formal word used to talk about interjecting or inserting something, especially words or a musical element. A critic might interpolate a comment into a conversation, or an artist may interpolate a melody or lyric from one song into another. In mathematical contexts, the word can also mean “to estimate values of data or a function between two known values,” or “to make insertions (as of estimated values).”

// She interpolated a highly critical comment into the discussion, which had been mostly positive to that point.

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“But his reputation rested equally on his abilities as a composer and arranger for large ensembles, interpolating bebop's ... rhythms and extended improvisations into lush tapestries.” — Giovanni Russonello, The New York Times, 26 Jan. 2020

Did you know?

When Henry Cockeram put interpolate in his 1623 The English Dictionary; or, An Interpreter of Hard English Words he defined it in a way we no longer use: “to polish.” Cockeram’s definition ties the word very closely to its Latin root, polire, “to polish,” but the English word has a more direct source in Latin interpolare, meaning “to refurbish or alter,” or “to alter or corrupt something by inserting new or foreign matter.” This latter meaning persists in our English word today, though modern use of interpolate usually simply suggests the insertion of something into an existing text, work, etc., as in “she interpolated her own commentary into the report.” Musical elements can be interpolated too, as when an artist inserts a melody, lyric, etc., from one song into another without directly sampling. For example, the Beatles interpolated part of their early hit “She Loves You” into the closing moments of their later hit “All You Need Is Love.” In mathematical contexts, to interpolate is to estimate the values of data or a function between two known values.

May 27, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 26, 2023 is:

sapient • \SAY-pee-unt\  • adjective

Sapient is a formal word that means “possessing or expressing great wisdom.”

// She was grateful to have in her mentor an ever-reliable source of sapient career advice.

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“Many wise and sapient social historians have written on the American cult, and invention, of the weekend. It was only in the 1920s that the five-day work week began to take hold as an American innovation, and only after the Second World War that it became commonplace.” — Adam Gopnik, Town & Country Magazine, 21 July 2020

Did you know?

We human beings certainly like to think we’re wise. It’s a fact reflected in the scientific name we’ve given our species, Homo sapiens, which comes in part from the Latin word sapiens, meaning “wise” or “intelligent.” Sapient (which is basically just a fancy synonym of wise) has the same source. Both words ultimately trace to the Latin verb sapere, meaning “to be wise,” and also “to taste.” Other sapere words pepper the language as well, among them sage (as in “sage advice”), savant, savvy, and savor.

May 26, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 25, 2023 is:

hobbyhorse • \HAH-bee-horss\  • noun

Hobbyhorse usually refers to a topic that someone dwells on, returning to again and again, especially in conversation.

// The so-called “Curse of the Bambino” was a favorite hobbyhorse of my Red Sox-loving grandfather until the team finally won the World Series in 2004.

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“In the foreword to her book A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, the historian Barbara W. Tuchman offered a warning to people with simplistic ideas about what life was like in the medieval world. ... Her book was published in 1978 and won the National Book Award for History, but in the nearly half century since, the Middle Ages have been a common hobbyhorse for people of all political persuasions who suspect modernity might be leading us down the primrose path, especially as the internet has become a more central and inescapable element of daily life.” — Amanda Mull, The Atlantic, 6 May 2022

Did you know?

Does your favorite hobby involve a horse? Whether it does or not, the word hobby is undeniably equine: it’s a shortening of the older term hobbyhorse. And in a strange etymological twist, the word hobbyhorse is itself a product of an older word hobby that in the 1400s referred to a small or medium-sized horse, especially one that moved at a gentle pace. By the mid 1500s, hobby horse was being used to refer to a horse costume worn by a person participating in a morris dance or other performance, and then to a toy consisting of a stick with a toy horse's head at one end that a child pretends to ride. By the next century the literal horse was unneeded, and hobbyhorse could refer to a favorite pursuit or pastime—that is, our modern hobby. From pastime, the meaning of hobbyhorse was extended to “a subject that someone returns to repeatedly, especially in conversation.” This sense is typically encountered in such phrases as “get on one’s hobbyhorse” or “ride one’s hobbyhorse.”

May 25, 2023